Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 363

The hidden wish of poor men is not "To each according to his needs,
but "To each according
his desires. " And while it is true that
freedom can come only
those whose needs have been fulfilled, it is
equally true that it will escape those who are bent upon living from
their desires.
What is questionable in this passage is not the defensible insight that
unlimited desires can produce unintended misery, but rather the
assumption that the ethic of infinite wants is a function of poverty, as if
rich men through the centuries have known when to stop when their
"needs" were satisfied. The poor are not so much the source of the
consumption ethic as its worst victims, especially under an advanced
capitalism so dependent on the perpetual creation of new desires. How
we are
distinguish between legitimate needs and illegitimate wants
is, of course, another matter and one which Hannah Arendt's work
never attempts to address.
But even If one were to accept Hannah Arendt's pessimism about
extending the free life of the
beyond a select few , there are still
considerable difficulties in her normative description of political
action. Both conceptually and historically, her view of politics as a
performing art utterly uncorrupted by extraneous considerations is
without foundation. Conceptually, as we have seen earlier, her stress
on the importance of beginnings in action led her perilously close to
the destructive violence she was at pains to distinguish from the truly
political. Moreover, there is a further irony in the fact that the very
"aestheticization of politics" she championed may well have a special
affinity for violence, as her friend Walter Benjamin warned during the
fascist era. Similarly, her frequent insistence on birth, or " natality" as
she insisted on calling it, as the prototype of these beginnings ties
action to the rhythms of the natural world, which she usually deni–
grated as the sphere of the
Likewise, her assertion that
politics and utilitarianism are incompatible is undercut by her ac–
knowledgement that the men of the polis did have an implicit goal
beyond the sheer joy of political participation: the achievement of
worldly immortality through the performance of glorious and memor–
able deeds. Such an admission, of course, begs an important question,
for how can the criteria used to establish what are "glorious and
memorable deeds" escape being nonpolitical themselves?
Hannah Arendt failed to ask this question because of the implicit
existentialist premises of ·.her argument. Thus in her 1946
essay on
she asserted that without a
secure, objective reality, a Being, in which truth can be said to reside,
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