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on October 14, 2003
It's hard to give a summary of this book, which touches on so many issues. In her introduction, Margaret Canovan notes that many academic critics, at the time of the book's first publication in 1958, found Arendt's argument "beneath refutation." The book is indeed something of a long essay in form and is not immediately "falsifiable" or arguable in the sense that most narrow academic texts are. Canovan also notes that many readers were thrown by Arendt's ongoing gesture (my words) of explaining contemporary social life in the vocubulary of Ancient Greek thought. In intellectual-history terms, this move of Arendt's is no surprise. She was a student of Heidegger's; many Continental thinkers fell under his spell. (Potential readers of "The Human Condition" might want to contrast it with "The Embers and the Stars" by Erazim Kohak, who also constructs a philosophy out of the etymologies of Greek words, but not of social life, but of the environment and nature.)
In short, Arendt's book is interesting reading for anyone involved in the world of work. Her categories of "labor," "work," and "action" provide an interesting way of thinking about society. A back-cover blurb from poet W. H. Auden talks about "The Human Condition" as "one of those books that seem to have been written especially for me." I would go further and recommend Arendt to any artist or budding artist or anyone who has ever seen themselves as being of an artistic temperament. Arendt provides a philosophical view of the artist in society, as opposed to a lyrical view, which is what one might find in, say, Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Arendt's vision is more realistic. A wonderful book!
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on June 22, 2000
Most of the most contentious contemporary issues, like abortion, euthanasia and healthcare, welfare, tobacco, and suchlike, concern the problem of life. The argument can be made, and Arendt makes it, that the modern state, in its care for life, has moved from the power over death (capital punishment) to the power over life. It is Arendt's purpose to show that modern politics, in its absorption the public by the private, turns politics into economics (the household), where formerly the care of "life" was located. In a world in which there is neither the immortality of the state nor the individual, bare life becomes the highest value. (Strauss makes the argument that a politics that begins in the state of nature leads directly to "humanitarianism," to a politics devoted to eliminating suffering, and the argument is the same.) A politics devoted to life leaves no "space" (a decidedly unGreek word, used again and again by Arendt and every hip business exec today) for politics, for the play of concealment and disclosure, darkness and light, bright shining words and the privacy and darkness of pain, defecation, eating, love, etc. It is Heidegger put to good use, and Arendt reminds us that the elimination of the politics, or its suppression, is inseparable from a Seinsvergessenheit, but the real life-and-death issue is better grasped by Schmitt and Strauss, who do not fall into the trap of aestheticizing politics.
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on February 11, 2000
this book starts off with a breathtaking reflections on the launch of the sputnik. arendt seemingly places us before the launch as witness, evoking the kind of awe, wonderment, fear and anxiety that must arise from such a sight. the prologue is amazing.
i could easily come up with at least a dozen potential research projects from this book that arendt just touches on the surface. (as is the case with arendt's philosophy, it is, at its best, always very suggestive but, at its worst, she never follows through on the initial offering.)
and arendt considered this book as her response to the influence of heidegger; i think that this is a most correct assessment. in fact, this is the great heidegger-book that heidegger himself never could have written. in my view, the latter heidegger pales in comparison (on subjects such as technology, poetry, speech, and history, arendt tops her former mentor). heidgger was truely out-foxed by this book.
i suspect that even the amateur (defined here as the lover of an entity-x) will find much in this book to make this a life-changing experience. in philosophy we often talk of such 'life-changing' books but they are really few in number. this is one such book.
be on the look out for the moment where the discussion of nietzsche's conception of the promise effortlessly morphs into the birth of christ as a miracle. (note: for arendt, the miracle isn't christ but the birth itself, for that matter any birth).
full of grace, this book will be devastating and ultimately redeeming.
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on July 20, 1999
Hannah Arendt makes the case that what distinguishes human beings is that they are constantly making new beginnings. This leads her to theories of social action that have implications for our self esteem, our "making of ourselves" and how we influence and participate in social action.
She reveals the implications of this inherent tendency to "make new beginnings" in the uncertainty of outcomes of our action. What we start we cannot know the outcome of beforehand. That is, in significant part, because those who come along after we start something will add or change with their own capacity for making new beginnings.
This says we need social attributes of foregiveness. She also develops the importance of promising in a culture so that we can create some certainty by this social action.
She is writing about social action and involvement in the broad social life. But she could as easily be writing about entrepreneurship and corporate life or any any other social activity.
A stimulating book indeed!
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on May 10, 2014
This is an introspective and stimulating read, well worth it! Most of the prominant early phenomenological philosophy is written by men and Arendt's is a leading pioneer female writer in the field. Her writing is clear and wise.
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on March 13, 2004
This is a brilliant work by a foremost intellectual of our times, Hannah Arendt. Though labelled under "political theory", this book is actually a existential (Heideggerian) analysis of the "Human Condition", emphasizing especially its social and political elements, as befits a work written in the second half of the 20th century.
I will not attempt to summarize it; suffice to say it is one of the finest works of 20th century philosophy. Highly recommended to anyone interested in political philosophy of a different sort.
Oran Magal, graduate student of philosophy, Tel Aviv University
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on October 16, 2014
Should be required reading in high school.
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on February 22, 2004
This is the stereotypical piece of literature that someone says they like because they think it makes them appear smart. Do not make the mistake of buying (or buying into) this piece of junk. Reading it actually makes me ill.
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