For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"On Animal Laborans and Homo Politicus in Hannah Arendt: A Note"

by Levin, Martin (1979)


Every political philosopher is subject to misunderstanding, but perhaps none more so than those who insist on distinctions to which their age is not accustomed or which it is determined to ignore. Thus it is not surprising to discover that Hannah Arendt, whose philosophy is based on just such distinctions which we find either alien or meaningless, should be particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Key Passage

By its very nature then labour is condemned to never leave anything lasting behind. Yet what justifies life for Arendt and makes "life’s burden" bearable is precisely that which defies and transcends the mortality of individual life and the natural cyclical processes which surround it. Arendt’s denigration of labouring (or animal laborans) can now be seen for what it is. It is rooted in her profound "repugnance to futility" a futility to which labour, by its very nature, is consigned. Hence Arendt’s opposition is not even to labouring or animal laborans as such (as it certainly is not to the labouring or working class) but to the futility to which the labouring activity is condemned. The point can perhaps be emphasized by observing that while labouring is an example of futility for Arendt, all of life’s futility is not encompassed by labouring. (p.526)


Arendt, Animal Laborans, Homo Politicus


On Arendt

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