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A few questions for our esteemed leader 
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Post A few questions for our esteemed leader
...or really anyone who can and feels inclined to answer them.

I'm sure each of these questions could be asked in the chapters to which they apply; however, rather than divert whatever discussion may already be going on, and assuming that I will have more general-type questions I could use answered, I figured I would start a questions page. So...

Arendt talks about "acts of state" in sovereign governments and likens these acts to acts an individual would commit in self-defense. Thus, under extraordinary circumstances, governments may perform acts that are outside of legal and moral grounds essentially to ensure their own survival. She then contrasts this with totalitarian regimes where the entire system of government requires acts of state that are essentially illegal. Is Arendt saying that these acts of state are acceptable in the former? Would this speak in a specific way to say capital punishment in the U.S.? (pp 38-39)

Arendt refers to Socrates's secular concept of morality. But in the dialogues, as I recall and understand, Socrates's discussion on doing right as opposed to wrong is tied up in consideration with a soul. That upon death, the soul would be in the state it had assumed through years of life, and preserving the goodness of the soul was the ideal. Is this really secular?

Arendt says that philosophy is about thought, the individual, while politics is about action. Does this fly in the face of Plato's philosopher king? I know that Arendt is not saying that those who participate in politics are not thinkers. But Plato made the argument that philosophers make the greatest rulers, while Arendt is making the argument that philosophy is inherently a personal occupation, yes? Or am I interpreting that wrong?

O.K. I'm tired I'm going to stop there. I have more to add at another time, but I can't quite get a grasp on the question.

I'm finding Arendt pleasingly difficult. That is to say, it's work to sort out her concepts, and the concepts her writing inspires, but it's not aggravatingly so...yet. I will say that her writing is far from what I normally read and that is making it difficult to suck it up in a way that I normally would. I'm hoping that if I can get my head around some of the above questions I've had, along with others I haven't quite formulated yet, I'll be able to jump into conversation in a useful way.



Fri Nov 30, 2007 5:20 am
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Post Re: A few questions for our esteemed leader
irishrose wrote:
Arendt talks about "acts of state" in sovereign governments and likens these acts to acts an individual would commit in self-defense.... Is Arendt saying that these acts of state are acceptable in the former? Would this speak in a specific way to say capital punishment in the U.S.?


My answer on this one is going to be a little bit unfair in the context of this particular reading, because I have the added advantage of having read "Eichmann", where she devotes a considerable amount of space to the question of acts of state. I don't think Arendt has any designs on judging acts of state per se. Her interest is mainly confined to the question of how you can deal with them on a political and social level. That's a question that loomed heavily for more than 100 years, and if we've more or less stopped addressing it (although, the Iraq invasion threatened to re-ignite it) that's probably only because we've since found a number of ad hoc ways of dealing with or ignoring it. But it doesn't look, to me, solved in any definitive sense.

For instance, it's easy enough to look at an act of state like the Holocaust and condemn it as grossly immoral. It's much more difficult to figure out what to do about it once you've condemned it. The problem is that there is no recognized authority competent to pass any sort of meaningful judgment. The state is, for the moment, the top of the hierarchy in terms of expressing a will. As a way of navigating disputes, competing states have generally observed a principle of sovereignty, and non-defensive wars tend to problematic both strategically and diplomatically because they step all over recognized conventions of sovereignty. An attack on another nation is an attack on the sovereignty of that state, and by extension, on the principle of sovereignty; most other states will not only see the attacked party's defense and declaration of war as justified but will also consider any action taken by a third party on the behalf of that defense as to the benefit of all lesser state's in so much as it stands in support of their claim to independent rule.

Harking back to the Iraq example, the Bush administration managed to confuse the issue by implying that an attack on Iraq was, in some way, a defensive measure. The Baath response was equally confused, in part by its totalitarian stake in "credibility", but to some degree their argument that the U.S. had no right or justification for impinging on their sovereignty was totally within precedent. The Bush administration brought nothing new to the table when it argued that the Baath regime was routinely and grossly immoral, but there's very little precedent for launching an invasion on that alone.

