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Rereading Hannah Arendt's 'What Is Freedom?'

Freedom as a Phenomenon of Political Virtuosity

Ilya Winham

In 'What Is Freedom?', Arendt speaks of freedom as a 'phenomenon of virtuosity', claiming that this phenomenon is the original, hitherto undertheorised experience of freedom in ancient Greece and Rome, and that the idea of freedom began to appear in connection with the will in our philosophical tradition only after freedom as a phenomenon of virtuosity had in practice disappeared in the late Roman Empire - but not from all human activities in which it continued to exist in a hidden form, as the power or 'gift' of humans to begin a new line of action. My interpretation of Arendt's conception of freedom begins from and elaborates on these claims, and shows that she should be taken seriously as a critic of the late antique notion that freedom consists in the decisions we make with our will. I also show that in rejecting accounts of freedom that reduce it to a matter of the will or the intellect, Arendt relies on the notion of an inspiring 'principle' of action that functions in a manner analogous to Hegel's understanding of (moral) action as taking place against a background of unwritten rules (sittlichkeit) and as deriving its 'validity' and 'absolute' character from a spirit, or principle, immanent within it.

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Hannah Arendt

Thinking in Circles

Jeffrey Newman

Hannah Arendt is so modern that one of the academic disputes about her at present is whether she should be classified amongst the moderns or the ‘postmoderns’, an issue which probably puts her at the borderline of our knowledge and understanding, or rather, beyond it.1 She was not a religiously practising Jew: the first letter she wrote to an old Jewish friend, Gertrud Jaspers, after the war, speaks about sending some bacon, with detailed instructions on how to cook it – and somewhat significantly, she adds ‘I’ve forgotten the German word for it, the hell with it’.

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Jakob Norberg

Hannah Arendt and Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich produced influential accounts of the postwar West-German population's silence or inarticuleteness. The Mitscherlichs claimed that this silence was symptomatic of a blocked process of mourning; Arendt saw it as a legacy of brutal totalitarian rule. However, both viewed the rapid economic recovery as evidence of the German inability to engage in discursively mediated therapeutic and political processes. Frantic busyness was a form of silence. This paper presents a critical reassessment of these approaches. By drawing on Albert Hirschman's theory of exit and voice, it argues that economic activity possesses a communicative dimension. The alleged retreat from politics is not a symptom of muteness but rather indicates people's preference for an alternative mode of communication. Arendt and the Mitscherlich may be right in assuming a correlation between the postwar economic recovery and ostensible political apathy, but lack the conceptual means to clarify the relationship.

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Freedom and Power in the Thought of Hannah Arendt

Civil Disobedience and the Politics of Theatre

Hanako Koyama

Arendt scholars have given exhaustive attention to the importance of actors in Hannah Arendt's political thought. This paper focuses on the role of non-actors, which I argue are also important for a full understanding of her view of politics, freedom and power. It argues that instead of a monistic, action-centred model, Arendt advances a dualistic model of politics, a model which affords a unique position to non-acting beings through the conceptual distinction between actor and audience, or actor and spectator. My paper also argues that she might conceive an interaction between them when she offers a theatrical model of contemporary political action, relaxing the distinction which otherwise remains rigid through most of her work. This paper tries to show that civil disobedience presumes the sympathetic gaze of spectator because its actor requests the distinctively moral perspective of non-active audience in a theatrical setting of the public realm.

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Rivka Gordon

In her essay On Violence (1970), Hannah Arendt criticizes what she calls Sartre’s ‘new faith’ of violence. She argues that his call to the oppressed peoples to turn to a violent struggle to achieve freedom from colonialisation is an idea that was not known in the history of revolutions. In addition, Sartre’s glorification of violence is totally opposed to the Hegelian and Marxian tradition, and to any ‘leftist humanism’. Therefore, Sartre should be included, she holds, among ‘the new militants’ or ‘the new preachers of violence’ of the New Left. To support her views, Arendt criticizes passages in Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason and in his preface to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

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Babette Babich

“Had I known what was going to happen, I would probably still have done it.” 1 Margarethe von Trotta’s 2013 film Hannah Arendt , starring Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt raises sociopolitical and specifically philosophical questions in the

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Hannah Arendt

Radical Evil, Radical Hope

Jeffrey Newman

The world is facing a multitude of interconnected issues, leading to avoidable starvation, poverty and death for hundreds of millions. Is Arendt's concept of the 'banality of evil', which she adopted in preference to Kant's 'radical evil', applicable here? Are we bystanders, addicted to 'growth'? The paper considers the central role of thinking and, with the help of Greek myth and Nietzsche, the relationship between evil and hope. Finally, there is an emerging concept of 'radical hope'. What is this, could it be of help and how would it connect with Judaism's teachings of the Messiah?

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Ali Aslam, David McIvor, and Joel Alden Schlosser

Urgent alarms now warn of the erosion of democratic norms and the decline of democratic institutions. These antidemocratic trends have prompted some democratic theorists to reject the seeming inevitability of democratic forms of government and instead to consider democracy as a fugitive phenomenon. Fugitive democracy, as we argue below, is a theory composed of two parts. First, it includes a robust, normative ideal of democracy and, second, a clear-eyed vision of the historical defeats and generic difficulties attendant to that ideal. This article considers how democratic theorists might respond to the challenges posed by fugitive democracy and the implications of such an understanding for future research in democratic theory.

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Giuseppe Ballacci

In the literature there are two well-established but opposite readings of Arendt: as an agonistic theorist and as a deliberative one. In between these two positions a smaller number of scholars have argued that in Arendt these two dimensions can to a large extent be reconciled. This paper follows this third path but tries to bring it one step further. In particular, it defends the idea that those scholars who have proposed this third reading of Arendt have fallen short of revealing the degree to which deliberation and agonism are, for her, interwoven. Through an original reading of Arendt’s views on judgment, persuasion, distinction and Eichmann’s banality, the paper clarifies why, for her, agonism and deliberation are not only compatible but actually mutually dependent. In other words, it clarifies why she believes that there can be no deliberation without agonism and no agonism without deliberation.

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Ontology or Bureaucracy?

Hannah Arendt's Early Interpretations of the Holocaust

Daniel Stone

In his book The Transparency of Evil, Jean Baudrillard claimed that the opportunity to understand something of the Holocaust had been missed – the time had been ripe in the immediate aftermath of the conflagration but no one took up the challenge. Now that the Holocaust, like every other event in our postmodern universe, has become a simulacrum of itself – known only through the various representations of it that circulate in the culture – it is too late ever to get to grips with what it really involved. Today 'there is no longer enough history to back up any historical proof of what happened . . . History should have been understood while history still existed . . . These things were not understood while we still had the means to understand them. Now they never will be.