chapter  9
Arendt and individualism (1994)
Pages 20

The recent publication of hitherto unpublished writings by Hannah Arendt must have some effect on how we understand her contribution to political theory. Out of a large archive some of the specimens that have been published have the power, in their richness, both to re-orient us and disorient us as we seek to come to terms with one of the greatest political theorists of the century. One effect of these writings is to send us back with new eyes to the Arendt books we already knew and thought we understood, while another effect is to make us wonder at the apparent discrepancy between what Arendt published and what she withheld (either kept to herself or confined to those who heard her presentation) on some major theoretical issues. I experienced both these effects in reading the part of “Philosophy and

politics: The problem of action and thought after the French Revolution” (1954) that Jerome Kohn edited and published in Social Research (in Spring 1990), under the title “Philosophy and politics” (Arendt, 1990).1 (The whole manuscript was publicly delivered but never published by Arendt.) Thanks to Professor Kohn, I have been able to read the full manuscript, and it is continuously absorbing. But it is especially the printed part that helps as it were to re-open the pages of earlier essays and such works as Rahel Varnhagen [1974] and The Human Condition [1958a]; and on the specific matter of the connection between citizenship and Socratic examination and self-examination, it establishes a large gap between itself and later work Arendt chose to publish, especially “Civil disobedience” [1972], “Thinking and moral considerations” [1971], and The Life of the Mind [1978]. Just by itself, the printed part is so striking that it invites us to go beyond the specific matter of Socratic citizenship and begin to reconsider the whole question of Arendt’s relation to individualism. Indeed, “Philosophy and Politics” helps to sensitize us to the fact that Arendt, when all is said and done, is a stalwart advocate of a certain kind of individualism. Yet the kind she advocates in work she published, powerful as it is, may strike us as unduly limited, whereas the unpublished contributions to alternative, more insistent individualisms do not always fit with her published version, even apart from the specific matter of Socratic citizenship, and are richly suggestive.