Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Is Politics? Hannah Arendt

From Hannah Arendt's "Denktagebuch" (journal)
Vol. 1 1950-1973
Piper Verlag, 2002

Notebook 1
Section 21
August 1950

Translation from German is mine, I bear responsibility for any mistakes in the translation.

What Is Politics?

1. Politics rests upon the plurality of men. God has created man, but men are a human creation, earthly and the by-product of human nature. Philosophy and theology have been concerned only with man, sense in which all their assertions would be valid if there were one man, or two men, or may well be, that all men were simply identical; it is for this reason that neither of the two has found a philosophically valid answer to the question: what is politics? Even worse: In all scientific thought, in biology or psychology, as much as in philosophy and theology, there's nothing but man, after the fashion in which in zoology there exists only the lion. The lions would be something that affects only other lions, in the plural.
It is remarkable to notice the difference of rank between political philosophies and the rest of philosophies throughout all the great thinkers, even in Plato. Politics never reaches the same depth. The absence of depth is nothing but the absence of sense for such depth in which politics is anchored.
2. Politics deals with those in principle different in their being together and being with each other. Men organize themselves politically in accordance with determinate aspects in common that are essential in an absolute chaos or from the perspective of an absolute chaos of difference. Whilst political bodies are built upon the base of the family and are understood under the image of the family, kinship in different degrees is, on the one hand, what can unite those most different, and, on the other, what can cause individual configurations to become strictly limited and opposed to each other.
In this form of political organization the original difference is effectively destroyed, as much as the essential equality of all men, insofar as it deals with man. The ruin of politics under both aspects is brought about by the derivation of political bodies on the basis of the family alone. The innuendo here is a symbol after the image of the sacrosanct family, that is, the opinion that God created above all the family and not that he also created men in the plural.
3. As soon as the family is seen as something more than participation, that is, active participation in human plurality, the one who upholds this view begins to play God, in the sense that he acts if it were possible to naturally avoid the principle of plurality. Instead of engendering one man among many, what he attempts is creating man in the abstract, after the image of himself.
But in the realm of practical politics, the deep-rooted significance of the family is seen in that, given the way the world is arranged, there's no place in it for the individual, that is, for the most different in the group. Families are founded as an attempt to find lodge and shelter in a world both inhospitable and strange, to which one would do better in arriving with a defined kinship. This aspiration leads to the most fundamental perversion of the political, for it suppresses the basic quality of plurality, or rather, spoils it, introducing the idea of kinship as a political idea.
4. Man, such as he is known by philosophy and theology, only exists or becomes realized in politics because of the equality of rights, guaranteed upon the most different men. In this guarantee and voluntary concession of political demand it is therefore recognized the plurality of men, that owe this plurality to nothing but themselves, even though this is commonly attributed to the mere creation of man.
5. Philosophy has two good reasons to never ever find not even the source of politics. The first is:
1) Zoon politikon: As if there were anything political that belongs to the essence of man. This is a fallacy; man is by nature apolitical. Politics happens in between men, that is, outside of man. Accordingly, there's no properly understood political substance in man's existence. Politics happens in between and is established as a relation(ship). Hobbes understood this.
2) The monotheistic conception, the idea of a God after whose image, man was created. But on this basis only man can truly exist, men become a more or less miscarried repetition of himself. Man created in the image of God's loneliness is the basis for the "state of nature as war of all against all" in the conception of Hobbes. It is a war of rebellion of each one against everyone, that are hated because they exist senselessly, senselessly for that man created after the image of God's loneliness.
The Western way out of this impossibility of politics within the Western myth of creation is the transformation or substitution of politics for history. In virtue of the idea of universal history, the plurality of men is molded into one human individual only, that is from now on going to be called humanity. This is what is so monstrous and inhumane about history, that at the end it is ultimately imposed plain and brutally on politics.
6. It is indeed very difficult to understand (or have a representation thereof) that we're really free anywhere, without being either liberated by ourselves or dependent on the arena in which we're apparently free. Freedom is given to us only in that intermediate, in-between space of politics. We liberate ourselves from this freedom as we head toward the "necessity" of history. This is a horrible absurdity.
7. It may well be that the task of politics could be to build a world as transparent for truth as the creation of God is. In the sense of the Judeo-Christian myth this would eventually mean: man, created after the image of God, has received generative power to organize (bodies of) men after the image of divine creation. Probably this is an absurdity, however, it would be the only demonstration and justification of the kind of thought that made natural law possible.
The creation of man as the work of God is contained in the absolute difference in between all men about each other, which is far bigger than the relative differences between peoples, nations or races, and is in itself contained in plurality. But politics has nothing to do with this. Politics arranges out/organizes beforehand those absolutely different on the basis of both a relative equality rather than on relative difference.

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