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On Violence (Harvest Book) 1st Edition
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After reaching the end of this sharply focused essay, I discovered it is best read in reverse, beginning with section III and working backwards.
It is a tutorial on the origins, use and misuse of violence, and its associated concepts of power, strength, authority, and terror, and to a much lesser extent also, influence, control, obedience, and command.
It is section III that deals with the origins of violence in both human and animal. And as is true with the other sections, existing common sense and settled sociological theology are reopened and challenged. Both Konrad Lorentz and B.F. Skinner's theories, for instance are placed anew under the microscope, in light of human, rather than just anthropomorphized animal experience, with surprisingly new understandings emerging.
Section II deals with the definitional slipperiness of these concepts as they have been used and misused -- again with surprisingly new interpretations. And again, the standard understandings are reopened for further analysis and the old authorities are challenged to redefine their often ossified and misleading meanings and interpretations.
Section I begins with the existing experience at the time the book was first written (1957) and includes analyses of violence at both the international and the national level, but not at the interpersonal level.Read more ›
The first part of "On Violence" argues that the United States is no longer a country which can feel the sharp throes of political populism; she argues that individual action has been deadened by an institutionalized bureaucracy, aided by brain trusters in the illustrious think tanks whose hypotheses eventually turn into "facts," which in turn beget other "facts," and whose magical thinking has a way of hypnotizing us. The most common countervailing force to this phenomenon was the group of student protests in the 1960s whose use of violent resistance was often Marxian or Leninist in orientation. These were often set off in the name of "participatory democracy." Yet what makes this a bit of bittersweet irony is that neither Marx nor Lenin advocated any such like a participatory democracy. Especially in Leninism, the socialist utopia would have been run by a one-party, top-down system which would have rendered both political participation and democracy superfluous.
In the second part, Arendt adduces some very interesting, if semantically peculiar, distinctions that I would agree are fundamental to understanding the politics of the twentieth century.Read more ›
However, her interpretations of Sartre and Fanon range from plausible to completely absurd. I often found myself scrambling through "The Wretched of the Earth" (following Arendt's citations) in a attempt to elaborate on her incomplete quotations and scathing conclusions, only to be left asking myself how she possibly could read the thinkers in such a manner.
Sadly, her essay is also riddled with anti-Black racism, as many scholars have noted (See Kathryn Gines "Arendt and the Negro Question" for a full treatment of this theme in her work). She consistently reduces Black student radicalism to the desire of eliminating academic standards of admission and introducing "ridiculous reforms" into academia; I suppose police brutality, deplorable economic prospects, and continued discrimination were all off her radar. At times her bigotry is so extreme that it dives into conspiracy theory. She entertains the idea that Black Power movement seeks to create a world "in which the Negro would constitute an overwhelming majority of the world's population" (footnote 38)
This is a wonderful essay and I recommend it to anyone interested in the connection between philosophy and violence, but Arendt's elusive political commitment often shows itself as a confused normative position; you're never quite sure where her moral compass is pointing, which is obviously problematic when the issues of race, violence, and politics are the discussion at hand.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent observation and ideas on social issues. This book acknowledges the sufferings of those oppressed in the society.Published 9 months ago by jeffrey carrion
Johanna "Hannah" Arendt (1906-1975) was a German-born political theorist, who wrote many books such as Antisemitism: Part One of The Origins of Totalitarianism,... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Steven H Propp
Hannah Arendt is n American philosopher whose most famous work is probably "Eichman in Jeruselem". Read morePublished on June 12, 2014 by Gary E. Thorn
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)was one of those rare people whose clear thinking could penetrate the vague nonsense and "academic bafflegap" that political liars and media gurus pass as... Read morePublished on June 25, 2013 by James E. Egolf
This was a really great work of political theory by Arendt. It explores violence, mostly through the lens of the 1960s when she was writing this book. Read morePublished on August 9, 2011 by Lindsey Peterson
Arendt's long essay/short book "On Violence" notes that war has become unglamorous and ineffective as a political force, yet it remains because we have not found an adequate... Read morePublished on May 29, 2008 by Theodore J. Remington