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 reason why this distinction [between labor and work] should have been overlooked in ancient  times  and  its  significance  remained  unexplored  seems  obvious  enough.  Contempt  for  laboring,  originally  arising  out  of  a  passionate  striving  for  freedom  from  necessity  and  a  no  less  passionate  impatience  with  every  effort  that  left  no  trace,  no  monument,  no  great  work  worthy  of  remembrance,  spread  with  the  increasing demands of polls life upon the time of the citizens and its insistence on their abstention (skhole) from all but political activities,  until  it  covered  everything  that  demanded  an  effort.  Earlier political custom, prior to the full development of the city-state, merely  distinguished  between  slaves,  vanquished  enemies  (dmoes or douloi), who  were  carried  off  to  the  victor's  household  with  other  loot  where  as  household  inmates  (oiketai or familiares) they slaved for their own and their master's life, and the demiourgoi, the workmen  of  the  people  at  large,  who  moved  freely  outside  the  private realm and within the public. A later time even changed the name for these artisans, whom Solon had still described as sons of Athena  and  Hephaestus,  and  called  them  banausoi, that  is,  men  whose  chief  interest  is  their  craft  and  not  the  market  place.  It  is  only  from  the  late  fifth  century  onward  that  the  polls began  to  classify occupations according to the amount of effort required, so that Aristotle called those occupations the meanest "in which the body is most deteriorated." Although he refused to admit banausoi to citizenship, he would have accepted shepherds and painters (but neither peasants nor sculptors).  (p.81)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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