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Arendt, Republicanism, and Political Freedom

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Arendt on Freedom, Liberation, and Revolution

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Abstract

This chapter assesses the neo-republican critique of Hannah Arendt advanced by Philip Pettit. Contending that republicanism is primarily concerned with freedom as non-domination, Pettit criticizes Arendt for equating political freedom with political participation and for advancing a Rousseauian communitarian and populist viewpoint antithetical to republicanism, properly understood. These criticisms are mistaken, however. A sympathetic reading of Arendt’s work reveals her deep-seated concern with domination, which is central to her analysis of totalitarianism and her critique of ‘command’ conceptions of politics. Moreover, Arendt is in no way vulnerable to the charge of advancing either communitarianism or populism, given her stress on the rule of law, her commitment to plurality and the dispersal of power, and her understanding of politics as the ceaseless interplay of diverse opinions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For general discussions of “neo-republicanism” or “civic republicanism,” and its distinctiveness from participatory or so-called “civic humanist” republican theories, see Cécile Laborde and John Maynor, “The Republican Contribution to Contemporary Political Theory,” in Republicanism and Political Theory, ed. Cécile Laborde and John Maynor (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 1–9; and Frank Lovett, “Republicanism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, last modified 15 April 2014, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/republicanism/.

  2. 2.

    Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 8.

  3. 3.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 4–5. See also Pettit, “Republican Freedom and Contestatory Democratization,” in Democracy’s Value, ed. Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 165. Note that non-domination is a more robust ideal than the classical liberal ideal of “freedom as non-interference” in that it demands not only the actual non-interference of others in our lives, but also their inability to arbitrarily exercise power. See Pettit, Republicanism, 63–64; and Frank Lovett, A General Theory of Domination and Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 152–56.

  4. 4.

    Pettit, On the People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 17.

  5. 5.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 8, 30; and Pettit, “Reworking Sandel’s Republicanism,” The Journal of Philosophy 95, no. 2 (1998): 83–84. See, as well, Lovett, General Theory, 212, 220; Lovett, “Republicanism,” 9; and Maurizio Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 286.

  6. 6.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 280, 304; and Pettit, “Republican Freedom,” 185.

  7. 7.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 174, 220–25; and Pettit, Republicanism, 177–80.

  8. 8.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 174, 225–29. See also Pettit, “Republican Freedom,” 178–83; and Republicanism, 183–200.

  9. 9.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 285–92, 309–10.

  10. 10.

    Pettit, “Two Republican Traditions,” in Republican Democracy: Liberty, Law and Politics, ed. Andreas Niederberger and Philipp Schink (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 169; and Pettit, People’s Terms, 12.

  11. 11.

    Pettit, “Republican Traditions,” 179–80; and People’s Terms, 12–13.

  12. 12.

    Pettit, “Republican Traditions,” 193–94.

  13. 13.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 15.

  14. 14.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 8; People’s Terms, 15, 220; “Republican Traditions,” 185, 187, 192; and “Sandel’s Republicanism,” 81.

  15. 15.

    Pettit, “Republican Traditions,” 199; and People’s Terms, 16. A key figure in this “vulgarization” of Rousseau, according to Pettit, is Benjamin Constant, whose ancient/positive liberty versus modern/negative liberty dualism helped efface the idea of freedom as non-domination.

  16. 16.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 19; People’s Terms, 18. For Pettit’s (later qualified) claim that Arendt, as well as Sandel, neglected Roman republican ideas in favor of an idealized, participatory image of Athenian politics, see also Pettit, Republicanism, 285; “Sandel’s Republicanism,” 82.

  17. 17.

    Hannah Arendt, TheHuman Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 195, 243. See also Arendt, On Revolution (London: Penguin, 1990), 187–89; and Arendt, “Introductioninto Politics,” in The Promise of Politics, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 175–80. For convincing rebuttals of the supposition that Arendt suffered from some sort of “Graecomania,” see Jacques Taminiaux, “Athens and Rome,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, ed. Dana Villa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 165–77; and Roy Tsao, “Arendt Against Athens: Rereading TheHuman Condition,” Political Theory 97, no. 1 (2002): 97–123.

  18. 18.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 218.

  19. 19.

