For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Human Condition

by Arendt, Hannah (2013)


A work of striking originality bursting with unexpected insights, The Human Condition is in many respects more relevant now than when it first appeared in 1958. In her study of the state of modern humanity, Hannah Arendt considers humankind from the perspective of the actions of which it is capable. The problems Arendt identified then—diminishing human agency and political freedom, the paradox that as human powers increase through technological and humanistic inquiry, we are less equipped to control the consequences of our actions—continue to confront us today. This new edition, published to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of its original publication, contains an improved and expanded index and a new introduction by noted Arendt scholar Margaret Canovan which incisively analyzes the book's argument and examines its present relevance. A classic in political and social theory, The Human Condition is a work that has proved both timeless and perpetually timely. Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was one of the leading social theorists in the United States. Her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy and Love and Saint Augustine are also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Key Passage

The  hope  that  inspired  Marx  and  the  best  men  of  the  various  workers'  movements—that  free  time  eventually  will  emancipate  men  from  necessity  and  make  the  animal  laborans  productive— rests on the illusion of a mechanistic philosophy which assumes that labor power, like any other energy, can never be lost, so that if it is not spent and exhausted in the drudgery of life it will automatically nourish other, "higher," activities. The guiding model of this hope in Marx was doubtless the Athens of Pericles which, in the future, with the help of the vastly increased productivity of human labor, would need no slaves to sustain itself but would become a reality for  all.  A  hundred  years  after  Marx  we  know  the  fallacy  of  this  reasoning;  the  spare  time  of  the  animal  laborans  is  never  spent  in  anything  but  consumption,  and  the  more  time  left  to  him,  the  greedier  and  more  craving  his  appetites.  That  these  appetites  be-  come  more  sophisticated,  so  that  consumption  is  no  longer  restricted  to  the  necessities  but,  on  the  contrary,  mainly  concentrates on the superfluities of life, does not change the character of this society, but harbors the grave danger that eventually no object of  the  world  will  be  safe  from  consumption  and  annihilation  through consumption. (p.133)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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