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The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt
11 Arendt on revolution
Albrecht Wellmer
In On Revolution Hannah Arendt tried to settle accounts with both the liberal-democratic and Marxist traditions; that is, with the two dominant traditions of modern political thought which, in one way or another, can be traced back to the Enlightenment. Her basic thesis is that both liberal democrats andMarxists have misunderstood the drama of modern revolutions because they have not understood that what was actually revolutionary about these revolutions was their attempt to create a constitutio libertatis - a repeatedly frustrated attempt to establish a political space of public freedom in which people, as free and equal citizens, would take their common concerns into their own hands. Both theliberals and the Marxists harbored a conception of the political according to which the final goal of politics was something beyond politics - whether this be the unconstrained pursuit of private happiness, the realization of social justice, or the free association of producers in a classless society. Arendt's critique of Marxist politics has already become a locus classicus and requires no furtherjustification. Her critique of the liberal and social democracies of the modern industrial societies seems more provocative from the point of view of the present. I want to raise the question of whether her provocation remains a genuine one.
Arendt’s On Revolution and Its Implications for Political Science
March 5, 2009
In the post-World War II world, the practice of politics increasing emphasizedeffective administration rather than the participation of citizens in governance. Hannah Arendt responded to this trend in On Revolution, which attempts to explore the central role of politics in facilitating and perpetuating a good life and society. According to her book, these two aims can only be achieved if citizens create an atmosphere of public freedom in which they can engage in politicalactivity and inquiry inspired by an originating revolutionary spirit. Harkening back to the republican ideals of Thomas Jefferson, she asserts, “No one could be called happy without his share of public happiness, that no one could be called free without his experience in public freedom, and that no one could be called happy or free without participating, and having a share, in public power.”[1]However, her vague terminology begs important questions. What is public freedom? What is public happiness? How does public happiness resulting from the practice of public freedom create a good life and society? In this examination, my aim is to address these questions in addition to explaining how the three outcomes of public freedom suggested in Arendt’s text form a good life and society. Then, Iwill conclude with an exploration on the implications of her arguments on the discipline of political science. But, before continuing, a quick summary of her work is in order.
Essentially, Arendt argues that revolutions – that is political upheavals aimed at securing liberty and, more importantly, freedom – foster a revolutionary spirit that energizes the masses into pursuing a pluralistic systemof political deliberation and governance. Here, it is important to note the distinction Arendt makes between liberation and freedom as it is essential to her argument.
From On Revolution, I have identified three ends that follow from the existence of political freedom in a society: public equality, public accountability, and a sphere in which private happiness can be attained. Consequently,these products of public freedom are the means though which a society can attain public happiness. The foundational elements of public happiness and public equality are, for Arendt, linked to the social capacity of all individuals to participate in public life. Arendt suggests that pubic equality can overcome the social divisions existing due to the differing socioeconomic conditions private welfare...
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