The Structure of the Concept of Political Freedom in Hannah Arendt’s Philosophy

This paper is devoted to clarifying Hannah Arendt’s concept of political freedom by the means of analysing its structure. My analysis proceeds in three steps. Firstly, I distinguish a pre-political concept of freedom as exercising spontaneity, which is at the root of Arendt’s understanding of political freedom. Secondly, I analyse her account of freedom as exercising action and indicate its relationship to the elementary freedom of spontaneity. Arendt endowed action with a distinguished importance, since she assumed that it is the only activity within the vita activa, which has a special anthropological and axiological significance. According to Arendt, only action allows one to truly experience the fundamental aspect of the human condition, which is the fact of human plurality; it is also the only activity which allows one to exercise specifically public principles, such as solidarity, equality, or justice. Thirdly, I indicate how these two accounts of freedom translate into Arendt’s concept of political freedom. This analysis reveals that the Arendtian concept of political freedom is markedly original. She did not define it in a usual manner, i.e. through indicating bundles of legal and political rights which determine the accepted scope of participation in the public affairs. The inherent part of her concept of political freedom is a specific account of how it must be exercised. Political freedom understood as the participation in governance exercised through action is not merely an activity of instrumental, but also anthropological and axiological importance, which is due to the special anthropological and axiological meaning of action. In the final section, I discuss the practical dimension of Arendt’s theory. She doubted whether the traditional representative democracy is capable of accommodating her ‘rich’ ideal of political freedom, therefore she proposed an alternative account of political system based on councils. I formulate objections against this proposition and demonstrate that councils would presumably fail to accommodate Arendt’s exacting account of political freedom.
Keywords Hannah Arendt   political freedom   public action   spontaneity   councils   representative democracy
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DOI 10.26913/avant.2019.01.03
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References found in this work BETA

Inclusion and Democracy.Iris Marion Young - 2000 - Oxford University Press.
On Revolution.E. J. Hobsbawm & Hanna Arendt - 1965 - History and Theory 4 (2):252.
The Life of the Mind.Hannah Arendt - 1978 - Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
The Life of the Mind.[author unknown] - 1980 - Human Studies 3 (3):302-308.

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