The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?

The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?

The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?

The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?


In this book Roberto Esposito explores the conceptual trajectories of two of the twentieth century’s most vital thinkers of the political: Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. Taking Homer’s Iliad—that “great prism through which every gesture has the possibility of becoming public, precisely by being observed by others”— as the common origin and point of departure for our understanding of Western philosophical and political traditions, Esposito examines the foundational relation between war and the political.

Drawing actively and extensively on Arendt’s and Weil’s voluminous writings, but also sparring with thinkers from Marx to Heidegger, The Origin of the Political traverses the relation between polemos and polis, between Greece, Rome, God, force, technicity, evil, and the extension of the Christian imperial tradition, while at the same time delineating the conceptual and hermeneutic ground for the development of Esposito’s notion and practice of “the impolitical.”

In Esposito’s account Arendt and Weil emerge “in the inverse of the other’s thought, in the shadow of the other’s light,” to “think what the thought of the other excludes not as something that is foreign, but rather as something that appears unthinkable and, for that very reason, remains to be thought.” Moving slowly toward their conceptualizations of love and heroism, Esposito unravels the West’s illusory metaphysical dream of peace, obliging us to reevaluate ceaselessly what it means to be responsible in the wake of past and contemporary forms of war.


In the twenty years that separate this new publication from its original, much has been written on Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil as well as on the relation between them. Although I cannot reference the extensive critical literature that in Italy alone has enriched the understanding of their work in recent years, I will mention two editorial initiatives that have been of particular significance; I am referring to the texts gathered by Simona Forti in The Arendt Archive and the complete edition of Simone Weil’s London Writings, edited by Domenico Canciani and Maria Antonietta Vito. Both collections offer the Italian public partially unedited materials that are indispensable for the ongoing interpretation of Arendt and Weil’s thought. the collection of Arendt’s essays—which address the fundamental themes of knowledge and power, politics and technicity, and evil and conformism in a postwar world suspended between new hopes and ancient fears—restitute certain neuralgic moments to her thought. Simone Weil’s London Writings were written between the end of 1942 and the spring of 1943, when the defeat of Nazism was already foreseeable. They are not only of substantial documentary value, but also constitute a tool of extraordinary value for evaluating the still unresolved problems of a united Europe, as the main title of the collection itself, Una costituente per l’Europa (Constituent Europe), seems to anticipate.

The numerous essays addressing the relation between the two authors can be placed in the broader frame of a feminist thought that has encountered rigorous and impassioned interpreters in Italy. Within this horizon Arendt and Weil have not only been positioned in relation to each other, but have also been placed in a constellation involving other female thinkers of the . . .

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