Arendt's interest in the question seems to begin with the Nazi arguments from sovereignty. They essentially argued that the Holocaust was an act of state, that it was a recognized part of the principle of sovereignty that they could treat their own citizens however they liked, and that there was no tribunal or court competent to decide the case being pressed against them. That caused real problems for the courts, and it seems to me that rather than anyone answering those concerns, the sheer extremity of the situation compelled those involve to simply push beyond the issue of precedent and go ahead with the trials. They succeeded, it would seem, mostly because no one was really interested in standing in Nazi Germany's defense.

Whether or not that state of affairs is in any sense acceptable is almost beside the point. It's the price of doing business. Only other states are even remotely capable of bringing a state to task for its actions. But those states have a stake in the principle that acts of state are beyond the purview and competency of any court. Thus the tenuous support according to an institution like the World Court, and the U.S. ability to buck the U.N. when it so pleases.

As for how it applies to an issue like capital punishment, I haven't really seen the issue get to that level as yet. If other nations unanimously decided that capital punishment were unjustifiable, and called for the U.S. to abolish the practice, then the issue of "acts of state" would come into question. I may simply be out of the loop on this one, but I haven't seen a lot of trouble to the end.

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But in the dialogues, as I recall and understand, Socrates's discussion on doing right as opposed to wrong is tied up in consideration with a soul. That upon death, the soul would be in the state it had assumed through years of life, and preserving the goodness of the soul was the ideal.


Arendt is likely drawing a distinction between doctrines that only seemed to develop in later dialogues and doctrines that are expressed in earlier ones, or which are confirmed in other sources, like the dialogues of Xenophon. The crux of the matter is that Plato seems to have taken more liberties with the later works in using Socrates as a mouthpiece for his own ideas, which would make the doctrines of the soul essentially Platonic, and not Socratic. On the whole, the ethics recognized as Platonic is more systematic and more speculative than that presumed to be Socrates' alone. The secular Socratic moral principles are probably best located in the quartet of historic dialogues: Crito, Phaedo, Euthyphro, and the Apology. Unfortunately, it's been about 15 years since I've read those, so I don't feel competent to paraphrase the relevant sections, but the distinction is a fairly common one among commentators on Socrates and Plato.

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Arendt says that philosophy is about thought, the individual, while politics is about action. Does this fly in the face of Plato's philosopher king?


That's a distinct possibility. But then, Plato's philosopher king is an ideal that very few political thinkers have thought practicable. Plato himself expressed reservations in the Republic, seems to have lost hope in ever achieving that ideal after the falling out with Dion of Sicily, and seems to have written the Laws to provide a more practicable political theory. I doubt Arendt would have tried to square her political thought with Plato's ideal.

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But Plato made the argument that philosophers make the greatest rulers, while Arendt is making the argument that philosophy is inherently a personal occupation, yes? Or am I interpreting that wrong?


If you're interpreting it to imply a complete severance of politics from philosophy, then perhaps. I'm not sure that these essays give us grounds for answering that question definitively. An answer that doesn't presume too much but is still consistent with what Arendt has written might be to say that she is providing us with a descriptive criteria, not a prescriptive one. That is, we recognize philosophy by observing that it's the work of personal thought and judgment; likewise, we recognize politics by its medium, action, and by its corporate, social embodiment. That isn't to say that politicians shouldn't think, or that philosophers shouldn't act. But when politicians think, they're not practicing politics; their philosophy may translate into politics, just as thought may translate into action -- just as, in fact, Plato's work in Sicily, though consistent with his philosophy, was political and not philosophical. (Conversely, Machiavelli might be taken as an example of a person translating politics -- those of Cesare Borgia -- into philosophy.)

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I will say that her writing is far from what I normally read and that is making it difficult to suck it up in a way that I normally would.


Arendt isn't all that different from what I usually read, and I still find it difficult! In part, I think that's because she genuinely is bringing something new and penetrating to the fray, and that can be hard to come to grips with. But talking about it certainly helps me clarify my thoughts on the matter. Things have been a little frantic on my end lately, but starting tomorrow I hope to plunge into the latter half of the book. I'm glad you're enjoying the book and joining in on the discussion, Rose.



