This is one in a series of short essays related to Annie’s colloquium, Brooklyn Brews and Oyster Pie: Visions for a Local Food System in the New York Region. An explanation of the “colloquium,” as well as a link to download Annie’s topic (the rationale), can be found under Gallatin Colloquium, in the Research section of this site.
In December 2007, NYU Professor George Shulman taught a course entitled “Authority, Modernity, and Democracy,” in which the students read (among other books) Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. I wrote about this reading on Thanksgiving Day that year, in an essay entitled Arendt & Berry on Joralemon Street. I had been reading Wendell Berry too. I am only now adding the genius of Wes Jackson into my jungle of a brain. I have not written about Wes because I would prefer to just write what he writes.
For now, I’ll share what I wrote in 2007. My final essay for George’s course was the one I have posted below. I apologize for the academia. And for the imperfect footnotes. I still believe what I wrote.
The Newness of Survival (December 12, 2007)
The following essay will evaluate the distinct separation of political agency and human survival throughout Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, and the unnecessary boundaries drawn by this separation, with which Arendt limits her own brilliant ideas. The German Jewish political theorist values the complexity of newness, remembrance, and public space, and yet sets boundaries on the political potential of those values by separating them from the privacy of “simple” life and survival. While articulating the valuable ideal of individual agency through creative, political action, Arendt fails to utilize the interactions of the system of Nature, which, if recognized and emulated, would allow man not only to act with agency, but to live by our ability to act. Arendt’s theory would do well to incorporate and adjust to the fact that the material of man’s work, the inspiration for our action, and the historical and geographical context of the change we create all depend upon the earth’s environment, and on the evolving, mutually dependent, biological cycles of our natural world. Instead, Arendt limits her core values in The Human Condition to a world that requires selectivity, subordination, and slavery, when man could embrace her underlying vision of agency, remembrance, and diverse individuals, in a system without such negative qualities.