On The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt 2

Index to this series

CHAPTER II The Public and the Private Realm [1]


There are four more sections in the chapter, and these constitute the next reading: 7 the public realm: the common; 8 the private realm: property; 9 the social and the private; 10 the location of human activities.

Graffiti: “Now or never” and “Oku” (that is, “Read”) on a wall by a street with a parked car; skyscrapers in the distance

Beşiktaş, February 15, 2022
Oku = “Read” (second-person singular imperative)

History and law

A significant passage in this reading lies on page 42 (¶ 6.9):

… the significance of a historical period shows itself only in the few events that illuminate it. The application of the law of large num­bers and long periods to politics or history signifies nothing less than the wilful obliteration of their very subject matter.

My post “Law and History” took up something like this argument. See also there the comment by Stephen Greenleaf, including,

Many actions seen together, aggregated over large groups, display behaviors that are not the result of a conscious decision.

Arendt too distinguishes acting from behaving, writing for example on pages 41–2 (¶ 6.8),

It is the same conformism, the assumption that men behave and do not act with respect to each other, that lies at the root of the modern science of economics.

Children are told to behave, but not to act (unless their parents hope to raise a Hollywood star).

A difficulty of reading Arendt is like the (alleged!) difficulty of many of my blog posts: the writer has a lot to say, and it is related to what other writers have said, but the reader has trouble knowing how, or even whether, any particular point fits into a grander scheme.


My question for discussion is: What is courage? The index of of the book gives two loci for courage, only one of them being in the current reading, on page 36 (¶ 5.13):

Whoever entered the political realm had first to be ready to risk his life, and too great a love for life obstructed free­dom, was a sure sign of slavishness. Courage therefore became the political virtue par excellence.

For example, since slaves were warriors who did not fight to the death, they cannot be citizens.

Arendt already says on page 35 (¶ 5.12),

medieval political thought … remained unaware of the gulf between the sheltered life in the household and the merciless exposure of the polis and, consequently, of the virtue of courage as one of the most elemental political attitudes … the only postclassical political theorist who … perceived the gulf and understood something of the courage needed to cross it was Machiavelli.

Living in Turkey, I observe that some men go out in the morning, leaving their merciless wives in order to seek the shelter of male companionship at the kahvehane; and I imagine they have been doing this since ancient times (though I don’t know what they would have refreshed themselves with at the agora). Arendt must not simply be idealizing this into a courageous act.

In the next section, on page 44 (¶ 6.12), Arendt writes of Marx that he

was only more courageous than his liberal teach­ers when he proposed to establish in reality the “communistic fic­tion” underlying all economic theories.

I ask then for example whether Rousseau needed courage, in order to rebel “against society’s unbearable perversion of the human heart, its intrusion upon an innermost region in man” (p. 39, ¶ 6.3).

My summary by paragraphs follows; after that, Arendt’s text, with my highlighting and comments or annotations, some quite extensive, especially near the beginning (but also after ¶ 6.4, on equality).


  • 4 man: a social or a political animal
    • ¶ 4.1 As humans we are interdependent.
    • ¶ 4.2 Like animals we labor, and like gods we work, but we also, uniquely, act.
    • ¶ 4.3 Being zōon politikon is more specific than being animal socialis.
    • ¶ 4.4 Politics is in opposition to the family.
    • ¶ 4.5 Action and speech go together; the latter is not the expression of thought.
    • ¶ 4.6 Force is used (1) outside the polis, (2) at home, (3) in barbarian empires.
    • ¶ 4.7 Being zōon logon ekhon does not mean being animal rationale.
    • ¶ 4.8 The tyrant is less perfect in power than the paterfamilias.
  • 5 the Polis and the household
    • ¶ 5.1 Confusion between political and social is more pronounced today, when the latter corresponds to the nation-state.
    • ¶ 5.2 We see the community as a family, to be studied, not by political science, but by economics; however, “political economy” is a contradiction. Under feudalism, the king as such was not, as it were, the head of a family.
    • ¶ 5.3 The polis respected private property, not because it was private, but because its members could be members only by having it.
    • ¶ 5.4 A household was constituted out of necessity.
    • ¶ 5.5 Mastering that necessity was the condition of the freedom of the polis; the polis was not there to give you that freedom.
    • ¶ 5.6 It was through violence that you liberated yourself to achieve happiness (eudaimonia) in health and wealth.
    • ¶ 5.7 The liberation is not from a “state of nature,” but from a world of ruling or being ruled.
    • ¶ 5.8 Equality is achieved by this liberation, and not by justice.
    • ¶ 5.9 The distinction between public and private was clear; not so between social and political today, when the latter is a function of the former.
    • ¶ 5.10 In the Middle Ages, the Church replaced the polis, and the whole secular realm replaced the family.
    • ¶ 5.11 The latter point is seen in words like “company.” The feudal lord delivered justice; the head of household had not. The medieval “common good” was neither political nor social.
    • ¶ 5.12 After classical times, only Machiavelli recognized the courage needed to pass from private to public life.
    • ¶ 5.13 This courage was the courage not to care about survival.
    • ¶ 5.14 The polis as such excluded all manufacture and trade. Plato and Aristotle did blur the distinction between household and polis.
    • ¶ 5.15 Socrates analogized polis and household to show that there was a yet freer life.
  • 6 the rise of the social
    • ¶ 6.1 Society has changed privacy from idiocy to intimacy.
    • ¶ 6.2 The private is now opposed, not to the political, but to the social.
    • ¶ 6.3 Rousseau discovered intimacy by rebelling against not the state, but society. The close relation between the intimate and the social is seen in the rise of poetry, music, and novels, as opposed to public arts like architecture.
    • ¶ 6.4 The rebellion of Rousseau and the Romanticists was against society’s conformism, which predated equality. Society takes the place of the family in making all equal before a despotic power.
    • ¶ 6.5 Bureaucracy, the most social form of government, shows how rule by nobody can be the most cruel and tyrannical form of rule. (That’s what she says!)
    • ¶ 6.6 Society replaces action with behavior. Behavior is dictated by rank, and ranks are dissolved anyway in mass society.
    • ¶ 6.7 Modern, conformist equality is totally different from ancient equality, which allowed individuality and competition to be the best.
    • ¶ 6.8 Through use of statistics, economics assumes that we behave rather than act. Strictly, it cannot even allow us to act in self-interest, but must hypothesize an “invisible hand.” Marx replaced individual with class interests, and the number of classes to two.
    • ¶ 6.9 The law of large numbers is antithetical to history and politics.
    • ¶ 6.10 Nonetheless, the law is valid, and therefore large populations tend to be social rather than political.
    • ¶ 6.11 Society makes the law into an ideal.
    • ¶ 6.12 Through the “invisible hand,” liberal economists introduced the “communistic fiction,” according to the thesis of Gunnar Myrdal. Marx only proposed to make the fiction a reality. He could not have understood that “the germs of communistic society were present in the reality of a national household,” and their full development was hindered not by class-interests, but by remnants of monarchism.
    • ¶ 6.13 The complete victory of society means realization of a “communistic fiction” through rule by nobody, or rather by pure administration; it is not a “realm of freedom.”
    • ¶ 6.14 How far the victory has proceeded can be seen in “the all-comprehensive pretension of the social sciences.”
    • ¶ 6.15 Society makes the life process public. Because we as the human species are in fact one, mass society can extinguish us.
    • ¶ 6.16 That society has made the life process public is seen in how we identify ourselves through our livelihoods.
    • ¶ 6.17 Making our labor public has caused it to progress.
    • ¶ 6.18 The “emancipation of labor” (which preceded the emancipation of the working class) has broken the natural cycle of growth and decay. Both the private or intimate and the political are unable to defend themselves.
    • ¶ 6.19 The “greatest single factor” in the growth in the productivity of labor is the division of labor, which preceded the Industrial Revolution and which has let us achieve such excellence that we have forgotten that labor is painful.
    • ¶ 6.20 Excellence requires others: not inferiors or even equals, but peers. This is why we can no longer excell in speech or action. The problem is not psychological.

4 man: a social or a political animal

The title of this chapter foreshadows an important distinction.

¶ 4.1

The vita activa, human life in so far as it is actively engaged in doing something, is always rooted in a world of men and of man­made things which it never leaves or altogether transcends. Things and men form the environment for each of man’s activities, which would be pointless without such location; yet this environment, the world into which we are born, would not exist without the human activity

  • which produced it, as in the case of fabricated things;
  • which takes care of it, as in the case of cultivated land; or
  • which established it through organization, as in the case of the body politic.

No human life, not even the life of the hermit in nature’s wilderness, is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testifies to the presence of other human beings.

As Arendt said on page 7 (¶ 3.4), plurality is the conditio sine qua non of political life. This seems tautologous. Arendt could be saying one of two things:

  • Humans are a gregarious species, individuals being unable to survive in isolation. When we do live alone, like Robinson Crusoe, or in a solitary family, like the family of Old Believers found in Siberia that I mentioned in the context of Book II of the Republic, we rely on implements that have come with us from civilization, and especially on the education that we received there.

  • “I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den,” wrote Noah Lewis and sang Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead in “Minglewood Blues”; but an infant of the species Homo sapiens raised by wolves or others would not really be human.

The ensuing paragraph suggests the latter.

Does Arendt mean to disagree with Socrates’s argument that we form cities when we find ourselves unable to live alone, because (as she would say) as humans we could never have tried in the first place? Socrates’s argument seems to be made by biologists: “Sociality is a survival response to evolutionary pressures,” says Wikipedia (accessed February 16, 2022) with an authoritative-looking citation.

