Ayça Çubukçu – July 15, 2020

Hannah Arendt valued the unprecedented, the unexpected, and the new, yet in essays crafted at the end of the rebellious 1960s, struggled to square this valuation with a palpable desire for law and order. She lamented that criminality had overtaken American life, accused the police of not arresting enough criminals, and charged ‘the Negro community’ with standing behind what she named black violence. At once, she praised ‘the white rebels’ of the student movement in the United States for their courageous acts of disobedience. This essay explores how differential Arendt’s treatment of lawbreaking action was in an effort to understand how ‘certain sec- tions of the population’ in the United States could appear to stand for criminality rather than civil disobedience to her mind. It examines how Arendt’s reflections on the ostensibly non-racial subjects of civil disobedience and lawbreaking were under- written by racial, when not racist, ways of thinking. The essay also raises a larger question: to the extent that the concept of civil disobedience involves limits, how are those limits drawn to the exclusion of certain kinds of actors and their particular claims in the public realm? Pondering this question through Arendt, it concludes that in her theorization of civil disobedience, Arendt was profoundly limited by the fabulous tale that the United States is an exceptional land of freedom and democracy in the world.

Originally published in Law and Critique. You can read the full article here.