Monday, July 24, 2023

#205 / Multiplying Power

On Friday, April 7th, I attended an online session of the Hannah Arendt "Virtual Reading Group." This is something I try to do each Friday. I consider Hannah Arendt to have been one of the greatest and most important political thinkers of the 20th Century - and maybe of any century - and I am always encouraging my friends and associates to sample her writings. I tend to promote On Revolution, The Human Condition, and Between Past And Future as my favorites, but it's hard not to include The Origins of Totalitarianism on the "must read" list. 
At any rate, one of the discussion points that came up in the Virtual Reading Group on Friday, April 7, 2023, was what to do about oppressive political regimes that mobilize governmental power to assert absolute control over individuals, and to establish what amounts to totalitarian control over every aspect of social, economic, and political life.
Roger Berkowitz, who leads the Virtual Reading Group, and who is the Academic Director and Founder of The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, at Bard College, pointed out that our first reaction, when we consider the deployment of governmental power against individuals, is to try to "fight the power," and to confront it directly. 
In fact, Berkowitz said, the strategy recommended by Hannah Arendt is to "multiply power," and to create so many diffused and different centers of power that it is difficult for a centralized, totalitarian government to overcome them. This strategy, recognizing that we, as individuals, have many individual differences, reflecting the fact of human "plurality," a term beloved by Arendt, is the only way, really, to counteract the totalitarian impulse. In On Revolution, Arendt (while recognizing the deficiencies of the American experiment) applauds our federal system, and our commitment to "checks and balances," as the most successful way to establish a decent kind of democratic self-government. 

Thinking about the discussion, I couldn't help but remember Jonathan Swift, and the hero of Gulliver's Travels. I think that Arendt is right on target about how to deal with the totalitarian impulse towards governmental domination: 

We "fight the power," by multiplying our own!

Image Credits:
(1) - Gary Patton
(2) -

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