¶ 4.2

All human activities are conditioned by the fact that men live together, but it is only action that cannot even be imagined out­side the society of men.

  • The activity of labor does not need the presence of others, though a being laboring in complete solitude would not be human but an animal laborans in the word’s most literal significance.
  • Man working and fabricating and building a world inhabited only by himself would still be a fabricator, though not homo faber: he would have lost his specifically human quality and, rather, be a god—not, to be sure, the Creator, but a divine demiurge as Plato described him in one of his myths.

Action alone is the exclusive prerogative of man; neither a beast nor a god [22] is capable of it,1 and only action is entirely dependent upon the constant presence of others.

  1. It seems quite striking that the Homeric gods act only with respect to men, ruling them from afar or interfering in their affairs. Conflicts and strife be­tween the gods also seem to arise chiefly from their part in human affairs or their conflicting partiality with respect to mortals. What then appears is a story in which men and gods act together, but the scene is set by the mortals, even when the decision is arrived at in the assembly of gods on Olympus. I think such a “co-operation” is indicated in the Homeric erg’ andrōn te theōn te (Odyssey i. 338): the bard sings the deeds of gods and men, not stories of the gods and stories of men. Similarly, Hesiod’s Theogony deals not with the deeds of gods but with the genesis of the world (116); it therefore tells how things came into being through begetting and giving birth (constantly recurring). The singer, servant of the Muses, sings “the glorious deeds of men of old and the blessed gods” (97 ff.), but nowhere, as far as I can see, the glorious deeds of the gods.

The main point is twofold.

  1. We are
    • like animals in doing labor, and
    • like gods in doing work,

    but there is something else that we do, which Arendt calls “action.”

  2. Only we do perform actions.

As for the note, the gods compose one family, and there is no action (because no true politics) within families. Perhaps Arendt means to make her point that way, because I do not know how else she would account for Odyssey 8.266–366, where Hephaestus

  • does the work of making a net to catch his wife Aphrodite with her lover Ares,
  • performs the action of negotiating with Poseidon over the return of the bride-price.

As for Hesiod, Arendt is literally correct that he describes the poet as singing of

  • the glorious deeds of men of old,
  • the blessed gods.

In the Greek, “deeds” and “gods” are in the accusative case, while only “men” is in the genitive. English is ambiguous, as here in the new (2006) Loeb translation by Glenn W. Most of Theogony lines 98–103:

Even if someone who has unhappiness in his newly anguished spirit is parched in his heart with grieving, yet when a poet, servant of the Muses, sings of the glorious deeds of people of old and the blessed gods who possess Olympus, he forgets his sorrows at once and does not remember his anguish at all; for quickly the gifts of the goddesses have turned it aside.

In the Greek, the object of the singing is clearly the compound of deeds—those that mortals do—and gods:

εἰ γάρ τις καὶ πένθος ἔχων νεοκηδέι θυμῷ
ἄζηται κραδίην ἀκαχήμενος, αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὸς
Μουσάων θεράπων κλέεα προτέρων ἀνθρώπων
ὑμνήσῃ μάκαράς τε θεούς,
οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν,
αἶψ᾽ ὅ γε δυσφροσυνέων ἐπιλήθεται οὐδέ τι κηδέων
μέμνηται: ταχέως δὲ παρέτραπε δῶρα θεάων.

In lines 116–22, Hesiod starts out telling us—or the Muses tell us through Hesiod—about how things came to be; but then the story would seem to allude to deeds of both gods and humans (anthropoi), even if only to say that Eros interferes with them:

In truth, first of all Chasm [Χάος] came to be, and then broad-breasted Earth, the ever immovable seat of all the immortals who possess snowy Olympus’ peak and murky Tartarus in the depths of the broad-pathed earth, and Eros, who is the most beautiful among the immortal gods, the limb-melter—he overpowers the mind and the thoughtful counsel of all the gods and of all human beings in their breasts.

ἦ τοι μὲν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ᾽, αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
Γαῖ᾽ εὐρύστερνος, πάντων ἕδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ
ἀθανάτων, οἳ ἔχουσι κάρη νιφόεντος Ὀλύμπου,
Τάρταρά τ᾽ ἠερόεντα μυχῷ χθονὸς εὐρυοδείης,
ἠδ᾽ Ἔρος, ὃς κάλλιστος ἐν ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι,
λυσιμελής, πάντων δὲ θεῶν πάντων τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
δάμναται ἐν στήθεσσι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα βουλήν.

Meanwhile, pace Arendt, lines 104–15 would seem to glorify the deeds of the Gods:

Hail, children of Zeus, and give me lovely song; glorify the sacred race of the immortals who always are, those who were born from Earth and starry Sky, and from dark Night, and those whom salty Pontus (Sea) nourished. Tell how in the first place gods and earth were born, and rivers and the boundless sea seething with its swell, and the shining stars and the broad sky above, and those who were born from them, the gods givers of good things; and how they divided their wealth and distributed their honors, and also how they first took possession of many-folded Olympus. These things tell me from the beginning, Muses who have your mansions on Olympus, and tell which one of them was born first.

χαίρετε, τέκνα Διός, δότε δ᾽ ἱμερόεσσαν ἀοιδήν.
κλείετε δ᾽ ἀθανάτων ἱερὸν γένος αἰὲν ἐόντων,
οἳ Γῆς τ᾽ ἐξεγένοντο καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
Νυκτός τε δνοφερῆς, οὕς θ᾽ ἁλμυρὸς ἔτρεφε Πόντος.
εἴπατε δ᾽, ὡς τὰ πρῶτα θεοὶ καὶ γαῖα γένοντο
καὶ ποταμοὶ καὶ πόντος ἀπείριτος, οἴδματι θυίων,
ἄστρα τε λαμπετόωντα καὶ οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθεν
οἵ τ᾽ ἐκ τῶν ἐγένοντο θεοί, δωτῆρες ἐάων
ὥς τ᾽ ἄφενος δάσσαντο καὶ ὡς τιμὰς διέλοντο
ἠδὲ καὶ ὡς τὰ πρῶτα πολύπτυχον ἔσχον Ὄλυμπον.

ταῦτά μοι ἔσπετε Μοῦσαι, Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσαι
ἐξ ἀρχῆς, καὶ εἴπαθ᾽, ὅ τι πρῶτον γένετ᾽ αὐτῶν.

¶ 4.3

This special relationship between action and being together seems fully to justify the early translation of Aristotle’s zōon politi­kon by animal socialis, already found in Seneca, which then became the standard translation through Thomas Aquinas: homo est natu­raliter politicus, id est, socialis (“man is by nature political, that is, social”).2 More than any elaborate theory, this unconscious sub­stitution of the social for the political betrays the extent to which the original Greek understanding of politics had been lost. For this, it is significant but not decisive that the word “social” is Roman in origin and has no equivalent in Greek language or thought. Yet the Latin usage of the word societas also originally had a clear, though limited, political meaning; it indicated an alliance between people for a specific purpose, as when men organize in order to rule others or to commit a crime.3 It is only with the later [23] concept of a societas generis humani, a “society of man-kind,”4 that the term “social” begins to acquire the general meaning of a fundamental human condition. It is not that Plato or Aristotle was ignorant of, or unconcerned with, the fact that man cannot live outside the company of men, but they did not count this condition among the specifically human characteristics; on the contrary, it was something human life had in common with animal life, and for this reason alone it could not be fundamentally human. The natural, merely social companionship of the human species was considered to be a limitation imposed upon us by the needs of bio­logical life, which are the same for the human animal as for other forms of animal life.

  1. The quotation is from the Index Rerum to the Taurinian edition of Aquinas (1922). The word “politicus” does not occur in the text, but the Index summa­rizes Thomas’ meaning correctly, as can be seen from Summa theologica i. 96. 4; ii. 2, 109. 3.

  2. Societas regni in Livius, societas sceleris in Cornelius Nepos. Such an alliance could also be concluded for business purposes, and Aquinas still holds that a “true societas” between businessmen exists only “where the investor himself shares in the risk,” that is, where the partnership is truly an alliance (see W. J. Ashley, An Introduction to English Economie History and Theory [1931], p. 419). [23]

  3. I use here and in the following the word “man-kind” to designate the hu­man species, as distinguished from “mankind,” which indicates the sum total of human beings.

Collingwood studies the Roman concept of society in The New Leviathan. Like Arendt he distinguishes

  • ancient, medieval, and modern times;
  • the ancient Greeks from the Romans.

As Arendt does, he gives the original sense of a society: it is entered into

  • by heads of families,
  • for action.

The following is from Chapter XIX, “Two Senses of the Word ‘Society’”:

19. 5. The word ‘society’ in modern European languages is borrowed from the vocabulary of Roman law.

19. 51. Societas is a relation between personae (that is, human beings capable of sueing and being sued, who must be free men and not slaves, Roman citizens and not foreigners, male and adult, not in the manus or patria potestas of another but heads of families) whereby they join together of their own free will in joint action.

19. 57. Thus, the Roman idea of a persona excluded the possibility that a contract could be formed by anyone not male, not adult, not a Roman citizen. These were safeguards, so to speak, of the idea that no one could legally be a party to a contract unless he was capable of making up his mind for himself and explaining it, if need be, in court. The idea which the Roman formula tried to safeguard was the idea that a contract must be a joint activity of free agents; their free participation in a joint enterprise.