Fri Nov 30, 2007 11:14 am
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Mad wrote:
My answer on this one is going to be a little bit unfair...


Oh fiddlesticks, that's why I'm asking. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't possibly hide that I have no background in philosophy. So if you, or anyone else, can cut through the ABCs for me a bit, then it will probably make it an easier and more useful read for me. But the only way you could help me out is if you've read more than I, which I'm proceeding from the assumption that you have.

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I don't think Arendt has any designs on judging acts of state per se.


So when she says that acts of state, which may not hold up to moral or legal standards, used by legitimate governments in extenuating circumstances to essentially protect the state's well-being are different than the acts of state enacted by a totalitarian government, she isn't saying that one is acceptable and the other is not. She is merely drawing the distinction that they are different...? But then, why draw the distinction? I did have U.S. military activity in Iraq in mind when considering these acts of state. I wonder, because of the distinction drawn, if Arendt would consider that a more defensible position than a totalitarian's subordination of its people. Or am I misreading it?

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...the sheer extremity of the situation compelled those involve to simply push beyond the issue of precedent and go ahead with the trials.


But with Nazi Germany, though I've never studied any of those trials, I'd imagine the courts were aware that they were creating precedent there. It was, as Arendt herself has stated, certainly an unprecedented situation. So, I hope anyway, the courts didn't "simply push beyond the issue of precedent" but were aware that they were creating precedent with their decisions. Now, the act of creating precedent is sketchy at best, but I think we're all aware of that.

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I may simply be out of the loop on this one, but I haven't seen a lot of trouble to the end.


The capital punishment thought was pure conjecture; I'm trying to get into the philosophical spirit. ;-) But, thinking on it, it is not unusual for European countries to deny extradition to the U.S. for defendants who are meant to stand for a capital trial. And the U.S., these days, is in pretty poor company with its position on capital punishment. Assuming one day a European with a little clout actually is tried and sentenced to execution here in the U.S., I don't think it's impossible for this to become an act of state issue.

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Unfortunately, it's been about 15 years since I've read those, so I don't feel competent to paraphrase the relevant sections, but the distinction is a fairly common one among commentators on Socrates and Plato.


Yeah, see that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. I was totally unaware of the distinction. Though thinking about it, it makes sense. In the earlier dialogues, when Socrates was arguing his defense at his trial part of the discussion was that he shouldn't be scared of death because he couldn't possibly know what death means, yes? BTW, you were reading Plato at 15? You were an odd kid, huh Mad?

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I doubt Arendt would have tried to square her political thought with Plato's ideal.


I didn't mean to suggest that she would. But I was wondering if her statement was meant to directly contradict what Plato had suggested. I had the feeling I might be missing something there.

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Things have been a little frantic on my end lately...


Ditto, but I'm hoping to get something down about the actual text before the end of the weekend. Sorry for the delay on my part.



Sat Dec 01, 2007 1:46 pm
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So when she says that acts of state, which may not hold up to moral or legal standards, used by legitimate governments in extenuating circumstances to essentially protect the state's well-being are different than the acts of state enacted by a totalitarian government, she isn't saying that one is acceptable and the other is not.


Can you give me a page number, so I can examine the specific context in which she says that? Off the top of my head, I'm not sure what passage you're referring to, so I don't feel confident interpreting her intent.

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In the earlier dialogues, when Socrates was arguing his defense at his trial part of the discussion was that he shouldn't be scared of death because he couldn't possibly know what death means, yes? BTW, you were reading Plato at 15? You were an odd kid, huh Mad?


Okay, a) did you ever doubt that I was an odd kid? And b) remember that we don't receive any first hand writings from Socrates. All of our primary sources about Socrates are from either Plato or Xenocrates -- mostly from Plato. So what philosopher and historians consider genuine Socratic philosophy is mostly extrapolation, based first of all on the coincidence of material between the two writers, and secondly on the difference between early Platonic dialogues, in which it is assumed Plato is working primarily from source material, ie. direct experience from association with the historic Socrates, as opposed to later writings when sophistication of style would allow him to take certain liberties with the teachings of his mentor. Today, I pulled out my copy of the early Socratic dialogues with the idea of re-reading them. Let me know if you'd be interested in discussing them, and I'll make a priority out of the exercise.

