Hannah Arendt's Fans Misread Trump

n a 1959 letter to her friend Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt paused to commiserate on a harrowing experience they had in common: having their writing fact-checked by The New Yorker. In her previous correspondence, McCarthy had mused that the magazine’s checking department was “invented by some personal Prosecutor of mine to shatter the morale,” and Arendt shared her frustration. Fact-checking, she replied, was a “kind of torture,” a “rigmarole,” and “one of the many forms in which the would-be writers persecute the writer.” Arendt’s opposition to the practice of fact-checking ran deeper than personal irritation. Throughout her work, she was critical of the infiltration of scientific terminology and methods into all aspects of human life. Couching an argument in language that sounded scientific, she thought, was a way of claiming the ability to know or predict things that could never be predicted or known. Fact-checking was a part of that larger trend: the practice, she wrote to McCarthy, was a form of “phony scientificality.”

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