On Revolution by Hannah Arendt

Reviewed by  LJ Frank

The 1963 hardcopy in my library is reviewed. Some thoughts. I’ve reviewed other works on NPJ of Ms. Arendt’s. This work is no exception in exemplifying her deeply thought provoking historical and philosophical insights.

 My take: Ms. Arendt begins On Revolution observing that wars and revolutions have determined the physiognomy of the twentieth century so far. She wrote that in 1962.  It remained true for the rest of the century and the first two decades of the twenty first century.

Though today our technologies are vastly superior and one can justifiably argue that with the combination of factors such as climate change, nuclear weapons, emerging diseases, water and air pollution, artificial l technology and so forth, human existence has become even more existential than when she wrote this valuable work. Add that to the fact that our ability to disinform is magnified through social media. And artificial intelligence has taken on both expected and unexpected roles as survival of the human species is literally open to question.

If you wish to create a revolution in ideas then shower the people in quotes, conflicting information, seeking their obedience to an idea and encourage them to keep their head down and stay silent to survive, talk about secession between groups of people such as the rich living in their own sections of town with separate identities and lives (and though legal means not having to pay taxes or legally skirting the law), increasing physical and political polarization then the revolution and steps toward fascism, and authoritarianism have been taken  and are already underway. In other words we are in the midst of a world wide revolt. 

Arendt traces the historical and philosophical roots to revolutionary thought and the concept of “one will” employed by the idealistic enlightened monarchical thinking to the present authoritarian regimes. It’s a master and servant form of thinking. The people exist at the will of the head of state. That thinking is supported by those who control the downstream effects. It’s not socialism, it’s rather totalitarianism. There’s a distinctt difference. Do what I say or else suffer the consequences is on the table. The law becomes applicable only  to the servants, not the masters or rulers.  

I may make it sound simple, it’s not. Arendt’s thought processes are provocative and a pleasure to read for the intellectually curious.

Many a revolution called upon God as a transcendent sanction of their revolution…in recent years we could use, Christian nationalism/revivalism, or the Arab Spring as examples. The idea is that God serves ina  transcendent role in justifying the ensuing protests and violence.

Arendt’s work though written just beyond the mid-twentieth century mark is relevant and prescient in today’s world of revolt.