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Hannah Arendt, 150-End

Hannah Arendt Essay D1:

Jake Maxmin

February, 2011

“In this situation, the question about the meaning of politics is itself altered. The question today is hardly, What is the meaning of politics? For those people all over the world who feel threatened by politics, among whom the very best are those who consciously distance themselves from politics, the far more relevant question they ask themselves and others is, Does politics still have any meaning at all?” (Arendt 151)

The Promise of Politics is a wide ranging exploration of modern day political systems—but Hannah Arendt’s one overriding message is clear: destruction has bypassed production. This means that the the capability of our world to destroy has surpassed its ability to produce. Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of this comparison. She also discusses the political systems of the modern world and the role they play in this balance. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her argument. Arendt opens the reader’s eyes to the problems that exist today, but also their potential solutions. She gives new hope to the possibilities of what humanity might accomplish despite countless obstacles. Arendt explains that because the world balance has been tipped toward destruction, we need to work harder to install just governments and practice democratic principles that will insure the safety of our future.  I think that Arendt’s argument  is just as relevant to life in the early twentieth century as it was when she wrote it in the post WWII era.

The Promise of Politics was published in the years immediately following the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Arendt was deeply concerned that the nuclear bomb had become a threat to all human life. “Ever since the invention of the atomic bomb, our mistrust has been based on the eminently justifiable fear that politics and the means of force available to it may well destroy humanity.”(Arendt 153)

Arendt argued that we have lost the balance between destruction and production that has been so delicately maintained until the second and even first World War. The atomic bomb marked the point at which our world’s destructive capacity bypassed its ability to produce, create, and improve life.  “The ability to destroy and the ability to produce stand in balance, one with the other. The energy which destroys the world and does violence to it is the same energy that is in our own hands and by means of which we do violence to nature and destroy some natural thing…” (Arendt 154) “The crucial point for our present situation is that in the real world of things, the balance between destruction and reconstruction can be maintained only as long as the technology involved deals with nothing except pure production…”(Arendt 155)

Even though the world has not repeated the nuclear destruction that occurred at the end of WWII , does that mean we are no longer at risk?  Perhaps this time, the source of destruction will come from something other than nuclear bombs. There are many destructive tendencies that threaten our world today, and Arendt’s fear remains all too real. We must now ask ourselves:  if politics and the systems we have in place are powerful enough to save the world from these destructive force.

One of the most urgent and obvious examples of such destruction is global warming. Our capacity to destroy the world through pollution has outgrown our production of green and environmentally friendly materials. Even though Arendt wrote about this comparison of destructive versus productive capacity in relation to the atom bomb and the mass destruction caused on the island of Japan, global warming is also destroying people,  habitats, and many aspects of life as we know it. The production of industrialized goods has become a force that is destroying our world–not just because these things cause harm to others, but because their actual production causes harm to our environment.  Production is hurting our environment because it relies on fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are responsible for “global warming, air quality deterioration, oil spills, and acid rain” says the Union of Concerned Scientists. Fossil fuels also include extreme amount of pollutants.

Among the gases emitted when fossil fuels are burned, one of the most significant is carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Over the last 150 years, burning fossil fuels has resulted in more than a 25 percent increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The Union for Concerned Scientists goes on.
According to the 2007/ 2008 Human Development Report, 262 million people have been affected annually in 2000 to 2004 by natural disasters related to global warming.  “Climate disasters are increasing in frequency and touching the lives of more people. The immediate consequences are horrific.”

William Nordhaus, in his article Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong explains that rising temperatures can directly cause sea-level rise, more intense hurricanes, losses of species and ecosystems, acidification of the oceans, and threatens the natural and cultural heritage of the planet. What will it take for us to wake up as a people and recognize Arendt’s argument?
Fossil Fuels have been contributing to global warming ever since we discovered how to harness coal into new technologies that unleashed a new level of productivity. One hundred and fifty years later we discovered the internal combustion engine and oil became the next big factor in wealth, productivity, and climate change. In 2002, Americans consumed more oil than 194 other countries, with 25.3% of total world consumption. Destruction is anything that hurts our environment, whilst production is anything that favors it. We need to find ways to acknowledge this change and come to grips with what must be done. “Climate generates a distinctive set of risks. Droughts, floods, storms, and other events have the potential to disrupt people’s lives, leading to losses of income, assets, and opportunities.”

