Arendt and Heidegger

Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Arendt and Heidegger
    Book Description:

    Theodor Adorno once wrote an essay to "defend Bach against his devotees." In this book Dana Villa does the same for Hannah Arendt, whose sweeping reconceptualization of the nature and value of political action, he argues, has been covered over and domesticated by admirers (including critical theorists, communitarians, and participatory democrats) who had hoped to enlist her in their less radical philosophical or political projects. Against the prevailing "Aristotelian" interpretation of her work, Villa explores Arendt's modernity, and indeed her postmodernity, through the Heideggerian and Nietzschean theme of a break with tradition at the closure of metaphysics.

    Villa's book, however, is much more than a mere correction of misinterpretations of a major thinker's work. Rather, he makes a persuasive case for Arendt asthepostmodern or postmetaphysical political theorist, the first political theorist to think through the nature of political action after Nietzsche's exposition of the death of God (i.e., the collapse of objective correlates to our ideals, ends, and purposes). After giving an account of Arendt's theory of action and Heidegger's influence on it, Villa shows how Arendt did justice to the Heideggerian and Nietzschean criticism of the metaphysical tradition while avoiding the political conclusions they drew from their critiques. The result is a wide-ranging discussion not only of Arendt and Heidegger, but of Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Habermas, and the entire question of politics after metaphysics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2184-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. INTRODUCTION The Problem of Action in Arendt
    (pp. 3-14)

    Hannah Arendt’s conception of political action is widely recognized as original, yet many regard it as so permeated by nostalgia that it is of questionable relevance to modern politics. Even the most sympathetic of her commentators accuse her of succumbing to the longing for Greece that has been the occupational hazard of German philosophy since Kant. Moreover, those readers point out, Arendt is not above abandoning thepolisas paradigm and turning to a Homeric or Nietzschean glorification of the heroic dimension of action.¹ It would appear, then, that the resulting theory of political action requires substantial modification if it...

    • CHAPTER 1 Arendt, Aristotle, and Action
      (pp. 17-41)

      Hannah Arendt beginsThe Human Conditionby accusing the Western philosophical tradition ofeffacement. She contends that “the enormous weight of contemplation” in the Western philosophical tradition served, historically, to blur the inner articulations of thevita activa, the active life.¹ From Arendt’s point of view, the Socratic tradition and Christianity share an obsession with an absolute Truth far greater than man and his deeds, a Truth available to man only through the cessation of all worldly activity. Contemplative stillness made a relationship to the eternal possible. From this ascetic-theoretical perspective, the classical hierarchy of human activities was leveled: the...

    • CHAPTER 2 Thinking Action against the Tradition
      (pp. 42-79)

      The investigation of Arendt’s political theory, thus far, has tended to confirm Habermas’s judgment that its primary significance resides in “the systematic renewal of the Aristotelian concept ofpraxis.”² Habermas’s reading of Arendt presents her as a theorist of the communicative essence of political action, one who stresses the consensual nature of genuine politics, an emphasis grounded in the reinscription of Aristotle’s distinction betweenpraxisandpoiēsis. It is an attractive reading in that it emphasizes the deliberative dimensions of Arendt’s conception of politics while avoiding the drawbacks of its apparently classical structure. Arendt’s theory of action need not succumb...

    • CHAPTER 3 Arendt, Nietzsche, and the “Aestheticization” of Political Action
      (pp. 80-110)

      Arendt’s rejection of the turn to will in modern political theory reflects her conviction that the interpretation of freedom as sovereignty or autonomy is incompatible with the nature and conditions of genuine political action. Far from avoiding the plurality-hostile character of the teleological model of action, the modern attempt to ground freedom in the autonomous will radicalizes its antipolitical tendencies. Moreover, Arendt believes that the reduction of action to willing and the subsumption of politics by History destroys whatever remains of the integrity of political action. The turn to will and to History continues and deepens the degradation of politics,...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Heideggerian Roots of Arendt’s Political Theory
      (pp. 113-143)

      Arendt’s turn to Kant throws the antipolitical aspects of Nietzsche’s agonism into sharp relief; it also reveals the ontological commitments that inform her rethinking of freedom, action, and judgment. The appeal to Kant’s aesthetics underscores not only the phenomenality of political action, but the being of the space of appearances—thepublicworld—as well. It is precisely the reality of this flux-filled phenomenal realm that the metaphysical tradition (beginning with Plato and ending with Nietzsche) repeatedly denies. For Plato, the world of appearance—of democratic politics—is a mere shadow realm; for Nietzsche, the “apparent world” (understood as a...

    • CHAPTER 5 Groundless Action, Groundless Judgment: Politics after Metaphysics
      (pp. 144-170)

      Many critics, including Hanna Pitkin and Sheldon Wolin, have charged Arendt with elitism. Adverse to what they view as the exclusionary dimension of Arendt’s “Greek” theory of action, they stress its tension with the more popular impulses of (modern) participatory democracy.³ Support for this critique may be found in the way Arendt’s agonistic conception echoes Nietzsche’s distinction between active and reactive agents (the “masterly” and “slavish,” respectively).4Like Nietzsche, Arendt appears to draw a thick black line between the affirmative, robust creators of heroic values (on the one hand) and the unworldly, reactive naysayers (on the other). This creates the...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Critique of Modernity
      (pp. 171-208)

      The Human Conditionpresents Arendt’s phenomenology of human activity. This analysis, however, is interwoven with a narrative about the decline of action and the public realm throughout the modern age. “The purpose of the historical analysis,” she tells us, “. . . is to trace back modern world alienation, its twofold flight from the earth into the universe and from the world into the self.”² The story she unfolds is not an optimistic one. The modern “rise of the social” promotes the absorption of the public realm by household concerns, whilehomo faber’sconsistent utilitarianism results in the “limitless instrumentalization...

    • CHAPTER 7 Arendt, Heidegger, and the Oblivion of Praxis
      (pp. 211-240)

      My description of Arendt’s project and Heidegger’s influence upon it will strike some as controversial, not to say perverse. For from the perspective I have offered, Heidegger’s work appears as a kind of prolegomenon to Arendt’s recovery ofpraxis. But, it will be objected, has not Heidegger’s philosophy itself contributed in no small degree to the oblivion ofpraxisin our time? Does not Heidegger consistently devalue the public realm (the arena ofpraxis), seeing it first as the domain of inauthenticity, and later as the expression of the “dominance of subjectivity”?

      The confrontation of Arendt’s work with Heidegger’s is...

    • CHAPTER 8 Heidegger, Poiēsis, and Politics
      (pp. 241-270)

      The criticisms leveled at Heidegger by Arendt and Habermas confront us squarely with the issue of Heidegger’s contribution to the oblivion ofpraxisin the post-Nietzschean, technological age. Generally speaking, the critiques are persuasive, revealing fundamental reasons for the underdevelopment of the concept of action in Heidegger. Thus, even those who would argue that the concept ofpraxisplays a key role in the articulation of fundamental ontology endorse the Habermasian conclusion that Heidegger’s dismissal of communicative action leads to a radically foreshortened understanding of “authentic” action, one that neglects entirely the doxastic and plural dimensions Arendt highlights.¹ That this...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 271-312)
    (pp. 313-322)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 323-329)