EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Thought-Defying Evil

In the summer of 1945 Melvin Lasky, who was stationed in Germany with the American occupation forces, visited Karl Jaspers. Lasky, a correspondent for the Partisan review, mentioned the name of Hannah Arendt. Jaspers had lost contact with Arendt since 1938 and was stunned to discover that she was still alive. He asked Lasky if he could write to her through the American military post. This was the beginning of a renewed a correspondence that had begun in 1926 when Hannah was Jaspers’ student. Their friendship deepened over the years with many personal visits. Their correspondence, which lasted until 1969, reads like an epistolary novel where the full humanity and the intellectual vigor of each is intimately revealed. The correspondence ultimately included exchanges with their spouses, Gertude Jaspers and Hienrich Blücher. One of the most charming letters is dated November 18, 1945 where Hannah, who started sending food packages to the Jaspers, instructed Gertude about how to fry American bacon. “Put the slices in a moderately hot pan and fry over a low flame. Keep pouring the fat until the slices are crisp. Then nothing can go wrong with either the fat or the bacon” (Arendt and Jasper 1992: 24). But from the beginning Jaspers and Arendt exchanged their views on much more weighty topics.


Innovation Overload

Every era defines its heroes. Ours is currently fixated on the innovating entrepreneur, creating something new that everyone must have. This type breaks the mold, striking out alone, even leaving school to do so. He (and he is usually a he) is designated as brilliant, sometimes charismatic, sometimes argumentative, often solitary in his vision, though gathering a team to put his vision into practice. His skills are more technical than poetic, more digital than prosodic. Neither poetry, nor prose is, by definition, entrepreneurial.

It’s important to have such innovators, but they are not necessarily heroic and they are not good role models for the millions of people already in the labor market looking desperately for work in an era of job contraction. Nor are they a good role model for the thousands of high school and college graduates entering the labor market each year.