Free Spaces and Smart Suits

One change I notice since I was a nipper is that we no longer hear about people being ‘non-political’. In my young days it was fairly commonplace to suggest that ‘non-political’ people are typically conservative, but nowadays we’re used to conservatives being as political as anybody.

It is true that we still have rhetoric about ‘shared values’ or ‘what unites us is more important than what divides us’, especially at times of crisis – disasters, terrorist outrages, tragedies, and so on. But rather than being in any sense conservative (or Conservative) this rhetoric has the feel of shared seemly performance as distinct from shared values. Precisely the act of making an appearance in the ‘public realm’ that the social theorist Hannah Arendt talked about 60 years ago. What is more doubtful is whether we become free by making such appearances as Arendt thought we do. It is an open question whether members of Camden Borough Council are acting freely in evacuating people from the Chilcot tower blocks when some of the residents think they are just reacting so as to be seen to be doing something about fire safety.

At least that is very serious. When it comes to TV images, with even Jeremy Corbyn trimming his beard or Emmanuel Macron appearing in smart suits, I wonder whether a resurrected Ms Arendt would just accept the joke is on her, and laugh.

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