Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

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James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    The fact that there was no national state meant that the South had the “atmosphere of freedom” needed for Jim Crow. Most mistitled post ever?Report

  2. Avatar MFarmer says:

    I don’t know what she was talking about, except in comparison to the history of Europe, it appeared to her in 1946 that America was free of the ancien regime tradition and national identity like in Germany, Italy, France and so forth. But the nationalist push didn’t really start in Europe until WWI, going into the WWII.Report

  3. I haven’t read Arendt, but she has a reputation as a subtle thinker, so I don’t want to say anything about this fragment without a little more context (though of course the date says a lot). Is more of the letter posted online?Report

  4. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    I’m also leaning towards those saying context is king. Also, keep in mind the German language influence on the sender and receiver of the letter, a lot more might be meant by “national state” and “national tradition” than occurs to a native English speaker. Die Nation in German and “the nation” in English do not map onto one another precisely, faux amis might be too strong, but there is a layer of meaning lost in translation. The German usage contains overtones of ethnic/cultural identity even more strongly bound up in the definition than the common English usage of nation. So I’ve been told in lectures. I’m not a native or near-native German speaker so I can’t really judge for myself (barely a German speaker would be accurate). I’m curious, was the original letter in German or English?Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    The letter does not seem to appear on-line, and I don’t have the book, only the note I jotted down while I was in a library reading it. I don’t know what language the original was in, although it’s certainly quite likely it was German.

    Jason’s sharp critique is more or less what was on my mind when I asked the question, “was this ever true?” Because Arendt also wrote (elsewhere, I think) that in a conflict between the U.S. and the south, she’d have to side with the south. That’s curious, because obviously Arendt could not have been a fan of Jim Crow.

    But as to the use of the word “nation,” here, my casual interpretation is that it relates to the concept of nationalism, in the European militaristic sense from which she had fled. In that sense, is she right about the U.S. (even with the unavoidable reality of Jim Crow laws)?Report