Don’t Follow the Money
I commend Richmond, California, Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for her dead-on description of what our two-party system is up to: “One party is moving us into a brick wall at 100 mph. The other is moving us there at 50 mph” [“Q&A,” Dec. 9, 2013]. I stopped voting for Democrats when Bill Clinton hit the scene. It’s time we stopped electing corporate Democrats, thus “losing by winning” over and over. Vote against the money!
Norman Michael Harman
harpers ferry, w.v.
A Nation Memory
Over fifty years ago, my grandfather Hy Janov introduced me to The Nation. When I visited him on weekends, he would invariably ask me to sit by him on the couch so he could read an excerpt from an article. He would then ask what I thought. Wonderful discussions ensued. After he died, my mother told me he had been one of the longest uninterrupted subscribers to the magazine. She was very sad about canceling his subscription.
Two years ago, while my mother lay dying, I found two copies of The Nation on her coffee table. I have kept those copies as a reminder of her presence and what is good and real and loving in life. These memories are so tender and deep for me that I want to thank all the people at The Nation who make this wonderful magazine possible—the magazine that I continue to read in my home and share with my grandchildren.
As a loyal subscriber, I always look forward to reading the painstaking, well-researched and meticulously written letters to the editor. So it is truly baffling to me what would possess the editors to waste invaluable space with out-of-place exercises in disjointed brevity and muddled abbreviation (suddenly appearing on the Letters page in every issue) from somewhere called the “Twitterverse,” a place and reference they apparently believe their readers will applaud as a sign that The Nation is keeping up with the times. It is, in fact, a dubious source that adds precious little to any ongoing discussion except to distract from and mar a feature that has always been such a distinctive and respected part of your publication. My hope is that sometime in the year 2014 you will reconsider this decision and reaffirm your respect for the written word by banishing this abomination and inappropriate eyesore. As we all know too well, there are various electronic havens, places and sites (including your own website) catering to folks who prefer curtness, but there are also hallowed grounds where endorsement and encouragement of such a practice clearly does not belong. I believe the printed pages of The Nation is one such place and certainly should not be yet another location catering to those who welcome every opportunity to nurture their diminishing attention spans and their inability to read or write actual letters.
Hannah and Her Misters
David Rieff’s review of the film Hannah Arendt and his comments about her assessment of Eichmann were impressive and stimulating [“Hannah and Her Admirers,” Dec. 9]. Discussing Arendt’s view of Eichmann as an example of “the banality of evil,” however, Rieff attributes a major influence on her thinking to Heidegger; but it was Max Weber who stressed the creation of institutions after the rise of Protestantism. How people earned a living and became educated were determined by institutions controlled by bureaucrats. Arendt had a problem revealing the sources of some of her ideas.
David Rieff’s fair and probing review of Hannah Arendt missed one point: her phrase “banality of evil” refers to the trial itself. The four-month trial was far too long and detailed. Israeli Attorney General Gideon Hausner used the trial less to pursue justice than to explain to the world (and to young Israelis) what the Jewish people had gone through and why Israel must exist. Fair enough, but the endless repetition of horrors was overkill that started making observers numb. Every week revealed less that was new. Coverage soon slipped from page one, and many journalists moved on.
Arendt could be criticized for making Eichmann fit her earlier Origins of Totalitarianism, which argued that the search for individual evil was barking up the wrong tree. The greater evil is that such systems warp everyone, jailed and jailers alike, something Nelson Mandela understood. Arendt concluded that Eichmann was plenty evil and deserved to hang but cautioned against using individual evil as a substitute for systemic evil.
Contrary to David Rieff’s conclusion that Hannah Arendt showed “tolerant condescension” toward historians, her attention to Hilberg’s “magisterial history of the Shoah” in a journalistic work was, if anything, a testament to the seriousness with which she as a philosopher took history. A different observation seems closer to the mark: that she belonged to “a very Heideggerian order” in which the philosopher “sits at the apex of the culture.” Her passionate lifelong affair with thinking may have led to a distortion of the role of unthinking in relation to evil. “In her Kantian way, Arendt truly believed there was goodness inherent in the activity and practice of thinking,” Rieff says, adding, “Nothing could be more philosophical—or more ahistorical.” That does not necessarily entail condescension toward history. It does get to the heart of what is disturbing about her judgment of Eichmann, on the one hand, and Heidegger, on the other. In the case of Eichmann, the notion that he could have been so completely absorbed into his identity as a bureaucrat that he could not at the same time have been consumed by anti-Semitic ideology seems inconsistent with her sophisticated sense of paradox. Did Heidegger’s power as a thinker blind her to the possibility that he could also be as much the bureaucrat as Eichmann? Both examples lend support to those who have called attention to Arendt’s indifference to psychoanalytic thought and a related reticence to theorize feeling.
Donald Bruce Woll