This episode discusses the work of the hugely influential political theorist, Hannah Arendt, and how it provides profound insights into the nature and purpose of both politics and democratic organizing. Arendt's books include the Origins of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem, The Human Condition, and On Revolution. These works, along with her numerous essays, are vital for understanding the politics both of her day and ours. I discuss Arendt’s understanding of politics, power, violence, and the resonance between Arendt’s work and organizing with Leo Penta. If you know nothing about Arendt and her work, this episode is a great introduction. And if you are a veteran reader of Arendt, this episode opens up how Arendt's work connects to and is a key dialogue partner for existing forms of grassroots democratic politics.
Leo Penta is a Catholic priest, community organizer, and academic. His doctorate focused on Hannah Arendt’s concept of power, a focus generated by his time as a community organizer in New York where he helped found the East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) organizing coalition. He has continued to work as both a priest and organizer, first in the States and then, since 1996, in Germany. While in the States, Penta spearheaded an effort of the Industrial Areas Foundation from 1990 to 1996 to develop “IAF Reflects”, an institute for reflection on organizing. The Institute conducted seminars with the participation of both well-known academics and renowned practitioners to deepen the theoretical base for the work of organizing. From 1996 to 2017 Leo Penta taught at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, developing a focus on community development. In conjunction with this, he developed the first community organizing initiative in Germany, called “Menschen verändern ihren Kiez/Organizing Schöneweide.” In 2006 he became the founding director of the German Institute for Community Organizing (DICO) which is dedicated to developing the practice of community organizing in Germany and training professional community organizers. He has continued to study Arendt’s work and how it can help frame organizing throughout his career. For contact and further information: www.communityorganizing.de and www.dico-berlin.org
Resources for Going Deeper
Hannah Arendt, “On Violence, part II" in Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1972), 134-155.
Hannah Arendt, “Action” in The Human Condition (various editions), Part 5.
Hannah Arendt, “On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing,” Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1968), 3-32.
Hannah Arendt, “Totalitarianism,” The Origins of Totalitarianism (various editions), Part 3
“What remains?” Interview with Hannah Arendt on her life and work by Günter Gaus for German television (1964). With subtitles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVSRJC4KAiE