– Spring/Summer 1999

Art and Social Democracy

Gertrud Sandqvist

When Hannah Arendt published her magnum opus, The Human Condition, at the end of the 1950s, she speculated in the prologue on the effects of mankind's stepping out into space. For the first time, she writes, it is possible that earthly existence will no longer be the common condition shared by everyone.

The human beings of the future, as scientists imagine them, are 'possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given'.1 But we cannot speak of this using normal speech. The scientific image of the world is expressed in formulae and is demonstrated using technology. Our brain is unable to follow what we do;

so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking
and speaking. If it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern
sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would
indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-
how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically
possible, no matter how murderous it is

In the summer of 1998, an American computer expert claimed that the decision to introduce European monetary union in the year 2000 may be the last major political decision that can be made without reference to the views of computer experts. During the forty years that have passed since the publication of The Human

  1. Ivar Lo-Johansson, Forfattaren (The Writer), Stockholm, 1957. Ivar Lo-Johansson is maybe the most typical of the so-called worker-writers that emerged in the 1930s. The group also includes writers like the Nobel Prize winners Harry Martinsson and Eyvind Johnsson, Moa Martinsson, Jan Fridegård and Wilhelm Moberg.

  2. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958, p.3

  3. Ibid., p.9

  4. Uno Ahrén, Gunnar Asplund, Wolter Gahn, Sven Markelius, Gregor Paulsson and Eskil Sundahl, acceptera (accept) Manifesto on Modern Architecture, Stockholm, 1931; reprinted 1980

  5. H. Arendt, op. cit., p.9

  6. U. Ahren et al., op. cit.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Alva & Gunnar Myrdal, Kris i Befolkningsfrågen, Stockholm, 1935

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Jan Myrdal, Barndom (Childhood), Stockholm, 1982. Quoted in Jan-Olof Nilsson, Alva Myrdal, En Virvel I Den Moderna Strommen (an eddy in the modern current), Stockholm, 1994

  13. A. & G. Myrdal, op. cit.

  14. H. Arendt, op. cit., pp.52-53

  15. A. & G. Myrdal, op. cit.

  16. U. Ahrén et al., op. cit.

  17. Ibid.