Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Reading Arendt in Caracas"

I'll admit I probably should be more suspicious of Hugo Chavez than am. It's just so rare to hear a politican even mention let alone advocate against poverty and for socialized anything these days it's difficult not to forgive him his, um, cult of personality, machismo characteristics. "Anti-chavistas" are even more deserving of suspicion, in my estimation. So when I came across this article by Arendt's biographer, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in The Nation, I was uncertain what to expect. The clash would be, to my mind, that liberalist admiration/appropriation for Arendt's political philosophy-- in Venezualan politics-- would make me sad in that it would force me to acknowledge, as it made present--an unresolvable conflict between my post-Marxist leanings and my admiration for Arendt's philosophy.

Actually, the essay is a pretty good balancing act, which of course could be just another way of perpetuating a false objectivity--"fair and balanced"-- in the service of cowardice, but I also think Young-Bruehl is trying to see "both sides" in a way that would make Arendt proud.

I found this anecdote to be amusing/illuminating: "On the day of my arrival at Simon Bolivar University, El Presidente discoursed on TV for an interminable half-hour on Antonio Gramsci before turning to a mixture of grandiose self-reference and policy wonkese."

Check out how that "interminable half-hour" is a little slap for American audiences and politicians. And she manages to criticize Chavez too with the "grandiose self reference." Nice.

But I do have to say-- can you imagine George Bush, or, fuck, Hillary Clinton even mentioning Antonio Gramsci? I'd take grandiose self-refernece for a dollop of Gramsci any day.

Well, maybe...

What Young-Bruehl manages to suggest is that Arendt's vision of--and insistence on-- the political realm is broader than any sense we now have of sclerotic two-party democracies, which merely serve to uphold (and cover over) economic injustices. At least the way I read Young-Bruehl, there's a possibility that the folks that brought her to Caracas (the anti-chavista , pro-Arendt factions) didn't get the response (or the support) from an Arendtian that they expected. But then, neither did the pro-chavistas.

I love it when everyone walks away partly unsatisfied.

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