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Lying In Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts On Politics And Revolution

by Hannah Arendt

Pub Date: May 10th, 1972
ISBN: 0156232006
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

First published as a separate book in 1969, "On Violence" has become influential with its emphasis on the inverse relation between power and violence. "Lying in Politics," a discussion of the Pentagon Papers, is the most noteworthy among the other essays here (which first appeared in periodicals like the New York Review of Books). Professor Arendt underlines the fact that the Vietnam policy makers had remarkably accurate intelligence reports at their disposal and made remarkably consistent disuse of them; she concludes that "defactualization" could be sustained only because no real goals were sought beyond an "image" of power. This notion that the warmakers' purposes were "almost exclusively psychological" is presented with profuse quotations from Richard Barnet's contribution to Washington Plans An Aggressive War (1971). The anti-war sentiments Arendt expresses here are perfectly compatible with her essential conservatism; indeed, her logic could lead one to insist that policy makers be supremely victory-minded and next time pick a target of greater material importance. She argues that the Pentagon Papers' evidence denies not only a "quagmire" view of Vietnam policies but also says accusations of "imperialism" are now refuted, since they were indifferent to all tangible gains. In "Civil Disobedience" the polemic is more muted: Arendt elaborates the notion that civil disobedients are not merely a cluster of conscience-stricken individuals but "a voluntary association," or an "organized minority" -- i.e., a single-issue protest group with constitutional legitimacy. Her treatment of the subject is superior to most. The "Politics and Revolution" interview, dated mid-1970, denies that the student movement is frustrated, advises it not to "destroy the universities," perceptively comments on capitalist "primitive accumulation," and discusses socialism as if it were equivalent to the Eastern bloc regimes. With her air of authority and European worldly wisdom, Arendt often gets away with saws and sophistries; but politically-minded readers will relish the chance to tangle with her intelligence.