Founding and refounding: Arendt on political institutions

Dunn, Adam George (2011) Founding and refounding: Arendt on political institutions University of Southampton, School of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis , 235pp.


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This thesis is concerned with Arendt’s political theory, particularly those elements of it concerned with political institutions. It treats her work as a response to a mis-conceptualisation of politics as being fundamentally formed of rulership and command, which is to say that she opposes treating sovereignty as an essential component of political practice.

What Arendt offers, as an alternative, is a full-fledged account of how politics could operate in the absence of sovereignty. This thesis argues that it is a coherent picture, consistent across the course of her work. A particularly important element of this consistency is the closeness of fit between the material which forms the basis of Arendt’s understanding of politics and her account of political foundations.

To do so, the thesis begins with a discussion of Arendt’s concept of ‘action’, which forms the basis of her understanding of politics. One of the most distinctive features of this is the importance of individual initiative, understood as responsiveness to the already given. This part of action is an essential part of linking it harmoniously to those other elements of her work which appear here.

Arendt’s work on ‘judgment’ is the focus of its own chapter; it is important because judgment is Arendt’s conceptualisation of political discussion modelled on opinion, which has previously been treated as a late-career development, is here treated as consistent with and, essentially, an extension of, certain features of action.

On the basis of this combined reading of action and judgment, it is possible to read Arendt’s description of political foundations as an example of the same kind of political activity. Contra Honig’s reading of the political foundation as an opportunity for resistance, this thesis treats it as a political act which invites the participation of later citizens.

Finally, an account of Arendt’s institutional thought is completed by presenting her description of the ‘council system’ in combination with Thomas Jefferson’s ‘ward system’. The two combine to form an example of political organisation which both does without a reliance on sovereignty and maximises opportunities for meaningful political engagement.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Organisations: University of Southampton, Philosophy
ePrint ID: 344709
Date :
Date Event
April 2011Published
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2012 12:50
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2017 16:26
Further Information:Google Scholar

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