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Hannah ArendtIdea of Politics Revisited s

Yi-huah JIANG Professor Department of Political Science National Taiwan University


ArendtPosthumous Work on Politics s

Arendtidea of politics is usually celebrated as one of the most original in the s history of western political thought. Unlike ancient philosophers such as Plato or Aristotle, she does not regard politics as a means for the realization of an ideal human order or the pursuit of happiness. Unlike modern philosophers such as Hobbes or Locke, she does not consider political life as a result of social contract through which antagonized multitude get away of their warring state of nature. Even among contemporary political theorists, her insistence on the human condition of plurality and the revelatory characteristic of action also makes her concept of politics different from that of Leo Strauss, who stresses the pursuit of right, or the good, the political order,or that of John Rawls, who presupposes the neutrality of state and the exercise of public reason. In the works published during her life time, Arendt never discusses in any straightforward way what politics means or what significance it has for the human world. She elaborates the human capability of action, the inescapable condition of plurality and natality, and the division of the public and the private, etc., in The Human Condition, but she does not talk for a moment on the concept of politics, as if the above mentioned topics are identical with a treatise of politics itself. In Between Past and Future, she deals with the concept of tradition, of history, of authority, of freedom, of education, of culture, and so on; but again, there is no single chapter on politics. The most famous statements she writes about politics reads as follows: The raison d of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action. tre (BPF: 1 146) Yet, it is neither a definition nor an explanation of the concept of politics. It is not until the publication of The Promise of Politics in 2005 that we have direct access to Arendtunderstanding of politics per se. In the posthumous work s edited by Jerome Kohn, Arendtseveral monographs concerning politics and the s tradition of political thought are assembled together for the first time. Of particular importance is the treatise Introduction into politics, which appears in German in Ursula Ludz1993 edition of Was ist Politik? As Jerome Kohn correctly explains, s (The title) by no means indicates an introduction to the study of political science or political theory but, on the contrary, a leading into (intro-ducere) genuine political experience (PP: viii). Together with the others articles, the monograph provides us with the best opportunity to understand what Arendt means by politics or the political life. My article is an attempt to read closely Arendtposthumous work The Promise s of Politics. I will try to explore what Arendt means by politics, how she relates

For abbreviation of Arendtworks, please see the bibliography. s 1

politics to human plurality and the public sphere, why she contends that the tradition of political thought betrays the spirit of genuine politics, and how the modern invention of massive destructive weapon threatens the world that politics aims to build and preserve. In a word, I will reexamine Arendtidea of politics with the s view not only of locating its place in her political theory, but also of illuminating its uniqueness and novelty. In the final section, however, I will offer my critical assessment as to whether Arendtconcept of politics can be of relevance for our s modern world.


The Meaning of Politics

Arendtusage of the world s politics be divided into two situations. First, can she uses politics refer to the process of interest articulation and power struggle, to just like most of us do in most of the time. In Between Past and Future, she alludes to this concept of politics as lowest level of human affairs. the Second, she also promotes politics the major achievement that human civilization could ever as reach if we actualize our human potential of acting in concert. This is Arendtidea s of politics, or e t highest level of human affairs, we could coin the term in h if according with her spirit. It is true that in the works published during her life, Arendt has already made the distinction as clearly as a political theorist can. In an article discussing truth and politics, Arendt says: have spoken as though the political realm were no more than I a battlefield of partial, conflicting interests, where nothing counted but pleasure and profit, partisanship, and the lust for domination (BPF: 263). The factual truth Arendt ardently defends is always contradictory to this sense of politics because politicians tend to struggle for power with lies, propagandas and manipulation. Nevertheless, Arendt adds immediately that it is not the whole story. From this perspective, we remain unaware of the actual content of political life the joy and of the gratification that arise out of being in company with our peers, out of acting together and appearing in public, out of inserting ourselves into the world by word and deed, thus acquiring and sustaining our personal identity and beginning something entirely new (BPF: 263). The later is of no doubt Arendtideal of s genuine politics. In The Promise of Politics, Arendt refers to the two different levels of politics again. Politics could be defined its usual sense, as a relationship between the in rl s n t rl .But if it is thus defined, there is no way to prevent people from u rad h u d e e e having the prejudices against politics prejudices that the domestic policy is a fabric of lies and deceptions woven by shady interests and even shadier ideologies,

