Being political and the reconstruction of public discourse: Hannah Arendt on experience, history and the spectator

Leader, Jonathan W. (2010) Being political and the reconstruction of public discourse: Hannah Arendt on experience, history and the spectator University of Southampton, School of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis , 274pp.


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This study analyses a number of Hannah Arendt’s books and essays written over four
decades and suggests that a common thread can be detected that links together the
different stages of her thought. The need to do this follows from having to treat with
caution Arendt’s own judgement that in the mid-1930s her thinking changed when she
became political. In relation to writings she produced throughout her life, what can be
seen is that she was actually preoccupied by one and the same question, namely, what
it means to be with other people, she just looked for answers in different places and
used different methods. The study shows how in her dissertation on Saint Augustine’s
treatment of love and such early published pieces as ‘The Enlightenment and the
Jewish Question’ and her commentary on Rilke’s Duino Elegies, Arendt was already
challenging Heidegger’s ontology, in Being and Time, of ‘being-with-one-another’.
Her thinking at this time was purely empirical though, dependent upon interpretations
of history alone. Her later work, The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human
Condition, for instance, reveal that Arendt’s political conversion amounted to the
realisation that ontology and history are as necessary to each other as Kant’s concepts
and intuitions. Her defence of plurality therefore, represented both a reaction to the
evils of totalitarianism on the grounds that it is an anti-political form of government,
and a revised challenge to Heidegger’s assessment of das Man on his own terms. In
addition though, Arendt’s depiction of public space and public discourse, suggested
that choosing to be with others politically, is an antidote to the solitude of the
individual engendered by mass society.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Organisations: University of Southampton
ePrint ID: 169373
Date :
Date Event
June 2010Published
Date Deposited: 22 Dec 2010 13:49
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2017 03:31
Further Information:Google Scholar

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