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1Phyllis Sweet

POS 353
Dr. Joel Olson
Fall 2006
Paper #2

The Role of Exclusion in the Political Community

Because humans are inherently social creatures, according to Robert Nesbit, humans are

drawn to belong to a community. In his book, The Social Philosophers, the sociologist identifies

the “principal communities into which human societies have historically arranged themselves:

the war community, the kinship community, the religious community, the political community,

the revolutionary community, the ecological community and the pluralist community” (Nesbit,

19730 A sense of community gives an individual an awareness of his own humanity and a voice

in the political process. For example, when the construction of race was established to justify the

enslavement of Africans, it was done to further the political and economic ideology for elite

whites within the American society. “Only with a completely organized humanity could the loss

of home and political status become identical with expulsion from humanity altogether (Arendt,

297); therefore the role of exclusion within the Jewish community became an action to remove

humanity in order to further a political ideology. Once a community is deemed stateless, as was

the case for Jews in Europe, systematic extermination is justified because he/she no longer serves

a purpose in society. In the United States, Blacks were excluded from American freedoms, and

failed to turn their consumerism into self-sustainability economic power post-slavery which

reduced them to superfluousnes; the reverse happened under the Nazi propaganda machine,

which cast Jews as a superfluous class because they had economic wealth without political

This paper will address the question, “What is the role of exclusion in constructing and

maintaining a political community?” by analyzing Hannah Arendt’s critique of Anti-Semitism

and W.E.B. DuBois’s theory of self-segregation. My argument is that the Jews in Europe

participated in the economic community but failed to transfer that power into a political

community which led to their exclusion. I will support this argument by analyzing Arendt’s

critique of the birth of Anti-Semitism, and the Rights of Man within The Origins of

Totalitarianism. I will also argue that the United States constructed a political community that

excluded Blacks in order to further the American economy for the white elite; I will support this

argument by addressing W.E.B. DuBois’s theory in “Dusk of Dawn” that racism is a political and

economic ideology formed by the white elites, therefore economic self-segregation would

empower Blacks and poor whites into a self-sustaining economic community.

Hannah Arendt’s controversial thesis of European Jews during the Totalitarian regime is

in part drawn from an examination of their political complacency. Unlike Black Americans who

could not cross the color line and attain wealth alongside elite Whites, Jews held prestigious

power acting as the bankers for European aristocracy and “switching their allegiance from one

government to the next even after revolutionary changes”(Arendt, 23). While they never held a

state of their own prior to the development of Israel, they were afforded protection by the various

governments unable to engage in usury based on Christian doctrine.

Antisemitism grew as the Jewish elite were viewed as having privilege by proxy, and as

the political climate changed in Europe after World War I in Austria, Germany and France, so did

the role of Jewish services and occupations. First they lost their prestigious positions within their
own communities, creating a greater divide between the classes. When the protection of the

bourgeosis was lost, the Jews were left with nothing but title prominence and did little to re-

establish themselves as an independent collective which would have offered a foundation to

build a political power base. Having no political tradition outside what they were involved in for

the benefit of others, the Jewish elite suffered the first loss to their humanity.

According to Arendt, “The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their

homes, and this meant the loss of the entire social texture into which they were born and by

which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world. Moreover, next to nothing to

do with any material problem of overpopulation; it was a problem not of space but of political

organization” (Arendt, 293). This is what lead non-Jewish, middle class Europeans to see them

as useless and disposable citizens, for “had the Jews been bourgeois in the ordinary sense of the

word, they might have gauged correctly the tremendous power-possibilities of their new

functions, and at least have tried to play that fictitious role of a secret world power....the Jews

without knowledge or interest in power, never thought of exercising more than mild pressure for

minor purposes of self defense” (Arendt, 24).

The second loss was the loss of government protection, which would have been afforded

the Jewish population from political persecution. Countries were unlikely to afford large

numbers of people protection if they had done nothing to prevent their own persecution. There

were efforts to form a political community, but only after it became evident the antisemitic

rhetoric was being implementing through ethnic segregation, loss of property and basic rights.

“The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of

happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion - formulas which were designed
to solve problems within given commuinitites - but that they no longer belong to any community

whatsoever. Their plight is not that they are not equal before the law, but that no law exists for

them; not that they are oppressed but that nobody wants even to oppress them. Only in the last

stage of a rather lengthy process is their right to live threatened; only if they remain perfectly

“superfluous”, if nobody can be found to “claim” them, may their lives be in danger (Arendt,

295). It became evident these efforts were not enough to halt the systematic removal of the

Jewish people into the labor, concentration and death camps across Europe and Russia.

Hannah Arendt reflects on the plight of the Negro as a comparative analysis a number of

times in her text, and DuBois examines the Jewish question in his autobiography, “Dusk of

Dawn”. Arendt’s observation of the Negro in America states that “although Jews stood out more

than other groups in the homogenous populations of European countries, it does not follow that

they are more threatened by discrimination than other groups in America..not the Jews but the

Negroes - by nature and history the most unequal among the people of America- have borne the

burden of social and economic discrimination” (Arendt, 55).

