Addendum: Hannah Arendt
and ‘‘Defamed Groups’’
for john
Perhaps the reader will be surprised at finding an addendum on Hannah
Arendt at the end of this book. What rapport could there be between her
work and gay issues or even between her work and questions of discrimina-
tion and minority subjectivities? It is true that French discussions of her
work often use it as a sca√olding on which to hang various neoconservative
varieties of thought, often those precise varieties that suggest to minority
voices that they keep quiet in order not to disrupt the ‘‘common world’’ in
which we should all be living.
But this biased way of using Arendt’s work is hardly the most pertinent;
one might even think that it seriously distorts a thought that is much more
complex than first appearance might suggest. It is, in any case, more com-
plex than certain French acolytes seem to appreciate. They find in it (as is
their wont with many thinkers) little more than a bunch of
slogans.∞
In
certain of Arendt’s writings one does in fact find careful reflection on dis-
crimination, and this might encourage us to rediscover in her work a certain
richness or potential of which certain of her more zealous commentators
would deprive us. How interesting that her thought on these matters should
take shape precisely around the question of the right to marriage, which was
for Arendt a cornerstone of legal equality!
Arendt makes a distinction between two types of discrimination: social
discrimination and legal discrimination. In one of her more surprising texts,
‘‘Reflections on Little Rock,’’ she suggests that it is unquestionably neces-
sary to struggle for an end to legal discrimination and yet probably useless to
hope to do away with discrimination in the social realm. Such social discrim-
inations, she says, are the price we pay to maintain a society made up of a
plurality of cultures. In this article, which deals with the e√ort to bring an
end to segregation in American schools, Arendt asserts that educational
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