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  modern  age  has  carried with it a theoretical glorification of labor and has resulted in a factual transformation of the whole of society into a laboring society. The fulfilment of the wish, therefore, like the fulfilment of  wishes  in  fairy  tales,  comes  at  a  moment  when  it  can  only  be  self-defeating. It is a society of laborers which is about to be liber- ated from the fetters of labor, and this society does no longer know of those other higher and more meaningful activities for the sake of  which  this  freedom  would  deserve  to  be  won.  Within  this  society,  which  is  egalitarian  because  this  is  labor's  way  of  making  men live together, there is no class left, no aristocracy of either a political  or  spiritual  nature  from  which  a  restoration  of  the  other  capacities  of  man  could  start  anew.  Even  presidents,  kings,  and  prime ministers think of their offices in terms of a job necessary for  the  life  of  society,  and  among  the  intellectuals,  only  solitary  individuals  are  left  who  consider  what  they  are  doing  in  terms  of  work and not in terms of making a living. What we are confronted with is the prospect of a society of laborers without labor, that is, without  the  only  activity  left  to  them.  Surely,  nothing  could  be  worse. (p.4)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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