This is from Chapter XVIII, “Theoretical Reason,” if only to show the historical scope of the work:

18. 1. In all forms of rational thinking a distinction is made between the self and the not-self. Such thinking is primarily practical; its first function is to ask and answer the question: ‘Why am I doing this?’ It has, however, a second­ary function, to ask and answer questions about what is not myself.

18. 3. To a man whose attempt to explain his own actions has got as far as the principle of utility and no farther, it is self-evident that rationality and utility are the same. To un­derstand a thing is to think of it in terms of ends and means. In the question: ‘Why does this thing do what we find it doing?’ the word ‘Why?’ always means ‘to what end?’

18. 31. This habit of thought existed among the ancient Greeks, and is freely documented by their literature. They thought of their own practical life in utilitarian terms; they consequently thought of their relations with the world about them in utilitarian terms; and therefore they thought of that world itself in utilitarian terms. Nature, they thought, had her ends; and devised means to those ends. That is the first axiom of Greek science.

18. 32. It was still the first axiom of science in the Middle Ages, whose forgetfulness of Greek ideas has been grossly exaggerated, and the Renaissance. It was hardly questioned until the sixteenth century, and its abandonment was still a debated question in the eighteenth.

18. 4. European man had long ago become rule-con­scious. The process of becoming so had extended over several thousands of years. The beginning of such a process can never be dated; the historian can first detect it at work when it has been going on for a long time. The early civiliza­tions of the Near East display a regularian consciousness which is their chief legacy to their Mediterranean successors.

18. 41. The Greeks sat light to this ancient tradition; the Romans re-established connexion with it; that is why the social and political experiments of the Greeks perished for lack of root, while the Romans created a legal fabric that is still alive.

18. 42. The regularian tradition of the ancient East sur­vived into modern Europe chiefly through the work of Roman law and Jewish religion. To the man of the Middle Ages, trained in a Christian school where those two lessons had been thoroughly assimilated, it was a commonplace that right took precedence of utility; the business of man was not to achieve ends but to obey laws.

18. 43. It is idle to ask: ‘Whose ends? Whose laws?’ An end that I achieve is my end, and a law that I obey is my law; none the less mine for being someone else’s too, as indeed they must be if I live in a society. In this regularian con­sciousness, which had become what I call a commonplace in the Middle Ages, the Law of Primitive Survivals (9. 5) was at work, and an element of utility was alive; an act which was essentially recommended on regularian grounds, as con­forming with law, was also recommended on utilitarian grounds, by reference to divine or human rewards and punishments; but everybody knew that utilitarian motives were subsidiary to the regularian motive, respect for law as such.

18. 44. Modern science arose when men began to think of the world around them as they had already grown accus­tomed to thinking of themselves: in terms of law and obedi­ence to law. Modern science is a structure of thought whose armature is the idea of a ‘Law of Nature’.

For the idiom “to sit light to” in 18. 41, see A. N. Wilson, “Rock of Ages, Cleft by the Pope” (New York Times, October 25, 2009):

Hatched by Henry VIII and nurtured by his daughter Elizabeth I, the Church of England was an expression of that combination of tolerance and arrogance that marked the English governing class. It sat light to doctrine, and tried to accommodate many. But while that seemed a gentle thing to do, it did so because it actually laid claim to governing and controlling all.

¶ 4.4

According to Greek thought, the human capacity for political organization is not only different from but stands in direct oppo­sition to that natural association whose center is the home (oikia) and the family. The rise of the city-state meant that man received “besides his private life a sort of second life, his bios politikos. Now every citizen belongs to two orders of existence; and there is a sharp distinction in his life between what is his own (idion) and what is communal (koinon).”5 It was not just an opinion or theory of Aristotle but a simple historical fact that the foundation of the polis was preceded by the destruction of all organized units resting on kinship, such as the phratria and the phylē.6 Of all the activities [24] necessary and present in human communities, only two were deemed to be political and to constitute what Aristotle called the bios politikos, namely

  • action (praxis) and
  • speech (lexis),

out of which rises the realm of human affairs (ta tōn anthrōpōn pragmata, as Plato used to call it) from which everything merely necessary or useful is strictly excluded.

  1. Werner Jaeger, Paideia (1945), III, 111.

  2. Although Fustel de Coulanges’ chief thesis, according to the Introduction to The Ancient City (Anchor ed.; 1956), consists of demonstrating that “the same religion” formed the ancient family organization and the ancient city-state, he brings numerous references to the fact that the regime of the gens based on the religion of the family and the regime of the city “were in reality two antag­onistic forms of government. … Either the city could not last, or it must in the course of time break up the family” (p. 252). The reason for the contra­diction in this great book seems to me to be in Coulanges’ attempt to treat Rome and the Greek city-states together; for his evidence and categories he relies chiefly on Roman institutional and political sentiment, although he recog­nizes that the Vesta cult “became weakened in Greece at a very early date … but it never became enfeebled at Rome” (p. 146). Not only was the gulf between household and city much deeper in Greece than in Rome, but only in Greece [24] was the Olympian religion, the religion of Homer and the city-state, separate from and superior to the older religion of family and household. While Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, became the protectress of a “city hearth” and part of the official, political cult after the unification and second foundation of Rome, her Greek colleague, Hestia, is mentioned for the first time by Hesiod, the only Greek poet who, in conscious opposition to Homer, praises the life of the hearth and the household; in the official religion of the polis, she had to cede her place in the assembly of the twelve Olympian gods to Dionysos (see Mommsen, Römische Geschichte [5th ed.], Book I, ch. 12, and Robert Graves, The Greek Myths [1955], 27. k).

The distinction between Greek and Barbarian is commonly said to be of language alone; was there really no notion that Greeks had a common blood? Atatürk tried to make Turkishness something that anybody could affirm for themselves by saying “Türküm.” As the saying goes, Ne mutlu Türküm diyene, “What happiness to the one who says, ‘I am a Turk’”—not to the one who simply is a Turk; but some Turkish people persist in thinking what they share is blood.

¶ 4.5

However, while certainly only the foundation of the city-state enabled men to spend their whole lives in the political realm, in action and speech, the conviction that these two human capacities belonged together and are the highest of all seems to have preceded the polis and was already present in pre-Socratic thought. The stature of the Homeric Achilles can be understood only if one sees him as “the doer of great deeds and the speaker of great words.”7 In distinction from modern understanding, such words were not considered to be great because they expressed great thoughts; on the contrary, as we know from the last lines of Antigone, it may be the capacity for “great words” (megaloi logoi) with which to reply to striking blows that will eventually teach thought in old age.8 Thought was secondary to speech, but [25] speech and action were considered to be coeval and coequal, of the same rank and the same kind; and this originally meant not only that most political action, in so far as it remains outside the sphere of violence, is indeed transacted in words, but more fundamentally that finding the right words at the right moment, quite apart from the information or communication they may convey, is action. Only sheer violence is mute, and for this reason violence alone can never be great. Even when, relatively late in antiquity, the arts of war and speech (rhetoric) emerged as the two principal political subjects of education, the development was still inspired by this older pre-polis experience and tradition and remained sub­ject to it.

Arendt may corroborate the idea of Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind that the speeches of gods to humans in the Iliad were what we would now consider to be those humans’ thoughts.

  1. The passage occurs in Phoenix’ speech, Iiad ix. 443. It clearly refers to education for war and agora, the public meeting, in which men can distinguish themselves. The literal translation is: “[your father] charged me to teach you all this, to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds” (mythōn te rhētēr’ emenai prēktēra te ergōn).

  2. The literal translation of the last lines of Antigone (1350–54) is as fol­lows: “But great words, counteracting [or paying back] the great blows of the overproud, teach understanding in old age.” The content of these lines is so puzzling to modern understanding that one rarely finds a translator who dares to give the bare sense. An exception is Hölderlin’s translation: “Grosse Blicke aber, / Grosse Streiche der hohen Schultern / Vergeltend, / Sie haben im Alter [25] gelehrt, zu denken.” An anecdote, reported by Plutarch, may illustrate the con­nection between acting and speaking on a much lower level. A man once ap­proached Demosthenes and related how terribly he had been beaten. “But you,” said Demosthenes, “suffered nothing of what you tell me.” Whereupon the other raised his voice and cried out: “I suffered nothing?” “Now,” said Demosthenes, “I hear the voice of somebody who was injured and who suffered” (Lives, “Demosthenes”). A last remnant of this ancient connection of speech and thought, from which our notion of expressing thought through words is absent, may be found in the current Ciceronian phrase of ratio et oratio.

Sophocles, Antigone, the closing speech, by the chorus (lines 1348–53):

πολλῷ τὸ φρονεῖν εὐδαιμονίας
πρῶτον ὑπάρχει. χρὴ δὲ τά γ᾽ εἰς θεοὺς
μηδὲν ἀσεπτεῖν. μεγάλοι δὲ λόγοι
μεγάλας πληγὰς τῶν ὑπεραύχων
γήρᾳ τὸ φρονεῖν ἐδίδαξαν.

In the translation of Jebb:

Wisdom is provided as the chief part of happiness, and our dealings with the gods must be in no way unholy. The great words of arrogant men have to make repayment with great blows, and in old age teach wisdom.

In the translation of Elizabeth Wyckoff:

Our happiness depends
on wisdom all the way.
The gods must have their due.
Great words by men of pride
bring greater blows upon them.
So wisdom comes to the old.