while foreign policy vacillates between vapid propaganda and the exercise of raw power (PP: 97-98). Following this usual or narrow sense of politics, there is no chance that public affairs can attract people who want to lead a noble, or at least moderately decent, life. Fortunately, politics could also mean something else. In a very succinct way, Arendt contends: meaning of politics is freedom. The That is to say, to be political is to be free. The definition is simple and concise, but, as Arendt explains, its simplicity and conclusive force lie in the very fact that politics exists in the human world (PP: 108). Freedom is the raison d and the essence of politics. It is the tre raison d because human beings live together, act together, or even fight together, tre with the view of enjoying the experience of being free. It is the essence of political life because without freedom, action would deteriorate into behavior, and speech would degenerate into rhetoric. Almost all Arendtian scholars understand how difficult it is to distinguish freedom from action,or action from politics Arendttheory. Freedom in s seems the reason why people have political life, while political life consists in the interaction and communication of free and equal persons. When people politics, do that is, when they act and speak to each other with a view of freedom, they are beginning something anew and creating a public space that would not generate in any other way. Arendtadmiration of the phenomenon of acting freely in a public s space leads her to equate political action with a nonreligious miracle miracle a which is prompted by the birth of human life and comparable to the coming into existence of the world. As she elaborates in The Promise of Politics: Man himself evidently has a most amazing and mysterious talent for working miracles. The normal, hackneyed word our language provides for this talent is action.Action is unique in that it sets in motion processes that in their automatism look very much like natural processes, and action also marks the start of something, begins something new, seizes the initiative, or, in Kantian terms, forges its own chain. The miracle of freedom is inherent in this ability to make a beginning, which itself is inherent in the fact that every human being, simply by being born into a world that was there before him and will be there after him, is himself a new beginning (PP: 113). If the meaning of politics is freedom, then what is the meaning of freedom? Arendt answers this question by referring back to the experience of the Greek polis because she maintains that the Greek is the first people who experienced and realized freedom. Freedom originally meant nothing more than being able to go where one please, it was not merely freedom of movement we understand today. In but the as order to move freely, one must prove himself to be a free citizen, i.e., a person not

subject to domination or coercion by another person. But freedom means even more than that. A free man is also someone who need not take care of the burden of maintaining his house must be able to remove himself from the coercion of he household (PP: 121). The contrast between freedom and necessity is such a persistent theme of Arendttheory that we do not need to repeat here. Arendtdiscussion of the s s polis vs. the household in the ancient Greek, and her triple classification of the public, the private and the social in The Human Condition has already explained clearly why freedom cannot coexist with necessity of life. What is important for us here is that although Arendt advocates the freedom of movement and the liberation from lifenecessity, she emphasizes that it is the s not end purpose of politics; rather, it is substance and meaning of all things the political. other words, In politics and freedom are identical, and wherever this kind of freedom does not exist, there is no political space in the true sense (PP: 129, my italics). Freedom itself is the essence of politics, while the means by which one can establish such a space of freedom are not necessarily political.In the Greek experience, lawgiving, foreign policy and war are means establish or protect a to political space, but they themselves definitely not political. They are are phenomena peripheral to politics and therefore not politics itself (PP: 129-130). The identity of politics with freedom can be traced back to the pre-polis life of Greece. For Arendt, just like for many other scholars of the history of political thought, the very word o ts is derived from the actual experience of the Greek polis. The pli ic pre-polis life is the source of the Greek political vocabulary; while the political vocabulary of polis, once created, becomes the standard of all European languages for politics even though the heyday of polis has been long over. The polis is a very specific form of human communal life, in which in their freedom can interact men with one another without compulsion, force, and rule over one another, as equals among equals, commanding and obeying one another only in emergencies is, in that times of war otherwise managing all their affairs by speaking with and but persuading one another (PP: 45, 117). This particular form of organizational human life determines in such an exemplary and definitive way what later westerns understand by politics that it can almost be said to possess a kind of universal validity. Whenever westerns talks about politics, they cannot but think of the way public affairs were conducted in the ancient Greek polis. According to the Greek experience, Arendt argues, what distinguishes life in the polis from all other forms of human communal life (such as family or local neighborhood) is freedom. does not mean that the Greek acquire their freedom by It means of politics, but that, as said in the above, being free and living in the polis were, in a certain sense, one and the same. Freedom is identical with the political life;

it is not the purpose or end that political life pursuits. Conceived from this angle, freedom can be understood negatively as not being ruled or ruling, and positively as a space which can be created only by men (PP: 116-117). If politics is to be bound together with freedom, and separated from the necessity of life or the means for anything else, then it becomes clear that there must be only a few moments in the long history of human beings that the meaning of politics is fully realized or manifested. The few great historical moments, however, are crucial and influential. Arendt says they the standard, in the sense that they can be set not imitated, but that certain ideas and concepts inherent in them can determine those epochs denied a full experience of political reality (PP: 119-120). Politics in this higher sense becomes the criteria of judgment, by which we can evaluate the degree or the extent that political freedom is actualized in any specific historical moment. Whenever there is the hope of acting freely in a public space, there is the genuine spirit of politics; whenever there is only power struggle and violent domination, politics is in effect transformed into the lowest level of human affairs.


Politics and Human Plurality

The meaning of politics is freedom; while the whole realm of politics becomes possible only on the fact of human plurality. By plurality Arendt means two characteristics of human existence: distinctness and equality. Human being are born distinct from one another (even twins are not identical), and they are equal in the sense that they all have their personal distinctness. For this assertion Arendt offers two arguments: one being biblical; the other being secular. Let us examine them in turn. Arendt likes to quote from the Bible although she herself is neither an orthodox Jewish nor a confessed Christian. In The Human Condition, she contends that its in most elementary form, the human condition of action is implicit even in Genesis ( Male and female created He them She emphasizes that the expression is different ). from the other expression which also concerns the creation of man, in which God originally created Man (Adam) and then created Eve and made them the origin of reproduction (HC: 8). In The Promise of Politics, again, she refers to the same statement in Genesis, and declares that the plurality of men constitutes the political realm (PP: 61). Why should the Bible become the authority of human beingbeing s distinct and equal? Arendt does not offer any explanation. The other way of argumentation secular argument the seems more understandable and convincing. In The Human Condition, Arendt says: action as If beginning corresponds to the fact of birth, . . . then speech corresponds to the fact of distinctness and is the actualization of the human condition of plurality, that is, of

