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Hannah Arendt, 150-End

Hannah Arendt Essay D1:

Jake Maxmin

February, 2011

“In this situation, the question about the meaning of politics is itself altered. The question today is hardly, What is the meaning of politics? For those people all over the world who feel threatened by politics, among whom the very best are those who consciously distance themselves from politics, the far more relevant question they ask themselves and others is, Does politics still have any meaning at all?” (Arendt 151)

The Promise of Politics is a wide ranging exploration of modern day political systems—but Hannah Arendt’s one overriding message is clear: destruction has bypassed production. This means that the the capability of our world to destroy has surpassed its ability to produce. Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of this comparison. She also discusses the political systems of the modern world and the role they play in this balance. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her argument. Arendt opens the reader’s eyes to the problems that exist today, but also their potential solutions. She gives new hope to the possibilities of what humanity might accomplish despite countless obstacles. Arendt explains that because the world balance has been tipped toward destruction, we need to work harder to install just governments and practice democratic principles that will insure the safety of our future.  I think that Arendt’s argument  is just as relevant to life in the early twentieth century as it was when she wrote it in the post WWII era.

The Promise of Politics was published in the years immediately following the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Arendt was deeply concerned that the nuclear bomb had become a threat to all human life. “Ever since the invention of the atomic bomb, our mistrust has been based on the eminently justifiable fear that politics and the means of force available to it may well destroy humanity.”(Arendt 153)

Arendt argued that we have lost the balance between destruction and production that has been so delicately maintained until the second and even first World War. The atomic bomb marked the point at which our world’s destructive capacity bypassed its ability to produce, create, and improve life.  “The ability to destroy and the ability to produce stand in balance, one with the other. The energy which destroys the world and does violence to it is the same energy that is in our own hands and by means of which we do violence to nature and destroy some natural thing…” (Arendt 154) “The crucial point for our present situation is that in the real world of things, the balance between destruction and reconstruction can be maintained only as long as the technology involved deals with nothing except pure production…”(Arendt 155)

Even though the world has not repeated the nuclear destruction that occurred at the end of WWII , does that mean we are no longer at risk?  Perhaps this time, the source of destruction will come from something other than nuclear bombs. There are many destructive tendencies that threaten our world today, and Arendt’s fear remains all too real. We must now ask ourselves:  if politics and the systems we have in place are powerful enough to save the world from these destructive force.

One of the most urgent and obvious examples of such destruction is global warming. Our capacity to destroy the world through pollution has outgrown our production of green and environmentally friendly materials. Even though Arendt wrote about this comparison of destructive versus productive capacity in relation to the atom bomb and the mass destruction caused on the island of Japan, global warming is also destroying people,  habitats, and many aspects of life as we know it. The production of industrialized goods has become a force that is destroying our world–not just because these things cause harm to others, but because their actual production causes harm to our environment.  Production is hurting our environment because it relies on fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are responsible for “global warming, air quality deterioration, oil spills, and acid rain” says the Union of Concerned Scientists. Fossil fuels also include extreme amount of pollutants.

Among the gases emitted when fossil fuels are burned, one of the most significant is carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Over the last 150 years, burning fossil fuels has resulted in more than a 25 percent increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The Union for Concerned Scientists goes on.
According to the 2007/ 2008 Human Development Report, 262 million people have been affected annually in 2000 to 2004 by natural disasters related to global warming.  “Climate disasters are increasing in frequency and touching the lives of more people. The immediate consequences are horrific.”

William Nordhaus, in his article Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong explains that rising temperatures can directly cause sea-level rise, more intense hurricanes, losses of species and ecosystems, acidification of the oceans, and threatens the natural and cultural heritage of the planet. What will it take for us to wake up as a people and recognize Arendt’s argument?
Fossil Fuels have been contributing to global warming ever since we discovered how to harness coal into new technologies that unleashed a new level of productivity. One hundred and fifty years later we discovered the internal combustion engine and oil became the next big factor in wealth, productivity, and climate change. In 2002, Americans consumed more oil than 194 other countries, with 25.3% of total world consumption. Destruction is anything that hurts our environment, whilst production is anything that favors it. We need to find ways to acknowledge this change and come to grips with what must be done. “Climate generates a distinctive set of risks. Droughts, floods, storms, and other events have the potential to disrupt people’s lives, leading to losses of income, assets, and opportunities.”

With the extreme amount of industrialization in today’s world, Arendt’s argument becomes more compelling and relevant than ever. How can we produce in a way that will benefit us all, bypass our destruction, but also be sustainable to support future generations?  A focus needs to be drawn to re-evaluate today’s production methods, and put the priorities of the world above our own.
 
A radical shift in our production methods is required, but also a change in what we produce. Fossil fuels “power almost two-thirds of our electricity and virtually all of our transportation.” states the Sustainable Table, an organization that promotes local foods, sustainability, and growth of communities through local foods. It is time that we rethink how we produce goods, and how we can work to produce a more sustainable future for all generations. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stresses the need for new consumer habits such as washing in cold water, using sustainable diapers, and recycling.

Arendt’s argument emphasizes that politics is the means available to civilized peoples to move forward and regain our balance. It is up to politics and the democratic systems of government to put things right. Politics should free the voices of the people whom it serves and promote freedom and production towards a sustainable future. Politics needs to be used to not only form the “coexistence and association” (Arendt 93) of different individuals, but also to promote laws, freedom, justice, honor, and peace. The political systems of today should not only instill freedom, but they should ensure that the leaders in power are democratically elected. This will insure that the public is happy with and supports their leaders in constructive ways. We hold the world in our hands, and we can choose to either destroy it, or reconcile our differences and make a change. “…they can destroy nature on earth in the same way that natural processes manipulated by men can destroy the world built by men.” (Arendt 158) This is the decision we face. Is it possible for nations to summon the political will to mitigate the harm that has been done to our earth? Is it possible for nations to band together and fight for one common goal? These are the most pressing questions that we must ask ourselves.
Everyday these aspects of our world seem to grow further apart. Our destructive powers can wipe us out in a heartbeat. It seems as though the problems we face such as biological warfare, nuclear warfare, inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of education, and environmentally destructive practices will never be solved because we cannot work together.

 An ideal political system is one that values sustainable production over physical destruction. Ideal political systems enable their citizens to live freely and without the fear of destruction. In many ways, we are far away from having ideal political systems throughout our world. The threat of physical destruction to our world is all too real in contemporary times. Disagreements between different religious, political, and regional groups seems close to tearing our world limb from limb.

On the other hand, there are also many ways in which we are extremely close to developing 21st century techniques for political co-existence. Today, the internet is connecting people around the world, giving them access to information, giving them the ability to share, and at the same time providing us with the hope for a new future. Arab spring, distance learning, and social media reflect the tools that are going to enable a re-definition of today’s political systems.

People have the ability to transform the systems of the world. We cannot undo the destruction that we have done, but we can prevent it from happening or worsening in the future. We, the people, have the power to either destroy or redefine the world as we know it. We have a long journey ahead of us to solve these problems, but perhaps one day we will reach a point where we are no longer our own worst enemy.

1 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 153
2 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books154
3 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 155
4 Union for Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/, Global Warming, Accessed MAR 2012
5 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 75
6  Nordhaus, William, Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong, New York Review of Books, March 2012
7 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) World Consumer Report. 32
8 Hirsh, Bezdek, and Wendling, PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION: IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT, February 2005
9 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 78
10 Robert A. McDonald, R8 Wall Street Journal MAR. 26(2012)
11 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books. 93