Home > Americas, Latin America, Politics > Reading Arendt in Caracas

Reading Arendt in Caracas

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl writes in The Nation:

A student movement influenced by Hannah Arendt is emerging in Venezuela. What do they think of the Bolivarian Revolution?

The year 2006 was the centenary of Hannah Arendt’s birth. Conferences and colloquia marked it all around the Western world, from Berlin to Belgrade, from Paris to Prague. Radio and TV documentaries aired on every continent, and new editions and translations of Arendt’s books poured into bookstores as her reputation globalized. Clearly, three decades after her death in 1975, Arendt’s writings are as compelling as they were to student rebels in America and Western Europe in the late 1960s and to the velvet revolutionaries of Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

As Arendt’s biographer, I received many invitations to speak and write about her. But an especially intriguing one came at the year’s end, introducing a study group I had never heard of before: the Hannah Arendt Observatorio, based in Caracas, Venezuela. From the home of the Bolivarian Revolution, launched in 1998 by Hugo Chávez, came a plea: Will you come to Caracas for a week and talk with us about Hannah Arendt’s theories of totalitarianism and revolution? Chávez was just then, in December 2006, winning his second term as president by a decisive majority–some 60 percent of the electorate.

On June 10 of this year, I set out for Caracas, having educated myself as best I could about the enormously complex political situation there. Everything contemporary that I (a Spanishless reader) found in NYU’s library or on the Internet had a point of view, Chavista or anti-Chavista (although there was thoughtful political analysis from, for example, Moises Naim, the Venezuelan-born editor of Foreign Policy). The polarization is as intense in the American media as it is in the Venezuelan, with the New York Times consistently criticizing Chávez editorially– even applauding the 2002 coup attempt against him–while many in the left blogsphere and on the news site venezuelanalysis.com hail him.

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