With the extreme amount of industrialization in today’s world, Arendt’s argument becomes more compelling and relevant than ever. How can we produce in a way that will benefit us all, bypass our destruction, but also be sustainable to support future generations?  A focus needs to be drawn to re-evaluate today’s production methods, and put the priorities of the world above our own.
A radical shift in our production methods is required, but also a change in what we produce. Fossil fuels “power almost two-thirds of our electricity and virtually all of our transportation.” states the Sustainable Table, an organization that promotes local foods, sustainability, and growth of communities through local foods. It is time that we rethink how we produce goods, and how we can work to produce a more sustainable future for all generations. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stresses the need for new consumer habits such as washing in cold water, using sustainable diapers, and recycling.

Arendt’s argument emphasizes that politics is the means available to civilized peoples to move forward and regain our balance. It is up to politics and the democratic systems of government to put things right. Politics should free the voices of the people whom it serves and promote freedom and production towards a sustainable future. Politics needs to be used to not only form the “coexistence and association” (Arendt 93) of different individuals, but also to promote laws, freedom, justice, honor, and peace. The political systems of today should not only instill freedom, but they should ensure that the leaders in power are democratically elected. This will insure that the public is happy with and supports their leaders in constructive ways. We hold the world in our hands, and we can choose to either destroy it, or reconcile our differences and make a change. “…they can destroy nature on earth in the same way that natural processes manipulated by men can destroy the world built by men.” (Arendt 158) This is the decision we face. Is it possible for nations to summon the political will to mitigate the harm that has been done to our earth? Is it possible for nations to band together and fight for one common goal? These are the most pressing questions that we must ask ourselves.
Everyday these aspects of our world seem to grow further apart. Our destructive powers can wipe us out in a heartbeat. It seems as though the problems we face such as biological warfare, nuclear warfare, inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of education, and environmentally destructive practices will never be solved because we cannot work together.

 An ideal political system is one that values sustainable production over physical destruction. Ideal political systems enable their citizens to live freely and without the fear of destruction. In many ways, we are far away from having ideal political systems throughout our world. The threat of physical destruction to our world is all too real in contemporary times. Disagreements between different religious, political, and regional groups seems close to tearing our world limb from limb.

On the other hand, there are also many ways in which we are extremely close to developing 21st century techniques for political co-existence. Today, the internet is connecting people around the world, giving them access to information, giving them the ability to share, and at the same time providing us with the hope for a new future. Arab spring, distance learning, and social media reflect the tools that are going to enable a re-definition of today’s political systems.

People have the ability to transform the systems of the world. We cannot undo the destruction that we have done, but we can prevent it from happening or worsening in the future. We, the people, have the power to either destroy or redefine the world as we know it. We have a long journey ahead of us to solve these problems, but perhaps one day we will reach a point where we are no longer our own worst enemy.

1 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 153
2 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books154
3 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 155
4 Union for Concerned Scientists,, Global Warming, Accessed MAR 2012
5 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 75
6  Nordhaus, William, Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong, New York Review of Books, March 2012
7 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) World Consumer Report. 32
9 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 78
10 Robert A. McDonald, R8 Wall Street Journal MAR. 26(2012)
11 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books. 93

Hannah Arendt Essay, Pages 93-150

IS Essay:

Feb. 12th, 2012

Jake Maxmin



The Promise of Politics written by Hannah Arendt in the latter half of the 1950‘s sheds new light on the condition of politics around the world. Although this book might be considered out of date by some, its message has never been more true. Hannah Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of politics in the modern world. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her points and opinions. The section that this paper deals with is the beginning of an essay entitled Introduction into Politics, which begins on page 93. Arendt develops and discusses a sophisticated thesis that draws the reader into a thought provoking conversation about the philosophy behind politics. Arendt argues that politics is freedom expressed in the form of the “coexistence and association”(Arendt 93) of different individuals.