¶ 4.6

In the experience of the polis, which not without justification has been called the most talkative of all bodies politic, and even more in the political philosophy which sprang from it, action and speech separated and became more and more independent activi­ties. The emphasis shifted from action to speech, and to speech as a means of persuasion rather than the specifically human way of answering, talking back and measuring up to whatever happened or was done.9 To be political, to live in a polis, meant that every­thing was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence. In Greek self-understanding,

  • to force people [26] by violence,
  • to command rather than persuade,

were prepolitical ways to deal with people characteristic

  • of life outside the polis,
  • of home and family life, where the household head ruled with uncon­tested, despotic powers, or
  • of life in the barbarian empires of Asia, whose despotism was frequently likened to the organization of the household.

Indeed, what autocrat does not arrogate to himself the role of father of the nation?

  1. It is characteristic for this development that every politician was called a “rhetor” and that rhetoric, the art of public speaking, as distinguished from di­alectic, the art of philosophic speech, is defined by Aristotle as the art of per­suasion (see Rhetoric 1354a12 ff., 1355b26 ff.). (The distinction itself is derived from Plato, Gorgias 448.) It is in this sense that we must understand the Greek opinion of the decline of Thebes, which was ascribed to Theban neglect of rhetoric in favor of military exercise (see Jacob Burckhardt, Griechische Kultur­geschichte, ed. Kroener, III, 190). [26]

¶ 4.7

Aristotle’s definition of man as zōon politikon

  • was not only un­related and even opposed to the natural association experienced in household life; it
  • can be fully understood only if one adds his second famous definition of man as a zōon logon ekhon (“a living being capable of speech”).

The Latin translation of this term into animal rationale rests on no less fundamental a misunderstanding than the term “social animal.” Aristotle meant neither to define man in general nor to indicate man’s highest capacity, which to him was not logos, that is, not speech or reason, but nous, the capacity of contemplation, whose chief characteristic is that its content cannot be rendered in speech.10 In his two most famous definitions, Aristotle only formulated the current opinion of the polis about man and the political way of life, and according to this opinion, everybody outside the polis—slaves and barbarians—was aneu logou, deprived, of course, not of the faculty of speech, but of a way of life in which speech and only speech made sense and where the central concern of all citizens was to talk with each other.

  1. Nicomachean Ethics 1142a25 and 1178a6 ff.

¶ 4.8

The profound misunderstanding expressed in the Latin transla­tion of “political” as “social” is perhaps nowhere clearer than in a discussion in which Thomas Aquinas compares the nature of household rule with political rule: the head of the household, he finds, has some similarity to the head of the kingdom, but, he adds, his power is not so “perfect” as that of the king.11 Not only in Greece and the polis but throughout the whole of occidental an­tiquity, it would indeed have been self-evident that even the power of the tyrant was less great, less “perfect” than the power with which the paterfamilias, the dominus, ruled over his household of slaves and family. And this was not because the power of the city’s [27] ruler was matched and checked by the combined powers of house­hold heads, but because absolute, uncontested rule and a political realm properly speaking were mutually exclusive.12

The Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic imagined that a tyrant could have perfect power!

  1. Aquinas op. cit. ii, 2. 50. 3. [27]

  2. The terms dominus and paterfamilias therefore were synonymous, like the terms servus and familiaris: Dominum patrem familiae appellaverunt; servos … familiares (Seneca Epistolae 47. 12). The old Roman liberty of the citizen dis­appeared when the Roman emperors adopted the title dominus, “ce nom, qu’Au­guste et que Tibère encore, repoussaient comme une malédiction et une injure” (H. Wallon, Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité [1847], III, 21). [28]

5 the Polis and the household

¶ 5.1

Although misunderstanding and equating the political and social realms is as old as the translation of Greek terms into Latin and their adaption to Roman-Christian thought, it has become even more confusing in modern usage and modern understanding of society. The distinction between a private and a public sphere of life corresponds to the household and the political realms, which have existed as distinct, separate entities at least since the rise of the ancient city-state; but the emergence of the social realm, which is neither private nor public, strictly speaking, is a rela­tively new phenomenon whose origin coincided with the emer­gence of the modern age and which found its political form in the nation-state.

¶ 5.2

What concerns us in this context is the extraordinary difficulty with which we, because of this development, understand the deci­sive division

  • between the public and private realms,
  • between the sphere of the polis and the sphere of household and family, and, finally,
  • between activities related to a common world and those related to the maintenance of life,

a division upon which all ancient political thought rested as self-evident and axiomatic. In our understanding, the dividing line is entirely blurred, because we see the body of peoples and political communities in the image of a family whose everyday affairs have to be taken care of by a gigantic, nation-wide administration of housekeeping. The scien­tific thought that corresponds to this development is no longer political science but “national economy” or “social economy” or Volkswirtschaft, all of which indicate a kind of “collective house- [28] keeping”;13 the collective of families economically organized into the facsimile of one super-human family is what we call “society,” and its political form of organization is called “nation.”14 We therefore find it difficult to realize that according to ancient thought on these matters, the very term “political economy” would have been a contradiction in terms: whatever was “eco­nomic,” related to the life of the individual and the survival of the species, was a non-political, household affair by definition.15

  1. According to Gunnar Myrdal (The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory [1953], p. xl), the “idea of Social Economy or collective house­keeping (Volkswirtschaft)” is one of the “three main foci” around which “the political speculation which has permeated economics from the very beginning is found to be crystallized.”

  2. This is not to deny that the nation-state and its society grew out of the medieval kingdom and feudalism, in whose framework the family and household unit have an importance unequalled in classical antiquity. The difference, how­ever, is marked. Within the feudal framework, families and households were mu­tually almost independent, so that the royal household, representing a given terri­torial region and ruling the feudal lords as primus inter pares, did not pretend, like an absolute ruler, to be the head of one family. The medieval “nation” was a conglomeration of families; its members did not think of themselves as members of one family comprehending the whole nation.

  3. The distinction is very clear in the first paragraphs of the Ps. Aristotelian Economics, because it opposes the despotic one-man rule (mon-archia) of the household organization to the altogether different organization of the polis.

¶ 5.3

Historically, it is very likely that the rise of the city-state and the public realm occurred at the expense of the private realm of family and household.16 Yet the old sanctity of the hearth, though much less pronounced in classical Greece than in ancient Rome, was never entirely lost. What prevented the polis from violating the private lives of its citizens and made it hold sacred the bound­aries surrounding each property was not respect for private prop­erty as we understand it, but the fact that without owning a house [29] a man could not participate in the affairs of the world because he had no location in it which was properly his own.17 Even Plato, whose political plans foresaw the abolition of private property and an extension of the public sphere to the point of annihilating private life altogether, still speaks with great reverence of Zeus Herkeios, the protector of border lines, and calls the horoi, the boundaries between one estate and another, divine, without seeing any contradiction.18

  1. In Athens, one may see the turning point in Solon’s legislation. Cou­langes rightly sees in the Athenian law that made it a filial duty to support par­ents the proof of the loss of paternal power (op. cit., pp. 315-16). However, pater­nal power was limited only if it conflicted with the interest of the city and never for the sake of the individual family member. Thus the sale of children and the exposure of infants lasted throughout antiquity (see R. H. Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire [1928], p. 8: “Other rights in the patria potestas had become obsolete; but the right of exposure remained unforbidden till a.d. 374”). [29]

  2. It is interesting for this distinction that there were Greek cities where

    • citizens were obliged by law to share their harvest and consume it in common, whereas
    • each of them had the absolute uncontested property of his soil.

    See Cou­langes (op. cit., p. 61), who calls this law “a singular contradiction”; it is no con­tradiction, because these two types of property had nothing in common in ancient understanding.

  3. See Laws 842.

The Ion would seem to be a case of making private matters public.

¶ 5.4

The distinctive trait of the household sphere was that in it men lived together because they were driven by their wants and needs. The driving force was life itself—the penates, the household gods, were, according to Plutarch, “the gods who make us live and nourish our body”19—which, for its individual maintenance and its survival as the life of the species needs the company of others. That

  • individual maintenance should be the task of the man and
  • species survival the task of the woman

was obvious, and both of these natural functions,

  • the labor of man to provide nourishment and
  • the labor of the woman in giving birth,

were subject to the same urgency of life. Natural community in the household there­fore was born of necessity, and necessity ruled over all activities performed in it.

  1. Quoted from Coulanges, op. cit., p. 96; the reference to Plutarch is Quaes­tiones Romande 51. It seems strange that Coulanges’ one-sided emphasis on the underworld deities in Greek and Roman religion should have overlooked that these gods were not mere gods of the dead and the cult not merely a “death cult,” but that this early earth-bound religion served life and death as two aspects of the same process. Life rises out of the earth and returns to it; birth and death are but two different stages of the same biological life over which the subterranean gods hold sway. [30]

In ¶ 6.18, the growth of society will mean the replacement of the cycle of birth and death with constant growth.

¶ 5.5

The realm of the polis, on the contrary, was the sphere of free­dom, and if there was a relationship between these two spheres, it was a matter of course that the mastering of the necessities of life [30] in the household was the condition for freedom of the polis. Under no circumstances could politics be only a means to protect society—

  • a society of the faithful, as in the Middle Ages, or
  • a society of property-owners, as in Locke, or
  • a society relentlessly engaged in a process of acquisition, as in Hobbes, or
  • a society of producers, as in Marx, or
  • a society of jobholders, as in our own society, or
  • a society of laborers, as in socialist and communist countries.

In all these cases, it is the freedom (and in some instances so-called freedom) of society which requires and justifies the restraint of political authority. Freedom is located in the realm of the social, and force or violence becomes the monopoly of government.

