The political potential of the vulnerability

Hannah Arendt: The Lawless and the Humble Information Publishers. Denmark

The lawless and the humble
Forfatter: Hannah Arendt
Forlag: Informations Forlag (Danmark)
Arendt's painful text shows us the causes of our spiritual-political crisis.


Political philosopher Hannah Arendt fled in 1933 with many other German Jews from the Nazi regime through Europe and to America. After that, she became politically and socially engaged and began writing essays on refugees, stateless people and rights now compiled in the text collection The lawless and the humble. In it, she writes: "The unjust accident is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness or equality for the law and freedom of speech – formulas created to solve the problem within a given community – but that they are not longer is any particular community at all. ”It is this question of belonging that is the focal point of these strong texts.

Identity Confusion. When Arendt in the first essay We are refugees attaches great importance to distinguishing Flygtninge og migrants, it is not primarily to emphasize the difference between people breaking up from war, oppression and persecution, and people leaving their homes because of financial hopelessness. Only the first, as you know, legitimately consider as an asylum seeker. The latter are today referred to as convenience refugees. Rather, Arendt's point is to draw our attention to the connection between the vulnerability of exile psychology and the social and political struggle for value.

She describes the problem of the newly arrived Jew to America as a struggle between the nation-state's demands for assimilation and the difficulty of preserving its integrity. An intriguing problem for today's countless refugees and stateless people worldwide. As she writes, "If we are saved, we feel humiliated, if we are helped, we feel humiliated." The greatest pain and problem of the refugee is the disconnection from one's own destiny. "The less we are free to decide who we are and to live the way we want, the more we try to build a façade, hide the facts and play role-playing games."

It is this identity confusion that hits the refugee. When one's political and legal status is a mess, the individual loses the strength to maintain personal integrity. "Since we lack the courage needed to change our social and legal status, a large part of us has instead decided to try a new identity." The refugee learns to push the vulnerability aside and use all the energy to adapt to the new country's norms (assimilation): “We pretend to be English-speaking... . " Arendt's painful text shows the connection between today's lack of awareness of his own vulnerability and a spiritual-political crisis.

The human rights discourse, with its abstract focus on the individual, contributes to the depoliticization of man.

Loss of political community.
In the acute refugee crisis, the question has been raised as to whether the nation-state is part of the problem itself. Arendt concludes that "the real obstacle to solving the problem of refugees and stateless people lies in the fact that it simply cannot be solved as long as the peoples are organized within the old system based on nation states. Instead, the stateless are lifting more clearly than anything else before the nation-state crisis ».

But neither is the international legal community a guarantee. Firstly, the international agreements and the resulting efforts end in resolving the issue of the stateless "in an attempt to make them deportable again". Either refugees are sent back to their home country (repatriation) or a third place is found to place them. Today we know the result of the increasing number of camps where thousands of people live in humiliating conditions. Second, the inviolable principles of human rights often prove impossible to implement in practice when the refugee is not a citizen of a state.

But here she goes a sod deeper. The loss to the disenfranchised is the loss of their home, but at the same time she emphasizes: “What is unprecedented is not the loss of the home, but the lack of opportunity to find a new one. Suddenly, there was no place on earth where migrants could seek refuge without running into the strictest restrictions; no country where they could be assimilated; no territory where they could establish a new community. " But as Arendt emphasizes, this has nothing to do with material problems created by over population. "It was not a question of space, but of political organization."

The right to rights. The human rights discourse, with its abstract focus on the individual, contributes to the depoliticization of man. "[The refugees'] freedom of movement gives them the right to a home… but their meaningfulness is an illusion, because none of what they think has any significance anyway."

A language of vulnerability could have stripped us of the narcissism that has seized our ridiculous defense mechanisms against the misery of this world.

But there is something more fundamental and valuable than accessing civil rights and that is to belong to a social political community where one can exchange ideas freely and "make certain views on things". Being human is not just a matter of having rights but "of having the right to rights." "It is not the loss of specific rights, but the loss of a community that is willing and able to guarantee any rights whatsoever, which is the accident that has hit an ever-increasing number of people. Man can, as it turns out, lose all so-called human rights without losing its very basic character of man – its human dignity. Only the loss of a society dispels from humanity. "

We are not born as equal but our political life rests on community organizations which historically have been the places where one can fight for greater political and social equality. We isolate the refugee question to an individual economic question: Can it be worth closing in? We lose a language of community and can only think in the "pure individuality". "The great danger," as Arendt writes in our day, "lies in the fact that there are people who are forced to live outside the common world, that in the midst of civilization they have been thrown back on their naturally given, on their pure and cut individuality. They lack the powerful equalization of differences that come from being citizens of a community ».

The potential of vulnerability. In these texts, Arendt links his personal destiny with a common political voice. The state of exile made her a politically engaged person. Arendt's masterful texts show how the language of refugees and human rights discourse has become part of a communications industry that reproduces the same power relations it is set to protect: that our notions of refugee focusing on the individual keep us in passive positions and exclude the other . What prevents us from coming into contact with the wounds that produce a common life is the language of deprivation. The lawless and the humble offers a language of vulnerability as political potential, that could remove us from the narcissism that has seized our ridiculous defense mechanisms against this miserable world.

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