Hannah Arendt’s radical politics: beyond actually existing democracies

In Brazil as in many other parts of the world, Hannah Arendt’s thought has been frequently mentioned and assessed in juridical discussions (Lafer 1988; 1993). In fact, her work contains many passages in which she discusses juridical matters, often in close connection with questioning the perplexities engendered by totalitarianism. We may for example, take her discussions concerning the crisis of the Rights of Man in the context of the twentieth century’s  growing legion of refugees and displaced persons, or her reflections on Adolf Eichmann’s trial, which raise the issue of crimes committed against humanity within the death factories of the concentration camps (Arendt 1965). In spite of Arendt’s unquestionable contributions to these juridical-political debates, we should stress that her reflections on those matters are pervaded by her criticism concerning the limitations of the positive juridical order and of representative democracy as powerful and adequate antidotes to the political crisis of our time. Nothing could be further from Arendt’s political thinking than to conceive of liberal democracy – that is, our actually existing democracies of mass manipulation and market oriented values – and the juridical field of Law as exclusive grounding instances for the active exercise of political citizenship. In other words, Arendt never substituted the juridical for the political, nor did she understand the rights of man as a positive ground for actively exercising citizenship. Much to the contrary, she always stressed that human rights were to be conceived of in terms of the negative conditions that would free human beings from oppression, thus liberating them for the exercise of politics. Nonetheless, we are frequently surprised by interpretations of Arendt’s thought as advocating juridical normativity and democracy without further qualification. In my view, these are the signs of a depoliticized era in which, under the auspices of seminal political thinkers such as Habermas and Rawls (Sauhí, 2002; Habermas 1996; Rawls, 2005) – to name just two of the most important – the political has been overdetermined by the juridical.

Società Italiana di Filosofia Politica

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