Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 562–582 | Cite as

“Poor in World”: Hannah Arendt’s critique of imperialism

  • Manu SamnotraEmail author


This article addresses Hannah Arendt’s controversial engagement with European imperial ventures in Africa. For many of her critics, Arendt’s description of imperialism either duplicates the ideologically inflected accounts and justifications of mass-murder, or conveys her own personal (and racist) views of Africans and peoples of African descent. I argue that Arendt’s account in the “Imperialism” chapter of the Origins of Totalitarianism must be read parallel to her discussion of the conflict in Palestine between Jewish settlers and native Arabs. Rather than provide us with an anthropological account of Africans, Arendt provides a political account of the necessity for cooperation in order to blunt imperial power-politics. In a second move, I develop a normative critique from Arendt’s remarks by relying on Heideggerian aspects of “World.” I argue that Arendt’s criticisms are really directed at Europeans who were unable to take the Africans’ point of view.


Hannah Arendt imperialism Africa Israel Palestine worldlessness 



I would like to thank Lisa Disch for her exceptional editorial guidance in helping me develop this manuscript, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. I would also like to acknowledge the very great help and encouragement Daniel O'Neill, Lorna Bracewell, Stuart Strome, Evgenia Ilieva, Lina Benabdallah, Saskia Van Wees, Jeanne Morefield, and Jimmy Casas Klausen gave me as I developed the argument here. My research was helped considerably by a grant from the Humanities Institute at the University of South Florida.


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© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South FloridaTampaUSA

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