Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics, edited and with and introduction by Jerome Kohn, New York: Shocken Books, 2005. PP. 218, Price $8. Hannah Arendt, the noted contemporary philosopher, defends politics as an arena of promise rather than a risk for human survival. To her, politics and freedom are identical. But, her freedoms are not anarchic. They can be realized within the political realm of nation-state which supports a public sphere opened to the participation of all sovereign citizens. Does history justifies this argument? She argues that our understanding of politics as a means in the service of individual liberty, material gain, social status and recognition has increased the perils to the modern world. The instrumental rationality of politics has eroded its capacity to emancipate people from their pre-political hierarchy and exploitation to equality, liberty and human identity. Arendt asserts that the failure of philosophical tradition to account for human action is attributable for the domination of politics by non-political and anti-political forces. The goals of politics, she narrates, are to "set guidelines and directives by which we orient ourselves" and whose "concrete realizations are constantly changing because we are dealing with other people who also have goals" (P. 193).
The Greeks viewed polis as the "political-public realm in which men attains their full humanity, their full reality as men, not only because they are but also because they appear" (p. 20). The conflict between philosophy and politics was resolved in the defeat of philosophy because pre-philosophic Greek thinkers and Socrates were just interested in seeking truth and did not want to play political role for the liberation of society from irrational behavior of rulers. This caused the death of Socrates. Plato distorted philosophy for political aim of his ideal state. Only Aristotle devoted his life in the practice of philosophy and considered politics as a means to an end, the end for good life through the revelation of intrinsic worth in every human being. The Romans, men of practical affairs, gave politics an eloquent expression in law and tried to make a balance between law and politics. Montesquieu revised the over legalistic tradition of political thought of Romans. To him, the principle of political action is the "binding link between the structure of a government represented in the spirit of its laws and actions of its body politic" (P.66).
Arendt's inquiry into Hegel and Marx’s philosophy led her to a critical examination of the entire tradition of Western political thought, from its origins in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to its culmination in Kant, Hegel and Marx. The advent of Marx, rather than Hobbes, Kant and Hegel, marks a break with the tradition of the superiority of contemplative philosophy over political action. His revolutionary ideas appealed the mass to action as he saw man's essential humanity not in his rationality, but in labor and interest of laboring class is identified with the interest of humankind (p. 78). The action as a domain of freedom and emancipation was, however, neither his invention nor he opposed this. In fact, he advocated political equality and freedom of human beings from alienation and exploitation.
Arendt argues "Politics is derivative in two-fold sense: it has its origin in the pre-political data of biological life, and it has its end in the post-political highest possibility of human destiny" (p. 83). Modern prejudice against politics springs from party-driven democracy which claims to represent people, even though the people themselves never believed it (P.98). Can enlightenment free human beings from this prejudice of politics screened into perpetual struggle for power devoid of any moral sense? Obviously yes, if politics expands the space of freedom of human will- a space that is essential for what Arendt calls, "protecting society's life-sustaining resources and the productivity of its open and free development."
The vicious conflict between the ends and means of politics must be resolved in defense of perpetual peace, a peace Kant defends in terms of moral aspiration and physical necessity of human beings to facilitate their plural existence in a framework of mutually guaranteed autonomy and freedom. To conclude, the promise of politics to human beings is: to breathe and live together in a shared space. This book distills the philosophical wisdom of the West in a critical light. It is very useful to those who want to understand the essence of politics, its absurdity and failures and also suggests bringing it back into the public domain.