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The Guise of a Miracle

Some nuggets of brilliance from Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition:
“It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before.  This character of startling unexpectedness is inherent in all beginnings and in all origins....The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty; the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle.  The fact that man is capable of action means that the unexpected can be expected from him, that he is able to perform what is infinitely improbable.  And this again is possible only because each man is unique, so that with each birth something uniquely new comes into the world.  With respect to this somebody who is unique it can be truly said that nobody was there before....
“In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world, while their physical identities appear without any activity of their own in the unique shape of the body and sound of the voice.  This disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is--his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings, which he may display or hide--is implicit in everything somebody says and does.  It can be hidden only in complete silence and perfect passivity, but its disclosure can almost never be achieved as a wilful purpose, as though one possessed and could dispose of this ‘who’ in the same manner he has and can dispose of his qualities.  On the contrary, it is more than likely that the ‘who,’ which appears so clearly and unmistakeably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.”


My favorite quote from Hannah is from "The Life of the Mind":

"Man, in contradistinction to all other parts of Creation, was not freely designed; he was created in God’s own image…God’s creature is distinguished by the mental capacity to affirm or negate freely, uncoerced by either desire or reasoning.

The miracle of the human mind is that by virtue of the will it can transcend everything…and this is the sign of man’s being created in God’s image…The willing ego, when it says in its highest manifestation, “Amo: Volo ut sis,” “I love you; I want you to be”—and not “I want to have you” or “I want to rule you”—shows itself capable of the same love with which supposedly God loves men, whom he created only because he willed them to exist and whom he loves without desiring them."

February 17, 2010 at 3:59 PM  

She wrote that? Odd...I wouldn't expect her ever to say anything as Christian as that, given her antipathy to Christianity in The Human Condition.

February 18, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

I have "The Human Condition" but I have not read it. Perhaps I should. But I can't imagine her as antagonistic to Christianity, not after reading "The Life of the Mind." But then, we must always be careful in characterizing such opposition; one must know what they are opposing. For example, if I had learned my Christianity from popular preachers, if I had come across it in its crude American form, I would say, "what a crock!"

February 18, 2010 at 5:27 PM  

Huh, that's interesting. Well, her opposition to Christianity in The Human Condition is certainly based on a misapprehension of what Christianity is, though that's based on her misapprehension of Augustine, not from popular preachers. But, it's certainly an opposition to Christianity as such, however misguided, not an opposition to certain forms in favor of others. Now my interest is piqued, and I'll have to look into The Life of the Mind.

February 19, 2010 at 11:16 PM  

I can't recommend the Life of the Mind too strongly. Excellent insights into both Aquinas and Scotus, for example, in the second part.

February 20, 2010 at 1:43 AM  

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