Restoring the Sacred

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Words of Relevance: Hannah Arendt on Public Opinion

Hannah Arendt, one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century wrote many famous books.  Among them: The Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem in which she coined the phrase: The Banality of Evil.

In On Revolution she compared and contrasted the American and French revolutions.  She called the French revolution a disaster; the American revolution, a success.  She posited the French turned from their original goal of freedom and instead concentrated on "compassion for the masses."  Today's quote is from that work, and its relevance to today should be easily discernible to the reader.

Here's the quote:
Since no one is capable of forming his own opinion without the benefit of a multitude of opinions held by others, the rule of public opinion endangers even the opinion of those few who may have the strength not to share it. ... This is the reason why the Founding Fathers [of the United States] tended to equate rule based on public opinion with tyranny; democracy in this sense was to them but a newfangled form of despotism...