    As regards Pettit on the political primacy of freedom as non-domination, on which he builds his theory of political legitimacy and social justice, see Pettit, People’s Terms, 81–87, 107, 123. For Arendt’s contention that “[t]he raison d’être of politics is freedom,” see Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 146.

  20. 20.

    See Pettit, “Freedom: Psychological, Ethical and Political,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 18, no. 4 (2015): 375–89; Pettit, A Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001); and Pettit, Republicanism, 81–82.

  21. 21.

    For criticisms of his interpretation of autonomy as non-political, see Richard Dagger, “Autonomy, Domination, and the Republican Challenge to Liberalism,” in Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism, ed. John Christman and Joel Anderson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 177–203; and Iseult Honohan, Civic Republicanism (New York: Routledge, 2002), 185–88.

  22. 22.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 32.

  23. 23.

    See Arendt, On Revolution, 33, 35; and Between Past and Future, 148.

  24. 24.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 63, 114; and TheHuman Condition, 31, 83–84.

  25. 25.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 149; and On Revolution, 126–27, 135.

  26. 26.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 218; and Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), 221.

  27. 27.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 280.

  28. 28.

    Ibid., 29. On this, see Margaret Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 211–12; and Kei Hiruta, “The Meaning and Value of Freedom: Berlin contra Arendt,” The European Legacy 19, no. 7 (2014): 859, 861.

  29. 29.

    Unlike Pettit, other neo-republicans—for example, Lovett (General Theory, 30, 100–1)—do note Arendt’s focus on totalitarian domination.

  30. 30.

    Arendt, “A Reply to Eric Voegelin,” in Essays in Understanding, 19301954, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1994), 408. That totalitarianism represents an “entirely new form of government,” see, for instance, Arendt, The Originsof Totalitarianism, 3rd ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973), 478.

  31. 31.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 169; andOrigins, 479.

  32. 32.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 177–78. On dignity, see, for example, The Human Condition, 181; Origins, 458; and Arendt, Lectures on Kant’sPolitical Philosophy, ed. Ronald Beiner (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982), 77.

  33. 33.

    Arendt, The Human Condition, 9; Between Past and Future, 169; andOrigins,293.

  34. 34.

    Arendt,Origins, 295–96. I am indebted here to Christian Rostbøll’s “Statelessness, Domination, and Unfreedom: Arendt and Pettit in Dialogue,” in To Be Unfree: Republicanism and Unfreedom in History, Literature, and Philosophy, ed. Christian Dahl and Tue Andersen Nexø (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2014), 19–36. See also Anne-Marie Roviello, “The Hidden Violence of Totalitarianism: The Loss of the Groundwork of the World,” Social Research 74, no. 3 (2007): 923–30.

  35. 35.

    Arendt,Origins, 297, 444.

  36. 36.

    Ibid., 296, 447, 451.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., 438, 457.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., 445, 447, 455.

  39. 39.

    On this temptation, see Margaret Canovan, “Arendt, Rousseau, and Human Plurality in Politics,” The Journal of Politics 45, no. 2 (1983): 287; and Dana Villa, Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 73.

  40. 40.

    See Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Four Essays onLiberty (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 118–72. That Arendt could not have known about Berlin’s essay when developing her own theory of political freedom, and used the terms liberty and freedom in different senses to his, see Hiruta in this volume.

  41. 41.

    For telling arguments to this effect, see Canovan, Hannah Arendt, 211–16; and Honohan, Civic Republicanism, 122–24.

  42. 42.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 153.

  43. 43.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 182. See also Arendt, “On Hannah Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvyn A. Hill (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), 316–17; and James Knauer, “Motive and Goal in Hannah Arendt’s Concept of Political Action,” The American Political Science Review 74, no. 3 (1980): 724–27.

  44. 44.

    Arendt, The Human Condition, 188–90; and Crises, 143.

  45. 45.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 32; and On Revolution, 30.

  46. 46.

    Arendt, The Human Condition, 195; On Revolution, 189; and Crises, 138. For a description of this complex turn, see Keith Breen, “Law beyond Command? An Evaluation of Hannah Arendt’s Understanding of Law,” in Hannah Arendt and the Law, ed. Marco Goldoni and Chris McCorkindale (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2012), 17–20.

