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The Promise of Politics [Kindle Edition]

Hannah Arendt
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

After the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, Hannah Arendt undertook an investigation of Marxism, a subject that she had deliberately left out of her earlier work. Her inquiry into Marx’s philosophy led her to a critical examination of the entire tradition of Western political thought, from its origins in Plato and Aristotle to its culmination and conclusion in Marx. The Promise of Politics tells how Arendt came to understand the failure of that tradition to account for human action.

From the time that Socrates was condemned to death by his fellow citizens, Arendt finds that philosophers have followed Plato in constructing political theories at the expense of political experiences, including the pre-philosophic Greek experience of beginning, the Roman experience of founding, and the Christian experience of forgiving. It is a fascinating, subtle, and original story, which bridges Arendt’s work from The Origins of Totalitarianism to The Human Condition, published in 1958. These writings, which deal with the conflict between philosophy and politics, have never before been gathered and published.

The final and longer section of The Promise of Politics, titled “Introduction into Politics,” was written in German and is published here for the first time in English. This remarkable meditation on the modern prejudice against politics asks whether politics has any meaning at all anymore. Although written in the latter half of the 1950s, what Arendt says about the relation of politics to human freedom could hardly have greater relevance for our own time. When politics is considered as a means to an end that lies outside of itself, when force is used to “create” freedom, political principles vanish from the face of the earth. For Arendt, politics has no “end”; instead, it has at times been–and perhaps can be again–the never-ending endeavor of the great plurality of human beings to live together and share the earth in mutually guaranteed freedom. That is the promise of politics.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


"A brilliantly erudite and imaginative book."
--Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“By insisting that politics remain a promise rather than a threat, Arendt offers a hope that history has yet to justify.”
The New York Sun

“Arendt demonstrated, brilliantly, how our habitual view of politics as an instrument in the service of private liberty, material gain, and social prosperity actually increases the dangers posed by the modern world.”
–Dana R. Villa, author of Arendt and Heidegger and Socratic Citizenship

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Hannah Arendt was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1906, fled to Paris in 1933, and came to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. She was editorial director of Schocken Books from 1946 to 1948. She taught at Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and The New School for Social Research. Arendt died in 1975.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 370 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reprint edition (January 16, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001QA4SEW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,091 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not groundbreaking, but promising January 30, 2010
In "The Promise of Politics," Arendt describes how the failure of Western political thought failed to account for human action. The book begins with a twenty-seven page introduction by Jerome Kohn, the editor and actual architect of the Arendt writings which comprise this book.

The first half of the book consists of five chapters. In it, Arendt describes the teachings of Socrates (teacher)and Plato (pupil), an examination of Christianity, a change in Montesquieu's observations, Hegel (teacher)and Marx (pupil)are compared and contrasted, and finally, the "end" of traditional political philosophy. The end refers to the end of any conceived relationship between politics and philosophy (ala Aristotle), hence, the end of the tradition of political philosophy.

The second half of The Promise of Politics is essentially one large chapter (within the context of the book) titled, "Introduction Into Politics"-- note: not "of" politics, or "about" politics, but "INTO" politics, almost to infer a distinction from an introduction out of politics. "What is politics?" she posits to the reader, and wuickly answers that there is no right philosophical answer. This is because philosophers are only concerned with man, and politics are the activities of men.

Arendt discusses the creation and origination of politics and goes on to describe how prejudices may affect a person's judgment within both foreign and domestic policy. After considering the purpose of politics, she then writes that of the meaning of politics, "the meaning of politics is freedom." She then spends time elaborating on this by examining the freedoms afforded by the governments of the Greeks, Romans and Trojans, as well as early American government.

Arendt appears to rely pretty heavily on much of Kant's work as she develops her thesis, but work by Nietzsche and Homer are also evident.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drama Queen December 5, 2005
Jerome Kuhn's introduction is a little patronizing of Arendt, but it's short and skimpy and won't deter you from plunging into Arendt's prose, beginning with her startling revision of Socrates. For Arendt, Socrates helped split politics and philosophy with one decisive strategy, his defense at his famous trial. It's typical of Arendt that she sees thought in dramatic terms, always with a terminal at either end of time, existing not so much in essential terms but in contingent, always partial and always temporary states of being--human beings reacting to strain or stress, and in turn launching something new to spur new reaction. Thus Socrates becomes interesting only when in peril.

Because so many of these papers were presented as reviews or for occasional purposes (such as lectures) perhaps this emphasis on the dramatic might be explained thus. But oh, how she loved to be able to use "The End of Tradition" as the title of a paper, its apocalyptic note gave her a sort of gleeful, if embarrassed, outrage.

The master text here is the longest, the INTRODUCTION INTO POLITICS, oddly titled with "into" in special italics as though there might be an INTRODUCTION "out of" politics, as I suppose there might. It reads like a novel. We haven't had this novella translated into English before now. Whoever translated it did a fabulous job of approximating Arendt's nearly colloquial, clean and rich English. She was a stylist before anything else and this collection, published on the 30th anniversary of her death, burnishes the legend. It's no disgrace and it makes you wonder, if more papers are up there in her archive just waiting for new eyes to take a new look.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion August 15, 2011
Hannah Arendt experienced understanding as passion. Aristotle and Plato wrote in the fourth century in a politically decaying society. Two Socratic insights, know thyself and be in agreement with the self, demonstrate the discovery of conscience even though there was no name for it. Solitude is necessary for the good functioning of the polis. The conflict between politics and philosophy was exemplified in the trial of Socrates. In Aristotle philosophers no longer felt responsible for the city. The philosopher wonders. Opinion and truth exist in opposition.

Only a small part of history is conceptualized in our tradition. Through Roman influence, religion, authority, and tradition are required for the foundation of society. Our foundation begins with the Roman acceptance of Greek philosophy. Philosophy begins with the asking of the question why is there something, not nothing. Montesquieu believed there must be more to government than power and laws. He reasoned what was missing was spirit. Virtue inspires acts in the republic, honor in monarchy, and fear in tyranny.

Marx and Hegel stand at the end of a tradition For Marx matter is beginning. Marx was prophetic, Hegel's worldview, by way of contrast, concerned the past. Arendt speaks of the inversion of Hegel in Marx and the reversal of Plato in Nietzsche. Marx liberated Hegelian dialectic and made possible the kind of process-thinking used in the nineteenth century ideologies. The process used to promulgate totalitarian ideologies is described.

The reason for politics is human plurality. Politics assumes incorrectly there is something in man that belongs to his essence. Man is apolitical. Politics exists between men, and thus, outside of man. The creation of man in God's image means solitary man.
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More About the Author

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) taught political science and philosophy at The New School for Social Research in New York and the University of Chicago. Widely acclaimed as a brilliant and original thinker, her works include Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Human Condition.

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