This morning on Aeon, Samantha Rose Hill published an article titled, “Where loneliness can lead. Hannah Arendt enjoyed her solitude, but she believed that loneliness could make people susceptible to totalitarianism.”
Hannah Arendt was a German-born American political philosopher best known for her work on the nature of power and evil, politics, authority, and totalitarianism).
Hill explains in the article that Arendt made the distinction between “isolation from loneliness, and loneliness from solitude.” Isolation and solitude are necessary for activities like creativity or engaging in deep thought — the ability to have a conversation with yourself.
Loneliness, on the other hand, “radically cuts people off from human connection” making it difficult to experience anything new and realize one’s full potential. From a neuroscience perspective, a lack of human interaction equates to a deficiency in acceptance, connection, and care — feelings that are mutually experienced by the giver and receiver.
What literally jumped off the page of the article was Hill’s telling of how Arendt structured a course on Totalitarianism that she taught at Berkeley:
The class was divided into four parts: the decay of political institutions, the growth of the masses, imperialism, and the emergence of political parties as interest-group ideologies.
Let me reframe the above as a numerical list to make my point more apparent (perspective is everything):
- The decay of political institutions
- The growth of the masses
- The emergence of political parties as interest-group ideologies
Hill continues with,
In her opening lecture, [Arendt] framed the course by reflecting on how the relationship between political theory and politics has become doubtful in the modern age. She argued that there was an increasing, general willingness to do away with theory in favour of mere opinions and ideologies.
If this sounds like populism to you, then you’re seeing my point.
‘Many,’ she said, ‘think they can dispense with theory altogether, which of course only means that they want their own theory, underlying their own statements, to be accepted as gospel truth.’
In the case of Donald Trump, I wouldn’t suggest he is espousing a theory — unless you want to call it chaos theory — rather, his approach is a non-stop barrage of declarative, often simplistic and patently false or misleading statements, often disassociated from reality, to appeal to the “disenfranchised” voter who no longer knows who to trust.
These are the people Arendt might describe as lonely or “isolated” and who can be more easily swept up by ideology and totalitarianism.
Please read Samantha Rose Hill’s essay here: