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On Hannah Arendt’s Idea of Freedom

Author: ChenYing
Tutor: WangCaiBo
School: Jilin University
Course: Political Theory
Keywords: Hannah Arendt freedom politics action public realm
CLC: D091
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2009
Downloads: 216
Quote: 1
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Abstract


In the history of western political thought, Hannah Arendt is a particular thinker. She didn’t belong to any school, and also didn’t have any apprentice. Her thought has been considerable controversial. It seems that whether the Left or the Right can’t agree with her completely. But Hannah Arendt’s thoughts have had a great impact on later thinkers. This is because that though her political ideology is fragmented, her perspective which has expanded the research ideas is unique. The contents of her thought are core issues in the modern society, and any thinker can’t evade them. This paper starts to research Arendt’s freedom theory, reconstructs its logic system, and attempts to represent its uniqueness and significance.This paper is divided into four parts:The first part is the main content of the writing on the meaning of Arendt’s“freedom”. First, Arendt’s“freedom”is closer with ancient freedom by the comparison of two kinds of freedom——the ancient freedom and the Liberal freedom. Compared with“the freedom out of politics”in the modern times, Arendt believed in“the freedom as politics”. Arendt thought that freedom had been seriously misrepresented in the modern times.“Political”should be the necessary element of freedom, but now it was regarded as the condition of freedom. Arendt thought that this actually was the misunderstanding of freedom and politics. She redefined the concept of freedom, and attempted to reverse the world which was out of freedom. Arendt’s concept of freedom didn’t form suddenly, but based on a certain philosophical foundation——Existentialism. Before she becomed a political thinker, Arendt studied Existentialism with Heidegger. This affected her political research in all her life. But Arendt didn’t accept Heidegger’s ideology completely. She opposed the conclusion that only people in solitude could find the significance of their existence. She thought that the existence of others had great significance to the existence of individuals. The show in front of others constituted the authenticity of individual existence. Arendt thought that a person was essentially a kind of political existence. According to Existentialism, she had come to the conclusion that if a person wanted to be free he had to participate in political affairs in the public world. At last the writer discusses the relationship between freedom and action. Arendt thought the essence of freedom was action. In the book named The Human Condition, she analyzed three basic conditions: labor, work and action. Labor was bounded by necessity fully, and showed the relationship between human and material. Work showed the relationship between human and the world. At this time, people had some freedom but couldn’t have the largest freedom. The true freedom was in the action of people. The action having no predictable result was not decisive, and not bounded by necessity and causality. Action showed the relationship between human and human, and didn’t need any intermediary. A person in the action showed that“who am I”rather than“what am I”. This was true freedom.The second part discusses the condition of Arendt’s freedom, including objective and subjective conditions. Public realm is the space to free, and the objective condition of freedom. Arendt thought that the pubic realm had been seriously deteriorated. The emergence of the social realm had blurred the clear boundary between private realm and public realm, and changed their original appearances. She claimed to rebuild the public realm. Only it could supply the space for freedom. The recognition of the plural which was the basic situation of the human world was the premise of the rebuilding. Everyone was same because of their differences. We couldn’t regard people as a species, otherwise we would deny the uniqueness of human. And it was the uniqueness that made that different perspective and voice appeared in the public sphere. This could promote true freedom. Then the writer discusses the subjective conditions of Arendt’s freedom——the establishment of citizenship and the fostering of civic virtue. Citizenship is political and it is the most important prerequisite to go to the public realm to participate in political affairs. The citizenship is based on the equality of citizens. And the equality is not of opportunity and condition of liberalism, but the one that people can select by themselves to participate in public affairs equally. This kind of citizen has to have some political virtues, including courage, forgiveness, promise and political judgment. Arendt thought that only this kind of citizen could get out of the trouble of private interests, focus on public affairs, and not follow any absolute theory blindly. Only this kind of citizen could get true freedom.The third part discusses the system of Arendt’s freedom. The theory had been formed, and if there was no institutional supports, the theory seemed to be a castle in the air. Arendt elaborated that the revolution brought the experience of freedom in the book named“On Revolution”. She compared French Revolution with American Revolution, and thought that there were differences between freedom and liberation. Liberation was a premise of freedom, but it didn’t equal to freedom. But in the real revolution, people used to confuse them, so that had gone far away from the true purpose of the revolution. Arendt brought up a council form from the previous revolutions, and thought it was the most possible way to achieve freedom. She thought that it was a kind of republic, based on many elementary republics. Local councils opened to all people, and high-level councils were composed of representatives who had been elected from low-level councils. There were conversations and consultations in all councils. Every council was not bounded by superiors or subordinates. With respect to this desirable form, Arendt criticized the representative system in the modern times. She thought that the representative system had deprived of the right that people could participate in political affairs, and had violated people’s freedom. The representative system was only compromise and balance between representatives, and was contrary to the public spirit completely. The fourth part discusses the status and influence of Arendt’s freedom in the history of western political thought, analyzes controversial contents, and points out that indeed some comments have hit the nail on the head, but some are misreading. The writer thinks that there is utopia color which consists in latter’s comments to Arendt’s freedom. For example, the absolute requirement of the political nature of freedom, high praise to political elites, and so on all make that there are inevitable conflicts between her thought and practical politics. But the writer thinks that we can’t deny the significance of Arendt’t freedom for this reason. She thought people had to recover the important status of politics and advocated to encourage civic virtues. These views were the reflection on reality, and are still important references until now. And Arent as a woman thinker has been criticized by feminists who haven’t been in Arendt’s position, and haven’t realized her real intentions. At last, the writer thinks that Arendt’s freedom is part of republicanism, and she had made an indelible contribution to the great recovery of republicanism since the twentieth century.

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CLC: > Political, legal > Political Theory > History of Political Science,History of Political Thought > World History of Political Thought
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