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

What  all  Greek  philosophers,  no  matter  how  opposed  to  polls life,  took  for  granted  is  that  freedom  is  exclusively  located  in  the  political  realm,  that  necessity  is  primarily  a  pre-political  phenome-  non, characteristic of the private household organization, and that force and violence are justified in this sphere because they are the only  means  to  master  necessity—for  instance,  by  ruling  over  slaves—and to become free. Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the pre-political act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world. This freedom is the essential condition of what the Greeks called felicity, eudaimmla, which was an objective status depending first of all upon wealth and health. To be poor or to be in ill health meant to be subject to physical necessity,  and  to  be  a  slave  meant  to  be  subject,  in  addition,  to  man-made violence. This twofold and doubled "unhappiness" of slavery is quite independent of the actual subjective well-being of the slave. Thus, a poor free man preferred the insecurity of a daily-changing labor  market  to  regular  assured  work,  which,  because  it  restricted  his  freedom  to  do  as  he  pleased  every  day,  was  already  felt  to  be  servitude (douleia), and even harsh, painful labor was preferred to the easy life of many household slaves. (p.31)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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