living as a distinct and unique being among equals (HC: 178). Plurality is the condition of political action because if not for equality, men could not understand each other and their ancestors, or anticipate the needs of their posterity; if not for distinctness, they would lead a herd life not unlike that of animals, and need neither action nor speech to distinguish themselves (HC: 175-176). In The Promise of Politics, Arendt contends that, although it is possible to conceive of a human world in the sense of a man-made artifice erected on the earth under the condition of the oneness of man, it is impossible to conceive of an acting and speaking being existing in the singular (PP: 61). The Nature makes human being distinct from each other. It is a fact that we must respect rather than change. To have the idea of eradicating human distinctness would be insane because it will lead to the cancellation of human characteristics, changing human life into herd animal life. Distinctness and equality are the two most important dimensions of human plurality. Any genuine political philosophy, adds Arendt, must take this fact as its point of departure, or it would end nowhere. As she maintains in The Promise of Politics,If philosophers were ever to arrive at a true political philosophy, they would have to make the plurality of man, out of which arises the whole realm of human affairs its grandeur and misery object of their thaumadzein in the (wonder) (PP: 38). According to Arendt, one of the mistakes of the tradition of political thought (be it manifested in Plato, Augustine or Hobbes) is to ignore or underestimate the simple fact of human plurality. The great philosophers always want to search for, or set up, a universal standard of measurement, by which they can overcome the challenge human diversity brings forth. For this purpose, they tend to presuppose that human beings are more or less of the same nature or behavior pattern. Nevertheless, their attempt is doomed to failure because the presupposition itself is erroneous. Arendt is so fond of reminding us of the human condition of plurality that, in her interpretation of Montesquieu, she even compares the principles of government to the two characteristics of human plurality. First, she brings our attention to Montesquieu s classification of the principles of three different kinds of government: virtue is the inspiring principle of a republic; honor is the principle of a monarchy; and fear guides all actions in a tyranny. Then, she argues that virtue springs from the love of equality, and honor arises from the love of distinctness. In other words, she thinks that two of Montesquieuprinciples of government are s from loving one or the other of the two fundamental and interconnected traits of the human condition of plurality. Her elaboration goes like the following: The fundamental experience of monarchies, and also of aristocracies and other hierarchical forms of government, is that by birth we are different from

each other and therefore strive to distinguish ourselves, to manifest our natural or social distinctness The experience upon which the body politic of a republic rests is the being-together of those who are equal in strength, and its virtue, which rules its public life, is the joy not to be alone in the world (PP: 66-67). Arendtinterpretation of Montesquieu may be contestable (for instance, she s does not know how to find a place for the principle of fear in a tyranny), but her point is clear: politics must base itself upon the simple fact of human plurality, and plurality consists in distinctness and equality. Ignoring the fact of human plurality would only make a political theory deficient and distorted unfortunate situation the tradition an of political thought finds itself locked into. One way of understanding why plurality is so important to politics is to follow Arendt in her analysis of doxa (opinion). In the Greek context, opinion is the formulation in speech of what appears to me. concept of opinion presupposes The that the world we share opens up differently to different person according to his position in it. Everyone, therefore, can perceive the world from his own angle, and express his perception accordingly. Since the positions are different, the opinions everyone holds would also be different. Yet, opinions are not necessarily subjective fantasy or arbitrary judgment. They contain a certain degree of objectivity because they are directing to the same common world. Insofar as we are human, the commonness of the world we share would make sure that everyone perceiving it has a sense of objectivity (PP: 14). Now, philosophers have quite different views about the validity of opinions. Plato, as we all understand well enough, opposes opinion to knowledge, and strongly argues that a philosopher has to get rid of the influence of various opinions, having truth (or ideas) in his mind only. That is, he does not trust the viewpoint of the ordinary people, neither does he prepare to accept the reality of human plurality. On the contrary, Arendt says, Socrates is much more friendly to opinions. Since he believes that there must be some amount of truth in every viewpoint, he wants to bring forth this truth which everyone potentially possesses. In other words, Socrates wanted to make the city more truthful by delivering each of the citizens of their truths. The method of doing this is dialegesthai, talking something through, but this dialectic brings forth truth not by destroying doxa or opinion, but on the contrary by revealing doxa in its own truthfulness (PP: 15). Accordingly, Platophilosopher always wants s to educate and instruct the people, while Socrates philosopher merely wishes to improve his fellow citizenopinion by endless discussion. s What we learn from Arendtanalysis of plurality and opinion is that the world s of political affairs is a world of diverse viewpoints and conflicting opinions. Freedom

of political action becomes possible because human beings, distinct and equal as they are, have to travel and communicate in the public space constituted by different viewpoints. If we are of the same in thought and behavior, there is no need of freedom. If we are constrained by some universally valid standard and denied the right of contributing to that standard or revising it, politics would be meaningless for us. The political sphere opens only when we acknowledge the legitimacy of plurality and opinion.


