Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 354

the same token, it is the only art whose sole object is man in his
relationship to others."
Among the most significant constraints on politics which Hannah
Arendt and the political existentialists alike found objectionable is
rationalism. In her reading of the Greek experience, it is Socrates who
introduced an illegitimately rationalist element where none had previ–
ously existed. The "public space" of the
was one in which a
plurality of views and opinions were tolerated and discussed without
any attempt to distinguish among them according to transcendent
criteria of truth or falsehood, rationality or irrationality. The search for
truth was always done in isolation; politics was the realm of intersub–
jective opinion. In celebrating the political experience of the pre–
Socratic Greeks, Hannah Arendt paralleled Heidegger's resurrection of
the pre-Socratic philosophers with his concomitant denigration of
In so doing, she arrived at type of "positive" freedom very
different from that dangerous identification of freedom with rational
necessity so abhorred by liberal opponents of the term such as Sir
Isaiah Berlin. Like Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Lukacs, and other "posi–
tive" freedom proponents, she disliked the privatized, internal "nega–
tive" alternative stemming from Christianity and defended by liberal–
ism, but she refused to accept their positing of a congruence between
general and particular wills or interests. Freedom, she maintained, is
the opposite of necessity, not its handmaiden. Pluralism, not unity, is
the precondition for its maintenance. Montesquieu and Tocqueville
were among the few modern theorists whose recognition of this reality
ties them to the pre-Socratic Greeks.
Not surprisingly, one of her major philosophical heroes was
Lessing, whose defiant embrace of relativism she praised. For the same
reason, Jaspers's psychology of
with its justifica–
tion for universal relativism earned him high marks. Acting in the
name of reason, she contended, is applying the criterion of
homo faber
to the realm of action because it entails the positing of an essential
model to follow. Like the existentialists, she was anxious to avoid
adopting a normative view of essential man; only the "human condi–
tion," not human nature, can be meaningfully discussed. Whether
Platonic or Cartesian, Kantian or Hegelian, a philosophy that tries to
introduce rational considerations into the
vita activa's
highest mode,
political action, is in the service of oppression.
Finally, Hannah Arendt drew on the political existentialist tradi–
tion in viewing history as an illegitimate source of constraints on
freedom. In her 1946 essay, she applauded Husserl's success in freeing
modern philosophy from "the fetters of historicism." Here a possible
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