The Pathos of Politics (51) Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity. ~ Hannah Arendt

German political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) wrote about politics during a tumultuous time. She lived through the Nazi regime, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, and student riots in Paris.

Today all these old verities about the relation between war and politics or about violence and power have become inapplicable. The 2nd World War was not followed by peace but by a cold war and the establishment of a military-industrial-labor complex. ~ Hannah Arendt

In her 1967 essay, “Truth and Politics”, Arendt noted how politicizing historical facts distorts them, as they are shaped into implements of justification for political decisions. This is a hoary practice.

From the 1960s, Arendt observed, political lies were increasingly being used in democracies; a practice that had previously been common only under despotic demagogueries.

This trend has been apparent in the United States. President Lyndon Johnson lied in 1965 to escalate the Vietnam War. President George Bush Sr. lied to justify the 1989 kidnapping of Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator, and install a pliant leader. Bush’s son, President George Bush Jr. lied to invade Iraq in 2003.

With deception as his stock-in-trade, President Donald Trump gave lying an unqualified presidential seal of approval by doing so on a daily basis. He went as far as assembling a team of dissemblers. Nothing from his administration could be taken at face value as fact.

It would be facile to observe that US politics had become more divisive and politicians dastardlier. American politics have been both base and polar at least since 1787, when the colonies contentiously crafted the constitution. What changed was sloughing off any moral posture for its pretense: Machiavelli morphed in Pinocchio.