Friday, October 12, 2018

#285 / In Person

If you'd like to spend an hour with Hannah Arendt and Nobel Prize Winnter G√ľnter Grass, by all means click on the link above, which will take you to a conversation in German, presented with English subtitles. 

Some of the comments on this video (presumably made by persons with a good command of both German and English) indicate that the English translations are not the greatest. In addition, both Arendt and Grass spend the entire hour smoking, virtually continuously, which was certainly disconcerting to me. 

That said, this video does provide a wonderful example of Hannah Arendt's penetrating mind, and demonstrates her prodigious ability to explain her complex thoughts in a way that makes them understandable. It is also a wonderful demonstration of her profound humanity. 

In the current climate of extreme political polarization, I have been trying to argue for the idea that "good people do exist," and that our "plurality," to use Arendt's term, and our "diversity," to use a more modern rendition, do not automatically preclude the kind of debate and discussion that can lead people to change their minds and find agreement, thus making collective self-government possible. 

To achieve that that kind of dialogue, courage is a primary requirement. We must have the courage to state our views and beliefs forthrightly, not tailoring them to what we know will be acceptable to those with whom we are engaged in discussion. We must have the courage, as well, to change our minds! Real politics demands nothing less.

At the very end of this video, Grass asks Arendt to talk about her statement, which he quotes: "Humanity is never acquired in solitude, but by a venture into the public realm." 

What do you mean by this "venture into the public realm," asks Grass. Arendt's response, I thought, was a profound statement of her basic approach to thinking and to taking political action. 

A "venture into the public realm," says Arendt, can be of two kinds. First, one must be willing to expose oneself to the light of the public by both speaking and acting, with speech being understood as itself a kind of action. That is one form of the venture. The second form of the venture is that "we start something." When we do "start something," Arendt says, we "weave our own, created strand into a network of relations. What comes of it we never know. We must all say, 'Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do,' for that is the plain fact, true of all actions." 

Arendt concludes her response to Grass by saying that a "venture into the public realm," the thing Grass has asked her about, is only possible "when there is a trust in mankind, a trust in what is human in all people."

We must, in other words, as I understand what Arendt says, have the courage to believe that we can, in fact, find "what is human" in all people. That is, in a way, a kind of "faith." Without that faith we will never be able to speak out or act, either one, and while we never know what will come of any action we take, or words we say, there is a truth, which we do know well (and this, I take it, is the truth that Arendt explains in her response to Grass' question):

Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

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