For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Resisting Biopolitics: Hannah Arendt as a Thinker of Automation, Social Rights, and Basic Income"

by Suuronen, Ville (2018)


Hannah Arendt's support for the "right to have rights" arises as a critical response to the modern biopolitical human condition. While Arendt?s reflections on human rights have received broad recognition, the question concerning the economic preconditions of citizenship in her work remains an unduly neglected subject. This article takes up this issue and argues that, for Arendt, the fulfillment of basic social rights is the sine qua non without which the fulfillment of political rights is impossible. Thinking with and against Arendt, I show that her famous distinction between the private, the social, and the political can be fruitfully reinterpreted as an argument for basic income. When Arendt's reflections on human rights are read in the light of her ideas concerning technology and automation, she no longer appears as a theorist who ignores social justice, but as a thinker who seeks to counter the modern biopolitical human condition and open up new realms for democratic political action. Instead of ignoring social questions, Arendt argues that with the help of technology, we can strive to politicize fundamental social questions in a way that they would achieve a self-evident stature as human rights, and as fundamental human rights, rise above political debate, even though we would remain conscious of their political origins. Arendt does not simply exclude ?the social questions? from politics but argues that this is what all technologically developed societies can strive to do. In Arendt's futuristic vision, the private life of citizens will be politicized through technological intervention: ancient slaves will be replaced by machines. By comparing Arendt with Foucault and Agamben, I maintain that a critical reading of her work can provide us with a pathway toward understanding the right to life's basic necessities, to zoe, as a future human right.


Arendt, Basic Income, Biopolitics, Foucault, Agamben, Technology, Rights, Human Rights


On Foucault, On Arendt

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