For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Leaving Politics behind: An Arendtian and Hegelian Reading of Hobbes"

by Malabed, Rizalino Noble (2012)


The movement of individuals from the state of nature and the constitution of the commonwealth through their covenant, described in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, is a reversed Hegelian history. The covenant is a repudiation of politics, which is left behind in the state of nature by the multitude in their transformation into subjects, demarcating and defining politics exclusively as the domain of the Sovereign. This is in exchange for the protection that the commonwealth provides to mere life or biological life; that is, life limited to its sustenance through labor and the enjoyment of labor’s products. This contention depends on readings of G.W.F. Hegel and Hannah Arendt, which are then used to interpret Hobbes. The relevant assertions of Hegel (1980) are derived from his account of the master-slave dialectic as a process of humankind’s historical self-becoming. Here, Hegel provides a narrative for the realization of self-consciousness and the resolution of humanity's estrangement from its true being . The movement of humankind in Hegel is towards wholeness. The movement of humankind in Hobbes, on the other hand, is towards estrangement. Meanwhile in Arendt (1998), the human activities of labor, work , and action distinguish political life from mere life. What Arendt identifies as the rise of the social (the privileging of what was before hidden—the economic activities of production and consumption that she associates with necessity) is precisely the life lived by subjects under the protection of the Sovereign. The rise of the social and the delimiting of the political as the domain of the state muddle the traditional distinction between the public and private private realms. Thus, Arendt observes, what were previously private become objects of politics and assume the appearance of being properly public.

Key Passage

What define the human condition for Arendt are labor, work, and action co-existing but delimited to their proper realms. Hegel, meanwhile, sees the authentic human being in the synthesis of working and fighting in the slave who finally rebels. Labor, work, action, fight—these are consist the human condition of being in the world and being with others. Both theorists see the transcending of mere life (or slavish life) in the quest for human becoming, coupling it or resolving the quest through politics defined by action or fighting. This is the ideal story of becoming human for both theorists, a movement towards wholeness. Hegel appears to be satisfied although Arendt is disappointed with history’s result.  (p.10)


Hobbes, Hegel, Arendt, Social Contract, Human Condition, History Of Philosophy, State Of Nature


On Hobbes, On Hegel, On Arendt

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