Hannah Arendt

IMAGE_220px-Hannah_ArendtHannah 8 point mandalaArendt  (born October 14, 1906 in Hannover; died 1975) was a political theorist. She escaped Europe during the Holocaust and became an American citizen. Her works deal with the nature of natality, power, and the subjects of politics, democracy, authority, and totalitarianism.


Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958), describes a political philosophy of natality. It focuses on the distinctly human capacity to bring forth the new, the radical, and the unprecedented into the world (p.178).  She insists that, despite the fact of death, humans do not live in order to die, but we live in order to begin. Arendt offers us three definitions of natality.

  1. Natality refers to the fact of birth.  The activity of birth is linked with nature and organic matter which is governed by the cyclical time of life, death and regeneration (p.96).  Every human enters the world as a baby, born of a mother who labours to bring the child to light. She keeps the birthing mother in the private sphere and does not bring her into the polis (p.62f).
  2. Natality refers to belonging to a world characterized by plurality. Each natal is born as a stranger welcomed into a caring “web of human relationships.  Plurality is a human condition because all humans share the experience of being different from anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live (p.8).  Plurality describes the public realm where people work together to create a world to which they all belong (Arendt, p.54).  The acceptance of difference is necessary for harmonious communities. When people are isolated by social atomization, loneliness and the other-worldliness of fundamentalisms, they are more susceptible to totalitarianism (Arendt, p.43; Young-Bruehl, 2006, p.49; Jantzen, p.146).
  3. Natality is a politic in that each revolution is a new beginning (Arendt, p.9) enacted through collective creativity and agency.  Initiative is the greatest political activity, and this makes natality, not mortality, the central category of Arendt’s political thought.  Natality is thus the antidote to necrophilia:

The life span of man [sic] running toward death would inevitably carry everything human to ruin and destruction if it were not for the faculty of interrupting it and beginning something new, a faculty which is inherent in action like an ever-present reminder that men [sic], though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin (Arendt, p.246).

amor-mundiAmor mundi is the performance of liberty – the freedom of loving the world that is continually being created by all beings acting together as bios politikos (political body) (Arendt, p.13) in which the ethics of care is extended to nature:

The commitment to political community represents an acknowledgement of the equality of one’s fellow citizens and recognition of the superiority of care for the world and communal well-being over private interests.  The fruit of such a commitment is the achievement of specifically public forms of happiness, freedom and significance for human life (Bernauer, 2012, p.4).

Newborn-Baby-Girl-Lovin-the-Light-Sophia-9673Arendt asserts that the most difficult thing is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she did just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection; it means taking responsibility for being a citizen of the world. The fact of natality means that every newborn baby comes into the world both free and yet also constrained. Newcomers are free insofar as there is no way of knowing in advance what a young person will become or who she will be. Newcomers are constrained because they are born into an already-existing world with traditions, limitations and expectations. As a free child, the newcomer must be taught to act courageously in new and surprising ways. As a constrained child, the newcomer must accept responsibility for making ethical choices and for re-negotiating relationships when she reconfigures the world through her actions and creativity.

Homelessness and rootlessness are political concerns for Arendt because they indicate world alienation, manifest as detachment from nature and from community. Current global trends regarding homelessness, mobility, refugees and migration pose new challenges to creating an ecocentric sense of social responsibility (Arendt, p.209, 248ff).

In Arendt’s view, the tragedy and cruelty of anthropocentric utilitarianism is that it degrades nature in order to produce goods purchased to signify a meaningless consumer identity, and then degrades nature again when those goods, having quickly lost their significance, become waste (p.155).

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