The Relation between the Public and the Political

Politics arises when different people come together to talk and act to each other, but there seems to be a subtle difference between the public space, which opens up wherever people gather together, and the political space, in which freedom becomes the only legitimate concern or the primary principle. To make clear this distinction, we may first reexamine Arendtconcept of the public, and then see what she has to say s about the difference of the public and the political, if there is indeed any difference. According to The Human Condition, Arendt contends that the public signifies two closely related but not altogether identical phenomena. It means first of all the publicity and the reality of everything that opens to our sense perceptions. As her famous maxim e g n A pan ci i m lst r ly fh pbcel dpns n t B i ad per g o c e ipe, ee i o t ul r m eed o e n i nd i h at e i a h simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever b dv eH : 5,7 Scnl t tmul l dnt t w r ie. h e ei d ( C 05) eod , ee pbc a o eo sh ol t l T e s . yh r i s e e d sf world is not the same as the earth, which is the physical space and environment for the movement of people and organic life. Rather, the world means the mixture of the hm n rf tn t hm n f i ocrn a og ep .T leoe eit u a ai cadh u a a as cur g m n pol oi t t rnh ta e fr i e v gh e world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, ra s n spr e m n t e a ei e ( C 5) e t ad ea t e at sm t H :2. le as h m In The Promise of Politics, Arendt reasserts similar points but allows a more flexible definition of the space which opens up between human beings. She confirms the argument that whenever people come together (be it in private or socially, be it in public or politically), a space is generated among these gathering people. But the nature of the space differs from each other. It could be manifested as custom in a private context, as convention in a social context, or as laws, constitutions, statutes in a public context. Every such space has its own structure that changes over time, but they share the same basic characteristic of a world opening up among people (PP: 106). We do not know what Arendt means by saying that custom is the realization of the space a in

private context because it does not fit well with her interpretation of the private (the space within the four walls of onehouse and featuring necessity, privacy and love). s Nevertheless, her basic point is clear enough. What really concerns us here is the question of whether the public sphere equals to the political sphere. In the works published during her life-time, Arendt does not give us an unambiguous answer, but her hint favors the positive reading. For example, she maintains t tT e pc o appearance comes into being wherever men are together h h sae f a in the manner of speech ad co,t t , hr em n ciayi l pli l n atn h i w e vr e at t c l ota i as e n p ay i c manner (HC: 199). She also indicates, in her recommendation of the Greek understanding of pl c, a ht eocritspc o apa ne ipl cl otst tw a vr cu nh sae fper css ota i h i e s i a i i by definition, even w e i s oa icpoutfcoB F 15. public, hnt nt d etrdco at n (P :5) i r i The therefore, seems to be identical with the political in its broad sense. N vr e s A eds ocpo t pli l d f etrmt cnet nl eehl s r t cnetfh otai ie nf h ovn oa t e, n e ic s f r o e i understanding of the political life. As she once clearly pronounced, the public space x nsabyn w aw o i ry en y otale ( T 7) fh et d f eod ht e r n i m a b pl clf MD :3. t e r d al i i i I e so-called ordinary political life means power struggle, governmental activities, or the management of life's necessities -- ia o , i n ds nt t w re of n w r i t l e ga sh l el df oy i e e o vel human affairs we discussed in the above, then the public is certainly not identical as with the political. The public is related to something which the ordinary political life does not really care about reveal one's irreplaceable personality with speech-act, to to manifest onefreedom in front of onepeers. It is only when politics is understood in s s this way that the public is tantamount to the political. When we come to the posthumous work of The Promise of Politics, however, the relations between the public and the political becomes more complicated than what we have just said. Here, Arendt emphasizes that, historically speaking, the public was not necessarily political space in the true sense. refers to the epics of Homer, arguing a She that the public space opened up by the heroes of the Greek and the Trojan is the first example of a world entered into by stouthearted and enterprising adventurers. It becomes public because the heroes were capable of seeing and hearing and admiring one anotherdeeds, of which the sagas of later poets and storytellers assured them lasting s fame. this public space is deceptive in that it is not an everlasting site for the heroes. Yet, When the adventure and enterprise comes to an end (that is, when Troy was destroyed and the kings departed for their homeland), the public space they opened up vanishes immediately (PP: 122-123). The real challenge, therefore, is how to rebuild a permanent public space after the end of the adventure. According to Arendt, the answer lies in the polis: This public space does not become political until it is secured within a city, is bound, that is, to a concrete place that itself survives both those

