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Ed Driscoll

Bauhaus of Cards

February 25th, 2014 - 9:26 pm

The Hannah Arendt Center’s Roger Berkowitz explores “The Irony of the Elite” by way of Peggy Noonan’s observation on how much real-life congressmen enjoy Kevin Spacey’s dark portrayal of their profession in House of Cards, and Kevin Roose’s new book Young Money. Roose’s book presents Wall Street financiers mocking, as Berkowitz writes, “anyone who would question their inalienable right to easy money at the expense of rubes in government and on main street”:

What is more important than the decadence on display is the self-satisfied irony.  The elites in Washington and Wall Street seem not to care about their decadence and even take joy in the revealing of their decadence. It is as if a burden has been lifted, that we all in the outside world can now know what they have borne in secret. With the secret out, they can enjoy themselves without guilt.

This embrace of the revelation of decadence recalls the cultural milieu of Weimar Germany, and especially the reception of Berthold Brecht’s classic satire the “Threepenny Opera.” Here is how Hannah Arendt describes the arrival and reception of Brecht’s play:

“The play presented gangsters as respectable businessmen and respectable businessmen as gangsters. The irony was somewhat lost when respectable businessmen in the audience considered this a deep insight into the ways of the world and when the mob welcomed it as an artistic sanction of gangsterism. The theme song in the play, “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral” [First comes the animal-like satisfaction of one’s hungers, then comes morality], was greeted with frantic applause by exactly everybody, though for different reasons. The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elite applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior, wonderful fun.”

Brecht hoped to shock not only with his portrayal of corruption and the breakdown of morality, but by his gleeful presentation of Weimar decadence; but the effect of “Threepenny Opera” was exactly the opposite, since all groups in society reacted to Brecht’s satire with joy instead of repulsion.

Arendt has little hope for the mob or the bourgeoisie, but she is clearly cut to the quick by the ease with which the elite felt “genuine delight” in watching the bourgeoisie and the mob “destroy respectability.” As Arendt explained, the “members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.” Because the elite had largely rejected their belief in the justice and meaningfulness of the moral and common values that had supported the edifice of civilization, they found more joy in the ironic skewering of those values than they felt fear at what the loss of common values might come to mean.

Linking to the above post, Glenn Reynolds writes, “This is a disturbing thing to read, coming from the Hannah Arendt Center.” But it’s not at all a new development. As we’ve quoted several times before here, back in 1986′s The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom noted the Weimar-ification of America, by way of the Frankfurt School and other  Weimar-era exports, who arrived in America after being expelled from Nazi Germany. Arendt herself was a Weimar-educated German who found success in the hothouse intellectual environment of postwar Manhattan, as illustrated, albeit likely unintentionally, by the New Yorker. Its February 16, 1963 issue, the debut of their serialization of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem thesis, featured on its cover the newly open Pan Am building co-designed by Walter Gropius, the founder of the German Bauhaus, the original wellspring of modernist design, whose lifespan paralleled the existence of the Weimar regime itself almost perfectly, until Hitler shuttered its doors in 1933. (There are numerous actors portraying Arendt’s fellow New York intellectuals clutching rolled-up copies of that issue while they angrily confront her in the 2012 German-made docudrama on that period of Arendt’s life, as we mentioned in our post on that film, last month.)

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Top Rated Comments   
You know, there are a lot of decent idealistic people in the House of Cards.

It's just that they get killed off or otherwise destroyed by powerful liberal Democrats.

BTW, you see where the evil billionaire is a Democrat?

I don't see HoC -- at least seasons 1 & 2 -- as a symbol of decadence but as a morality play.

For Pete's sake, Macbeth is gay and Lady Macbeth is an unapologetic pro-abort.



26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think part of the appeal of "House of Cards" to Congress members is: They wish they were that smart. The Frank Underwood character seems to always be able to outsmart his opponents and aware of the situation before anyone else. He gets ahead through sheer force of will and intellect. Most Congressmen in real life get blindsided by the press, town halls, the President, etc. so that they are flailing while people laugh and/or yell at them.

Basically, it's a fantasy for them to be that powerful and capable.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Pan-Am Building was actually more of a Bauhaus compromise with the public, in that it was inserted to dominate the Park Avenue skyline, but still done so in the slot between the New York Central building and Grand Central Terminal, as not to outrage too many people. Today's climate is more like what happened a mile away at Penn Station, where the school of modernity crushed the McKim, Mead and White Greco-Roman designs of the pre-World War I period for the banal Madison Square Garden and 2 Penn Plaza (nevermind the latter serving a conservative talk radio's New York home for two decades).

