Philosophy, Politics, and Participatory Democracy in Arendt
This chapter argues that the prospects of participatory democracy necessitated for Arendt a re-examination of the traditional separation between “the few” and “the many,” as well as the common conception of politics as relations of rule that emanates from it. Arendt traces this conception of politics back to Plato, particularly to the rift between philosophy and politics that he introduced into Western political thought following Socrates’s death. In contrast to dominant interpretations, this chapter shows that Arendt struggled to overcome this rift, rather than to simply analyze it. By re-interpreting the legacy of Socrates, Jaspers and Kant, Arendt sought an alternative conception of the meaning of philosophy, politics, and the relationships between them, which could serve as a theoretical foundation for a new form of government based on equality, rather than on relations of rule. The council system was, in Arendt’s mind, precisely this kind of government.