Krista Tippet: The Moral World in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now

she says, if you can’t have that inner dialogue, then you can’t speak and act with others either because it’s part of — if you’re already divided in yourself because you’re having this conversation with yourself, and that’s the passion of your being, people who can do that can actually then move on to having conversations with other people and then judging with other people. And what she called “the banality of evil” was the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.

.. And one of the first things she pointed out is that what was exposed by the refugee crisis of the last century was how so-called human rights were actually political and national rights. So you were only — you only had as many rights as were guarded by the country in which you happened to be born.

Once that country decided to decitizenize you, once it decided that you were no longer a citizen, once it decided that it had no more responsibilities towards you, you were rightless. She said very famously, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.”

MS. TIPPETT: And that is where we are, and it’s interesting — interesting in a terrible way — I think that with globalization, which is not necessarily a word she would have used or predicted — but with globalization, there was this assumption, which actually didn’t rest on a very sophisticated examination of the human condition — but there was this assumption that we would just grow out of that, right?


MS. TIPPETT: But what she understood, because she was looking at the human condition, and taking that seriously, is that, as you say, that “dark background,” that this would become a crisis again.

.. But she says globalization is about the accumulation of capital. It’s expansion for expansion’s sake. It will not produce more equality. It will produce more inequality, hence the background of difference. So trying to work for a worldliness that’s genuinely worldly, as against a worldliness, which is actually about accumulation and expansion for expansion’s sake, which will increase the divides between people.


.. here’s her essay “Lying in Politics.” She says that “factual truths,” here’s that. “Factual truths are never compellingly true. The historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life. It is always in danger of being perforated by single lies, or torn to shreds. Facts need testimony to be remembered and trustworthy domain of human affairs. From this it follows that no factual statement can ever be beyond doubt.” Take us inside that and what that means for us now.

MS. STONEBRIDGE: For Arendt, I think why the idea of thinking and speaking as a form of action are important to her is that what she’s saying there is, you can throw enough facts, you can throw all the facts you like at people, and they will not stick. We had this, in the U.K., and I know you have, too, that it’s — “OK, against the false news we’ll have fact-finding, and we’ll tell you.

And we’ll have a team of researchers, and you just have to look on our website, and we’ll tell you which of those are lies.” And you can scream facts at people until you’re blue in the face, and a lot of colleagues and universities and journalists have been doing exactly that very hard, working tirelessly. And it’s not making any difference. And I think what she’s talking about there is the ability through thinking and communal discourse, to make truth meaningful in the world, it has to happen between people. Which is not saying we just make up our own reality. She’s not saying that. It means that this is why…

MS. TIPPETT: When she says testimony, it needs…


MS. TIPPETT: It needs experience. It needs human experience around it.

MS. STONEBRIDGE: Yeah. And so I think she — that was why testimony was important to her. It’s why history and the sense of a myth were all important to her because it’s what makes truth meaningful to people together in a community. If you want a culture that’s going to take on fake news, and the political lie, I say as someone who teaches literature and history, what you need is a culture of the arts and humanity. What you need is more storytelling. What you need is more discourse. What you need is more imagination. What you need is more creation in that way, and more of a sense of what it is that ties us to those words and ties us to those stories.