I read Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem right before I stared working in the fast paced world of local government and her analysis of institutionalization was pretty terrifying. There’s a great interview with her here, opening with a particularly stupid question about whether it’s possible to be both a woman and a philosopher.
In Between Past and Future, written in 1961, Arendt cheefully announces “thought and reality have parted company”, before beginning a history of Western thought from the Romans through to the Nazis. Of the Romans, she writes:
Before the Romans such a thing as tradition was unknown; with them it became and after them it remained the guiding thread through the past and the chain to which each new generation knowingly or unknowingly was bound to its understanding of the world and its own experience.
From there, she makes the argument that people’s concept of who they are has increasingly come from where they think they came from, rather than where they are now, leading to a situation whereby the current is overwhelmed by fairly dubious ideas about origins, tradition and authenticity.
She puts this down to Rome’s obsession with its origins, writing:
…the most deeply Roman divinities were Janus, the god of beginning, with whom, as it were, we still begin our year [i.e January], and Minerva, the goddess of remembrance.
Lately I’ve been reading a few Australian histories and, arguably, the same argument makes sense of some of the more comedic moments of the Abbott legacy. You could probably make a case that the myth of Australian origins tended to eclipse a more pragmatic policy framework – for example, having a Minister dedicated to ANZAC, but no Minister for Science, climate change, cities or creative industries.
Would My Mother Like This Book?
She’d probably agree with it ideologically, but the font is pretty small and it’s pretty grim, and there’s not much on either dogs or gardening in it.