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 one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the activity of  goodness,  and  goodness  obviously  harbors  a  tendency  to  hide  from  being  seen  or  heard.  Christian  hostility  toward  the  public  realm, the tendency at least of early Christians to lead a life as far  removed  from  the  public  realm  as  possible,  can  also  be  under-  stood  as  a  self-evident  consequence  of  devotion  to  good  works,  independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the  moment  a  good  work  becomes  known  and  public,  it  loses  its  specific character of goodness, of being done for nothing but goodness'  sake.  When  goodness  appears  openly,  it  is  no  longer  good-  ness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of  solidarity.  Therefore:  "Take  heed  that  ye  do  not  your  alms  before men, to be seen of them." Goodness can exist only when it  is  not  perceived,  not  even  by  its  author;  whoever  sees  himself  performing  a  good  work  is  no  longer  good,  but  at  best  a  useful  member  of  society  or  a  dutiful  member  of  a  church.  Therefore:  "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." (p.74)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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