  47. 47.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 162, 295.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., 163–64.

  49. 49.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 234.

  50. 50.

    Arendt’s general attitude towards Rousseau is pithily expressed in a personal comment to Karl Jaspers: “I don’t like Rousseau, but one has to know him. He was so important politically” (Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, Correspondence: 19261969, ed. Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner [New York: Harcourt Brace, 1992], 594).

  51. 51.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 163–64. See, as well, Crises, 84, where Arendt lambastes “the Rousseauan-Kantian solution to the problem of [political] obligation.”

  52. 52.

    Arendt, The Human Condition, 245; On Revolution, 76; and Villa, Arendt, 76–77.

  53. 53.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 79.

  54. 54.

    Arendt, Between Past and Future, 163.

  55. 55.

    See Arendt, On Revolution, 152, 199–200.

  56. 56.

    On the difference between mixed government, which is compatible with sovereignty, and the mixed constitution, which is not, see Pettit, “Republican Traditions,” 184–85; People’s Terms, 223, as well as Richard Bellamy, “Which Republicanism, Whose Freedom?” Political Theory 44, no. 5 (2016): 675.

  57. 57.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 151–52.

  58. 58.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 179; and Arendt, On Revolution, 168–69, 171, 245.

  59. 59.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 249–55.

  60. 60.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 257, 255–81; and Crises, 229–33. For revealing analyses of Arendt’s council democracy, see Richard J. Bernstein, Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), 126–33, and Lederman in this volume.

  61. 61.

    See, especially, Margaret Canovan, “The People, the Masses, and the Mobilization of Power: The Paradox of Hannah Arendt’s ‘Populism,’” Social Research 69, no. 2 (2002): 403, as well as Bernstein, Hannah Arendt, 131.

  62. 62.

    As convincingly argued, for example, by Paulina Ochoa Espejo (“Populism and the Idea of the People,” in The Oxford Handbook ofPopulism, ed. Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Paul Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017], 623).

  63. 63.

    Ochoa Espejo, “Populism,” 622.

  64. 64.

    Ibid., 608, 623.

  65. 65.

    On Arendt’s distinction between the people, mob, and mass, see Canovan, “The People,” 404–11; and Peter Baehr, “The ‘Masses’ in Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism,” The Good Society 16, no. 2 (2007): 12–18.

  66. 66.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 93–94.

  67. 67.

    See, for example, Arendt’s discussion of the “Labor Movement” from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries (The Human Condition, 219) and of the Hungarian revolutionary councils (On Revolution, 266–67), which were to her remarkable in incorporating individuals from all classes and professions.

  68. 68.

    Arendt, Crises, 90.

  69. 69.

    Here we should attend to Arendt’s (perhaps excessively one-sided) claim that cooperation, not antagonism, defines the political, her belief that the “revelatory quality of speech and action comes to the fore where people are with others and neither for nor against them – that is, in sheer human togetherness” (TheHuman Condition, 180).

  70. 70.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 243. On her understanding of “brotherhood,” in contrast to civic friendship, as a politically irrelevant attachment, see Arendt, Men inDark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 11–17, 24–26.

  71. 71.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 183.

  72. 72.

    See Arendt, Between Past and Future, 156; TheHuman Condition, 52–53; “On Hannah Arendt,” 317; and Arendt, “Public Rights and Private Interests: In Response to Charles Frankel,” in Small Comforts for Hard Times, ed. Michael Mooney and Florian Stuber (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 105.

  73. 73.

    Arendt, Crises, 79; “Introduction into Politics,” 187. On the significance of constitutionality and law for Arendt, see Verity Smith, “Dissent in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Civil Disobedience and Constitutional Patriotism,” in Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, ed. Roger Berkowitz, Jeffrey Katz, and Thomas Keenan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 105–9; and Jeremy Waldron, “Arendt’s Constitutional Politics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, ed. Dana Villa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 201–19.

  74. 74.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 228.

  75. 75.

    On political judgement (phronēsis) and “representative thinking,” see, for example, Arendt, Between Past and Future, 218–24, 241; Lectures, 69–72; and On Revolution, 229.

  76. 76.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 191, 208–9; and “Introduction into Politics,” 186.

  77. 77.

