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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

Hannah Arendt - Key texts: The Human Condition On Violence On Revolution Totalitarianism

Generally speaking, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) set out to create the potential for new political possibilities, Arendt‟s work sets out to establish a new approach to social and political „action‟. Central to her framework, is a replacement of the traditional distinction between the subject-object dichotomy – in response, she attempts to sketch out a distinctive and humanistic alternative: One of inter-subjectivity or a subject-subject approach.  Clarify what is meant by subject/object:

For Arendt, the „self‟ still remains a separate entity, but when individuals are brought together – within an arena of freedom – they

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

can unite to achieve unprecedented collective action; emphasising the human ability not just to act, but to act in concert. She does not mean by this that all people can or should be the same, as humans are inherently pluralistic in nature: “… we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone alse who has ever lived, lives, or will live.” Importantly for Arendt, the system (object) is not necessarily something that is separate from the individual (subject) that exists within its „imaginary‟ boundaries; on the contrary – it is only when individuals come together that „something‟ beyond the self emerges. It is the pluralistic-diversity of human character that gives rise to the challenge of establishing a coherent and yet „free‟ community: „the possibility of community is never simply given or essential to human beings but must, rather, be built by speech and action.” For Arendt, freedom can only be established through „political action‟, and „free political action‟ can only be established by idealistic, sacrificial effort. Within her framework, she is very critical of the imposition of authority - acceptance of authority is characterised by „unquestioning obedience by those who are asked to obey‟; she terms this institutionalised power. Arendt notes that nothing is more common than the combination of power and violence in the securing of institutionalised political outcomes.

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

In order for people to begin to move towards a new political environment, Arendt argues that two types of political action should be nurtured:  Expressive action - is an „agonistic‟ (or struggle) model which is quite „existentialist‟ in nature. Action within this model is concerned with an „exploration of within‟ – a process of selfdiscovery. This type of „expressive‟ action can be associated with „conscience‟ – in that we have to discover and listen to the authentic voice within. For example, in „Love and Saint Augustine‟ (Arendt‟s 1929 Heidelberg „Doctorate‟ dissertation) - the second part is entitled „Creator and Creature: The Remembered Past‟. The central passages of this section of the work, illustrates Arendt‟s reading of St Augustine‟s understanding of „conscience‟: where Conscience is „of God‟, and therefore has the function of pointing to the Creator rather than to the creature. Since conscience is of God, it lets us refer back directly to the Creator (or the ultimate „ideal‟), so that in the human world (established by man), the individual is no longer isolated in his or her existence. Without this inner reference to the creator, the subject lives in a world made jointly with other men - no longer hearing from „conscience‟, but from „another‟s tongue‟. This „alien tongue‟ determines man‟s being (whether good or evil) - from outside and from what man has founded. However, conscience speaks from within ourselves against the alien tongue:

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

„Conscience‟ serves to direct us beyond this world - the voice of the Creator, (conscience) makes our dependence on God clear. [Arendt, Hannah (1996) Love and Saint Augustine, ed. J. V. Scott and J. C. Stark. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press].

The second type of action is:  Communicative (or narrative) action – suggests a democratic organisation of collective-selves, people communicating externally to others – creating the ideas for a new „community‟. For Arendt, the possibility of a new community is only realisable through speech and action - through the concert-(ed) action of intersubjectivity. The key to creative social action is public space which allows for an expression of true political freedom - the symbolic creation of a „common world‟ through the open discussion of issues, serves to connect (actually or potentially) – those involved. „Space‟ fulfils the double function of binding people together, whilst also separating them. Space allows movement – the movement of thought, speech and action (expressive & communicative) – which serves to „unite‟ people through their common interest. We can use the example of a vacuum – it attracts „movement, air, life‟ back into the empty void.

The Arendtian notion of political action is certainly about changing the world, but it is also about bringing change „into‟ the web of human relationships, and changing them as a result.

Arendt’s concept of ‘Natality’ UCBC

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

Central to Arendt‟s promotion of a new Political „Action‟ is the idea of Birth (or natality – natal). The space that serves to create new forms of expression and action, also serves to „give birth‟ to a new politics.

Arendtian „Birth‟ represents something other (or something more) than the completion of the biological process of gestation – it also symbolises the moment of the appearance of something new in the world. In Arendt‟s opinion, a sign of „modern times‟, is that we have forgotten the genuine „natality‟ of political action: Natality as a human condition, is the capacity to bring something profoundly new into the world (as opposed to mere procreation). “… action is most closely related to natality because „the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity for beginning something anew, that is, of acting.” As we have so far established, Arendt uses the term ‘action’ to designate specific types of free and creative political activity; natality can therefore be seen as, the centre of her political ‘thought’. Natality here, is seen as a fundamental capacity to bring new phenomena into existence. Authentic Political action for Arendt, does not result in a finished product, but instead is the performance of „word and deed‟. Genuine political actors emerge by acting against „the overwhelming odds of statistical laws‟; political natality brings a radical and new lifestory into the world, which in turn affects all other connected lifestories.

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

Arendtain Natality is a fundamental capacity to give birth to „the new‟: a new deed by a new actor, who in turn changes the political aspirations of all other actors. For Arendt, Modern politics has forgotten what genuine political actions are, people have forgotten that natality is the most general human condition of existence, in which the capacity for action is rooted. The consequences of forgetting the „deep‟ existential significance of natality (as the birth of the new) are dire.

