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The Public Realm and the Public Self

The Political Theory of Hannah Arendt

Shiraz Dossa

Publication Year: 1989

From the time she set the intellectual world on fire with her reflections on Eichmann (1963), Hannah Arendt has been seen, essentially, as a literary commentator who had interesting things to say about political and cultural matters. In this critical study, Shiraz Dossa argues that Arendt is a political theorist in the sense in which Aristotle is a theorist, and that the key to her political theory lies in the twin notions of the “public realm” and the “public self”.

In this work, the author explains how Arendt’s unconventional and controversial views make sense on the terrain of her political theory. He shows that her judgement on thinkers, actors, and events as diverse as Plato, Marx, Machiavelli, Freud, Conrad, Hobbes, Hitler, the Holocaust, the French Revolution, and European colonialism flow directly from her political theory.

Tracing the origins of this theory to Homer and Periclean Athens, Dossa underlines Arendt’s unique contribution to reinventing the idea and the ideal of citizenship, reminding us that the public realm is the locus of friendship, community, identity, and in a certain sense, humanity. Arendt believes that no one who prefets his or her private interest to public affairs in the old sense can claim to be fully human or truly excellent.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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About the author

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiii

These are some of the fine words spoken by Pericles in the course of his funeral oration. The city is Athens, the occasion is the death of those who died in its defence, and the purpose, to praise the noble city and its noble citizens in their hour of grief and glory. Pericles' words make it plain that the main business and the greatness of Athens has to do with public affairs: with the affairs common to all. His words deftly...


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p. xiv-xiv

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pp. 1-17

The most striking thing about Arendt's writing is the literary temper and the associated sinuousness of her approach to human phenomena. This is a matter of style as well as content. In reading her it soon becomes apparent that the literary temper of her writing is of a piece with her thought: Arendt's thinking is deeply imbued with and nourished by a love for the meanings, ideals, sentiments and possibilities embedded in language...

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pp. 18-44

TRADITION DOES NOT contain the "essence" of the past: it includes some but not all of the past.1 By nature traditions necessarily exclude what is deemed irrelevant, insignificant or mistaken. Falling into this pattern, the Western tradition of political philosophy has excluded a salient chunk of its past and this excluded past is the truly political past. This is the remarkable and novel...

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pp. 45-72

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN nature and politics has been central to the tradition of political theory. In both the classical and the modern tradition, the concept of nature has served as the proper measure of human and political activity. For Plato and Aristotle, nature signified the order of right reason and right moral conduct; for the modern thinkers, nature articulated the hierarchy of needs and wants of human life. In the one view, nature denoted a moral ideal, in the other it sanctioned an appetitive...

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pp. 73-113

ARENDT'S THEORY FORMALLY defines the public realm in opposition to that which is private, natural, and removed from the common. To Arendt the context of politics is the public realm thus defined: the content of politics is the exercise of freedom in speech and action in this realm which Arendt also calls "the space of appearance." As she conceives it, the public realm cannot be specified in institutional and concrete terms. On her own account, these...

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pp. 114-141

FOR ARENDT THE CLAIMS of morality and moral life on politics and human affairs are much less self-evident and much more ambivalent than they were for Plato. In his political writings Plato leaves no doubt that life in the polity is for the purpose of making men moral. The political association is in essence an educative set of institutions designed to improve the moral and human stature of men. Plato's citizens are first and foremost good and...

Appendix: The Life of the Mind

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pp. 142-147

Selected writings on Arendt

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pp. 148-150


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pp. 151-154

E-ISBN-13: 9780889208315
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889209671

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 1989