The Russian Sociological Review, 2018 (4) en-us Copyright 2018 Sun, 30 Dec 2018 03:19:06 +0300 Hannah Arendt and the Boundaries of the Public Sphere Impossible Politics The Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen has been developing an argument about the impossibility of politics in an age of rising authoritarianism. Gessen turns to Hannah Arendt to articulate the phenomenon of freedom in belonging to a movement fighting for freedom. This freedom is what Arendt calls the “treasure” of the public space where people act together. However, the passionate bonds that emerge amidst communal freedom are often intolerant. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, the American town governments may have been the locus of American freedom, but they were also coarse and opposed to civilized restraints. There is always a desire on the part of elites, Tocqueville argues, to restrict the freedoms of the townships in the name of civili-zation. What bothers Gessen about our political moment is that large political movements have come to act like tiny resistance cells. The Women’s March, for example, imposes an ideological purity on its members and leaders, so that anyone who trades in antisemitism in their private life must be excluded. Donald Trump’s supporters and many liberal groups enforce ideological conformity, so that those who might be environmentalists or those who reject identity politics are excluded and denounced. All we have left, Gessen argues, is a politics of denunciation. In such a situation, no politics is possible. In this talk, I turn to Arendt to ask what it would mean to imagine a politics amidst the impossibility of politics? The Temptations of Lying The lie accompanies us, it is parasitic on the truth and indispensable in our everyday life. But how can we limit it and prevent it from destroying the truth? This question is particularly topical given the so-called “post-truth” phenomenon of fake news, con-spiracy theories and populist propaganda. Arendt’s analyses of the relationship between truth and lies in politics are helpful. To defend facticity, truth is indispensable, but factual truth resists limitless freedom of speech and action, or, in Arendt’s words, our enlarged mentality. Imagination is the common ground for creativity, the design of another world, but also for lies. There-fore, politics and lies are structurally very close, though of course not the same. Contemporary populist movements use lies in order to undermine the credibility of other politicians and mass media. The boundaries between truth, lies, the denial of reality, invented truths as well as, for example, anti-Semitism and racism are dissolving. Conspiracy theories are the pinnacle of the loss of reality. In contrast to lies, they offer a closed parallel world in which nothing happens by accident and nothing is what it seems. Zygmunt Bauman’s term retrotopia indicates that globalization and technological change are leading to growing uncer-tainty and a discrediting of policies, which meet with populist aims. Arendt’s republicanism offers an alternative to both, popu-lism and consumer liberalism: the defense of facts, enlightened criticism and a concept of a qualitative plurality of engaged citizens. Lying and Politics: How to Rethink Arendt’s Reflections about Lying in the Political Realm People of today live in times where lying seems to be a “normal” tool of politics while at the same time political representatives declare themselves to be truth-tellers. Practices like inventing “counter-truths” are usual in authoritarian states as well as in populist movements or parties in democratic states. Hannah Arendt was the first political theorist after Niccolò Machiavelli to acknowledge the importance and the aftereffects of lying in the political realm. In my paper, I will, firstly, focus on how Arendt explained the origins, the impact, and the ambivalence of lying in politics in its different historical forms. Secondly, I will fol-low Arendt when she analyses the problem of how to know about what a lie is and if it undermines the political realm or if it is just a “normal” (occasional) lie which can be corrected by legal means. Thirdly, I will ask how we are measuring politics. Is politics about telling people the truth? Or are there other dimensions of acting in public that require attention? Here, too, I will start with the arguments Arendt elaborated in her essays. In the last part I will focus on the question of how to transfer Arendt’s reflections into the political realm of today. In the era of digital communication and digital warfare we must rethink Arendt’s reflections about how to counteract systematic lying. I will sum up with a couple of reflections about the means and forms of dealing with that kind of lying in politics: lying which undermines the political realm. Hannah Arendt and the Dark Public Sphere Hannah Arendt once described “dark times” as characterized by “‘credibility gaps’ and ‘invisible government,’ by speech that does not disclose what is but sweeps it under the carpet, by exhortations, moral and otherwise, that, under the pretext of up-holding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.” This paper argues that as Western democracies experience condi-tions that echo Arendt’s twentieth century assessment — among these are the death of truth, the decline of civility, and the dearth of authenticity in the public sphere — Arendt’s work helps us better understand two sources of this modern crisis. First is the blurring of truth and opinion in contemporary political discourse; second is the blurring of the public and private realms made possible by the coercive intermediation of the social. An acute danger of these