The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt

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  1. Toward New Paradigms
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In , when Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and began implementing Nazi educational policies as rector of Freiburg, Arendt, who was Jewish, was forced to flee to Paris.

Toward New Paradigms

She again became a fugitive from the Nazis in , when she and her husband immigrated to the United States. Arendt settled in New York City and became research director of the Conference on Jewish Relations —46 , chief editor of Schocken Books —48 , and executive director —52 of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. She was naturalized as an American citizen in Arendt viewed the growth of totalitarianism as the outcome of the disintegration of the traditional nation-state. She argued that totalitarian regimes, through their pursuit of raw political power and their neglect of material or utilitarian considerations, had revolutionized the social structure and made contemporary politics nearly impossible to predict.

She defended the classical ideals of work, citizenship, and political action against what she considered a debased obsession with mere welfare. Like most of her work, it owed a great deal to the philosophical style of Heidegger. Her unfinished manuscript The Life of the Mind was edited by her friend and correspondent Mary McCarthy and published in Responsibility and Judgment , published in , collects essays and lectures on moral topics from the years following the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem.

You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. Hannah Arendt. Article Media. Info Print Cite. In the current practice of power, the place or the position loses importance for the skill of obtaining information and of influencing decisions. The power of media, of marketing and of statistics prove that very well. Before such a picture, a situation in which it is difficult to attach a face, a place or a position to the oppressor, the idea of resistance must be urgently reconsidered. Today there does not seem to be a conception of the whole that manages to justify resistance movements: class, ethnic group, nation, communism etc.

So one enters into a defiance—the task to think an idea of resistance without an ultimate and absolute ground. For one to think of resistance today, one cannot help accepting the idea that knowing the ultimate ends of the world escapes from man. The focus is conceiving revolution not as the act of making a mankind in accordance with a standard anymore, but as the foundation of the world, which is understood as the ability to provoke situations and spaces where men communicate with one another, and refuse omnipotence and virtuality, which is the current refuge of the promise of completeness.

So it means to think of resistance inside the democratic realm and not as an armed exit or another paradigm that has war or violent destruction as a means. The need to enlarge and to found spaces of resistance inside democracy is the great defiance to the people situated in a perspective of opposition to the ghostly, conformist and naturalizing status quo, which is based on the discardability of human life. It is against this perspective of superfluity of humanity that the arendtian reflection on resistance is articulated.

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In a contrary position to totalitarian experiences and the current protototalitarian postures Arendt wants to conceive a worthy exit which relieves the social and political misery we are inserted in without falling in the temptation of totalitarian recipes. And it is in this horizon that she points at the importance of reconsidering the meaning of politics and of the refoundation of public space. For her politics means the freedom that men accomplish every time they are able to spontaneously and together begin an action and found relations, institutions. In Arendt politics is the form and the adequate locus of resistance.

Resisting is something more than reacting or assuming a passive behavior before the forces of destruction—it is founding. Reaction is the place of impotence and violence—foundation is the place of potence, creativity and human freedom. There exists a component of singularization in the publically conducted action which hinders the destructive potences contained in natural pressures, in the imperative logic of globalized markets and in social pressures.

Politics is founded on this singularization pathos, not possible to happen in loneliness and virtuality, but in life in common. Such a pathos has no possibilities to be realized in the merely economic dimension or in a state conception of politics, reduced to a means to guarantee survival, security or material progress. The centrality of the category of action in arendtian texts can only be understood in the limits of this situation.

Action in Arendt refers to an unalienatable ethical contents—it reveals an agent. That is why the difference between acting and making is so emphatically approached in The Human Condition. In action man manifests himself as a beginner, an active being. The political importance of action is the fact this is the reality through which the world emerges. The beauty of great deeds and speeches lies in the very possibility of foundation held by them.

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Action allows the arising of a shelter—a meaning for life in common that bars and resists the functionalization inherent to the vital process that tends to devour people, in naturalizing them and introducing the reign of the stronger ones—in short the violence. Politics is thus a fundamental sphere if one wants to think of the category of resistance in Arendt. The theme here is a political institute that must be exercised democratically.

War does not constitute a model for the author when she thinks of resistance. What is the question is not death and destruction, but something that must be highlighted and deserves applauding. This means that, in the arendtian perspective, what must be strengthened in the democratic realm is not only formal aspects, but also institutions that can maintain the human ability of beginning new things in a reified world. Consequently the guarantee of civil disobedience—explicitly defended by Arendt—shows itself to be fundamental, and together with it we could still include other institutes, such as the right to strike, to receive exile and participate in the public budget.

