Intimate Strangers: Arendt, Marcuse, Solzhenitsyn, and Said in American Political Discourse
Andreea Deciu Ritivoi
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Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Edward Said each steered major intellectual and political schools of thought in American political discourse after World War II, yet none of them was American, which proved crucial to their ways of arguing and reasoning both in and out of the American context. In an effort to convince their audiences they were American enough, these thinkers deployed deft rhetorical strategies that made their cosmopolitanism feel acceptable, inspiring radical new approaches to longstanding problems in American politics. Speaking like natives, they also exploited their foreignness to entice listeners to embrace alternative modes of thought.
Intimate Strangers unpacks this "stranger ethos," a blend of detachment and involvement that manifested in the persona of a prophet for Solzhenitsyn, an impartial observer for Arendt, a mentor for Marcuse, and a victim for Said. Yet despite its many successes, the stranger ethos did alienate many audiences, and critics continue to dismiss these thinkers not for their positions but because of their foreign point of view. This book encourages readers to reject this kind of critical xenophobia, throwing support behind a political discourse that accounts for the ideals of citizens and noncitizens alike.
a Palestinian. Perhaps this explains why Said made his political home in the United States, no matter how much he may have felt, culturally and emotionally, at home in the Middle East. CONCLUSION IN VOLUME 2 of Democracy in America, published five years after the first one had established the author’s reputation as an admirer of American society and its political system, Tocqueville noted that “in their relations with strangers the Americans are impatient of the slightest criticism and
and bureaucratic machinery made it possible to indict the Nazis rather than Germany, or Israel rather than the Jewish people, and it would make it possible for Marcuse to indict capitalism instead of just America. But in targeting totalitarianism as an amoral and super-individual entity, Arendt also de-emphasized, as Deborah Lipstadt has argued, the role played by individuals’ beliefs and attitudes. These coalesced over centuries, Lipstadt claimed, into anti-Semitism. For Lipstadt, a Jewish
were involved at all in these tragic events,” continues Marcuse, “but I do know that you were deeply involved in the fight for the black people, for the oppressed everywhere, and that you could not limit your work for them to the classroom and to writing. . . . But you also fought for us too, who need freedom and who want freedom for all who are still unfree. In this sense, your cause is our cause.”51 Signing his letter with a salutation that had been implied all throughout the text, “in
hotbed of disease, an ugly sepulchre, a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise: a place without one single quality, in earth or air or water, to commend it.”30 Matthew Arnold did not think there was anything worth seeing in America, and his decision to avoid it reveals a common stereotype about the U.S. as an intellectually and culturally barren country.31 Schama credits Rudyard Kipling with introducing the idea of an America moving away from this position of inferiority to Europe and being on
Darsey states that, in a jeremiad, the prophetic role is successfully enacted once the audience recognizes the speaker’s “ultimate sacrifice of self to duty or commitment” and requires “willingness to suffer [as] the most compelling evidence of the abandonment of the self.”73 Even the critics readily authorized Solzhenitsyn’s prophetic persona. Most of them acknowledged that at Harvard he “spoke with the authority of a man inspired, and with the even greater authority of a man of supreme