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But I was wondering if her statement was meant to directly contradict what Plato had suggested.


Remind me when I'm totally sober (Socrates, incidentally, definitively proved that philosophers were more capable of holding their liquor than laymen -- it's one of the few genuine perks of practicing philosophy) and I'll try to assess whether or not Arendt really had the Republic in mind with the passage in question.



Sun Dec 02, 2007 3:39 am
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"Can you give me a page number..."

p. 38, you know, if you have a minute.



Sun Dec 02, 2007 3:49 am
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I'll have to get to it tomorrow, when I'm really capable of assessing what she has to say. Right now, the tone that suits me best is scathing. Nice footie pajamas, by the way. Psht.



Sun Dec 02, 2007 4:03 am
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I think an interesting intersection between Socrates and Arendt is in Plato's Apology: when discussing a book titled, Responsibility and Judgment, what better place to compare than where Socrates faces his Judges- being tried for the dangerously irresponsible behavior of misleading the youth of Athens regarding the Gods, and confusing these young minds about the way things are supposed to be done.

In the Apology (which is not about saying "I'm sorry", but defending the rationale for one's actions...allowing oneself to be judged?) Socrates mentions a peculiar method for deciding the right thing to do: he relies upon a Daimon to guide his decisions...a spirit, demi-god or force of criticality that simply tells him what not to do; it pulls the reins and puts the breaks on his action...it is his No that ensures virtue and avoids vice. He trusts it and follows its dictates: even if it means standing entirely alone before the judgment of his peers and facing the worst of their penalities. It is not a theory, at least not to Socrates, nor is it a complicated methodology and specialized technique: it is simply something in his head that says: "Stop. Don't do it. Go no further."

This reminds me of the section on pages 44-45 where Arendt is describing the kind of thinking and motivation that directed and fueled those in Nazi Germany who said No, would not participate in the madness that surrounded them, at great risk and harm, beacause to do so would compromise really the only thing certain about any of us: no matter what we do we will have to live with ourselves.



Sun Dec 02, 2007 11:45 am
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I forgot to completely address your question about "The Apology" last night. The quartet of dialogues dealing with Socrates' trial were the first philosophy I read, and I haven't really re-read them in a very long time, but if I recall correctly, the argument about not fearing death was made not at the trial itself, but to his friends who tried to persuade him to escape. He argued that it's better not to evade a direct challenge to your principles and beliefs, and that death itself is not argument against since we don't even know what death is, really.

Getting now to the question that I postponed addressing last night, I've reviewed the passage you cited. First of all, I'm not sure that she's drawing a distinction between totalitarian governments and "legitimate" governments, although, that may be a part of the context of the essay that has since slipped my mind. In the first place she's saying that the acts-of-state arguments is inapplicable as a defense because what the Nazi's were attempting to defend as acts of state didn't actually meet the criteria of being necessary for the survival of the state -- a point that I think you probably interpreted just as she meant it. The historical fact is that the Nazi's put their state to a great deal of risk by insisting on the Final Solution, and Himmler even had to halt its execution at one point just to keep the entire state from collapsing under the strain of simultaneously fighting two wars, one against the "undesirable" elements of German society, and one against the rest of the world.

The second point is trickier. I think she's saying that the acts-of-state argument fails to apply because the act in question is no longer an isolated exception to a legal framework normally recognized by the acting state and only temporarily suspended to ensure the survival of that framework. In other words, if some tribunal were to come along and indict the Bush administration for the Patriot Act, calling it criminal in view of the liberties normally guaranteed by the Constitution, the Bush administration could plausibly (though perhaps not convincingly) argue that it was an act of state necessary to the survival of the legal framework to which is posed an exception. To make that argument plausible, though, they'd have to convince the tribunal that the Patriot Act was intended as a temporary exception, and that the civil liberties it suspended had since been restored intact.