In such a perspective democracy is no formality anymore and comes instead to be an important instance for the structural organization of our sociability; it is worth saying that resistance in Arendt is a component of the political power concept. Power in Arendt is an artifice through which tyranny and domination are blocked. Power for her is not the same as dominating or ruling just the way it is normally exercised and regarded. Power in Arendt is really accomplished every time men found living together, every time they act in common and make up their minds democratically about the matters which have something to do with everyone.

Such a dimension of resistance is also present in the arendtian approach to judgment. In associating resistance to judgment we leave the immediate political realm and enter the sphere of ethics. The paroxism of some experiences lived collectively today will demand a form for man to protect himself from practicing evil.

In this line of thought Arendt will not recover theories of the good or of the absolute norms, just as tradition has done. The direction of her reflection is the recovery of politics, even when it shows itself to be immediately unfeasible. There are several possible approaches to the judgment theme in Arendt. In face of the crisis of values and of western institutions in the contemporary world, she will give a fundamental importance to such a human faculty.

The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt: 1st Edition (Paperback) - Routledge

Through judgment men manifest how the world is disclosed to them. Through opinion man manifests and puts no knowledge—no episteme —in the risky center of general attention, but his position in the world.

What judgment reveals is how the world is seen from the specific place that each one occupies. In addition there is a reconciliatory dimension present in judgment which Arendt points constantly out. Through judgment man tries to become reconciled to what effectively happened.

Instead of escaping toward rationalizations and explanations, judgment tries to get man reconciled to what happened just the way it did. Every time Arendt sets the category of judgment in motion, she somehow does so in an opposite position to the postures that try to define a human being as something statistically, economically or historically interchangeable, that is, without self-dignity and as a simple thing among the living wheels of processes.

If judgment on one side intends to attain agreement with other people and reconciliation with events, it expresses on the other side an ethical-moral dimension that is essential for Arendt. In judgment one first enters into an agreement with oneself. If man is unable of setting an agreement with himself, he will not be able to set an agreement with other people. Such an agreement with oneself brings to light the spiritual potential that each one of human beings owns.

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In face of the crisis of great ethical standards and customs, such an instance will mean an ethical-moral refuge capable of strengthening the resistance perspective. Although agreement with oneself is unable to prescribe a universal morality and to present a program practicable for everyone, it can be fundamental for one to stop a current willing to impose itself as a fate in its tendency to constrain everybody.

The act of judging and not acting shows itself in this situation to be the instance able of manifesting human power and dignity. It was such an ability that in accordance with Arendt constituted the basis of the behavior of several Germans which resisted the pressure of nazist movements, in spite of the connivance dominating in institutions such as the Legislature, the Judiciary, Religion, University etc. This is a primordial faculty to recover morality and politics in face of the marketing pressures in mass societies, of the progress tide trying to submerge everything and of the market iron logic that globalization tries to impose.


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So we want to express that the judging faculty in Arendt is a fundamental instance for one to think the possibility of resistance in the contemporary world. This is the meaning of the epigraph present in the arendtian writing about judgment: the victorious cause pleased the gods, but the defeated one pleases Cato. Thereby Arendt wants to emphasize the resistance dimension present in the human ability of judging as a grandeur able to both lay aside the banal vision that analyses everything based on success, and thus, at the same time, to present the dignity contents inherent to judgment exercise, once it defies processes, flows, tendencies etc.

Thinking—in the exercise of judgment—compels one to stop. Stopping to think as something inherent to judging will entail an obstacle to the processes of virtualization and of anonymousness that tend to eliminate the abilities of utterability, nomination and foundation, which are specifically human. Now let us go toward will. The Life of the Mind TLM , in which the faculties think , will and judge are approached, was written in a tone of resistance.


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  • Such an inflection impressed in the book was given by the same ground that allowed Arendt to reflect on the spiritual faculties of man. We refer to her report about the trial of Eichmann, the nazist executioner. Arendt verified that Eichmann did not have any pathology and any sordid motivation and nevertheless sent millions of Jews to death.

    He forsook spiritual faculties and behaved as a mere gear of the deadly system. That was what motivated her to think over mental life of man as a dimension able to block the spread of evil in the world. In a particular manner such a tone of resistance is even stronger when Arendt approaches the faculty of will.