Listen to this exchange, elevating and advancing the most significant postwar political thinker – Hannah Arendt — who happens to be a woman in the United States. Indeed, a newly vacant seat is named after her. This woman spoke truth to power in 1963 in The New Yorker, and took a lot of flak for it — so much so that she passed away tired at another venerable institution that hosts her name – Bard College.
What I’m talking about is that Chelsea and Corey got into it this weekend. Chelsea Clinton tweeted that the burning of an LGBT youth center in Phoenix reflects Hannah Arendt’s most famous and infamous phrase — “the banality of evil.” Corey Robin, my esteemed colleague, a full professor at the City University of New York, corrected Chelsea, saying that she had misunderstood and that Arendt was actually saying the exact opposite of what she thought.
Now, no one likes a correction, so Chelsea took Corey’s bait, and they went back and forth at some length, she maintaining that the Arendt phrase was apposite and he maintaining that it wasn’t.
This is, according to two more political scientists (Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler), an example of the “backfire effect” — which is fodder for another blog, so going back to the Chelsea/Corey brainy brawl, Chelsea repeatedly stood up and defended herself, only to be corrected by Corey again and again.
Corey has the better argument, though Chelsea (who initiated the discussion) is doing us a civil service, as Corey points out. Chelsea, as the author of a bestselling children’s book (She Persisted), is really setting the agenda to let women speak as leaders — really saying women are leaders.
How could Chelsea not be right in instigating and showcasing the most heretical political thinker who happens to be a woman in the United States? To top it all off, Hannah Arendt was an immigrant, a refugee, in exile – and she can no longer defend (i.e. correct) how understood and misunderstood is her political thought – though we have all benefited from it and a new book series is launching with other heretical thinkers, men and women alike.
Chelsea Clinton is right. Corey Robin is right. Chelsea is showcasing how women happen to lead. I’m going to get Chelsea’s book, and reread Corey’s analysis.