¶ 5.6

What all Greek philosophers, no matter how opposed to polis life, took for granted is

  • that freedom is exclusively located in the political realm,
  • that necessity is primarily a prepolitical phenome­non, 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 prepolitical 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, eudaimonia, 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 man­made 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.20 [31]

  1. The discussion between Socrates and Eutherus in Xenophon’s Memora­bilia (ii. 8) is quite interesting: Eutherus is forced by necessity to labor with his body and is sure that his body will not be able to stand this kind of life for very long and also that in his old age he will be destitute. Still, he thinks that to labor is better than to beg, Whereupon Socrates proposes that he look for somebody “who is better off and needs an assistant.” Eutherus replies that he could not bear servitude (douleia). [31]

¶ 5.7

The prepolitical force, however, with which the head of the household ruled over the family and its slaves and which was felt to be necessary because man is a “social” before he is a “political animal,” has nothing in common with the chaotic “state of nature” from whose violence, according to seventeenth-century political thought, men could escape only by establishing a government that, through a monopoly of power and of violence, would abolish the “war of all against all” by “keeping them all in awe.”21 On the contrary, the whole concept of rule and being ruled, of govern­ment and power in the sense in which we understand them as well as the regulated order attending them, was felt to be prepolitical and to belong in the private rather than the public sphere.

  1. The reference is to Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, ch. 13.

¶ 5.8

The polis was distinguished from the household in that it knew only “equals,” whereas the household was the center of the strict­est inequality. To be free meant both

  • not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and
  • not to be in command oneself.

It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled. Thus within the realm of the household, freedom did not exist, for the household head, its ruler, was considered to be free only in so far as he had the power to leave the household and enter the political realm, where all were equals. To be sure, this equality of the political realm has very little in common with our concept of equality: it meant to live among and to have to deal only with one’s peers, and it presupposed the existence of “unequals” who, as a matter of fact, were always the majority of the population in a city-state.22 Equality, therefore, far from being connected with [32] justice, as in modern times, was the very essence of freedom: to be free meant to be free from the inequality present in rulership and to move in a sphere where neither rule nor being ruled existed.

Did Socrates then seek the best form of this freedom?

  1. The most famous and the most beautiful reference is the discussion of the different forms of government in Herodotus (iii. 80–83), where Otanes, the de­fender of Greek equality (isonomiē), states that he “wishes neither to rule nor to be ruled.” But it is the same spirit in which Aristotle states that the life of a free man is better than that of a despot, denying freedom to the despot as a matter of course (Politics 1325a24). According to Coulanges, all Greek and Latin words which express some rulership over others, such as rex, pater, anax, basileus, refer originally to household relationships and were names the slaves gave to their master (op. cit., pp. 89 ff., 228).

  2. The proportion varied and is certainly exaggerated in Xenophon’s report from Sparta, where among four thousand people in the market place, a foreigner counted no more than sixty citizens (Hellenica iii. 35). [32]

¶ 5.9

However, the possibility of describing the profound difference between the modern and the ancient understanding of politics in terms of a clear-cut opposition ends here. In the modern world, the social and the political realms are much less distinct. That politics is nothing but a function of society, that action, speech, and thought are primarily superstructures upon social interest, is not a discovery of Karl Marx but on the contrary is among the axiomatic assumptions Marx accepted uncritically from the politi­cal economists of the modern age. This functionalization makes it impossible to perceive any serious gulf between the two realms; and this is not a matter of a theory or an ideology, since with the rise of society, that is, the rise of the “household” (oikia) or of economic activities to the public realm, housekeeping and all mat­ters pertaining formerly to the private sphere of the family have become a “collective” concern.24 In the modern world, the two realms indeed constantly flow into each other like waves in the never-resting stream of the life process itself.

  1. See Myrdal, op. cit.: “The notion that society, like the head of a family, keeps house for its members, is deeply rooted in economic terminology. … In German Volkswirtschaftslehre suggests … that there is a collective subject of economic activity … with a common purpose and common values. In English, … ‘theory of wealth’ or ‘theory of welfare’ express similar ideas” (p.140). “What is meant by a social economy whose function is social housekeeping? In the first place, it implies or suggests an analogy between the individual who runs his own or his family household and society. Adam Smith and James Mill elaborated this analogy explicitly. After J. S. Mill’s criticism, and with the wider recognition of the distinction between practical and theoretical political economy, the analogy was generally less emphasized” (p. 143). The fact that the analogy was no longer used may also be due to a development in which society devoured the family unit until it became a full-fledged substitute for it. [33]

¶ 5.10

The disappearance of the gulf that the ancients had to cross daily to transcend the narrow realm of the household and “rise” into the realm of politics is an essentially modern phenomenon. Such a gulf between the private and the public still existed some­how in the Middle Ages, though it had lost much of its significance [33] and changed its location entirely. It has been rightly remarked that after the downfall of the Roman Empire, it was the Catholic Church that offered men a substitute for the citizenship which had formerly been the prerogative of municipal government.25 The medieval tension between the darkness of everyday life and the grandiose splendor attending everything sacred, with the con­comitant rise from the secular to the religious, corresponds in many respects to the rise from the private to the public in antiq­uity. The difference is of course very marked, for no matter how “worldly” the Church became, it was always essentially an other­worldly concern which kept the community of believers together. While one can equate the public with the religious only with some difficulty, the secular realm under the rule of feudalism was in­deed in its entirety what the private realm had been in antiquity. Its hallmark was the absorption of all activities into the household sphere, where they had only private significance, and conse­quently the very absence of a public realm.

  1. R. H. Barrow, The Romans (1953), p. 194.

  2. The characteristics which E. Levasseur (Histoire des classes ouvrières et le de l’industrie en France avant 1789 [1900]) finds for the feudal organization of labor are true for the whole of feudal communities: “Chacun vivait chez soi et vivait de soi-même, le noble sur sa seigneurie, le vilain sur sa culture, le citadin dans sa ville” (p. 229).

How does crossing the gulf between household and politics compare with leaving your wife to take care of the household chores while you out to drink tea with the other men?

¶ 5.11

It is characteristic of this growth of the private realm, and inci­dentally of the difference between the ancient household head and the feudal lord, that the feudal lord could render justice within the limits of his rule, whereas the ancient household head, while he might exert a milder or harsher rule, knew neither of laws nor justice outside the political realm.27 The bringing of all human [34] activities into the private realm and the modeling of all human relationships upon the example of the household reached far into the specifically medieval professional organizations in the cities themselves, the guilds, confrèries, and compagnons, and even into the early business companies, where “the original joint household would seem to be indicated by the very word ‘company’ (com­panis) … [and] such phrases as ‘men who eat one bread,’ ‘men who have one bread and one wine.’”28 The medieval concept of the “common good,” far from indicating the existence of a politi­cal realm, recognizes only that private individuals have interests in common, material and spiritual, and that they can retain their privacy and attend to their own business only if one of them takes it upon himself to look out for this common interest. What dis­tinguishes this essentially Christian attitude toward politics from the modern reality is not so much the recognition of a “common good” as the exclusivity of the private sphere and the absence of that curiously hybrid realm where private interests assume public significance that we call “society.”

  1. The fair treatment of slaves which Plato recommends in the Laws (777) has little to do with justice and is not recommended “out of regard for the [slaves], but more out of respect to ourselves.” For the coexistence of two laws,

    • the political law of justice and
    • the household law of rule,

    see Wallon, op. cit., II, 200: “La loi, pendant bien longtemps, donc … s’abstenait de pénétrer dans la famille, où elle reconnaissait l’empire d’une autre loi.” Ancient, especially Roman, jurisdiction with respect to household matters, treatment of slaves, family relationships, etc., was essentially designed to restrain the otherwise unrestricted power of the household head; that there could be a rule of jus­tice within the entirely “private” society of the slaves themselves was unthink- [34] able—they were by definition outside the realm of the law and subject to the rule of their master. Only the master himself, in so far as he was also a citizen, was subject to the rules of laws, which for the sake of the city eventually even curtailed his powers in the household.

  2. W. J. Ashley, op. cit., p. 415.

¶ 5.12

It is therefore not surprising that medieval political thought, concerned exclusively with the secular realm, remained unaware of the gulf between the sheltered life in the household and the merciless exposure of the polis and, consequently, of the virtue of courage as one of the most elemental political attitudes. What remains surprising is that the only postclassical political theorist who, in an extraordinary effort to restore its old dignity to poli­tics, perceived the gulf and understood something of the courage needed to cross it was Machiavelli, who described it in the rise “of the Condottiere from low condition to high rank,” from privacy to princedom, that is, from circumstances common to all men to the shining glory of great deeds.29 [35]

  1. This “rise” from one realm or rank to a higher is a recurrent theme in Machiavelli (see esp. Prince, ch. 6 about Hiero of Syracuse and ch. 7; and Dis­courses, Book II, ch. 13). [35]

¶ 5.13

To leave the household, originally in order to embark upon some adventure and glorious enterprise and later simply to devote one’s life to the affairs of the city, demanded courage because only in the household was one primarily concerned with one’s own life and survival. Whoever entered the political realm had first to be ready to risk his life, and too great a love for life

  • obstructed free­dom,
  • was a sure sign of slavishness.30

Courage therefore became the political virtue par excellence, and only those men who pos­sessed it could be admitted to a fellowship that was political in content and purpose and thereby transcended the mere together­ness imposed on all—slaves, barbarians, and Greeks alike—through the urgencies of life.31 The “good life,” as Aristotle called the life of the citizen, therefore was not merely better, more care­free or nobler than ordinary life, but of an altogether different [36] quality. It was “good” to the extent that

  • by having mastered the necessities of sheer life,
  • by being freed from labor and work, and
  • by overcoming the innate urge of all living creatures for their own survival,

it was no longer bound to the biological life process.

