Joe Biden, believing and self-taught intellectual

By Marc-Olivier Bherer

Posted today at 6:00 a.m.

Le 28 mai 1975, mail is addressed to the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). The case can be summed up in a few words: “Dear Ms. Arendt, I learned in a recent article by Tom Wicker of a talk you gave at the Boston Bicentennial Forum. Member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, I sincerely wish to receive a copy of your paper. Thank you. Sincerely, Joe Biden. ” The future president then initials his terse letter with an agile hand. We do not know if Hannah Arendt replied to the then a young senator, any more than we know if the author of this letter read this lecture given as part of the festivities organized to celebrate the two hundred years of the independence of the United States, and of which, Tom Wicker, a journalist of the New York Times, praised it.

The young senator who comes across this article in the New York daily undoubtedly feels that this conference will allow him to refine an idea that is dear to him, to fight the corruption of political mores. The country then struggles with the Vietnam War and Watergate, two subjects that Hannah Arendt addresses in the article “Back of the stick” found in Responsibility and judgment (Payot, 2005). The philosopher warns there against an evil which risks to carry the Republic: the lie diffused with reassuring images, in particular of the war.

Self-taught paroucrs

This seemingly anecdotal post is revealing of the way Joe Biden approaches the world of ideas. “There weren’t many members of Congress who cared about what Hannah Arendt had to say. Biden was attentive to this kind of authors because he was aware of his shortcomings, he suffered from a certain insecurity, which pushed him to work harder, to be more concerned about others ”, explains Evan Osnos, journalist at New Yorker and author of a noteworthy biography of the president (Joe Biden. American Dreamer, untranslated, Bloomsbury, 2020).

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The first occupant of the White House not to have attended one of the Ivy League universities (America’s elite) since Ronald Reagan, he studied at the University of Delaware (BA in history and political science) and at Syracuse University, Pennsylvania (Masters of Law). In college, his grades weren’t great. For his law degree, he finished at 76e rank of a class of 85 students. His career is to a large extent that of an autodidact, whose intellectual foundation has been built over his long political career. Biden approaches ideas instinctively, he is above all a ” gut politician », A politician whose convictions go back from the guts. His main reference remains his personal story, to which he constantly returns in his public speeches. A character little known in France, although he has devoted the majority of his life to politics, Biden relies on a public image of a common man, whom his fellow citizens meet at mass. This aspect of his personality obscures another facet of his identity, which he hardly puts forward: his interest in the life of the spirit.

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Joe Biden, believing and self-taught intellectual