Arendt – Political Action and Plurality

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For Arendt, there is something deeply wrong for her with political thought, and the history of political philosophy is the history of attempting to escape from essentially the political. For most of its history, western philosophy was neglected while being hostile to practical affairs and particularly to political affairs and the world of humans.

Arendt claims in The Human Condition that “the greater part of political philosophy since Plato could easily be interpreted as various attempts to find […] ways for an escape from politics altogether (222). She is essentially explaining how traditional philosophy seems to always aim at finding one unique and final solution to politics in which action in Arendt’s definition is not used. Instead, there are rulers and those who are ruled. As she states these solutions are aimed at finding “shelter” from actions hardships by the activity of one master, isolated, without the plurality of the people decides political decisions. (220) For Arendt, this is a major issue and point since the action in her eyes is to be viewed as something from a collective perspective which must involve others meaning actions needs plurality. For Arendt there is no sense in the idea that you can have absolute knowledge or truth in politics, or the wise man who knows what is right and should be the one to rule as we see in Platos ideology. (223) For Arendt, there are no right answers to how people should organize themselves, each case should be specific and each solution should be specific.

    The common hallmark of escaping politics in philosophy is the concept of rule according to Arendt. Meaning that men can only live in harmony, lawfully and politically together when there are rulers and those who are ruled. This idea means that in the political community some men must command others and those others must obey. Those who rule and those who are ruled is common in Plato and Aristotle’s philosophy in which Arendt rejects because she believed that this was actually an attempt to find a substitute to action rather than to the “Irresponsible or tyrannical will to power” as put forward  due to the ‘frustrations’ of action, which are, The unpredictability of its outcome, the irreversibility of the process and the anonymous nature of its authors. (220)  One of the arguments which I find very strong against this philosopher-king mentally would be that Arendt, suggests that to find the end all be all solution of politics completely conflicts with politics in itself as a political discourse if we take into account what makes up true political action. (221) And so, to believe that politics required a final solution through a means to end based mentality and that this could be done just through cognition alone and not through actual action and plurality which is the foundation of action for Arendt is not rational in itself. And so, when Arendt states that “Hence the attempt to do away with this plurality is always tantamount to the abolition of the public realm itself” (220) she is saying that to rid ourselves of plurality in political action is completely equal to the destruction of the public realm which desperately needs plurality in order to function, it is both the condition and reward to politics.

    As humans we require this condition of plurality, we are both doers as well as sufferers who participate, act and react, we are active agents who are free and have the will and the ability to the change the world through political action and essentially Arendt is stating that we cannot do it alone.

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