If, instead, the Patriot Act had altered the law, and that alteration had every indication of being permanent, the acts-of-state argument would cease to be valid. That's more or less what happened with the Nazi state. The "crimes" they were being accused of would have been crimes relative to the old German legal framework, but the Nazi administration had changed the law, such that the murders perpetrated under the aegis of the Final Solution were not, relative to German law, crimes at all. To wantonly kill was to be a good citizen. Himmler's decision to halt the Final Solution was actually much closer to the definition of an act-of-state because it really did present an exception to then-current German law.

On trial, the Nazi's used the act-of-state argument to, in effect, claim that the courts were incapable of judging their "crimes" because they were perpetrated in order to ensure the survival of normal legality. In pointing out how that argument fails (not because it is invalid in general, but because totalitarian states depart from the criteria) she demonstrates why the courts were right to dismiss the act-of-state argument, but she does not, it seems to me, thereby prove that those courts were competent to judge the actions in question. And I think she'd be willing to concede that point -- in fact, I think it's a point she's tried to answer with a great deal of what's written in the book.

Does that seem right? More importantly: Does it address the question you raised, or am I just telling you stuff you already knew?



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Mad wrote:
Okay, a) did you ever doubt that I was an odd kid?

I guess not, not really. So did other kids steal your bookbag? Or were you the bizarre one that everyone else was afraid of?
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And b) remember that we don't receive any first hand writings from Socrates.

Yes, I did know that. I was also aware that there were discrepancies over what Plato actually dramatized and what Socrates might have said. But I never knew that there was a generally accepted distinction between the earlier as opposed to the later dialogues.
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Today, I pulled out my copy of the early Socratic dialogues with the idea of re-reading them. Let me know if you'd be interested in discussing them...

Image Image Image Image



Image Oh, wait....you're serious? In case you hadn't noticed from my hints now and then, I'm not a big fan of the whole philosophy genre. Arendt's about all I can handle at the moment. But I appreciate the offer. Seriously though, I hate not understanding references, so if it becomes overly annoying, I might have to do some digging into the dialogues themselves. But, in that case, I'd also have to read Kant, et al. BTW, Mad, this is why I tend to stay away from philosophy altogether



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irishrose wrote:
So did other kids steal your bookbag? Or were you the bizarre one that everyone else was afraid of?


Shouldn't I be sitting on a leather couch and paying you $300 an hour for this? No, I was pretty popular throughout school. I got a little bullied in jr. high, but that's because I was smaller than everyone else until about 10th grade. And even the guys that bullied me one week would be my friends the next.

[quote]BTW, Mad, this is why I tend to stay away from philosophy altogether



Mon Dec 03, 2007 1:49 am
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Mad wrote:
I got a little bullied in jr. high, but that's because I was smaller than everyone else until about 10th grade. And even the guys that bullied me one week would be my friends the next.

And how did that make you feel? BTW, I'll send you a bill at the end of the calendar year.
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So reading the dialogues is pretty baggage-free so far as philosophy goes, and very free of jargon.

And that's probably why I've gotten through some of Plato. As for your not holding my lack of interest (which is probably more of a lack of discipline than interest) in reading philosophy against me, thanks. Though you probably have plenty of other fodder as far as that is concerned.
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Something, in other words, that necessitates the temporary cessation of the normal behavior of government and requires some other kind of behavior, possibly even something criminal or immoral.

Yeah, I'm not extrapolating the temporality requirement from the text. I'm not reading "extraordinary circumstances" as rare because they are confined by a specific time, or state of emergency. I'm reading "extraordinary circumstances" as rare because they happen only in the most unusual of circumstances, but a state can live in a perpetual threat of those circumstances. And I'm not finding anything in the text to contradict my first assumption, so I'm going to stick with it for the moment. (Please note, I'm not trying to argue anyone to that point, because there's also nothing to concretely demonstrate that Arendt isn't talking about temporary states of emergency.)