The courage needed for citizenship is not exactly the courage to face death, but the courage not to care whether one does this.

  1. “By Solon’s time slavery had come to be looked on as worse than death” (Robert Schlaifer, “Greek Theories of Slavery from Homer to Aristotle,” Har­vard Studies in Classical Philology [1936], XLVII). Since then, philopsychia (“love of life”) and cowardice became identified with slavishness. Thus, Plato could believe he had demonstrated the natural slavishness of slaves by the fact that they had not preferred death to enslavement (Republic 386A), A late echo of this might still be found in Seneca’s answer to the complaints of slaves: “Is freedom so close at hand, yet is there any one a slave?” (Ep. 77. 14) or in his vita si moriendi virtus abest, servitus est—“life is slavery without the virtue which knows how to die” (77. 13). To understand the ancient attitude toward slavery, it is not immaterial to remember that the majority of slaves were defeated ene­mies and that generally only a small percentage were born slaves, And while under the Roman Republic slaves were, on the whole, drawn from outside the limits of Roman rule, Greek slaves usually were of the same nationality as their masters; they had proved their slavish nature by not committing suicide, and since courage was the political virtue par excellence, they had thereby shown their “natural” unworthiness, their unfitness to be citizens. The attitude toward slaves changed in the Roman Empire, not only because of the influence of Stoi­cism but because a much greater portion of the slave population were slaves by birth. But even in Rome, labor is considered to be closely connected with un­glorious death by Vergil (Aeneis vi).

  2. That the free man distinguishes himself from the slave through courage seems to have been the theme of a poem by the Cretan poet Hybrias: “My riches are spear and sword and the beautiful shield. … But those who do not dare to bear spear and sword and the beautiful shield that protects the body fall all down unto their knees with awe and address me as Lord and great King” (quoted from Eduard Meyer, Die Sklaverei im Altertum [1898], p. 22). [36]

¶ 5.14

At the root of Greek political consciousness we find an un­equaled clarity and articulateness in drawing this distinction. No activity that served only the purpose

  • of making a living,
  • of sus­taining only the life process,

was permitted to enter the political realm, and this at the grave risk of abandoning trade and manufac­ture to the industriousness of slaves and foreigners, so that Athens indeed became the “pensionopolis” with a “proletariat of con­sumers” which Max Weber so vividly described.32 The true char­acter of this polis is still quite manifest in Plato’s and Aristotle’s political philosophies, even if the borderline between household and polis is occasionally blurred, especially in Plato who, proba­bly following Socrates, began to draw his examples and illustra­tions for the polis from everyday experiences in private life, but also in Aristotle when he, following Plato, tentatively assumed that at least the historical origin of the polis must be connected with the necessities of life and that only its content or inherent aim (telos) transcends life in the “good life.”

Compare the Ottoman Empire.

  1. Max Weber, “Agrarverhältnisse im Altertum,” Gesammelte Aufsitze zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (1924), p. 147. [37]

¶ 5.15

These aspects of the teachings of the Socratic school, which soon were to become axiomatic to the point of banality, were then the newest and most revolutionary of all and sprang not from actual experience in political life but from the desire to be freed from its burden, a desire which in their own understanding the philosophers could justify only by demonstrating that even this freest of all ways of life was still connected with and subject to necessity. But the background of actual political experience, at least in Plato and Aristotle, remained so strong that the distinction between the spheres of household and political life was never doubted. Without mastering the necessities of life in the house­hold, neither life nor the “good life” is possible, but politics is never for the sake of life. As far as the members of the polis are concerned, household life exists for the sake of the “good life” in the polis. [37]

6 the rise of the social

A key distinction in this section is between acting and behaving; also between the private and the intimate.

¶ 6.1

The emergence of society—the rise of housekeeping, its activi­ties, problems, and organizational devices—from the shadowy in­terior of the household into the light of the public sphere, has not only blurred the old borderline between private and political, it has also changed almost beyond recognition the meaning of the two terms and their significance for the life of the individual and the citizen. Not only would we not agree with the Greeks that a life spent in the privacy of “one’s own” (idion), outside the world of the common, is “idiotic” by definition, or with the Romans to whom privacy offered but a temporary refuge from the business of the res publica; we call private today a sphere of intimacy whose beginnings we may be able to trace back to late Roman, though hardly to any period of Greek antiquity, but whose peculiar manifoldness and variety were certainly unknown to any period prior to the modern age.

¶ 6.2

This is not merely a matter of shifted emphasis. In ancient feeling the privative trait of privacy, indicated in the word itself, was all-important; it meant literally a state of being deprived of something, and even of the highest and most human of man’s capacities. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the bar­barian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word “privacy,” and this is partly due to the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism. However, it seems even more important that modern privacy is at least as sharply opposed to the social realm—unknown to the ancients who considered its content a private matter—as it is to the political, properly speaking. The decisive historical fact is that modern privacy in its most relevant function, to shelter the intimate, was discovered as the opposite not of the political sphere but of the social, to which it is therefore more closely and authen­tically related.

¶ 6.3

The first articulate explorer and to an extent even theorist of [38] intimacy was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who, characteristically enough, is the only great author still frequently cited by his first name alone. He arrived at his discovery through a rebellion

  • not against the oppression of the state
  • but against society’s unbearable perversion of the human heart, its intrusion upon an innermost region in man which until then had needed no special protection.

The intimacy of the heart, unlike the private household, has no objective tangible place in the world, nor can the society against which it protests and asserts itself be localized with the same cer­tainty as the public space. To Rousseau, both the intimate and the social were, rather, subjective modes of human existence, and in his case, it was as though Jean-Jacques rebelled against a man called Rousseau. The modern individual and his endless conflicts, his inability either to be at home in society or to live outside it altogether, his ever-changing moods and the radical subjectivism of his emotional life, was born in this rebellion of the heart. The authenticity of Rousseau’s discovery is beyond doubt, no matter how doubtful the authenticity of the individual who was Rousseau. The astonishing flowering of poetry and music from the middle of the eighteenth century until almost the last third of the nine­teenth, accompanied by the rise of the novel, the only entirely social art form, coinciding with a no less striking decline of all the more public arts, especially architecture, is sufficient testi­mony to a close relationship between the social and the intimate.

Did Rousseau’s rebellion require courage?

¶ 6.4

The rebellious reaction against society during which Rousseau and the Romanticists discovered intimacy was directed first of all against the leveling demands of the social, against what we would call today the conformism inherent in every society. It is impor­tant to remember that this rebellion took place before the prin­ciple of equality, upon which we have blamed conformism since Tocqueville, had had the time to assert itself in either the social or the political realm. Whether a nation consists of equals or non-equals is of no great importance in this respect, for society always demands that its members act as though they were mem­bers of one enormous family which has only one opinion and one interest. Before the modern disintegration of the family, this com­mon interest and single opinion was represented by the household head who ruled in accordance with it and prevented possible dis- [39] unity among the family members.33 The striking coincidence of the rise of society with the decline of the family indicates clearly that what actually took place was the absorption of the family unit into corresponding social groups. The equality of the mem­bers of these groups, far from being an equality among peers, re­sembles nothing so much as the equality of household members before the despotic power of the household head, except that in society, where the natural strength of one common interest and one unanimous opinion is tremendously enforced by sheer num­ber, actual rule exerted by one man, representing the common interest and the right opinion, could eventually be dispensed with. The phenomenon of conformism is characteristic of the last stage of this modern development.

  1. This is well illustrated by a remark of Seneca, who, discussing the useful­ness of highly educated slaves (who know all the classics by heart) to an as­sumedly rather ignorant master, comments: “What the household knows the master knows” (Ep. 27. 6, quoted from Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 61). [40]

Equality in Pericles (according to Thucydides, in the translation of Rex Warner):

Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people (καὶ ὄνομα μὲν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐς ὀλίγους ἀλλ’ ἐς πλείονας οἰκεῖν δη­μοκρατία κέκληται). When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.

Equality in Euclid:

  • A definition: “When a straight line stood on a straight line makes the adjacent angles equal to one another, either of the equal angles is right” (Ὅταν δὲ εὐθεῖα ἐπ’ εὐθεῖαν σταθεῖσα τὰς ἐφεξῆς γωνίας ἴσας ἀλλήλαις ποιῇ, ὀρθὴ ἑκατέρα τῶν ἴσων γωνιῶν ἐστι).
  • A postulate: “All right angles are equal to one another” (Καὶ πάσας τὰς ὀρθὰς γωνίας ἴσας ἀλλήλαις εἶναι).
  • A common notion: “Equals to the same are equal to one another” (Τὰ τῷ αὐτῷ ἴσα καὶ ἀλλήλοις ἐστὶν ἴσα).
  • A proposition: “The base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal to one another” (Τῶν ἰσοσκελῶν τριγώνων αἱ πρὸς τῇ βάσει γωνίαι ἴσαι ἀλλήλαις εἰσίν). This proposition was attributed by Proclus (born in Byzantium, early fifth century) to Thales of Miletus (who according to Herodotus predicted an eclipse, which we judge to have happened in 585 b.c.e.

