Between Community and Humanity: Arendt, Judgment, and Responsibility to the Global Poor


I argue in this paper that Hannah Arendt can make a valuable contribution to the debate over global justice and our obligations to the global poor. I maintain that Arendt's work helps us to see how we might be able to combine the best impulses of both partialists and impartialists, and find a middle ground between taking seriously the importance of community as a human good, and the pressing ethical demands of noncitizens. I demonstrate that throughout her corpus, we see both impulses at work. Arendt's appreciation for communitarianism is evident in a number of features of her political philosophy: the undesirability of a world state, and the necessity of a political community to secure human rights, a public sphere, and freedom. By contrast, Arendt's cosmopolitanism is rooted in two features of her political phenomenology: that political action is about the world, a love of the world, and not particular people; and that human togetherness underlies action while human solidarity is its primary motivation. In addition to these two seemingly contradictory threads in Arendt's work there is a third element: Arendt's attempt to mediate between these two impulses through her concept of judgment. To judge means to start from your position within a community, and to take into consideration all other relevant perspectives, regardless of nationality. In this manner, we are able to take seriously what we owe to both our compatriots and people in dire need who are not fellow citizens. In short, in judging, though we begin from our partialist commitments, we must take on a larger cosmopolitan perspective, and ultimately mediate between the two perspectives. Consequently, I hope to show that Arendt can indeed make a contribution to the ongoing debate over our moral obligations to noncitizens in situations of dire necessity.