'I merely belong to them'
by Judith Butler
The Jewish Writings by Hannah Arendt ed. Jerome Kohn · Schocken, 559 pp, $35.00
‘You know the left think that I am conservative,’ Hannah Arendt once said, ‘and the conservatives think I am left or I am a maverick or God knows what. And I must say that I couldn’t care less. I don’t think the real questions of this century get any kind of illumination by this kind of thing.’ The Jewish Writings make the matter of her political affiliation no less easy to settle. In these editorials, essays and unfinished pieces, she seeks to underscore the political paradoxes of the nation-state. If the nation-state secures the rights of citizens, then surely it is a necessity; but if the nation-state relies on nationalism and invariably produces massive numbers of stateless people, it clearly needs to be opposed. If the nation-state is opposed, then what, if anything, serves as its alternative?
Arendt refers variously to modes of ‘belonging’ and conceptions of the 'polity' that are not reducible to the idea of the nation-state. She even formulates, in her early writings, an idea of the ‘nation’ that is uncoupled from both statehood and territory. The nation retains its place for her, though it diminishes between the mid-1930s and early 1960s, but the polity she comes to imagine, however briefly, is something other than the nation-state: a federation that diffuses both claims of national sovereignty and the ontology of individualism. In her critique of Fascism as well as in her scepticism towards Zionism, she clearly opposes those disparate forms of the nation-state that rely on nationalism and create massive statelessness and destitution. Paradoxically, and perhaps shrewdly, the terms in which Arendt criticised Fascism came to inform her criticisms of Zionism, though she did not and would not conflate the two. [read on...]