Equality in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

¶ 6.5

It is true that one-man, monarchical rule, which the ancients stated to be the organizational device of the household, is trans­formed in society—as we know it today, when the peak of the social order is no longer formed by the royal household of an ab­solute ruler—into a kind of no-man rule. But this nobody, the assumed one interest of society as a whole in economics as well as the assumed one opinion of polite society in the salon, does not cease to rule for having lost its personality. As we know from the most social form of government, that is, from bureaucracy (the last stage of government in the nation-state just as one-man rule in benevolent despotism and absolutism was its first), the rule by nobody is not necessarily no-rule; it may indeed, under certain circumstances, even turn out to be one of its cruelest and most tyrannical versions.

Was National Socialism an example of bureaucracy? Bureaucracy is an easy target for promotion of things like Brexit or even MAGA.

¶ 6.6

It is decisive that

  • society, on all its levels, excludes the possi­bility of action, which formerly was excluded from the house­hold. Instead,
  • society expects from each of its members a certain kind of behavior, imposing innumerable and various rules, all of which tend to “normalize” its members, to make them behave, to exclude spontaneous action or outstanding achievement.

With [40] Rousseau, we find these demands in the salons of high society, whose conventions always equate the individual with his rank within the social framework. What matters is this equation with social status, and it is immaterial whether the framework happens to be

  • actual rank in the half-feudal society of the eighteenth cen­tury,
  • title in the class society of the nineteenth, or
  • mere function in the mass society of today.

The rise of mass society, on the con­trary, only indicates that the various social groups have suffered the same absorption into one society that the family units had suffered earlier; with the emergence of mass society, the realm of the social has finally, after several centuries of development, reached the point where it embraces and controls all members of a given community equally and with equal strength. But society equalizes under all circumstances, and the victory of equality in the modern world is only the political and legal recognition of the fact that society has conquered the public realm, and that dis­tinction and difference have become private matters of the in­dividual.

Equating the individual with his rank means equalizing all who have that rank.

¶ 6.7

This modern equality, based on the conformism inherent in society and possible only because behavior has replaced action as the foremost mode of human relationship, is in every respect dif­ferent from equality in antiquity, and notably in the Greek city-states. To belong to the few “equals” (homoioi) meant to be per­mitted to live among one’s peers; but the public realm itself, the polis, was permeated by a fiercely agonal spirit, where everybody had constantly to distinguish himself from all others, to show through unique deeds or achievements that he was the best of all (aien aristeuein).34 The public realm, in other words, was reserved for individuality; it was the only place where men could show who they really and inexchangeably were. It was for the sake of this chance, and out of love for a body politic that made it possible to them all, that each was more or less willing to share in the burden of jurisdiction, defense, and administration of public affairs.

  1. Aien aristeuein kai hypeirochon emmenai allōn (“always to be the best and to rise above others”) is the central concern of Homer’s heroes (Iliad vi. 208), and Homer was “the educator of Hellas.” [41]

Why was Socrates put to death? What are some examples of what one really is? Trying to be best (and to show it) at some recognized task is not the same as being an individual.

¶ 6.8

It is the same conformism, the assumption that men behave and [41] do not act with respect to each other, that lies at the root of the modern science of economics, whose birth coincided with the rise of society and which, together with its chief technical tool, statis­tics, became the social science par excellence. Economics—until the modern age a not too important part of ethics and politics and based on the assumption that men act with respect to their econom­ic activities as they act in every other respect35—could achieve a scientific character only when men had become social beings and unanimously followed certain patterns of behavior, so that those who did not keep the rules could be considered to be asocial or abnormal.

  1. “The conception of political economy as primarily a ‘science’ dates only from Adam Smith” and was unknown not only to antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also to canonist doctrine, the first “complete and economic doctrine” which “differed from modern economics in being an ‘art’ rather than a ‘science’” (W. J. Ashley, op. cit., pp. 379 ff.). Classical economics assumed that man, in so far as he is an active being, acts exclusively from self-interest and is driven by only one desire, the desire for acquisition. Adam Smith’s introduction of aninvisible hand to promote an end which was no part of [anybody’s] intention” proves that even this minimum of action with its uniform motivation still con­tains too much unpredictable initiative for the establishment of a science. Marx developed classical economics further by substituting group or class interests for individual and personal interests and by reducing these class interests to two ma­jor classes, capitalists and workers, so that he was left with one conflict, where classical economics had seen a multitude of contradictory conflicts. The reason why the Marxian economic system is more consistent and coherent, and there­fore apparently so much more “scientific” than those of his predecessors, lies primarily in the construction of “socialized man,” who is even less an acting be­ing than the “economic man” of liberal economics. [42]

Compare the physics joke with the punchline, “Assume a spherical cow” (I heard it with “spherical horse”). Arendt is doing metaphysics in the sense of Collingwood’s Essay on Metaphysics: she is identifying the assumptions or “absolute presuppositions” that underlie a science.

¶ 6.9

The laws of statistics are valid only where large numbers or long periods are involved, and acts or events can statistically appear only as deviations or fluctuations. The justification of sta­tistics is that deeds and events are rare occurrences in everyday life and in history. Yet the meaningfulness of everyday relation­ships is disclosed not in everyday life but in rare deeds, just as the significance of a historical period shows itself only in the few events that illuminate it. The application of the law of large num­bers and long periods to politics or history signifies nothing less than the wilful obliteration of their very subject matter, and it is a hopeless enterprise to search for meaning in politics or signifi- [42] cance in history when everything that is not everyday behavior or automatic trends has been ruled out as immaterial.

Peter Turchin is trying to do this with “cliometrics.”

¶ 6.10

However, since the laws of statistics are perfectly valid where we deal with large numbers, it is obvious that every increase in population means an increased validity and a marked decrease of “deviation.” Politically, this means that the larger the population in any given body politic, the more likely it will be the social rather than the political that constitutes the public realm. The Greeks, whose city-state was the most individualistic and least conformable body politic known to us, were quite aware of the fact that the polis, with its emphasis on action and speech, could survive only if the number of citizens remained restricted. Large numbers of people, crowded together, develop an almost irresist­ible inclination toward despotism, be this the despotism of a person or of majority rule; and although statistics, that is, the mathematical treatment of reality, was unknown prior to the modern age, the social phenomena which make such treatment possible—great numbers, accounting for conformism, behavior­ism, and automatism in human affairs—were precisely those traits which, in Greek self-understanding, distinguished the Persian civilization from their own.

What is automatism? Originally the automatic was self-willed, as I noted in “Automatia.”

¶ 6.11

The unfortunate truth about behaviorism and the validity of its “laws” is that the more people there are, the more likely they are to behave and the less likely to tolerate non-behavior. Statistically, this will be shown in the leveling out of fluctuation. In reality, deeds will have less and less chance to stem the tide of behavior, and events will more and more lose their significance, that is, their capacity to illuminate historical time. Statistical uniformity

  • is by no means a harmless scientific ideal; it
  • is the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence.

I suppose an “ideal” of science is a simplifying assumption, and this is indeed harmless in itself. The harm comes from equating things with the assumptions made about them.

Today there is a lot of trouble with assumptions about sex and gender.

¶ 6.12

The uniform behavior that lends itself to statistical determina­tion, and therefore to scientifically correct prediction, can hardly be explained by the liberal hypothesis of a natural “harmony of interests,” the foundation of “classical” economics; it was not Karl Marx but the liberal economists themselves who had to in­troduce the “communistic fiction,” that is, to assume that there is [43] one interest of society as a whole which with “an invisible hand” guides the behavior of men and produces the harmony of their conflicting interests.36 The difference between Marx and his fore­runners was only that he took the reality of conflict, as it pre­sented itself in the society of his time, as seriously as the hypo­thetical fiction of harmony; he was right in concluding that the “socialization of man” would produce automatically a harmony of all interests, and was only more courageous than his liberal teach­ers when he proposed to establish in reality the “communistic fic­tion” underlying all economic theories. What Marx did not—and, at his time, could not—understand was that the germs of communistic society were present in the reality of a national household, and that their full development was not hindered by any class-interest as such, but only by the already obsolete monarchical structure of the nation-state. Obviously, what pre­vented society from smooth functioning was only certain tradi­tional remnants that interfered and still influenced the behavior of “backward” classes. From the viewpoint of society, these were merely disturbing factors in the way of a full development of “social forces”; they no longer corresponded to reality and were therefore, in a sense, much more “fictitious” than the scientific “fiction” of one interest.

In the Republic, Socrates proposed that the guardians should understand themselves as members of one family. This was supposed to reduce conflict. However, the melting pot of America seems to be separating like oil and water.

  1. That liberal utilitarianism, and not socialism, is “forced into an un­tenable ‘communistic fiction’ about the unity of society” and that “the com­munist fiction [is] implicit in most writings on economics” constitutes one of the chief theses of Myrdal’s brilliant work (op. cit., pp. 54 and 150). He shows con­clusively that economics can be a science only if one assumes that one interest pervades society as a whole. Behind the “harmony of interests” stands always the “communistic fiction” of one interest, which may then be called welfare or commonwealth. Liberal economists consequently were always guided by a “communistic” ideal, namely, by “interest of society as a whole” (pp. 194–95). The crux of the argument is that this “amounts to the assertion that society must be conceived as a single subject. This, however, is precisely what cannot be conceived. If we tried, we would be attempting to abstract from the essential fact that social activity is the result of the intentions of several individuals” (p. 154). [44]

Is not society both one and many?

