Judging the Financial Crisis
When Hannah Arendt published her book on totalitarianism in England, she gave it the title The Burden of Our Time. More than fifty years later, this title sounds like a metaphor for the current world crisis. A fundamental fragility of the financial system seems to be the “burden of our time.” Behind that surface, the interrelations between economy and politics as well as between politics and financial interest are at stake. Ever and ever again questions come up: How much power and control do governments have? How much influence can they exert on processes that run beyond the boundaries of nation-states? It is a challenge to analyze these phenomena and to judge the consequences and the contingencies that accompany them. As a political theorist, I am not a specialist in financial affairs. But still, I have to judge. As citizen of whichever country, I want to understand what happens and what consequences the financial crisis may have for the political future of democracy.
Asked to reflect on the question, “Can Arendt’s discussion of imperialism help us understand the current financial crisis?” I will first summarize Arendt’s historic-analytical understanding of imperialism and totalitarianism. Then, I will discuss the striking parallels between her analysis and the reality of today. Finally, I turn to the validity of her thesis today.
It is well known that Hannah Arendt has written often on the issue whether analogies can help us understand historic events. She cautions that trying to understand the events of any time means first to look at the singularity of the event and its specific historical appearance before comparing it to any other events. Arendt questioned the effort to understand