Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 352

century tendency to downgrade politics to a fun ction of socio–
economic trends, whi ch appeared in such widely different theori es as
classical economics, Saint-Simonian socialism, corpora ti st conserva–
tism , Durkheimian sociology and Ma rxism (a lthough as I shall a rgue
shortl y, with ques ti onable support from the founder himself ), a
reaction set in during the earl y years of this century. Its leaders
included Pareto and Mosca in Italy, the Acti on
Fran~ai se
clique in
France, and the po liti cal existenti ali sts in Germany. On a practi cal
level, a similar reasserti on of the rela tive autonomy of politi cs can be
seen in Lenin and the Italian Fascists.
Although Hannah Arendt's definiti on of the po liti cal canno t be
simpl y equa ted with tha t of her predecessors, she nonetheless shared
with them a strong desire to rescue politi cs from the debased state in to
whi ch much nineteenth-century tho ught had cast it. Altho ugh she
cl aimed tha t she had no preference between the life of the mind , the
vita contemplativa,
and the life of practice, the
vita activa,
Arendt significantl y devoted virtuall y all o f her intell ectual gifts to an
explora tion of the la tter rea lm. In
The H uman Condition,
of her position , she di vided the
v ita activa
into three subcate–
gories: labor, work and acti on . In the first, man is understood as an
an imal laborans
whose existence is consumed by a never-ending cycle
of reproducing the conditions of his survival. Labor is endl ess, repeti–
tive, tied to bio logical necessity, and without permanent res idue.
Hi gher on the scale of human activiti es is work in which man is
understood as
homo fab er.
H ere man leaves the purely bio logical level
by vio lentl y transforming his environment through the crea ti on o f
man-made products. The model is man as isolated craftsman leaving
behind him more or less permanent artifacts which constitute wha t
Hannah Arendt call s the "world. " T he third ca tegory, acti on , is the
highest of the three for here men engaged in the acti vity whi ch is mos t
ennobling : the public interacti on thro ugh speech whi ch is the essence
of freedom. The life of acti on, best exemplifi ed by the Greek
where free men interacted on the basis of absolute equality, is an end in
itself. The remembrance of no ble political deeds, which the political
community preserves, is a hi gher goal than even the preservatio n of
life. The individual man is not the measure of all things, as humani sts
since Protagoras have wrongly assumed : th e "world," whi ch is the
product of
homo faber,
and the ea rthl y immortality p roduced by the
remembrance of the
should be seen as hi gher values instead .
In a ttempting to liberate politi cal acti on from its subordina tion to
other modes of the
vita activa,
Hannah Arendt, like the po liti ca l
exi stentialists of the twenti es, was anxi ous to assure its utmos t poss ibl e
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