This article puts forth a theory of an Arendtian mode of political allegory: a technique of reading to illuminate an effaced and excluded figure in philosophical accounts of the polis. I retrieve how a speechless hero recurs throughout Arendt’s writing as a critique of a “tradition” of political philosophy. Arendt’s readings of figures silent before the law, such as Socrates’s “speechless wonder” in representations of his trial and Melville’s casting of a figure with a “vocal defect” in Billy Budd, are political allegories about rightlessness. I assemble a range of such literary citations and examples to demonstrate how her understudied but remarkable attentiveness to the literary works to expose the limits of an established rationality in political philosophy about law. In addition, I demonstrate how literary concepts—allegory, doxai (irony), and verse—inform Arendt’s influential thesis on the “right to have rights.” Literature is a recurring “trace,” not only in The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem but throughout Arendt’s writings: the essays on Socrates’s trial, the introduction to Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, the references to Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, and her readings of Plato. Literary concepts such as allegory, irony, and verse then function to contest an entrenched juridical rationality in the legal setting and in philosophical prose that effectively erases the predicament of the stateless from a history of political philosophy.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 11-34
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.