The left's disdain for having to pretend to care what the public thinks, versus simply telling them to shut up and get with the program, was shown again by Tuesday's revelations in the New York Daily News on how caring liberal Piers Morgan treated his CNN staff -- which was pretty similar to how caring liberal Keith Olbermann treated his MSNBC staff. I'd trust neither one to handle their finances on their own, but it's no shock to find liberals within the financial markets who make deals with government for special treatment would share the same type of disdain for the little people (though going forward, the problem for those types of crony capitalists is the crony liberals who are willing to play along with them in exchange for donations may not always win out when it comes to various politicians on the left pretending to care for the little guy. They can get a True Believer leftist in power, which is why much of the power structure in New York -- including and especially crony liberal Dems -- are freaking out about Bill De Blasio. Unlike the Clintons, Chuch Schumer or Andrew Cuomo, this guy would actually follow through on his own hard-core socialist rhetoric if given the chance).
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (20)
All Comments   (20)
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Not to be pedantic but, the phrase banality of evil actually was first used by Karl Jaspers in a letter to Arendt.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dios Mio Ed, you been rockin' it lately.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The real irony of Brecht's gangsters as businessmen and vice versa is that he was quite a businessman himself, having received lots of money for his plays, which he retained even after he left the USA in 1950 and moved to East Germany.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
As if it's even needed, here's some more mega-ironic bolstering of the reality that Nazis were socialists:

NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK PARTY

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Bolshevik_Party
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
In all fairness, why shouldn't they revel in their decadence? This is what voters voted for. This is what Americans want. Politicians can be removed from office pretty frequently and kept out by voters. That they aren't is a reflection of American voters.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
The fools sold out to special interests are doing the bidding of the self imposed Master Race. The lack of morality is a form of witchcraft causing humans to worship the creation rather than the Creator. Also, the State becoming god is what destruction of the middle class is all about.

What do you have left? A global Tower of Babel where humans are just bricks in the Tower ruled by the Enlightened Master race for one hour. The fourth Reich is marching. It is called operation Jolly Roger.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ah yes, the Enlightened Ones. They will decide both whether you should even be born, and when you should die.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Brecht hoped to shock ... but the effect of “Threepenny Opera” was exactly the opposite"

The same thing happened with his play "Mother Courage"

What does it say of the perspective of a man that he has artistic technique down pat but he keeps missing his target because of his perspective?
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
You know, there are a lot of decent idealistic people in the House of Cards.

It's just that they get killed off or otherwise destroyed by powerful liberal Democrats.

BTW, you see where the evil billionaire is a Democrat?

I don't see HoC -- at least seasons 1 & 2 -- as a symbol of decadence but as a morality play.

For Pete's sake, Macbeth is gay and Lady Macbeth is an unapologetic pro-abort.



26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
FWIW?
The original BBC series on which House of Cards is based was indeed about a "right wing" takeover of Britain. But even there, the main character is merely a cynical, corrupt man interested in absolute power, so that the fascism he institutes was incidental to his desires. IOW: the producers were mistaken in thinking they were portraying a "right wing" mindset. Fascism is an ideological "switch hitter" that leans "left" or "right" depending on circumstances. Witness Argentina under the Generals vs. Venezuela under Chavez.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
MacBeth is homosexual? I re-read the play and I don't see where the title character wishes to have sex with a man. Or anyplace his conniving wife proposes abortion. She does refer to infanticide, which isn't surprising in a serial killer, but I don't see where she refers to abortion.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your missing the allusion. HoC is like Macbeth with Frank Underhill being Macbeth.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think part of the appeal of "House of Cards" to Congress members is: They wish they were that smart. The Frank Underwood character seems to always be able to outsmart his opponents and aware of the situation before anyone else. He gets ahead through sheer force of will and intellect. Most Congressmen in real life get blindsided by the press, town halls, the President, etc. so that they are flailing while people laugh and/or yell at them.

Basically, it's a fantasy for them to be that powerful and capable.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hannah Arendt was a smug self-hating Jew. Other than her inherited membership in The Tribe, she had about as much Jewish identity as a head of lettuce.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
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