Arendt and Nietzsche on responsibility and futurity

Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (6):617-642 (2008)
This article compares Nietzsche's and Arendt's critiques of the juridical concept of responsibility (that emphasizes duty and blame) with the aim of deriving an account of responsibility appropriate for our time. It examines shared ground in their radical approaches to responsibility: by basing personal responsibility in conscience that expresses a self open to an undetermined future, rather than conscience determined by prevailing moral norms, they make a connection between a failure of personal responsibility and the way a totalizing politics jeopardizes human plurality. Two differences between Arendt and Nietzsche are also explored: Nietzsche's account of the corporeal and affective dimensions of conscience explains how politics can foreclose the futural, undetermined dimension of conscience; Arendt's account of political community exposes the mutual dependence of personal and political responsibility. By drawing together these aspects of Arendt's and Nietzsche's thought, the article aims to show how a failure of political responsibility can precipitate a failure of personal responsibility by undermining the basis of normativity that both liberal democratic politics and individual moral conscience would ordinarily share. Key Words: Hannah Arendt • conscience • futurity • Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche • normativity • responsibility • somatic reflexivity • totalitarianism.
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