Prejudice Against Politics

Prejudice Against Politics and What, In Fact, Politics is Today.

Any talk of politics in our time has to begin with those prejudices that all of us who aren’t professional politicians have against politics. Our shared prejudices are themselves political in the broadest sense. They do not originate in the arrogance of the educated, are not the result of the cynicism of those who have seen too much and understood too little. Because prejudices crop up in our own thinking, we cannot ignore them, and since they refer to undeniable realities and faithfully reflect our current situation precisely in its political aspects, we cannot silence them with arguments. These prejudices, however, are not judgments. They indicate that we have stumbled into a situation in which we do not know, or do not yet know, how to function in just such political terms. The danger is that politics may vanish entirely from the world. Our prejudices invade our thoughts; they throw the baby out with the bathwater, confuse politics with what would put an end to politics and present that very catastrophe as if it we inherent in the nature of things and thus inevitable.

Underlying our prejudices against politics today are hope and fear: the fear that the humanity could destroy itself through politics and through the means of force now at its disposal, and linked with this fear, the hope that humanity will come to its senses and rid the world, not of humankind, but of politics. It could do so through a world government that transforms the state into an administrative machine, resolve political conflicts bureaucratically, and replaces armies with police forces. If politics is defined in its usual sense, as a relationship between the rulers and the ruled, this hope is, of course, purely utopian. In taking this point of view, we would end up not with the abolition of politics, but with a despotism of massive proportions in which the abyss separating the rulers from the ruled would be so gigantic that any sort of rebellion would no longer be possible, not to mention any form of control of the rulers by the ruled. The fact that no individual ---no despot, per se--- could be identified within this world government would in no way change its despotic character. Bureaucratic rule, the anonymous of the bureaucrat, is no less despotic because “nobody” exercises it. On the contrary, it is more fearsome still, because no one can speak with or petition this “nobody”.”

-Hannah Arendt, “Introduction into Politics”, in The Promise of Politics (Shocken Books, NY, 2005), pp.  96-97.

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