an element of our world of great importance has been lost

The philosopher Thomas Dumm wrote a book called Loneliness As a Way of Life.  Dumm says we are lonely when we feel we have lost a part of the world that is very important.  In an interview, Dumm describes loneliness as:

“being present in the place of our absence.”


“the experience of the pathos of disappearance.” By that I mean to suggest that we feel, when we are lonely, as though an element of our world has become lost to us, has disappeared, and that this element is of great importance to us.

We generally see loneliness as a personal and private matter.  Not so this philosopher, nor his source philosophers.  On a terrifying, global political level, Hannah Arendt links loneliness with totalitarianism and nationalism:

It was Hannah Arendt who claimed that totalitarianism emerges from a deep and politically encouraged form of loneliness. Ideology and terror, Arendt argued, are twin techniques of political domination over a polity that is prepared by a deep loneliness to turn away from engagement in order to find some sort of relief from their own isolated selves. Rather than face their loneliness and try to overcome their ghostly existence, they join in a collective enterprise against something else, all in the name of love of country.

Dumm claims America is an example of this kind of totalitarian state.  Is it the logical end game of individualism: through our will to self realize, and rejection of support as weak, have we self isolated to an extreme degree, and in this atomized state found collective meaning in nationalism?  Dumm says:

I worry that we don’t currently have a democracy in the United States. Instead we have what [political philosopher] Sheldon Wolin has recently labeled a sort of inverted totalitarianism.

He offers a way back out to democracy:  flashes of non-group think brilliance and sanity, that reinduct measures of culture – pictures of who we really are, once smothered and atrophied by this totalitarian state – back into our lives:

To my way of thinking, if we are to have a democracy, we must have …what the French thinker Rancière has called “constituent moments,” that is, moments of public articulation which illustrate who we as a people are and can be, and that aren’t managed by corporate power or state force, but which bubble from unbidden spaces of our culture.

The Believer interview with Thomas Dumm, author of Loneliness As a Way of Life

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