Anyway, sticking with my first assumption, let's drop the capital punishment because I think it's muddying the waters. (Mad, you're aware that when I was talking about capital punishment I meant on the federal level, used in cases of treason or other crimes against the state? I'm not talking about executions on the state level, essentially as retribution for a murder crime.) For the moment, let's go with the Guantanamo example. Isn't it possible to easily imagine that such civil violations will continue indefinitely? In reality, they already have. The United States have, for upwards of five years, incarcerated people who have never been granted a trial. Thus, even without the U.S.'s rather lenient incarceration laws, I think "according to normal standards" these would be considered criminal acts. The U.S. has shown no intention of making this a temporary measure. The laws have been approved more than once by its legislative branch; and the judicial branch is proving to be ineffective in trying to deal with it. (Not that much of the current judiciary cares to nowadays.) What's to prevent the U.S. from declaring that this is how it will indefinitely handle cases involving defendants who pose a terroristic threat to the U.S.? And, really, would that change the claim that it is an act of state for Arendt? It would still fulfill the "extraordinary circumstances" category, wherein not all defendants are relieved of their habeas corpus rights, only those who in the extreme cases pose a terroristic threat. It would also fulfill the criminal means requirement, that would not be justified under normal circumstances



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Mad wrote:
I got a little bullied in jr. high, but that's because I was smaller than everyone else until about 10th grade. And even the guys that bullied me one week would be my friends the next.

And how did that make you feel? BTW, I'll send you a bill at the end of the calendar year.
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So reading the dialogues is pretty baggage-free so far as philosophy goes, and very free of jargon.

And that's probably why I've gotten through some of Plato. As for your not holding my lack of interest (which is probably more of a lack of discipline than interest) in reading philosophy against me, thanks. Though you probably have plenty of other fodder as far as that is concerned.
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Something, in other words, that necessitates the temporary cessation of the normal behavior of government and requires some other kind of behavior, possibly even something criminal or immoral.

Yeah, I'm not extrapolating the temporality requirement from the text. I'm not reading "extraordinary circumstances" as rare because they are confined by a specific time, or state of emergency. I'm reading "extraordinary circumstances" as rare because they happen only in the most unusual of circumstances, but a state can live in a perpetual threat of those circumstances. And I'm not finding anything in the text to contradict my first assumption, so I'm going to stick with it for the moment. (Please note, I'm not trying to argue anyone to that point, because there's also nothing to concretely demonstrate that Arendt isn't talking about temporary states of emergency.)

Anyway, sticking with my first assumption, let's drop the capital punishment because I think it's muddying the waters. (Mad, you're aware that when I was talking about capital punishment I meant on the federal level, used in cases of treason or other crimes against the state? I'm not talking about executions on the state level, essentially as retribution for a murder crime.) For the moment, let's go with the Guantanamo example. Isn't it possible to easily imagine that such civil violations will continue indefinitely? In reality, they already have. The United States have, for upwards of five years, incarcerated people who have never been granted a trial. Thus, even without the U.S.'s rather lenient incarceration laws, I think "according to normal standards" these would be considered criminal acts. The U.S. has shown no intention of making this a temporary measure. The laws have been approved more than once by its legislative branch; and the judicial branch is proving to be ineffective in trying to deal with it. (Not that much of the current judiciary cares to nowadays.) What's to prevent the U.S. from declaring that this is how it will indefinitely handle cases involving defendants who pose a terroristic threat to the U.S.? And, really, would that change the claim that it is an act of state for Arendt? It would still fulfill the "extraordinary circumstances" category, wherein not all defendants are relieved of their habeas corpus rights, only those who in the extreme cases pose a terroristic threat. It would also fulfill the criminal means requirement, that would not be justified under normal circumstances



Mon Dec 03, 2007 1:41 pm
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irishrose wrote:
(Mad, you're aware that when I was talking about capital punishment I meant on the federal level, used in cases of treason or other crimes against the state? I'm not talking about executions on the state level, essentially as retribution for a murder crime.)


No, I didn't infer that distinction. I'll have to think a little more about how that changes the circumstances.

Quote:
For the moment, let's go with the Guantanamo example. Isn't it possible to easily imagine that such civil violations will continue indefinitely?


They could, yes. But at some indefinite point during that continuation, it will be possible to make the argument (and difficult to deny it) that civil violations of that sort are not longer exceptional, and represent rather the normal course of American jurisprudence. That is, they will no longer serve as justifiable criminal acts, but will simply stand as law. It would ultimately represent the reversal of legality as we previously recognized it. The acts-of-state argument recognizes the criminality of the acts in question, but argues that they're necessary in order to maintain the very legal structure that brands them as criminal. What we're seeing with Guantanamo, I worry, is the subtle erosion of that legal structure, and its replacement with a new, more permissive legal structure.

