The Intellectual Origins of the Global Financial Crisis

By Roger Berkowitz; Taun N. Toay | Go to book overview

TWO
“No Revolution Required”

JEROME KOHN

for Alexander Bazelow

In the moment between sleep and waking one sometimes sees, not unconsciously as in a dream but prior to the actual consciousness of thinking, images of intense clarity. After Roger Berkowitz invited me to say a few words about the relevance of Hannah Arendt’s analysis of late nineteenth-century imperialism to an economic event in the twentyfirst century—which struck me as both intriguing and slightly daunting, since Arendt was wary of looking at the present through the prism of the past—I saw such an image. In it Arendt and Karl Marx were together in heaven, and she., gazing down on our current financial crisis, tugged him by the sleeve: “Look here, Marx,” she said, “they did it all by themselves: no revolution required.” Though not a product of thinking, thinking about that image led me in the direction of thinking about the “they” who “did it all by themselves.”

Let me say, first, that although Arendt agrees with Marx that socialism is the logical outcome of capitalism, she fundamentally differs from him in her understanding of imperialism as “the first stage in political rule of the bourgeoisie” rather than, as he understood it, “the last stage of capitalism.” That difference is of considerable importance to us, since Arendt writes of imperialism in The Origins of Totalitarianism, the elusive masterwork whose overall intention is to demonstrate, through the examples of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, that totalitarianism is Entpolitisierung—the abandonment of politics—wherever it appears. She treats imperialism not as a cause but as an “origin” or “element” of totalitarianism, which as such, and unlike a cause, does not disappear with the disappearance of totalitarian regimes. Thus to discern imperialism in the

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