Arendt – Political Action & The Process

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Arendt discusses in her work The Human Condition that action exceeds and surpasses its commonly thought of instrumental function. And thus states that “the innermost meaning of the acted deed and the spoken word is independent of victory and defeat and must remain untouched by any eventual outcome, by their consequences for better or worse.” (The Human Condition, p. 205).

    To first understand this statement, we must take into account that when Arendt speaks of action she is speaking of political action in the sense from a collective or communal perspective. Her main complaint against the philosophical tradition in politics is that it distorts the concept of political action and essentially turns it into a means to an end. Traditionally, politics were regarded as a means to obtain order, security, and society so that society may function in peace but in doing so this results in an oppressive approach to politics with a framework of order and obey. Secondly, it is a tendency of philosophy, whether from Plato or Marx to try to solve the problem of politics with an ultimate solution on how we should organise society in the best possible way. Ultimately this solution, once it is put into place, will then leave us no longer needing politics and just contemplation. This is an issue for Arendt because this traditional philosophy becomes self-defeating since politics in her view is the only action in the secular world which makes life meaningful and bearable. That through political action we may find a meaningful way of life in a world governed by utilitarian and instrumental mentalities. And so, when Arendt states “the innermost meaning of the acted deed and the spoken word is independent of victory and defeat and must remain untouched by any eventual outcome, by their consequences for better or worse.” (205) She is explaining that we must keep in mind that the process of the action and spoken word is far more important than the goal. And if we were to lose sight of this then we will end up losing that process altogether in exchange for the idea of the means to an end. Ultimately for her, the process of political action is much more significant, important and meaningful than anything you could ever achieve.

    In my opinion, a modern day example of this so called loss of meaning and importance of the process of politics in itself can be seen with the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. Concisely speaking, he was elected greatly due to the American people looking for a significant change, but in doing so they have elected someone who bases his actions off of a goal. In doing so many people try to rationalise or make up for his – in my opinion, sexist, racist, and ignorant remarks by believing that all these actions are necessary for the end goal of change. On a personal level, I cant help but feel that when Trump was elected it was as if humanity had taken a step backwards from all the forward thinking it was once on the path for. That this was the leader of the supposed free world seemed almost comedic due to the all the troublesome offensive actions and spoken words he had said in the past and the present. Many people have also praised him for his love of Israel which causes a somewhat heavy moral dilemma on my part. I am an Israeli citizen who immigrated from Canada and I love my countries, I stand with Israel, but a substantial part of me does not agree that we should somehow turn a blind eye to everything Donald Trump has said or done because he is in our favour in this scenario. In reflection of Arendt’s statement, it seems that Trump is only concerned with the goal and not the process. Again, showing how we presently live in a means to an end-based society which consequently reinforces sexist, racist and aggressive behavior as Trump is the leader of the free world and in the public sphere.

In conclusion, Arendt’s stance is one of a meaningful way of life through political action and its process. The fact that politics has been degraded to a means to an end is not actually a problem with politics but rather the modern world which is generally dominated by this bottom line mentality. Thus, making It very hard for us to think of any activity without a means to an end. Rather than point to faults on Trumps ends I think this election points more drastically to the current state of the modern world and its citizens. So, we then must act ourselves if, for example, Donald Trump was against Israel, would we still be turning a blind eye to all the other acts of ignorance he commits or reinforces by justification through the end achievement of this so-called “change”?

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