circumstances is the lure of demagogues and extreme ideologies when the words and deeds of the public realm — either because they are not believed, or because they have been reduced to mere image-making — increasingly lack meaning, integrity, and spontaneity. A second danger is the erosion of faith in the free press (and with it our common world and basic facts) when the press itself, reacting to its own sense of darkness, undermines its role of truthteller by assuming the role of political actor. In the end I suggest that underlying these several acute issues of democracy lies a more basic tension in the public sphere centered on an Arendtian notion of “freedom of opinion.” Hannah Arendt’s Ethic of Responsibility to the “Who” and the “World” The rise of populism and the polarization of traditional and new media pose threats to pluralistic democratic action and judgment. Citizens often vilify each other, deny each other the space to test and justify their perspectives publicly, either because they hold radically different political views, or because they ascribe an essentialist identity upon the other, one that they believe must be negated in accordance with the logic of their own ideology. This paper presents three vital resources in Hannah Arendt’s thought for addressing these challenges to democracy. First, Arendt promotes physical — not merely virtual or digital — spaces of public deliberation in which actors disclose “who” they uniquely are and the “world” that contextualizes their action. Arendt proposes a principle of resistance to totalitarianism and a “responsibility for the world” as the appropriate limit to free action within these spaces. Second, Arendt presents a limit, or standard of intelligibility, to political action and speech permissible in public: the sensus communis of Kant’s theory of aesthetic judgment. This standard of common sense, which binds the public sphere, demands that a speech act’s intersubjective validity appeal to an objectivity that can be shared from different perspectives, but which allows for disagreement, and is not as restrictive as an Aristotelian ethos or an internally consistent ideology. Finally, Arendt asserts the imperative of factual truth telling and attention to the details of public phenomena, as necessary conditions for intelligible action and judgment in a pluralistic public sphere. Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas, and Rethinking the Public Sphere in the Age of Social Media The present paper is dedicated to the phenomenon of the public sphere which is currently undergoing significant transfor-mations under the influence of the Internet and social media. The main goal of the article is to find a new approach to the mod-ern development of the public sphere by rethinking it from an Arendtian perspective. The first part examines the main actual changes taking place in the public sphere under the influence of social media, and concludes that the classical concept of the public sphere, dating back to its early notion of Jürgen Habermas, needs to be rethought, this requiring a new approach which would take into account the actual changes and new circumstances in the development of the public sphere. It is proposed to use Arendt’s understanding of the public sphere as one of the sources of this new approach which remains relevant today in many ways. The second part examines Arendt’s notion of the public sphere as compared with the concept of the public sphere of early Habermasian writing. As a result of this consideration, it is concluded that, in a number of points, Arendt’s notion of the public sphere is better suited to an understanding of the modern public sphere than the classical Habermasian concept. In the third part, I rethink the existing trends in the development of the digital public sphere from Arendt’s standpoint. On Mini-Publics in Deliberative Democracies: Inefficient Instrument or Arendt’s “Oasis of Freedom”? According to the standard of legitimacy provided by different theorists of deliberative democracy, a collective decision could be defined as legitimate if it is rendered in accordance with a collective deliberative procedure by citizens who will be subject to this decision. In the beginning of the noughties, deliberationists became more concerned with the implementation of this ideal so that citizens could have more possibilities to take part in deliberative collective decision-making. One of the institutions which were thought to better involve citizens in deliberative decision-making and to ensure the legitimacy of outcomes were mini-publics. Mini-publics are deliberative forums composed of lay citizens who communicate about questions of the political agenda. However, using mini-publics can eventually lead to situations when citizens are “bypassed” in the process of collective decision-making. So, in our article, firstly, we will briefly discuss the standard of legitimacy provided by the theorists of deliberative democracy and the concept of mini-publics. Secondly, we will analyze how using mini-publics can lead to the exclusion of citizens from the process of collective deliberative decision-making. Finally, we will consider how Arendt’s theory of councils can be used to transform the concept of mini-publics so these institutions will lead not to a “bypassing” of the people, but to the more inclusive process of collective deliberative decision-making. Emotions in Hannah Arendt’s Public Space The article is dedicated to the role of emotions in the political theory of Hannah Arendt. Her thoughts on emotions turn out to be a stumbling block for most contemporary defenders of emotions in politics, and many of Arendt’s opponents and critics focused on her ideas