Quote:
Thus, even without the U.S.'s rather lenient incarceration laws, I think "according to normal standards" these would be considered criminal acts.


Right, but I think it's important to note that the criteria for "normal standards" are the recognized legal conceptions of the acting state itself. So Guantanamo is only qualifies so long as it stands as an exception to a legal structure that would normally, and will presumably continue to, disallow the sort of behavior being practiced there. If the manner of dealing with civil rights exemplified by Guantanamo turns into perpetual practice, then I'm not sure that there would be any meaningful sense in which we could talk of it as an exception to normal standards -- it would have become the normal standard.

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What's to prevent the U.S. from declaring that this is how it will indefinitely handle cases involving defendants who pose a terroristic threat to the U.S.? And, really, would that change the claim that it is an act of state for Arendt?


I think so. Isn't that precisely what she's arguing in her second point about how the Nazi acts-of-state argument fails to fit the underlying theory? Acts of state are, as she defines them, criminal from the perspective of that state's legal framework. If the U.S. legal system approves what we would previously have regarded as civil rights abuses, then those abuses are no longer criminal, and no longer conform to the acts of state theory.

Quote:
By drawing a comparison between acts of state by "sovereign governments" and those by totalitarian governments, whether those acts are temporal or perpetual, is Arendt accepting acts of state in the one and not the other?


Can you point me to the distinction between sovereign governments and totalitarian governments, so I can see the context? All I see from page 38 and 39 is a distinction drawn between fascist and totalitarian dictatorships.

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So to use our Guantanamo example, would Arendt see such measures by the U.S., even if they are argued to be temporary, defensible as an act of state?


I'm not even sure that Arendt is arguing in favor of the acts-of-state defense. It's a defense recognized among nations as valid, so she may simply be discussing whether or not, given that provisional validity, the Final Solution would qualify.



Mon Dec 03, 2007 2:21 pm
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Right, but I think it's important to note that the criteria for "normal standards" are the recognized legal conceptions of the acting state itself.

Ta-da! Take a bow good sir, there is our point of contention. I wasn't reading Arendt's "normal standards" as applying solely to the acting state. I thought she was speaking more universally. So when she says that the Nazi government's executions of German citizens were criminal according to "normal standards," she is speaking directly to German standards and not say Western European standards? I thought she was speaking universally (which I know can only be applied as universal to a specific culture) because she was essentially discussing the legal defense as applied to a case before an international court. But I'll concede that normal standards meant normal German standards.
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Can you point me to the distinction between sovereign governments and totalitarian governments, so I can see the context?

Top of p 38 (second full sentence): "Now, the theory behind the formula of acts of state claims that sovereign governments may under extraordinary circumstances be forced to use criminal means because their very existence or the maintenance of their power depends on it..." And this is essentially where my ultimate question lies.
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I'm not even sure that Arendt is arguing in favor of the acts-of-state defense. It's a defense recognized among nations as valid, so she may simply be discussing whether or not, given that provisional validity, the Final Solution would qualify.

No, not in favor. I don't even think "acts of state" itself constitutes the bulk of her discussion. But, and correct me if I'm wrong, the way she sets up the discussion, arguing against the reason of state theory for totalitarian governments, specifically for the Nazi government, she seems to be accepting as inevitable the reason of state argument with regard to "sovereign governments." Now she does introduce a possible caveat when describing acts of state, saying that "they are presumably sovereign acts over which no court has jurisdiction" [emphasis mine]. I think in noting the presumption, Arendt is introducing the idea that it is not necessarily something with which she agrees. But the matter is not pursued and she moves on to rebutting only the reason-of-state argument with regard to totalitarian governments, never again addressing the matter among sovereign governments.