memorable deeds and the names of the memorable men who performed them and thus can pass them on to posterity over generations. The city is the polis; it is political and therefore different from other settlements because it is purposefully build around its public space, the agora, where free men could meet as peers on any occasion (PP: 123). The transformation of the public space between heroes into the public space between citizens is one of the most significant moments in the history of western politics. It is as if the great adventure of the brave heroes finally finds its substitute after the army disbands, and the experience of the Homeric epics is echoed and perpetuated in the polis yet to come. What is even more interesting, according to Arendt, is that the experience of freedom seems to undergo a fundamental transformation as well: most important activity of a free life moves from action the to speech, from free deeds to free words. is so because the agora of a polis now It becomes the focus of a free life. The constant presence of others, the endless dialogues between peer citizens, and the competing persuasion among rivals of all which features the employment of speech now becomes the real substance of a free and political life (PP: 124). Arendt describes the shift as a shift from freedom of spontaneity to freedom of opinion. By spontaneity means the ability to initiate a sequence, to forge a new she chain. The Homeric heroes are people capable of spontaneity because they bravely assert themselves in a great adventure, beginning something never seen or thought of before, and kindling a chain of reaction and memory afterwards. The best illustration of the experience of spontaneous action in the ancient time can be found in the Greek words archein and prattein. The former means both to begin and to lead; while the latter means to act and to carry out. They are testimony of the ancient Greek s freedom of spontaneity. Also worthwhile our attention is that, when pushed to its extreme, the activity of spontaneous action could be completed by a single person. As Arendt maintains, single individual can of course ultimately act alone. A And it is for this very reason that freedom of spontaneity is sometimes prepolitical (PP: 2 125-127). On the contrary, freedom of opinion differs from freedom of spontaneity in that it is much more dependent on presence of others and of our being confronted with the their oi os Following our analysis in the previous section, we know that in pi . n n Arendt, freedom of opinion is never merely the modern concept of freedom of expression, which of course constitutes an integral part of what she means to say. It rather refers, primarily, to the fact that one can adequately grasp the objective no

This argument is of course contradictory to most of Arendtexpression, for she always emphasizes s the action presupposes the presence of others. 10

world in its full reality all on his own because the world always opens itself up and reveals itself to different persons standing at different positions. Since everyone is constrained by his limited standpoint, he has to enlarge his mind by sympathetically understanding what others have to say from their standpoints if he wants to see and experience the world as comprehensively as possible. That is, in the freedom of only our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides (PP: 128-129). Thus, freedom of opinion becomes the real experience of a genuine public space, while freedom of spontaneity gradually fades away into history. In short, Arendt does not regard the public to be completely identical with the political. The public realm can be actualized in various forms of human gathering, both political and nonpolitical; but the political (in the strict sense) indicates a space in which freedom becomes the major principle. To experience this freedom, people must act and speak in plural, that is, presenting oneself in front of others and communicating with onepeer with the view of ascertaining the reality of world from s diverse angles. The significance of multiple viewpoints and the possibility of objective understanding by means of mutual learning, remains the essential lesson of Arendtpolitical theory. s


Politics and Political Thought

Arendtideal of politics appeared for the first time in the ancient Greek, but it s was soon refuted by the tradition of political thought. For Arendt, the tradition of political thought began with Plato and ended with Marx. It is part of the western history but not identical with the history (PP: 43-44). The fact that Plato denied the true meaning of politics and replaced it with something else is a great misfortune because its influence upon the ensuing development of western tradition is so tremendous that politics has never again reclaimed its dignity. To realize how much impact the story has on the posterity, we need to go back to Plato. Arendt thinks the tradition of political thought began when the trial and the death of Socrates made Plato despair of the political life and doubt certain fundamentals of Socrates teachings. Socrates himself is not hostile toward the polis. This can be seen from the fact that he enjoys talking with people at the agora and the good record he has as an Athenian citizen. When Socrates was sentenced to death, however, Plato began to doubt the validity of the method Socrates used to win over his fellow citizens, that is, the validity of peithein (persuasion). Plato preferred to believe that the ordinary people are irrational, stubborn, unfit for philosophical argument, and can be led or transformed only by brainwashing or threat of violence. Secondly, Plato also

denounced furiously the legitimacy of doxa (opinion) in political life. Unlike Socrates, who tries to improve the truthfulness of everyoneopinion by the method of s midwifery, Plato despises opinions thoroughly and yearns for absolute standards of truth. He opposes knowledge to opinions, and argues that only the philosophers who possess the absolute knowledge are entitled to rule the polis. In Aredntwords, Plato s the first to introduce absolute standards into the realm of human affairs, was where, without such transcending standards, everything remains relative.Yet this deed of Plato is surely the most anti-Socratic conclusion because Socrates never considers that opinions are totally devoid of truth (PP: 6-8). The result of Platocontempt for politics is that, ever since his time, the s tradition of political thought has always presupposed the superiority of the philosophical life to the political life, and attempted to provide universal standards and rules, yardsticks and measurements from the viewpoint of philosophers to make judgments on the irregular, unstable and unreal world of human affairs. The dignity of politics is deprived because all the standards political theorists have to apply upon it are derived from philosophy, rather than from politics itself. The most telling of these application, according to Arendt, is the idea of the law-giver, who invents an absolute standard for constitution, renders it to the people who are to be ruled, and sets the constrain for their behaviors. Moreover, the purpose of the law-giverconduct is to s guarantee the safety of the philosopher in a body politic, and to maintain the operation of everyday life as smoothly as possible. Politics as a whole is obviously reduced to that lower level whose task was to sustain life within the public space of the polis, criticizes Arendt (PP: 37, 131-135). If the tradition of political thought began with Platocontempt for the life of s polis (and to a lesser extent, with Aristotlerequest to be let alone), it was succeeded s by the Christianityrejection and redefinition of politics. The Christian rejection s differs from the Platonic refutation in that it regards the public realm per se as intolerable exactly because it is public. Arendt quotes Tertullianstatement to s illustrate this point: Nothing is more alien to us Christians than what matters publicly (PP: 135-136). It is as though the public is a sinful place and everything sacred or religious must be kept in the private. For example, the goodness one does must hide itself and be prevented from being seen in the public The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing becomes the ideal for human ethics (Matthew 6:1). What is more important, however, is that the Christians also redefine the nature of the political and the public, arguing that politics itself is a means to some higher end (the salvation of soul), and that the public can be erected among the true believers (the Christians who love oneneighbors but pay no attention to the body politic). The s faithful can thus constitute totally new, religiously defined public space, which, a

