Short Writing Assignment

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In a brief essay (500-1000 words) address ONE of the following questions. Normal citations rules apply (i.e., be sure to cite any text that you use to address the question).

(1)  Arendt argues that no government could ever be founded only on violence alone. What are her reasons for suggesting this? You should consider using one of her examples or developing your own.

(2)  Arendt tells us that power is the “very condition enabling a group of people to think and act in terms of the means-end category” (p. 150). What does this mean, and why is power a necessary condition for thinking and acting in the means-end category? You should consider using an example to illustrate Arendt’s point.

(3)  One of the more moving discussions from the video we watched was when one of the leaders of the March on Washington talked about going back to the Mall after the march had ended; he described the poignant emptiness, the fliers blowing in the wind, and the memory of the greatness of the event. Explain this person’s memories and descriptions in terms of Arendt’s conception of power and action.

(4)  According to Arendt, civil disobedience ought not to be understood in terms of individual conscience (or in terms of conscientious objectors). Why not? And what is Arendt’s alternative framework for understanding it?

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2 Responses to “Short Writing Assignment”

  1. adriandimatteo Says:

    Power Is as Power Does

    Arendt’s definition of power as the “very condition enabling a group of people to think and act in terms of the means-end category,” is strikingly well-supported (or so it appears) by the historical development of the American Civil Rights Movement. Where one might be quick to assume that violence is power, Arendt cleverly demonstrates that this assumption is actually backwards. Violence is most often used as a futile means of attempting to prevent the loss of state power. When some group within society (i.e. frustrated African Americans leading up to the 1960’s) begins to organize itself around an ideal (in this case greater social equality for African American citizens), naive rulers attempt to break their will to power through violence (fire-hoses, police brutality, prison, etc.). While such actions could potentially dismantle the organizing group, it does not increase the power of the ruler but merely diminishes the power of the organizing group. At the same time, it lessens that group’s respect for established leadership. If, however, the violence fails to discourage the group (as was the case with the American Civil Rights Movement), then that group’s newly forged power asserts its supremacy over the instrumental use of violence. What use is violence in the face of an organized assembly that refuses to back down? The ruler would have to kill them all (be utterly merciless) or acknowledge their power (i.e. ratify the 14th and 15th amendments).

    Arendt suggest that power is necessary for thinking and acting in the means-end category. This is supported by the fact that, in order to organize in the first place, a common goal must exist. This goal is an end. The way that goal is to be achieved is its means. Violence cannot be an end because, “like all means, it always stands in need of guidance and justification through the end it pursues. And what needs justification by something else cannot be the essence of anything.” Power, in contrast, can be seen as an end in itself. A powerful group (i.e. civil rights activists) may exercise its power to any desired end, so long as the power of the group remains sufficient. Yet, the term ‘end’ suggests that some finality can be attained. Arendt is rightly wary of such language. Power itself is like an end, but it cannot achieve any true finality. Rather, power must constantly be defended and maintained. Whether one opposing group seeks to diminish the power of another, or if members of the group cease to uphold their promises to participate, power is in fact an ever-fluctuating ‘end’.

    To that effect, power is at least broadly quantifiable. There exists something like an economics of power in which individuals are ultimately responsible for purchasing stock in this or that social contract. Metaphorically speaking, the individual is to the whole of power as personal wealth is to the whole of the economy. Collectively, individuals are assemblies. Similarly, personal wealth-brackets define economic demographics. In a broader sense, the citizens of America (who at least tacitly agree to its laws) constitute its power. The collective wealth of its citizens and companies are its national economy. All the citizens of earth represent man’s total potential power. All wealth and production are its total economy.

  2. adriandimatteo Says:

    I would revise my statement:

    “In order to organize in the first place, a common goal must exist”

    to

    “An essential aspect of organizing it’s gravitation towards a goal.”

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