Arendt’s analysis of the origins of politics illuminates the deeper purpose of the political system. Her first key point is that politics represents the way in which individuals bridge their differences so that they may live in a society. “Men organize themselves politically according to certain essential commonalities found within or abstracted from an absolute chaos of differences.” (Arendt 93) This quote describes Arendt’s analysis about how politics brings people together who have so little in common. When one truly thinks about it, each of us have so many differences, and it is sometimes impossible for people to find ways to compromise or agree on what should be done. Politics does this. Politics provides the means for individuals to bridge their differences and private interests so they may come together and agree on how things will be. This process enables society to form and function smoothly.

Arendt also elaborates to her reader how politics can create individual equality and freedom. “…the world is organized in such a way that there is no place within it for the individual,  and that means for anyone who is different.” (Arendt 94) The idea that there is no place for anyone who is different is a very interesting concept in Arendt’s argument. Arendt views politics as the place where everyone can go. We all belong to the political system, it is the backbone of our society. For this reason there is no individual in the system of politics, and there is truly no space for one who decides to opt out of the political system. We are all in it together. “From the very start, politics organizes those who are absolutely different with a view to their relative equality and in contradistinction to their relative differences.” (Arendt 96) Arendt stresses that when everyone is part of the political system they are equal. However, the reader must also remember that Arendt has already stated that everyone is so chaotically different. These are interesting distinctions to consider. Even though people are so different, politics is the tool that makes everyone equal. Politics provides the means for people to come together to problem solve and inevitably create freedom for all, when honored and performed in the correct way.

Arendt does not state that this is always how politics is, but it is certainly her philosophy on why politics is. “Politics, so we are told, is an absolute necessity for human life, not only for the life of society but for the individual as well.” (Arendt 115) Now these quotes and concepts become even more complex. Arendt has already told the reader that there is no place within politics for the individual, but does that mean politics does not serve the individual? The meaning of politics is freedom and its focus is on the world, but it also serves the people who engage in it. It rewards those who work together and respect the power of community, and equality.

Hannah Arendt tells the reader about the fundamental working and purpose of politics. The very title of her book: The Promise of Politics, gives the reader a sense of her feelings toward the political system. “For at the center of politics lies concern for the world, not for man—a concern in fact, for a world, however constituted, without which those who are both concerned and political would not find life worth living.” (Arendt 106) This quote dives into the more complex meaning of politics for Arendt. What does she feel politics accomplishes? Politics is the way for those of different backgrounds to come together and solve the problems of our world. Politics is a uniter and a bond that holds us together. “…the meaning of politics is freedom.” (Arendt 108) Even though Arendt wrote this book during the mid-20th century, it rings truer then ever today. The Arab Spring is about people rising up and demanding inclusion and equality through a legitimate political process. 21st century citizens do not want oligarchical and militaristic dictatorships, but rather they crave the freedom of true democracy.  We must never give up on the ideals of the political system, and we must never stop using democratic politics to support and promote freedom.









-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books

Week of the 23rd

This week has been one of the most interesting and fruitful so far. The work with Ralph this week took off and we finally got a full week in to discuss and meditate over my reading in The Promise of Politics. Part of our discussion this week circled around Religion, Fate Vs. Destiny, and the idea of freewill. These concepts stuck with and challenged me to see my life and my learning in a new perspective. Challenging the idea of Fate Vs. Destiny, it was very hard for me to see how fate and freewill could both exist in the same world. Here are some questions prompted by the reading I did in Arendt (2005) this week:


  • Aren’t fate and freewill polar opposites?
  • How can one decide what comes next if their future is already set in stone and determined by the ideals of fate?
  • This concept challenges every man to think about his choices and the actions he makes, and to question wether or not his actions are truly his own. This concept can hold a deep fundamental root in government and politics. How can humans truly ‘rule’ over others if the path they follow is not their own?
  • Who is doing the ruling?


Discussion With Ralph:


The following passage challenged me to probe probe Arendt’s thesis about the evolution of political systems. According to Arendt, “It was never even considered by our tradition of political thought, which began after the ideal of the hero, the ‘doer of good deed and speaker of great words,’ had given way to that of the statesman as lawgiver, whose function was not to act but to impose permanent rules on the changing circumstances and unstable affairs of acting men.” (47) What does this passage represent when considering fate and freewill? After unpacking it we could see a very strong correlation with the development of government. The morphing and evolution into a society which no longer valued or looked up the hero and warrior, but rather followed the emperor, the imposer of rule and law. Why did this fundamental shift happen? Along with development comes a need to expand, a need to grow, and a need for leadership as well as politics. There comes a time when the strongest man is no longer the wisest.

