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The following excerpts from Hannah Arendt’s manuscripts on Karl Marx are published here for the first time. When Arendt refers to the present —for instance, when she says “now”—it is important to be aware that she refers to the early 1950s, the period during which the excerpts were composed . Arendt always wrote in great haste, but never more so than here. Consequently, these writings have required rather extensive “Englishing,” a process to which Arendt always submitted whatever she wrote in English prior to publication. In this case the “Englishing” has consisted primarily in breaking overly long sentences and paragraphs into several shorter ones, and in correcting what are clearly errors in English grammar and syntax. But at the same time every effort has been made to retain the raw, racing quality of Arendt’s thought, as well as the immediacy of her voice, both of which are nowhere more abundantly manifest than in her writings on Marx. The reader is referred to the first part of the preceding Introduction for more detailed information. J. K. The Broken Thread of Tradition IT has never been easy to think and write about Karl Marx. His impact on the already existing parties of the workers, who had only recently won full legal equality and political franchise in the nation states, was immediate and far-reaching. His neglect, moreover , by the academic, scholarly world hardly lasted more than two decades after his death, and since then his influence has SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 2002) Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought BY HANNAH ARENDT Copyright © 2002. Jerome Kohn, Trustee, Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust. risen, spreading from strict Marxism, which already by the 1920s had become somewhat outmoded, to the entire field of social and historical sciences. More recently, his influence has been frequently denied. That is not, however, because Marx’s thought and the methods he introduced have been abandoned, but rather because they have become so axiomatic that their origin is no longer remembered. The difficulties that previously prevailed in dealing with Marx, however, were of an academic nature compared with the difficulties that confront us now. To a certain extent they were similar to those that arose in the treatment of Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, Kierkegaard: struggles pro and contra were so fierce, the misunderstandings that developed within them so tremendous, that it was difficult to say exactly what or who one was thinking and talking about. In the case of Marx, the difficulties were obviously even greater because they concerned politics: from the very beginning positions pro and contra fell into the conventional lines of party politics, so that to his partisans , whoever spoke for Marx was deemed “progressive,” and whoever spoke against him “reactionary.” This situation changed for the worse when, with the rise of one Marxian party, Marxism became (or appeared to become) the ruling ideology of a great power. It now seemed that the discussion of Marx was bound up not only with party but also with power politics , and not only with domestic but also with world political concerns . And while the figure of Marx himself, now even more so than before, was dragged into the arena of politics, his influence on modern intellectuals rose to new heights: the chief fact for them, and not wrongly so, was that for the first time a thinker, rather than a practical statesman or politician, had inspired the policies of a great nation, thereby making the weight of thought felt in the entire realm of political activity. Since Marx’s idea of right government, outlined first as the dictatorship of the proletariat , which was to be followed by a classless and stateless society, had become the official aim of one country and of political movements throughout the world, then, certainly, Plato’s dream of sub274 SOCIAL RESEARCH jecting political action to the strict tenets of philosophic thought had become a reality. Marx attained, albeit posthumously, what Plato in vain had attempted at the court of Dionysios in Sicily.1 Marxism and its influence in the modern world became what it is today because of this twofold influence and representation, first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 273-319
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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