Arendt on Fanon

I’ve tried to find more on “spontaneity” in Arendt and Fanon. I’ve ultimately found more of her criticisms on Fanon’s necessary violence. This quote is from an essay I’m using.

  • “Her reading of Fanon is frequently qualified by a tendency to accuse other members ofthe existentialist tradition with which she identifies Fanon, as being more extreme than Fanon himself.” (Arendt contra Fanon)

But her idea of freedom and action are oppositional to Fanon’s. In fact, they converge at points in interesting ways. Take for example her quote from On Violence:

What makes a man a political being is his faculty of action; it enables him to get together with his peers, to act in concert, and to reach out for goals and enterprises that would never enter his mind, let alone the desires ofhis heart, had he not been given this gift — to embark on something new.Philosophically speaking, to act is the human answer to the condition of natality (142).

Action is politics. Politics takes place in the public sphere. Action does not have a predictable outcome. Enter Fanon’s spontaneous actor, the landless peasantry, the lumpenproletariat. The landless peasantry act through violent resistance to colonial authority intuitively. The organized masses of proletariat must harness and organize this spontaneous resistance as to avoid being consumed by violence. Arendt makes a distinction between the legitimacy and justification of violence.

Violence can be justifiable, but it will never be legitimate. Its justification loses in plausibility the farther its intended end recedes into the future. No one questions the use of violence in self-defense, because the danger is not only clear by also present, and the end justifying the means is immediate. (52)

Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance…Violence can destroy power. (56)

Earlier, she critiques Sartre for comparing national liberation movements to slave rebellions, and does a rather racist gesture:

To identify national liberation movements with such outbursts (slave revolts) is to prophesy their doom-quite apart from the fact that the unlikely victory would not result in changing the world (or the system), but only its personnel. To think, finally, that there is such a thing as a “Unity of the Third World,” to which one could address the new slogan in the era of decolonization “Natives of all underdeveloped countries unite!” is to repeat Marx’s worst illusions on a greatly enlarged scale and with considerably less justification. The Third World is not a reality but an ideology.”

The Third World is only an ideology? It is allowed to unify, violence separates its indefinitely.

Oh Hannah, you can be so frustrating for me.


One thought on “Arendt on Fanon

  1. I wonder if she, with her charge that national liberation only entails a reshuffling of the worlds personnel instead of any substantive change to the world/system, is denying that such liberation can instill agency peoples situated in geographic locations and subjectivities that have been marginalized?

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