¶ 6.13

A complete victory of society will always produce some sort of “communistic fiction,” whose outstanding political characteris­tic is that it is indeed ruled by an “invisible hand,” namely, by [44] nobody. What we traditionally call state and government gives place here to pure administration—a state of affairs which Marx rightly predicted as the “withering away of the state,” though he was wrong in assuming that only a revolution could bring it about, and even more wrong when he believed that this complete victory of society would mean the eventual emergence of the “realm of freedom.”37

  1. For a brilliant exposition of this usually neglected aspect of Marx’s rele­vance for modern society, see Siegfried Landshut, “Die Gegenwart im Lichte der Marxschen Lehre,” Hamburger Jahrbuch für Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik, Vol. I (1956). [45]

¶ 6.14

To gauge the extent of society’s victory in the modern age, its early substitution of behavior for action and its eventual substitu­tion of bureaucracy, the rule of nobody, for personal rulership, it may be well to recall that its initial science of economics, which substitutes patterns of behavior only in this rather limited field of human activity, was finally followed by the all-comprehensive pretension of the social sciences which, as “behavioral sciences,” aim to reduce man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal. If economics is the science of society in its early stages, when it could impose its rules of be­havior only on sections of the population and on parts of their ac­tivities, the rise of the “behavioral sciences” indicates clearly the final stage of this development, when mass society has devoured all strata of the nation and “social behavior” has become the stand­ard for all regions of life.

¶ 6.15

Since the rise of society, since the admission of household and housekeeping activities to the public realm, an irresistible tenden­cy to grow, to devour the older realms of the political and private as well as the more recently established sphere of intimacy, has been one of the outstanding characteristics of the new realm. This constant growth, whose no less constant acceleration we can ob­serve over at least three centuries, derives its strength from the fact that through society it is the life process itself which in one form or another has been channeled into the public realm. The private realm of the household was the sphere where the necessi­ties of life, of individual survival as well as of continuity of the species, were taken care of and guaranteed. One of the character- [45] istics of privacy, prior to the discovery of the intimate, was that man existed in this sphere not as a truly human being but only as a specimen of the animal species man-kind. This, precisely, was the ultimate reason for the tremendous contempt held for it by antiquity. The emergence of society has changed the estimate of this whole sphere but has hardly transformed its nature. The monolithic character of every type of society, its conformism which allows for only one interest and one opinion, is ultimately rooted in the one-ness of man-kind. It is because this one-ness of man-kind is not fantasy and not even merely a scientific hypothe­sis, as in the “communistic fiction” of classical economics, that mass society, where man as a social animal rules supreme and where apparently the survival of the species could be guaranteed on a world-wide scale, can at the same time threaten humanity with extinction.

¶ 6.16

Perhaps the clearest indication that society constitutes the public organization of the life process itself may be found in the fact that in a relatively short time the new social realm transformed all modern communities into societies of laborers and jobholders; in other words, they became at once centered around the one activity necessary to sustain life. (To have a society of laborers, it is of course not necessary that every member actually be a laborer or worker—not even the emancipation of the working class and the enormous potential power which majority rule accords to it are decisive here—but only that all members consider whatever they do primarily as a way to sustain their own lives and those of their families.) Society is the form in which the fact of mutual depend­ence for the sake of life and nothing else assumes public signifi­cance and where the activities connected with sheer survival are permitted to appear in public.

¶ 6.17

Whether an activity is performed in private or in public is by no means a matter of indifference. Obviously, the character of the public realm must change in accordance with the activities admit­ted into it, but to a large extent the activity itself changes its own nature too. The laboring activity, though under all circumstances connected with the life process in its most elementary, biological sense, remained stationary for thousands of years, imprisoned in the eternal recurrence of the life process to which it was tied. The [46] admission of labor to public stature, far from eliminating its char­acter as a process—which one might have expected, remembering that bodies politic have always been designed for permanence and their laws always understood as limitations imposed upon move­ment—has, on the contrary, liberated this process from its cir­cular, monotonous recurrence and transformed it into a swiftly progressing development whose results have in a few centuries totally changed the whole inhabited world.

¶ 6.18

The moment laboring was liberated from the restrictions im­posed by its banishment into the private realm—and this emanci­pation of labor was not a consequence of the emancipation of the working class, but preceded it—it was as though the growth ele­ment inherent in all organic life had completely overcome and overgrown the processes of decay by which organic life is checked and balanced in nature’s household. The social realm, where the life process has established its own public domain, has let loose an unnatural growth, so to speak, of the natural; and it is against this growth, not merely against society but against a constantly growing social realm, that

  • the private and intimate, on the one hand, and
  • the political (in the narrower sense of the word), on the other,

have proved incapable of defending themselves.

¶ 6.19

What we described as the unnatural growth of the natural is usually considered to be the constantly accelerated increase in the productivity of labor. The greatest single factor in this constant increase since its inception has been the organization of laboring, visible in the so-called division of labor, which preceded the in­dustrial revolution; even the mechanization of labor processes, the second greatest factor in labor’s productivity, is based upon it. Inasmuch as the organizational principle itself clearly derives from the public rather than the private realm, division of labor is pre­cisely what happens to the laboring activity under conditions of the public realm and what could never have happened in the privacy of the household.38 In no other sphere of life do we appear to have [47] attained such excellence as in the revolutionary transformation of laboring, and this to the point where the verbal significance of the word itself (which always had been connected with hardly bear­able “toil and trouble,” with effort and pain and, consequently, with a deformation of the human body, so that only extreme misery and poverty could be its source), has begun to lose its meaning for us.39 While dire necessity made labor indispensable to sustain life, excellence would have been the last thing to expect from it.

  1. Here and later I apply the term “division of labor”

    • only to modern labor conditions where one activity is divided and atomized into innumerable minute manipulations, and
    • not to the “division of labor” given in professional specializa­tion.

    The latter can be so classified only under the assumption that society must be conceived as one single subject, the fulfilment of whose needs are then sub- [47] divided by “an invisible hand” among its members. The same holds true, mutatis mutandis, for the odd notion of a division of labor between the sexes, which is even considered by some writers to be the most original one. It presumes as its single subject man-kind, the human species, which has divided its labors among men and women. Where the same argument is used in antiquity (see, for in­stance, Xenophon Oeconomicus vii. 22), emphasis and meaning are quite different. The main division is between a life spent indoors, in the household, and a life spent outside, in the world. Only the latter is a life fully worthy of man, and the notion of equality between man and woman, which is a necessary assumption for the idea of division of labor, is of course entirely absent (cf. n. 81). Antiquity seems to have known only professional specialization, which assumedly was predetermined by natural qualities and gifts. Thus work in the gold mines, which occupied several thousand workers, was distributed according to strength and skill. See J.-P. Vernant, “Travail et nature dans la Grèce ancienne,” Journal de psychalogie normale et pathologique, Vol. LII, No. 1 (January–March, 1955).

  2. All the European words for “labor,” the Latin and English labor, the Greek ponos, the French travail, the German Arbeit, signify pain and effort and are also used for the pangs of birth. Labor has the same etymological root as labare (“to stumble under a burden”); ponos and Arbeit have the same etymologi­cal roots as “poverty” (penia in Greek and Armut in German). Even Hesiod, currently counted among the few defenders of labor in antiquity, put ponon algi­noenta (“painful labor”) as first of the evils plaguing man (Theogony 226). For the Greek usage, see G. Herzog-Hauser, “Ponos,” in Pauly-Wissowa. The Ger­man Arbeit and arm are both derived from the Germanic arbma-, meaning lonely and neglected, abandoned. See Kluge/Götze, Etymologisches Worterbuch (1951). In medieval German, the word is used to translate labor, tribulatio, persecutio, adversitas, malum (see Klara Vontobel, Das Arbeitsethos des deutschen Protestant­ismus [Dissertation, Bern, 1946]). [48]

The point about division of labor seems to be that to speak of a “division” at all presumes that there was a whole to be divided in the first place.

¶ 6.20

Excellence itself, aretē as the Greeks, virtus as the Romans [48] would have called it, has always been assigned to the public realm where one could excel, could distinguish oneself from all others. Every activity performed in public can attain an excellence never matched in privacy; for excellence, by definition, the presence of others is always required, and this presence needs the formality of the public, constituted by one’s peers, it cannot be the casual, familiar presence of one’s equals or inferiors.40 Not even the social realm—though it made excellence anonymous, emphasized the progress of mankind rather than the achievements of men, and changed the content of the public realm beyond recognition—has been able altogether to annihilate the connection between public per­formance and excellence.

  • While we have become excellent in the la­boring we perform in public,
  • our capacity for action and speech has lost much of its former quality since the rise of the social realm ban­ished these into the sphere of the intimate and the private.

This curious discrepancy has not escaped public notice, where it is usually blamed upon an assumed time lag

  • between our technical capacities and our general humanistic development or
  • between the physical sciences, which change and control nature, and the social sciences, which do not yet know how to change and control society.

Quite apart from other fallacies of the argument which have been pointed out so frequently that we need not repeat them, this criticism concerns only a possible change in the psychology of human beings—their so-called behavior patterns—not a change of the world they move in. And this psychological interpretation, for which the absence or presence of a public realm is as irrelevant as any tangible, worldly reality, seems rather doubtful in view of the fact that no activity can become excellent if the world does not provide a proper space for its exercise. Neither education nor ingenuity nor talent can replace the constituent elements of the public realm, which make it the proper place for human excellence. [49]

  1. Homer’s much quoted thought that Zeus takes away half of a man’s excel­lence (aretē) when the day of slavery catches him (Odyssey xvii. 320 ff.) is put into the mouth of Eumaios, a slave himself, and meant as an objective state­ment, not a criticism or a moral judgment. The slave lost excellence because he lost admission to the public realm, where excellence can show. [49]

3 Trackbacks

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