    I have no space here to discuss Arendt’s characterization of “social” identities, which, as found in her controversial essay “Reflections on Little Rock” (Dissent 6, no. 1 [1959]: 45–56), does have clear communitarian overtones. The decisive point, however, is that for her these social identities are wholly non-political, having nothing to do with citizenship.

  78. 78.

    A point driven home by Canovan, “The People,” 415.

  79. 79.

    Pettit, “Republican Traditions,” 193–94.

  80. 80.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 289, Footnote 26. Here Pettit approvingly refers to Hans Lindahl’s (“The Paradox of Constituent Power: The Ambiguous Self-Constitution of the European Union,” Ratio Juris 20, no. 4 [2007]: 485–505) reading of Arendt.

  81. 81.

    Arendt, On Revolution, 145, citing Paine.

  82. 82.

    On his division between the participatory-electoral/authorial and contestatory/editorial dimensions of democratic control, see “Pettit on Franco-German Republicanism and Arendt” above, but also Pettit, “Republican Freedom,” 180; Theory of Freedom, 159–67; and Pettit, “Democracy, Electoral and Contestatory,” Nomos 42 (2000): 105–44.

  83. 83.

    As regards Arendt’s underscoring of the agonistic quality of political action and deliberation, see, among other instances, her comments in TheHuman Condition (19, 41), as well as her discussion of “faction” in On Revolution (93).

  84. 84.

    See her seminal essay, “Civil Disobedience,” in Arendt, Crises, 49–102.

  85. 85.

    A connection highlighted by William Smith (“A Constitutional Niche for Civil Disobedience? Reflections on Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt and the Law, ed. Marco Goldoni and Chris McCorkindale [Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2012], 142–44). While their perspectives do differ, we should nonetheless recognize Arendt’s emphasis on the importance of governmental appellate bodies—the US Supreme Court, for example (On Revolution, 200)—and Pettit’s (People’s Terms, 227) own praise for “radical social movements” agitating for change via non-governmental organizations.

  86. 86.

    Arendt, Crises, 74–75, 80–81, 101–2; and Between Past and Future, 153. See also Verity Smith, “Dissent,” 110–11.

  87. 87.

    Arendt, Crises, 83–84, 101.

  88. 88.

    Pettit, People’s Terms, 18.

  89. 89.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 30.

  90. 90.

    See, for example, her claims that a life spent entirely in private “is ‘idiotic’ by definition,” and that through action, more so than any other activity, “men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities” (Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 38, 179).

  91. 91.

    Hence her observation that “[p]olitical institutions, no matter how well or how badly designed, depend for continued existence upon acting men; their conservation is achieved by the same means that brought them into being” (Arendt, Between Past and Future, 153).

  92. 92.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 38, 70–72. Arendt was therefore not dismissive of private life, but rather of “privatism,” the reduction of all concerns to private concerns.

  93. 93.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 323–34.

  94. 94.

    Arendt, TheHuman Condition, 71; and On Revolution, 279. Arendt’s political elitism, which borders on the aristocratic on occasion, does pose serious questions for her democratic theory, though these are somewhat mitigated by her insistence that the opportunity to participate must be open to all.

  95. 95.

    Honohan, Civic Republicanism, 156, 217.

  96. 96.

    See James Bohman, “Nondomination and Transnational Democracy,” in Republicanism and Political Theory, ed. Cécile Laborde and John Maynor (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 206–8.

  97. 97.

    See Footnote 85.

  98. 98.

    Pettit, Republicanism, 91, my emphasis. See also his discussion of “discursive control” in Pettit, Theory of Freedom, 139–40. I draw here from points developed further by Christian Rostbøll in Deliberative Freedom (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008), 65–68, as well as Rostbøll, “Statelessness, Domination,” 31–34.

  99. 99.

    My thanks to Kei Hiruta, Iseult Honohan, Andrew Schaap, and the audience at a meeting of Queen’s University Belfast’s Research Seminars in Political Theory for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.

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Correspondence to Keith Breen .

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Breen, K. (2019). Arendt, Republicanism, and Political Freedom. In: Hiruta, K. (eds) Arendt on Freedom, Liberation, and Revolution. Philosophers in Depth. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11695-8_3

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