on emotions in order to refute or reinterpret them. However, being separated from the crucial concepts of Arendt’s theory, emotions cause confusion. Therefore, the approach displayed in the article implies a discovery of their influ-ence on public space and plurality, as well as on other significant concepts in Arendt’s theory. Plurality, as a precondition of public space, is manifested by means of the uniqueness of speech and actions, and any appeal to common emotions as the foundation of a better public realm leads to the absence of plurality and uniqueness. Thus, the suggested treatment allows demonstrating a correlation between emotions and politics and, moreover, distinguishing the alternatives of emotions in poli-tics, such as solidarity instead of compassion, or courage instead of fear. In addition, the ideas of understanding and reconcilia-tion with the world are examined in order to demonstrate their significance for the existence of plurality and public space, un-like those emotions that destroy both of them. The Transmission of the Revolutionary Spirit: Reflections on Civil Disobedience in Hannah Arendt The aim of this paper is to take up Hannah Arendt’s analysis on civil disobedience. This is one aspect of Arendt’s thought which represents a powerful spur towards a positive and meaningful view of the world we live in. In taking up this argument I start from Arendt’s idea of the law, discussing its relational dimension and its links to the consensus universalis, seen as a conscious, wholehearted adhesion to the laws of a country. Bearing these two points in mind, I then consider Arendt’s proposal, put forward in her essay “Civil Disobedience,” for making the spirit of the law compatible with civil disobedience. The idea that civil disobedience is compatible with the spirit of the law represents, for Arendt, the acknowledgement of the community’s constitutive function, in which individuals define themselves in their relationships with others, drawing on a type of justice which emerges from the encounter of differing opinions. From this perspective, I explain how civil disobedience allows citizens to assert their public freedom, thereby adding something new to the world and exercising their responsibility. Thus for Arendt civil disobedience reaffirms the creation, also fostered by the revolutionary spirit, of a space of permanent participation in public life: a shared arena for the enjoyment of public happiness. Nihilism and the Crisis of Tradition: Arendt and Contemporary Radical Conservatism The present paper is a preliminary approach to the question of the applicability of Hannah Arendt’s ideas on tradition and nihilism to the analysis of contemporary radical conservatism. For this purpose, I examine Arendt’s essays of the 1940s and 1950s which shed light on the origins of the European conservatism crisis, and the difference between traditionalist and anti-traditionalist thinking. These arguments on the nihilistic aspects of radical conservatism, which legitimizes itself by appealing to a crisis of tradition, illustrate the shortcomings of Karl Mannheim’s analysis of conservatism and traditionalism. In order to complement Arendt’s rather fragmentary concept of conservatism, I use the definitions of adjectival and nominal conservatism to define the key differences between genuine conservatism and radical conservatism (pseudo-conservatism). Based on the analysis of the past, I address the question of why Arendt is important to the understanding of contemporary pseudo-conservatism, including its historical origins, self-description, and key instruments. Lastly, I explain why, together with Arendt, we should choose a broader perspective by focusing on analyzing the crisis of judgement in the public sphere and the resulting distortion of the ideas of tradition and dialogue, rather than simply describing contemporary radical conservatism as the spiritual successor to National Socialism. The Life of the Work: Virno’s Reception of Arendt’s Political Theory Since antiquity, political philosophy has been occupied with basic human capacities, dividing them into three main realms: work, action. and intellect. The definition and aims of these capacities, as well as their relation to the main human virtues, were elaborated in Aristotle’s Ethics. This work is a starting point of a long tradition of reflection on the human condition. Its further development was incorporated by Hannah Arendt into her more-modernized political theory. Following Aristotle, Arendt defines two main spheres: vita activa and vita contemplativa. An attempt to redefine the main terms of this tradition was made by an Italian political philosopher, Paolo Virno, who combines it with Marxism. For this, Virno turned to Arendt’s political thought. He follows the central idea that the ability of action is connected with speech and has a virtuosic character. However, in his perception of Arendt’s theory Virno tries to blur the boundaries between other concepts of her political philosophy. The goals of this article are to explore the ways that the reception of Arendt’s ideas has shaped Virno’s political thought, and to analyze how his approach is able to cope with the main problems that she poses in her political theory. In his interpretation of Arendt’s political thought, Virno tries to redefine the distinctions that she draws, and to combine the spheres of praxis, intellect, and work. According to the author of this paper, this strategy does not always succeed in accurately covering all aspects of Arendt’s political thought. Recovering Hannah Arendt: How and Why? Book Review: Richard J. Bernstein. Why Read Hannah Arendt Now? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018).