Arendt’s argument for the council system: A defense

European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology 1 (3):266-282 (2014)
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Abstract

In On Revolution and other writings, Arendt expresses her enthusiasm for the council system, a bottom-up political structure based on local councils that are open to all citizens and so allow them to participate in government. This aspect of her thought has been sharply criticized – ‘a curiously unrealistic commitment’ (Margaret Canovan), ‘a naiveté’ (Albrecht Wellmer) – or, more often, simply ignored. How, her readers generally wonder, could Arendt in all seriousness advocate the council system as an alternative to parliamentary democracy? In this paper, I will pursue two distinct but related aims. First, I want to show that Arendt’s ideal of council politics is an integral element of her thought. It is connected to – indeed, follows from – some of her most central notions, namely her concept of freedom, her valuation of ‘public happiness’ and her distinction between opinion and interest. Second, I want to defend the ideal in the face of the criticisms that have been levelled against it. I seek to show that it is a cogent and pertinent proposition, not ‘a curiously unrealistic commitment’.

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Wolfhart Totschnig
Universidad Diego Portales

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