Totalitarianism as the antithesis of natal-political freedom: Against the backdrop of political natality, we can begin to understand Arendt‟s analysis of totalitarianism – which can be defined as an ideology of terror, and the absolute suppression of human freedom: the total domination of the person. By destroying the human personality, to the point that it is virtually incapable of generating meaning, and bringing new possibilities to existing reality - totalitarianism liquidates „freedom‟ as a political and human reality. Arendt inserts a hopeful note into her analysis, by reminding us of the human power to „begin‟, to act politically - even in the darkest of times: “But there remains the truth that every end in history necessarily contains a new beginning: this beginning is the promise, the only „message‟ which the end can ever produce. Beginning, before it becomes a historical event, is the supreme capacity of man; politically it is identical with man‟s

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

freedom – „that a beginning be made man was created‟ said Augustine. This beginning is guaranteed by each new birth; it is indeed every man.”

Totalitarianism is remedied by the promise of freedom - announced by human birth, and the capacity for beginning again. Political natality, therefore stands in resolute defiance against absolute domination. Each time a human acts politically - for a positive worldly beginning, they enlarge the field of political experience, and create the reality of freedom. The initiator of action experiences a kind of „second birth‟ and takes his place on the stage of the public world. The experience of a second natality, is a confirmation of (and a concrete response to) individual human birth – the beginners earlier „nursery‟ activities of play and education recede into their-story. The transition from the secure womb of conception, to the light of the public world is depicted as a type of political epiphany, the politicalisation of natality. The political actor (having experienced expressive action) approaches the world with an attitude of love – a love loaded with the knowledge of his obligations for the world. This is a specifically political dimension of love (amor mundi).

Arendtian politics Arendt argues for a concept of political excellence – the public realm being a place reserved for the exhibition of one‟s unique individuality,

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

distinguished from all the others, through outstanding speech and action. The full realisation of our capacity to begin new things is the experience of political natality: the ability to create public space between oneself and others so that freedom can appear. Within the free public-political space, the condition of plurality is the condition of all political life. Action, therefore generates natality, which in turn produces political „form‟ which creates a political community. The condition of plurality is the very condition of political life - where men consent to each others plurality and affirm each others natality. This is an important point, as it explains how Arendt deals with individuality, difference and political unity. For Arendt, we should all embrace new political ideas. (subject-subject). The heroic and best ideas will produce an effect that moves far beyond the realm of the individual, and produce new political developments – but the creative space of natality should remain, in order for new ideas to come from other individuals. The experience of political action and speech is rooted in the human conditions of plurality and natality, the human power to start new processes. Political natality‟s full expression is articulated by the attitude of „amor mundi‟ (political love) and the agreement among actors to revere the public space, and to dedicate themselves to its future. To be authentically politically-minded is to live-out „political love‟, and to be dedicated to the world into which we were born.

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

This „dedication is based on, firstly – the understanding of commitment to the world, on the part of the political actors, who acknowledge that the world is entrusted to their care. Secondly, dedication is understood as a commitment on the part of political actors to each others natality.  Summarise how Arendt appears to deal with the ‘problems’ of the Other:

The political experience of freedom Arendt‟s analysis provides us with a distinctly „political‟ notion of freedom – where „outer‟ freedom must come first, in order to give form to the reality of political freedom: “… man would know nothing of inner freedom if he had not first experienced a condition of free being as a worldly tangible reality. We first became aware of freedom or its opposite in our intercourse with others, not in the intercourse with ourselves … Freedom needed, in addition to mere liberation, the company of other men who were in the same state, and it needed a common public space to meet …” Distinct to the experience of freedom as an „inner feeling‟ of mind and heart, Arendt proposes a concept of freedom which is entirely political and whose reality is dependent upon the condition of human plurality.

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

So haw do we initially bring about the political ’space’ for natality?

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

Arendt concentrates on the connection between freedom and revolution and how this can bring about the important „space‟ – for the purpose of acting together for political reasons. Revolution is associated with the idea of freedom, and the experience of a new beginning: it is bound up with the notion that the course of history can suddenly begin again, that an entirely new story is about to unfold. Revolutions are examples of new stories and new beginnings, they reveal something about the appearance of freedom and something about the instigators themselves. Arendt uses the example of the revolution in Hungary (1956) as a shining example of the human passion for freedom, and the struggle for freedom to assert itself. The revolt of the Hungarians against several years of dominating and repressive ideologies lasted only 12 days – its „authors‟ ranged from students, to the military; factory workers, & the wider general population. The revolution itself was not pre-planned, but was a sudden uprising of an oppressed people for the sake of freedom. The Hungarian hope for political freedom was tragically dispelled by the invasion of the Russian Army, and the defeat of the Hungarian Revolutionary Councils. These councils were annihilated by brutal suppression. Had they been given the chance – the Hungarians could have implemented the full freedom of political-natality.

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BA (Hons) Social Science & Joint Hons Sociology Pathways ‘From Modernity to Postmodernity ...’ Lecture 4: Arendt

 In what main ways do Hannah Arendt’s ideas differ to:

1. Max Weber

2. Georg Simmel

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Hannah Arendt Lecture Week 4 (Mod2Pmod)  

Lecture on some of the main concepts and ideas associated with Hannah Arendt. By Dr Craig Hammond – University Centre at Blackburn College –...