These concepts swirled around in my head over daily interludes and conversations of religion. Who is God and what does he stand for? I relayed to Ralph my common conception of what God is: the being and the explanation for all that human minds can not comprehend. God stands for the third dimension of our mind, the z-axis, the part that can’t quite make sense of space…or even death. Cornel West touches on these ideas on a section of ‘The Examined Life’ entitled Truth. West touches on many of these important issues such as our finite existence and how it is vital for us to search within ourselves and find who we are. West talks about truth and its importance for living a pure life. This is an amazing video that touches on many aspects of what I have been grappling with this week.

Overall this was a fantastic week that challenged me to look further and deeper into my reading and myself. I came up with new opinions, interpreted my reading in different ways, and sifted through my conversations with Ralph to find what was most meaningful to me and what resonated the most. I questioned the readings, but most of all I was able to understand the message that Arendt (2005) was trying to convey in my latest readings. I cannot wait to begin next week and work on getting better and making my voice even stronger.



The future:

I also had a wonderful talk with Ralph this week about the second half of my semester and potential projects. I am looking forward to crafting a meaningful project to exemplify my learning. I want to take everything I will learn in the first half of this semester and apply it in the second. I want to use my knowledge of philosophy and the fundamentals of statehood and philosophy to unpack and analyze current affairs and issues going on in this world.

This was by all standards a fruitful and amazing week. I cannot wait to see what next week and the uncovering of Aristotle holds. I am also interesting in beginning to develop my reading responses. How might I start responding and summarizing only my reading during the week? My goal is to have a video blog up by Wednesday. I have also begun to reach out to other young bloggers and examine my place in the online community. How can I fit in and tie my work together with others?

Thank you so much for reading and please comment below! Next week, my reading moves onto Arendt’s last essay in the book “Introduction Into Politics” Please check back next week for more insights, comments, and questions.











-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books

-West, Cornell; (2011). EXAMINED LIFE: Cornel West on TRUTH


Growing my Network

After reading Steven Downes remix of Steven Covey’s Seven habits of highly connected people I dedicated to put out a call for networked help in growing my research and communication community online. I am a young person looking for others blogging about the foundations of political thought.  My project overview is here:
I am reaching out to you all hoping  for help to find blogs, video and other media from young people  that I can read and comment on.  Any Ideas?
Thank you for your help and look forward to seeing you in network!

Week of: January the 14th

This week was an amazing initial experiance. Ralph and I spent quality time reviewing my reading from the Socrates section of Hannah Arendt’s The Promise of Politics, as well as I.F. Stone’s The Trail of Socrates. I had many points I wished to discuss from these books, mainly focusing around the idea of Doxa(Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005), 7-8), and Socratic Ideology, ie. Virtue vs. Knowledge(Stone, Feinstein Isidor, (1989), 40). I had many ideas focusing around Arendt’s work and the challenge of defining the abstract. How can we do this? Arendt tackles this challenge beautifully by helping her reader cope with many of the challenges that all philosophers have dealt with. The major theme that I took away from her writing is that philosophy is defining the abstract to help others. 

Socrates made people think. Obviously there is no one way or set of ideals that makes the world go round or that one should solely live by. However, there are key points from Socrates teachings and important lessons that can help one live a better life and understand different aspects of life. Socrates wanted to make people think and question life. It was the power of the individual mind that Socrates was trying to unlock not just use his own knowledge to bestow upon everyone else. Socrates challenges people to unlock new ideas and depths in their minds to help answer the questions that haunted them. Obviously all one can ask is that you understand and take in these teachings as best you can for who you are, but as Ralph said, to make these teachings truly meaningful; one must always be aware of what is around them and always be open to new points of view.

I am beginning to grapple with these ideas and beginning to think about how they are related to government and the modern day. Socrates and Plato both had strong ideas about politics and how their philosophy related to their government. It is these lessons that I am focusing on and thinking about how they are relevant to my time. I cannot wait to get my first full week in, and I am looking forward to how my study unfolds and what my reader responses and new types of blogging look like!







-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books

-Stone, Feinstein Isidor, (1989). The Trail of Socrates. Mew York: Anchor Books