although public, was not political (PP: 135-139). The whole trend of regarding politics as a means for something else remains intact even in the modern age. For Arendt, both the enlightened despotism of the eighteenth century and the egalitarian democracy of the nineteenth century confirm the principle that the purpose of the government is protect the free productivity of to the society ant the security of the individual in his private life.The social sphere keeps expanding day after day, replacing the traditional public sphere and positing happiness the highest goal of human life. In the end of the day, politics is defined as as the means by which individual freedom (or negative liberty, in Berlin s terminology) can be secured. It has nothing to do with the revelatory function of speech-act, or the maintaining of a public world (PP: 141-143). For Arendt, Karl Marx signifies the end of the tradition of political thought for three reasons. First, Marx totally rejects the traditional view of subsuming practice to theory. He does not accept that action in and of itself cannot reveal truth. As a matter of fact, what he tries to do is to turn the traditional framework up side down, to promote practice at the top of the contemplative life (PP: 76). Second, Marx envisages a classless society after the proletarian revolution, while a classless society means that all the traditional concepts relating to politics, such as rule and domination, will disappear with the withering away of state. Freedom,the concept that traditional politics puts as its end, will also become meaningless for the very reason that no one will be oppressed any longer (PP: 77). Third, Marxhistorical materialism concludes s that material production and material interest are the real force of historical changes. He therefore links material interest to the essential humanity of man, and promotes labor as the preeminent human activity. What this insight results in is a new definition of man: the essence of humanity does not reside in rationality (as the classical philosophers assume), nor in the ability of production (as implied in the concept of homo faber), nor in manlikeness of God (creatura Dei), but rather in labor, which s the great tradition of political thought has unanimously rejected as incompatible with a free human life. In Marx, man becomes essentially an animal laborans (PP: 78-79). We learn from the previous sections that Arendt thinks the essence of politics is freedom (the ability to begin something new or initiate a chain), and the political realm becomes possible only when distinct and equal agents gather together in a public space, that is, when human plurality is ascertained. The tradition of political thought which begins with Plato and ends with Marx seems to Arendt never grasp this point, and always attempt to substitute free action with contemplative rationality or the capability of fabrication. It therefore never acknowledges the fundamental significance of human plurality, mistakenly believes that men are universally similar to each other. But why does the tradition make such a mistake?

For Arendt, there are two good reasons for the misunderstanding of politics in the tradition of political philosophy. First, traditional political philosophers tend to believe that there is something political in man that belongs to his essence. Aristotle s famous assertion that man is by nature a political animal is a good example of this misunderstanding. Yet Arendt contends that the assertion is not true. She prefers to say that is apolitical not that human being is not capable of acting or leading, but man that a single person cannot exercise (or actualize) politics by himself. Politics arises between men, and so quite outside of man maintains Arendt. If we assume together with the great philosophers that man is by natural capable of political life without the presence of others, we will commit the same mistake. Secondly, the western tradition is greatly influenced by the biblical legacy, while the monotheistic concept of God in both Judaism and Christianity takes it for granted that man is created in the likeness of Godsolitariness. It is as if that not men and women are created, but a single man; s and all the offspring come from the repetition and reproduction of the first single man. Arendt thinks this is also a sad mistake (PP: 95). So that is the reason why the tradition of political thought, ever since its beginning, lost sight of man as an acting being and politics as an enterprise of the many. As a result of this unfortunate development, the tradition never gets the point that politics is identical with freedom, rather than a means to freedom; that action is the essence of man, not contemplation, fabrication or laboring; and that politics become possible exactly because human being are different from each other, while all the attempt to cancel or control their diversity would result in disaster. The greatest tragedy of the twenty century rise of the totalitarian movement and the invention the of mass destruction weapons attests Arendtconcern. Let us now turn to this s question.


Violence and the Destruction of Politics

Arendtposthumous work concerns not only the rise of the political, the s protection of the public, but also the threat to the survival of politics. In Introduction into Politics, begins with the section of she What is Politics? continues with sections bearing similar titles again and again, such as aPolitics Is Today? Wht What is the Meaning of Politics? The Meaning of Politics, Does Politics Still Have Any Meaning at All? there is a section in the sequence which seems But arbitrary and out of context at the first glance. It is the section titled Question of The War. Although the section on war appears unexpected, it is not for no reason that Arendt decides to discuss this topic in her treatise on the meaning of politics. For Arendt, the meaning of politics is freedom. But the classical identity of

