Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

ACTION INTO NATURE: HANNAH ARENDT'S REFLECTIONS ON TECHNOLOGY

Barry Cooper

It is part of Hannah Arendt's rhetorical style to declare one or another topic to be superlatively important. Considering the number of crises in the modern world about which she has written, this is perhaps not surprising. What Arendt has said directly about technology does not lend itself to a summary presentation. The overall context within which her reflections may be understood is indicated by arguments developed in The Human Condition regarding modern worldlessness. The loss of a sense of worldliness is identical with a sense that all things are in movement, that all is process and change. The perplexing aspect of modern change is that it is not understood as taking place within a stable framework. We cannot step into the same river twice because we, unlike Heraclitus, are convinced that both the river and men change. It is as if we were travellers through a landscape that is altered as a landscape by the fact of our passage.

The Prologue to The Human Condition began with a comment upon our first little travelling companion, Sputnik. "This event, second in importance to no other, not even to the splitting of the atom" was greeted with a "strange statement" and an "extraordinary line," namely that the earth was a place to escape from, that it was a place where humans were bound, a house of bondage. Heretofore such sentiments belonged to science fiction; now they were commonplace. Using an older language, she asked: "Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age, which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?"1 The earth is the "very quintessence" of the human condition because it provides a habitat where humans can move and breathe without effort and without artifice. True, the artifice of the world is what distinguishes men from other living

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