Hannah Arendt on politics

In the January 30, 2006 issue of The Nation, Jonathan Ree has a long review of three new books of writings by Hannah Arendt (subscription req'd). The following paragraph struck me a particularly appropriate to the upcoming SXSW Interactive Panel: Us and Them: A Blog Conversation Survival Guide. Arendt's sentiments seem a little naive in today's climate of political discourse, but there's something important here.

'[Hannah] Arendt had a distinctly high-minded conception of politics, seeing it not as the bureaucratic administration of collective concerns or a burdensome public duty, still less as a self-interested continuation of warfare by other means. Politics for her was a precious cultural achievement rather than a regrettable social necessity, and it involved the careful maintenance of institutions that enable people to converse freely and respectfully about the world as they see it and as they would like it to be. It was essentially concerned with problems of a kind that will never have perfect solutions, and that therefore require improvisation, invention and endless critical discussion. Politics required us to set aside all sentiments of pride, indignation, shame or resentment, as well as any pretensions to superior expertise, in order to become responsive, intelligent citizens willing to negotiate all our differences on a basis of complete equality. Politics, in short, was the opposite of totalitarianism, and it depended on an open-hearted love for "human plurality"--for people not in the mass or in the abstract but in the distinctness and idiosyncrasy of their lives and the infinite variety of their perceptions. It was more like a serene philosophical seminar than a self-interested struggle for power, and it was not so much a means to human happiness as the pith and substance of it.'

One of the real potentials for blogs (and wikis and other collaborative interaction modes) is that they can "enable people to converse freely and respectfully about the world as they see it and as they would like it to be." I'm looking forward to the SXSW Panel as being just this kind of conversation. An article in the Christian Science Monitor years ago on peacemaking opened with this sentence: "Peacemaking is noisy." So I'm hoping for a respectful, free, and noisy conversation.

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