And to put the denouement of this specific train of thought on page so we both have the an idea of where this is going: this seems, to me anyway, to contradict the rest of Arendt's thesis. Is this rational because it applies to a state rather than an individual? I've read Arendt's essay as a criticism of the individual for not upholding Socrates's argument. And though I think it's unreasonable to expect a state to prefer to suffer harm than to do harm, I don't think it's unreasonable to find it necessary to rebut the reason-of-state argument in every situation. Assuming acts of state require the state to engage in some sort of criminal activity, how can we just dismiss it as inevitable in sovereign governments? Arendt, not two pages before, argues that the position of choosing the lesser of two evils is a tool that a totalitarian government uses in order to garner compliance. Well isn't that exactly what accepting acts of state for sovereign governments entails



Tue Dec 04, 2007 2:48 am
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irishrose wrote:
Take a bow good sir, there is our point of contention. I wasn't reading Arendt's "normal standards" as applying solely to the acting state. I thought she was speaking more universally. So when she says that the Nazi government's executions of German citizens were criminal according to "normal standards," she is speaking directly to German standards and not say Western European standards?


I thought that might be where the breakdown was occurring. I'm interpreting to some extent, but I think it unlikely that an author as pre-eminently practical would assume some abstract yet objective notion of normal standards. So yes, I think it entirely likely that she means relative to the normal standards asserted by the state itself. Naturally, I might be wrong on that point, and if you or anyone else can point to some passage in the text that draws that interpretation into question, I think it worth discussing.

Quote:
Top of p 38 (second full sentence): "Now, the theory behind the formula of acts of state claims that sovereign governments may under extraordinary circumstances be forced to use criminal means because their very existence or the maintenance of their power depends on it..." And this is essentially where my ultimate question lies.


Gotcha. I'm certainly open to other points of view on this matter, but it seems to me that Arendt has no intention of drawing a distinction between sovereign states and totalitarian states, per se. That is to say, they are not mutually exclusive. The sovereign rights of a totalitarian state would still be recognized by other states because there is, so far as I can tell, no universal standard for determining a state's right to sovereignty. Essentially, if a state can manage to stay intact, it's sovereign. At least, I don't see anything in Arendt's essay that would lead me to suppose some other principle is at work. She does, on the next page, draw a clear distinction between a fascist dictatorship and other forms of dictatorship -- namely that fascist dictatorships rarely exhibit any contradiction between the acts of government and the legal code, mostly because legality is defined according to the will of the dictator. By definition, the will of the dictator is law, so it is literally impossible the dictator to engage in a criminal act. That isn't necessarily so with other forms of dictatorship, particularly when you're dealing with a totalitarian dictatorship that seeks to conform with an ideal -- eg. Maoist communism.

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But, and correct me if I'm wrong, the way she sets up the discussion, arguing against the reason of state theory for totalitarian governments, specifically for the Nazi government, she seems to be accepting as inevitable the reason of state argument with regard to "sovereign governments."


Tomorrow (ahem, later on today) I'll try to go back and review the broader context, but I thought that the point of bringing in the acts-of-state argument was that it demonstrated the difficulty of maintaining a sense of personal responsibility vis-a-vis notions of legality and criminality. The context can change so swiftly that entire populations can be made to accept what was previously regarded as criminal to suddenly represent the pinnacle of conformity to the law.

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But the matter is not pursued and she moves on to rebutting only the reason-of-state argument with regard to totalitarian governments, never again addressing the matter among sovereign governments.


Part of the reason, I suspect, is that a government that acted in the way she describes would automatically stand as a candidate for categorization as a totalitarian government. So bringing in a discussion of how these same objections would apply to other forms of government (I think she'd probably contrast totalitarian governments to republics or democracies or simply liberal governments, rather than sovereign governments) would be a bit superfluous. At least, that's how I interpret the essay.

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I've read Arendt's essay as a criticism of the individual for not upholding Socrates's argument.


This isn't to say that one reading goes more to the heart of the essay than another, but I read it as an exploration (taking the term "essay" in its original sense) of the question of how humans, as contingent, socially oriented beings, can be expected to exhibit personal responsibility in a context that militates against it.

[quote]Well isn't that exactly what accepting acts of state for sovereign governments entails



Tue Dec 04, 2007 3:12 am
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