Hannah Arendt explains the most important response to terrorism


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Originally published at https://ideapod.com/widely-acclaimed-political-theorist-explains-important-response-terrorism/

There’s one response to the terrorist attack in London that can defeat the terrorists and prevent these attacks from strengthening the global war on terror, according to a widely acclaimed political theorist.

The political theorist Hannah Arendt powerfully described it well in her 1973 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century.

According to Arendt, terror takes its strongest hold in societies where people have lost contact with each other.

This is why the most important response to terrorism is compassion for others, as we’ve seen with the incredible outpouring of love and human connection in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks.

It’s not just about strengthening human bonds in response to terrorist attacks. It’s also about preventing our own politics from moving towards tyranny:

“Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

This is why it’s so important that we come together based on actions guided by compassion. This is how we prevent totalitarian rule emerging from our reaction to terrorism.

“Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition.”

Arendt continues:

“In isolation, man remains in contact with the world as the human artifice; only when the most elementary form of human creativity, which is the capacity to add something of one’s own to the common world, is destroyed, isolation becomes altogether unbearable… Isolation then becomes loneliness.”

This is about much more than politics:

“While isolation concerns only the political realm of life, loneliness concerns human life as a whole. Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating men, their political capacities. But totalitarian domination as a form of government is new in that it is not content with this isolation and destroys private life as well. It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”

The terror attacks are tragic, and it’s important that we strengthen the fabric of society by engaging in acts of compassion. This is the most important response to the terrorist attacks.


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I think this article brilliantly offers a positive stance to our potential to spiral into absolute hell. Russia for example was a very Christian country before the communists made religion illegal. Over time , those same moral people evolved into people who would inform on a friend or family member in exchange for food.
I think the isolation described by Hannah Arendt can also be found in contention with what we call the rat race . Positive, competent acts are in deed key to remedy .
Thanks for sharing this.


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Thanks for the thoughtful reply @Csmith. It was really meaningful to come across this article today as I’m doing some work in more clearly defining Ideapod so that it’s easier for people to engage with. Certainly, providing a platform so that people can explore the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, is the direction we’re heading. How well we do this will be another matter entirely!