Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition

Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition

Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition

Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition


Arguing that Arendt's work is of continuing relevance to political theory today, Steve Buckler explores Arendt's understanding of political theory: what it is, it's purposes and limits and how it is best undertaken. Buckler examines her most famous works- The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and On Revolution -alongside the less well-known and posthumously published material. His study shows that Arendt's unusual methods reflect a consistent and definite conception of and approach to political theory.


My assumption is that thought itself arises out of incidents of living experience and must
remain bound to them as the only guideposts by which to take its bearings

I’ve taken an epigraph from … [Karl Jaspers]: ‘Give yourself up neither to the past nor
to the future. The important thing is to remain wholly in the present’. That sentence
struck me right in the heart, so I’m entitled to it

Hannah Arendt 1964

In an interview broadcast on West German television in 1964, Hannah Arendt, by then a famous political thinker, insisted that she did not regard herself as a ‘philosopher’ and had no desire to be seen as such: her concern was with politics. She was not even happy with the suggestion that what she did was ‘political philosophy’, regarding this as a term overloaded with tradition. She preferred what she took to be the less freighted epithet of ‘political theorist’. There is, Arendt argued, a fundamental tension between the philosophical and the political; and the historical tendency to think about the contingent and circumstantial business of politics from a philosophical point of view, seeking to speak about it in terms of the universal and the eternal, has had unfortunate consequences. In the light of this conviction, Arendt said she wished to look at politics ‘with eyes unclouded by philosophy’ (Arendt 1994: 2). The aim of this book is to explore the implications of this statement as they make themselves felt in Arendt’s work and to suggest that they underwrite a distinctive, potent and consistently challenging way of theorising politics.

Arendt was an unorthodox political theorist. Her work divided critical opinion and has continued to do so since her death in 1975. At issue here is not only what Arendt said but also how she said it. Although she taught at major universities, Arendt always maintained something of a distance . . .

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