politics and freedom is now under serious doubt not only because of the misunderstanding embedded in the tradition of political thought, but also because of the emergence of two facts in the twentieth century. First, the rise and down of totalitarian movement leaves people with the impression that totalized politics is a terrible experience and that freedom seems possible only when we get rid of the influence of politics. Second, the modern invention of massive destructive weapons (as exemplified in the atomic bomb) makes people cannot but doubt if politics and the preservation of human life are compatible, or if it is not true that we should dispense with politics before politics destroys us all. In a word, totalitarianism and atomic bomb ignite the question about the meaning of politics in our modern situation (PP: 108-109). Does politics still have meaning? This is not an easy question to be answered. For Arendt, the question actually involves three factor which, interwoven together, causes our pessimism about the meaning of politics. The first element is our habit of thinking public affairs in the means/end category. That is, we tend to consider politics (or government) as a means to attain some other higher end which lies out side of politics. Politics is always a necessary evil something good in itself, but it never for counts as a good. Second, we also tend to think that the substance of politics is brute force, be it manifested in power struggle, revolution, or war and invasion. If the essence of politics is all these stuff, there seems no good reason why we should expect politics to result in anything great or admirable. Third, our tradition of political theory also contributes to the popular notion that rule o i t n is the central or dm n i ao concept of political theory. Max Weberfamous equation of politics with the exercise s of power and domination is only a most recent example of how theorists reiterate the same conviction ever since Plato (PP: 152). Does politics necessarily relate itself to brute force and domination? Can it be understood only in terms of means and end? Arendt obviously does not agree with this popular impression. On the contrary, she ardently believes that it is only through introducing brute force and the means/end category into politics that the melancholy omen of the destruction of politics emerges on the horizon. War is never compatible with politics, argues Arendt. Deriving her insights from the experience of the ancient Greek, Arendt reminds us again that the Greeks formed the polis around the agora, a place where free citizen assembled, speaking about something with one another. In this understanding, war (and the brute force it entailed) was entirely excluded from what was truly political. War was not the continuation of politics, as Clausewitz tries to persuade us into belief, but the very opposite of politics (PP: 164-165). However, the rise of totalitarianism brings with it the new concept of war, defines the latter to be a war of annihilation. At the total and

beginning, total war seems to be proclaimed by totalitarian country against non-totalitarian country, but it soon becomes a reality of conflict even between non-totalitarian countries themselves. The atomic bomb the United States dropped on Japan is a proof of how terrible the effect of total war can engender between non-totalitarian countries (PP: 159-160). It may be worthy our attention here to compare Arendtstrong objection against s the concept of total war and Carl Schmittadmiration of the same concept. Schmitt is s renowned for his definition of the political as the differentiation of enemy and friend. He regards the conflict between rivals as something essential and indispensable for politics, and celebrates the war of annihilation to be a mark of strong will. He says: A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics (Schmitt, 1996:35). That is certainly a view with which Arendt cannot agree. The reason why Arendt cannot agree with Schmitt is that during a war of annihilation, the multiple perspectives of how the world opens itself to us will be destroyed or severely diminished. Arendt says: The world comes into being only if there are perspectives If a people of nation is annihilated, it is not merely that a people or a nation or a given number of individuals perishes, but rather that a portion of our common world is destroyed, an aspect of the world that has revealed itself to us until now but can never reveal again To the extent that politics becomes destructive and causes worlds to end, it destroys and annihilates itself (PP: 175-176). Living in the most violent and the most destructive century of human history, Arendt is well aware of how wars and revolutions have shaped the political experience of our times. The sad fact that both wars and revolutions use brute force to achieve their purposes makes people easily believe that politics is always associated with expansion and domination, and political action is nothing other than violence (PP: 191-192). The classical identity of politics and freedom is substituted with the modern equation of politics and violence. Once the situation reached the point of no return, there would be no possibility of reclaiming the meaning of the political. After discussing the question of war and violence, let us now turn to the question of means and end. To a very important extent, Arendt believes that our inability to make a clear distinction between the end, the goal and the meaning of political action, is one major reason why true politics is disappearing from our world. It is only when we realize the subtle difference of these concepts can we possibly grasp the meaning of politics again.

Ends are associated with means. They are the results that we apply means in order to achieve. For instance, self-preservation can be the end of defense, domination can be the end of attack, and the overthrowing of an old political entity can be the end of a revolution. To achieve a specific end, we usually make use of means, be it violence, deception, alliance or persuasion. Political action pursues end with its means (PP: 193-194). Goals are different from ends in that they are not tangible, concrete objectives of action. They are instead guidelines and directives by which we orient ourselves. the Political actors must have goals in mind to guide their directions, but theses goals are too abstract to be related to any specific means. Goals set the standards by which everything that is done must be judged. They transcend what is done in the same sense that every yardstick transcends what it has to measure. One of the salient problems in modern political theory is that it cannot tell the goal from the end, and always thinks of the public matter in terms of means/end when they should think about the goal. Similarly, politicians introduce brute force into the political sphere as an efficient means for their end, but confuse the later with the goal (Ibid). Distinct from both end and goal, the meaning of political action is always contained within the activity itself, and it can exist only as long as the activity continues. Arendt contends that the meaning of action will reveals itself in the course of action, but disappears immediately when the action is over. That is to say, meaning is not like goal, which can stand out side the action as a standard and last longer than the activity. Meaning seems to be transient, and has nothing to do with the means or the end of an activity (PP: 194).3 Arendt thinks that our unwillingness (and inability) to make distinctions between end, goal and meaning, is the major reason why we cannot understand the true meaning of politics, which is freedom. Worse still, whenever we talk about the meaning of political action, we actually refer to its end or goal. Modern people do not know what meaning is, nor do they believe that there is meaning for politics at all. The loss of meaning marks the victory of brute force in the political sphere, as well as the disappearing of genuine politics.

