Professor Paul Nadal is beginning his Writing the Essay II class, Global Migration and Biopolitics, with Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Students are beginning the semester with a haunting history lesson that reaches and reaches and reaches into our own moment. From Arendt’s chapter “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man”:
It is almost impossible even now to describe what actually happened in Europe on August 4, 1914. The days before and the days after the first World War are separated not like the end of an old and the beginning of a new period, but like the day before and the day after an explosion. Yet this figure of speech is as inaccurate as are all others, because the quiet of sorrow which settles down after a catastrophe has never come to pass. The first explosion seems to have touched off a chain reaction in which we have been caught ever since and which nobody seems to be able to stop.