The Political Humanism of Hannah Arendt

The Political Humanism of Hannah Arendt

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At the end of the Second World War when the horror of the holocaust became known, Hannah Arendt committed herself to a work of remembrance and reflection. Intellectual integrity demanded that we comprehend and articulate the genesis and meaning of totalitarian terror. What earlier spiritual and moral collapse had made totalitarian regimes possible? What was the basis of their evident mass appeal? To what cultural resources and political institutions and traditions could we turn to prevent their recurrence? After years of profound study, Arendt concluded that the deepest crisis of the modern world was political and that the enduring appeal of political mass movements demonstrated how profound that crisis had become. For Arendt the modern political crisis is also a crisis of humanism. The radical totalitarian experiment was rooted in two distorted images of the human being. The agents of terror believed in the limitless power generated by strategic organization, a power exercised without restraint and justified by appeal to historical necessity. The victims of terror, by contrast, were systematically dehumanized by the ruling ideology, and then brutally deprived of their legal rights and their moral and existential dignity. Arendt's political humanism directly challenges both of these distorted images, the first because it dangerously inflates human power, the second because it deliberately subverts human freedom and agency. This book offers a dialectical account of the political crisis that Arendt identified and shows why her interpretation of that crisis is especially relevant today. The author also provides detailed analysis and appraisal of Arendt's political humanism, the revisionary anthropology she based on the politically engaged republican citizen. Finally, the work distinguishes the merits from the limitations of Arendt's genealogical critique of "our tradition of political thought", showing that she tended to be right in what she affirmed and wrong in what she excluded or omitted.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 322 pages
  • 152.4 x 231.14 x 30.48mm | 635.03g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0739177192
  • 9780739177198

Review quote

This book is clearly the product of long rumination, the work of a scholar who has spent many years in the company of Arendt's books. Review of Politics In this penetrating analysis, McCarthy reveals how anti-political biases within the Western philosophical tradition spawned 'anthropologies' that Arendt regarded as profoundly at odds with human dignity, plurality, and freedom. Rejecting both the reductionism that conflates people with beasts and the romanticism that conflates them with gods, Arendt emerges as a civic republican whose highest political virtue is devotion to a common world that, by uniting and separating us, allows us to actualize the full range of human possibilities. Lucid, unpolemical, and scrupulously fair, McCarthy's book is scholarship at its best. -- Sandra K. Hinchman, St. Lawrence University The Political Humanism of Hannah Arendt powerfully, honestly, and provocatively unites two core strands of Arendt's thinking. Arendt's humanism responds to the loss of the idea of humanity experienced in the rise of totalitarianism. Her political emphasis elevates freedom over security. Together, political humanism names Arendt's radical belief that being human is an activity of citizenship. This is a fresh and inspired account of Arendt's entire corpus that captures both the power and importance of her thinking. McCarthy writes in his own voice, seeking his way in the world and finding in Arendt a guide whose judgment of the world is harsh but not fatalistic. His book will appeal to scholars, but also to those who want, as did Arendt, to face up to, understand, and respond to our present challenges. -- Roger Berkowitz, Bard Collegeshow more

About Michael H. McCarthy

Michael H. McCarthy taught philosophy for thirty-eight years at Vassar College before retiring from teaching in 2007. He has been a visiting fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and a Lonergan Fellow at Boston College.show more

Table of contents

Introduction: The Political Humanism of Hannah Arendt Chapter 1: The City in Ruins Chapter 2: Look to the Great and Common World Chapter 3: Our Tradition of Political Thought Chapter 4: The Marxist Reversals of Tradition Chapter 5: Part I: The Discontents of Liberal Democracy Chapter 5: Part II: The Continuing Relevance of Arendtian Thoughtshow more