The Role of Aesthetics in the Politics of Hannah Arendt

By Fry, Karin | Philosophy Today, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Role of Aesthetics in the Politics of Hannah Arendt


Fry, Karin, Philosophy Today


Hannah Arendt's work is often interpreted as promoting an aesthetic form of politics. For Arendt, political action discloses who someone is in words and deeds, and reveals her unique character. Because political actions disclose the uniqueness of the individual actor, Arendt's politics seems to advocate the artistic expression of the political actors as the primary purpose for politics. Politics would be like a work of art, in which a few political actors express themselves to an audience of spectators who view their artistic work. Politics becomes an expressive art for the benefit, distinction, and fame of certain individuals, rather than focusing on the needs of the community as a whole. Arendt's discussion of political judgment provides further evidence for an aesthetic interpretation of her work. For Arendt, political actions are judged by a community through the use of reflective judgments of taste that are similar to Kantian aesthetic judgments. The term "taste" is most often used in relation to art objects, so politics is assumed to be aesthetic for Arendt, given her model of judgment in based upon Kant's theory of taste. Overall, Arendt has received both criticism and praise for the perception of her politics as a type of artistic display. However, the relation between aesthetics and politics in Hannah Arendt's thought is complicated, and she was very careful not to conflate the two.1 In this essay, I argue that Arendt does not aestheticize politics or believe that political actions should be interpreted through aesthetic categories. First, this view would violate her distinction between the activities of action and work, and second, this interpretation would ignore her assertion that the spectators who judge are more important than the political actors. Although there are some points of commonality between politics and aesthetics in Arendt's project, she remained suspicious of attempts to aestheticize or romanticize politics, even at the level of judgment.

Arendt's account of action in The Human Condition is the initial source of the difficulty in interpreting the relation between aesthetics and politics in her thought. In this work, she distinctly divides the activities of labor, work, and action. Labor is a human activity concerned with the cyclical and repetitive biological needs of human life that must be renewed continuously. Work, in contrast to labor, builds more permanent fabricated structures that begin to separate persons from nature. Through work and fabrication, humans build a world with a higher degree of permanence and durability to stand against nature and to separate themselves from the cyclical demands of nature. Finally, action is participation in the political life that discloses persons in their singularity, and gives them the opportunity to be remembered. Action is important for Arendt because through words and deeds persons can accomplish acts that are unique to them. She writes in The Human Condition, "in acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world."2 In other words, political action discloses "who" someone is.3 Also, through political action, one can attain a degree of immortality because through oral and written record and tradition, an individual's action can be remembered beyond one's lifespan. Many have interpreted Arendt's discussion of action from The Human Condition as an aesthetic activity because action discloses persons in their individuality through performance. Politically, Arendt seems to be endorsing an aesthetic model of politics which promotes the creativity and individuality of the actor above all else.

Once action is interpreted as aesthetic, Arendt is generally either criticized or applauded. The critics of Arendt's "aestheticization" of politics believe that she promotes the creativity and virtuosity of the political actor, at the expense of others within the community. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Role of Aesthetics in the Politics of Hannah Arendt
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.