VII. Can Arendtian Politics Be Revived?

Arendt is certainly one of the most original political thinkers of our time. Her idea of politics is so distinct from other contemporary philosophers that no students who are dealing with the topic can afford neglecting its influence. On the other hand,

Arendt also lists the fourth element of action: principle. Principle is the fundamental conviction that a group of people share, like honor, virtue, fear, fame, freedom, justice or equality. It does not concern us here. 17

however, Arendtconcept of the political is also frequently criticized as too s idiosyncratic to be of any help for a world which is totally against her imagination. Before concluding this article, I would like to make some comments regarding the strength and the weakness of her concept of politics, and see if her idea is of any insight for our understanding of politics. Arendt should be credited for her attempt to guarantee an autonomous place for the political. While most of us used to think of politics as a necessary tool for many admirable purposes, such as peace of mankind, justice in distribution, economic prosperity, etc, Arendt remind us of the independent character of political life. She is not unaware of the fact that politics could serve something else and function as a means to other end, but she strongly believes that it also has its own dignity and rationality. The way she defines the meaning of politics demonstrates how serious she wants to change peoplenegative impression of the political. To a certain degree, s Arendtattempt to rescue the dignity of politics should be celebrated as a success. s Secondly, the insight Arendt derives from her interpretation of the classical political experience is also impressive. While most contemporary political theorists follow the power approach of politics introduced by Hobbes and reconfirmed by Weber, Arendt displays her uniqueness in reasoning with the ancient Greek and Roman. The unusual approach of appealing to the classical legacy sometimes results in very interesting findings. For instance, we will not realize that political action could have the connotation of leading and carrying out not for her analysis of archein if and prattein. Likewise, we will not comprehend the affinity of politics and courage if not for her narration of the Homeric epic and its impact. Arendtadventure into the s ancient world uncovers many novel and invaluable treasures about political affairs. We should also recognize this contribution. Thirdly, as to the essence of politics, Arendttheory regarding human plurality s and the multiple perspective of the world is a brilliant and convincing argument. There are many ways of talking about pluralism in politics. Berlinpromotion of s value pluralism, for example, is as influential as stimulating. Arendtinterpretation of s human plurality is different but no less remarkable. Arendt does not subsume to any kind of monistic thinking or doctrine of uniformity. She is always championing for the diversity of human standpoints, and asks political philosophers to take this diversity serious. I think Arendt is right in protecting the richness of the world by appealing to the argument of plurality. Nevertheless, there are also some weaknesses in Arendtidea of politics. First of s all, we wonder if Arendtetymological analysis of the word s action does not reflect her own theoretical bias. Arendt traces the term action its Greek archein, which to means begin, to lead, rule. we are surprised to find that Arendt to and to But

elaborates the meaning of action almost exclusively on the basis of one connotation only to begin. meaning of The leading and ruling disappears totally from her interpretation of action. If we are to adopt the etymological approach as Arendt recommends, there is no reason why the meaning, and the experience as well, of rulership should be surgically removed from the essence of political action. It seems fair to ask that both beginning something new and ruling equally emphasized be in a sound and complete understanding of political action. Yet, if action means both beginning and ruling, the meaning of politics would change quite a lot, too. Secondly, Arendt is eager to separate politics from war and violence, lest it will be intertwined with the means/end category. She is also extremely critical of the association of politics with necessity of life, simply because she insists the essence of politics should be freedom, while freedom is contradictory to necessity. Unfortunately, if politics is totally separated from war, violence, and necessity of life, what we have would be a completely purified concept of politics admirable as it may be, but useless in practical analysis. In other words, the Arendtian idea of politics would have nothing to say about violent confrontation, foreign policy, social welfare, national security, or the question of family violence. Does it help our understanding of the political world merely by declaring that violence and necessity are non-political and walk away? I think not. Finally, we find that Arendt is so fond of making distinctions that sometimes her conceptual differentiation is simply too complicated to be meaningful. She contends that the end of an action is different from its goal, and the goal is different from the principle. But then she confesses that ht a principle of action in one period w awas can in another become a goal by which the action orients itself, or even an end that it pursues. for example, freedom could be a principle in the Athenian polis, but So becomes a goal in a monarchy of the medieval age, and then becomes an end in a revolutionary epoch (PP: 195). I think the shift between end, goal, meaning and principle is too vibrant and arbitrary to be of real significance for our understanding of political affairs. My conclusion is that Arendtidea of politics is inspiring in three dimensions: s politics can be an autonomous activity; politics can mean something other than power struggle and domination; politics is important for the preservation of world and its multiple perspectives. On the other hand, Arendtidea of politics is weak on three s aspects: it is selectively interpreted in terms of its etymological origin; it is useless for the analysis of some important human phenomena; it contains some unnecessary internal differentiations and therefore confusions people. There is no perfect definition of an idea, and Arendtinterpretation of the political is no exception. s


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Strauss, Leo 1959 What Is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Villa, Dana (ed.) 2000 The Companion to Hannah Arendt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Weber, Max 1978 Economy and Society. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press.