Religion and labor defined status to white Americans when slavery was established, but

prior to the institution’s creation, race was not an indication of one’s humanity. As the plantation

owners moved from indentured servitude as a source of free labor to the purchasing and

ownership of Africans, race became a economic justification for the enslavement of free men and

women. Due to the intense need for labor, the inalienable rights provided white males by the

Constitution were denied all African slaves, but protected them from a state of superfluousness

as they were an economic necessity to the wealth of the elite white power. Politicans instituted

laws based on skin color as an indicator of difference to make the African appear alien from the
white human population. Another political strategy was to call slaves “ignorant” and “childlike”

in need of protection from themselves as justification by stating it was the will of God

Arendt’s observation was that for the Africans at this time, the contribution of free labor

provided the link to humanity and offers this analysis: “It is possible to say that even slaves still

belonged to some sort of human community; their labor was needed, used, and exploited, and

this kept them within the pale of humanity. To be a slave was after all to have a distinctive

character, a place in society - more than the abstract nakedness of being human and nothing but

human (Arendt, 297). With the end of slavery however, the Black was no longer a vital

commodity to the economic elite, and became a superfluous community excluded and without

rights. The Negro question as outlined in the “Origins of Totalitarianism” addresses his

superfluidity: “If a Negro in a white community is considered a Negro and nothing else, he loses

along with his right to equality that freedom of action which is specifically human; all his deeds

are not explained as “necessary” consequences of some “Negro” qualities; he has become some

specimen of an animal species, called man. Much the same thing happens to those who have lost

all distinctive political qualities and have become human beings and nothing else” (Arendt, 302).

Blacks began to build small communities after the Reconstruction, financing their own

churches, and black schools for newly freed slaves. Those remaining in the south worked on

former plantations or sharecropped small farms for money. Many fled to the North as

industrialization began to take over the agricultural economy, and there they gained the middle

class status previously denied them. The historical black colleges and universities, such as Fisk,

Howard, Spelman and Morehouse provided an alternative to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee

Institute, whose primary focus was to train the Negro in agricultural and trade fields. By the
early 1900's, racial and social discrimination began to rise as did violence against Blacks in the

form of lynching. Poor whites who once held status, prestige and privilege under slavery as

overseers, were viewed by elite whites as useless as the Black man. “The white laborer has been

trained to dislike and fear black labor; to regard the Negro as an unfair competitor, able and

willing to degrade the price of labor; and even if the Negro prove a good union man, his

treatment as an equal would involve equal status, which the white laborer through his long

cultural training bitterly resents as a degradation of his own status” (DuBois, 206).

W.E.B. DuBois offers the Negro community an alternative to exclusion, and theorizes

that segregation can be not a detriment but an act of empowerment. If the Negro can do nothing

to be accepted into the class structure and social standing awarded whites of privilege, than

Blacks should develop their own parallel class structure. He explains that “the main avenue to

social power and class domination is wealth: income and oligarchic power, the consequent

political power and the prestige of those who own and control capital and distribute credit”

(DuBois, 189).

Even within exclusion, opporotunity is available evidenced by DuBois’s proposal to turn

Black lower-class consumerism into capital gain with the assistance of the Black middle class.

This action would be independent of the white society who would refuse financial support that

threatens their ability to remain separated due to economic status. Poor whites, once threatened

by the black lower class, would be encouraged to join the ranks based on a shared economy that

focuses on the betterment of all rather than a few elite individual because “many assume that an

upper social class maintains its status mainly by reason of its superior culture. It may, however,

maintain its status because of its wealth and political power and in that case its ranks can be
successfully invaded only by the wealthy” (DuBois, 189). DuBois’s theory of self-segregation

demonstrates that a community can be held together based on a shared experience and inclusion,

in this case for poor whites and blacks, sustained through the economic wealth of the middle

class, and supported by both classes to attain political community despite exclusion.

The purpose of this paper was to answer the question, “What is the role of exclusion in

constructing and maintinng political community?” by analyzing the theory of Hannah Arendt in

“The Origins of Totalitarianism” and W.E.B. DuBois’s autobiography, “Dusk of Dawn”.

Through an examination of Arendt’s text, I discussed the Jewish state’s role in the construction of

anti-semitism in Europe, the loss of political protection and lack of self-sustainability which led

to the community fragmenting into an elite Jewish class and non-wealthy middle class Jews. I

also discussed the subequent lack of political power that lead to the denial of state-sanctioned

protection once anti-semitism became a political ideology to annihilate the Jewish people, and

noted that Arendt acknowledges the Negro in American as an example of democracy that

guarantees inclusion, but promotes exclusion based on race and economic status.

W.E.B. DuBois argues that if democracy for all is ever to succeed, “it must include not

simply the lower classes among the whites now excluded from voice in the control of industry;

but in addition to that it must include the colored peoples of Asia and Africa, now hopelessly

imprisoned by poverty and ignorance. Unless these latter are included and in so far as they are

not, democracy is a mockery and contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction”

(DuBois, 169). Through his critique of the Negro community and segregation in “Dusk of

Dawn”, DuBois proposes that despite a history of exclusion under a democratic system and the

constructing and assigning of difference that enabled one group to hold power over another
through economic and political control, an individual can build a community within a

community that will lead to freedom. That freedom being to live collectively alongside another

previously seen as an oppressor, and that such an alliance is necessary to sustain a community

within a community. And finally, that in order for true democracy to be achieved, the political

community must include those living outside the boundaries of the United States who face

similar struggles and alienation.



Arendt, Hannah. 1951. The Origins of Totalitarianism.

DuBois, W.E.B. 1968. Dusk of Dawn