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Hannah Arendt’s Political Humanism


Horst Mewes

This introduction to Hannah Arendt’s political thinking, based on a very close reading of the most relevant texts, suggests that her core teaching culminates in a unique kind of political humanism. It consists of the disclosure of unique individual personalities in free public actions inspired by public principles. The full meaning of such principled actions and its actors emerges from an uneasy symbiosis between actors and their casts of judgmental spectators. But it is the free spectators of action who determine its possible meanings. Importantly, only such public meanings save humans from the abyss of meaningless existence. Still, and even though individuals are driven by an urge to public self-presentation, Arendt seems to insist that human freedom ultimately rests on our inability to fully disclose who we are. Perhaps paradoxically, Arendt’s emphasis on a very public humanism links freedom to what remains ineffable about being human. After the destruction wrought by 20th century totalitarianism, Arendt saw important residues of public freedom especially in the modern democratic republic of the United States.
Contents: Arendt’s theory of public freedom and action – The importance of public life – Dependance of political freedom on shared public principles of action – The privatization of modern public life – Public life and the meaning of human action – Principles of the American political revolution – Judging political action – Ancient and modern republican government – Hannah Arendt’s political humanism.