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Discuss Arendt’s theory of action and how it’s relevant to understand rise of totalitarianism.

Ques. Discuss Arendt’s theory of action and how it’s relevant to understand rise of totalitarianism.

  •  Hannah Arendt’s personal experience and subsequent escape from the Holocausthad a profound effect on her work which led her to focus on concepts like politics, power, direct democracy and totalitarianism.
  • Her work in ‘The Human Condition ‘elaborates on different forms of action:

  • Arendt argues that the Western philosophical tradition has devalued the world of human action(the vita activa) to that of essences and the eternal (the vita contemplative). She criticized earlier philosophers like Plato for giving superiority to ideas over action.
  • Arendt elaborately theorises on action and makes a hierarchy of human activities:
    • Labour:These are the actions performed as a result of biological necessitiesand is nearest to animals and experiences the least amount of freedom. Specific to the private sphere.
    • Work:The secondary actions like business, architecture, builder, craftsman, etc. come under this category. Even though this type of action cannot be undertaken by animals, it still does not give human beings complete freedom. Work provides some level permanence to humanlife but is seen as not offering complete freedom. Aids in creating a shared world.
    • Action:A truly human condition when one performs political and social actions in public sphere, giving him/her complete freedom. (Aristotle’s ideas on civic community). Speech was seen as important to assert the unique identity and opinions as well as enable individuals to participate (plurality).
  • For Arendt, praxis is the highest and most important level of the active life.Thus, she argues that more philosophers need to engage in everyday political action or praxis, which she sees as the true realization of human freedom.
  • Arendt was critical of both liberal (Adam Smith) and Marxist philosophies which by over-stressing the importance of labourand neglecting ‘action’ had caused the ‘rise of the social’ leading to erosion of public sphere and rise of totalitarianism.
  • Modernity, for Arendt, caused economic sphere to become the dominant sphere leading to decline of political institutions, civic participation and public affairs.While Arendt’s ideas are of great significance her removal of private sphere from the domain of action has been criticised by feminists wherein the household becomes a legitimate domain of domination as was for Aristotle.

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