On The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt 3

Index to this series

CHAPTER II The Public and the Private Realm [2]


The first three sections of the chapter were the previous reading.

Road scene: Two lanes, narrow sidewalk, then garage doors and walls; but beyond, a green hillside

The descent to Ortaköy
February 12, 2022

Key words

Public, private, intimate, real, relevant, wisdom, goodness, love.

I am not sure what use such a list is, but there it is. “Relevant” is used a number of times, and I do not really know why.



Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951. Just from what we have read in The Human Condition though, what can she tell us about the autocrat?

  • He may be effectively the head of a family, thus missing out on the reality that comes with public life:

    The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves … (p. 50, ¶ 7.2)

    … the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever be devised … This is the meaning of public life, compared to which even the richest and most satisfying family life can offer only the pro­longation or multiplication of one’s own position … (p. 57, ¶ 7.14)

    (I made those quotes in the initial post too.)

  • Particularly if he is not a hereditary monarch, the necessity he feels to keep his position may make him unfit for public life. He is like a poor man, and on page 64 (¶ 8.9),

    Poverty forces the free man to act like a slave. Private wealth, therefore, became a condition for admission to public life not because its owner was engaged in accumulating it but, on the contrary, because it assured with reasonable certainty that its owner would not have to engage in providing for himself …

Thinking and feeling

A theme, or the theme, of this chapter is the distinction between the public and the private and how the distinction is blurred, to our detriment, by the rise of what Arendt calls mass society or just society. See e.g. in the previous reading, page 28 (¶ 5.2), “the dividing line [between the public and private realms] is entirely blurred, because we see the body of peoples and political communities in the image of a family.”

I wonder if (or what) the whole problem has to do with the distinction between thinking and feeling.

It is true that Arendt is not supposed to be much interested in thinking at present. She did say in the Prologue, on page 4 (¶ 0.11), “the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable, the activity of thinking, is left out of these present considerations.”

Arendt does say some things about thinking. In Chapter I, on page 16 (¶ 1.8), she mentioned “the very discovery of contemplation (theōria) as a human faculty, distinctly different from thought and reasoning, which occurred in the Socratic school,” along with “the discovery of contemplation as the philosopher’s way of life.”

Again, the distinction between the private and the public is a theme; but this seems to correspond to the distinction between feeling and thinking. Feeling is private, while thinking is somehow public.

In practice, thinking may be public only to oneself, and indeed one may need to do it within “the four walls of one’s private property,” which “offer the only reli­able hiding place from the common public world,” as Arendt says on page 71 (¶ 9.7); “A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow.”

On page 50 (¶ 7.2), Arendt seems to lump feeling and thinking together. She discusses the transformation of “the greatest forces of intimate life—the passions of the heart, the thoughts of the mind, the delights of the senses— … into a shape to fit them for public appearance.” The artist effects such a transformation; but then so do we all, just by talking. Does this mean language is art, and we are all artists?

Moreover, even though Arendt includes “the thoughts of the mind” among the “forces of intimate life,” is it fair to say that art, or language, is the conversion of feeling into thought—more precisely, the conversion of what is only felt into something that can be thought about?


Recall Arendt’s announcement on page 5 (¶ 0.10) that she intends “to think what we are doing”:

What I propose in the following is a re­consideration of the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears. This, obviously, is a matter of thought, and thoughtlessness—the heedless reckless­ness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of “truths” which have become trivial and empty—seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time. What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.

Such thinking would seem to be doing philosophy. Arendt is doing this in public, although, by the account on page 76 (¶ 10.8), “solitude can become an authentic way of life in the figure of the philosopher.” Even in solitude though, the philosopher has her- or himself as company, as Arendt has pointed out on the previous page (¶ 10.6): “The philosopher, even if he decides with Plato to leave the ‘cave’ of human affairs, does not have to hide from himself.”

Etymologically speaking, as Arendt reminds us earlier on page 75 (¶ 10.4), philosophy is the love of wisdom, and this love somehow comes out of “Socrates’ great in­sight that no man can be wise.” How does that happen?


  • 7 the public realm: the common
    • ¶ 7.1 “Public” indicates two things.
    • ¶ 7.2 First, the artist makes experience public in the sense of apparent and thus real.
    • ¶ 7.3 Bodily pain may be the most intense experience, but has no appearance, though death does in the form of old age.
    • ¶ 7.4 Many things cannot stand publicity and are in that sense irrelevant and private, though a private thing like love, as distinct from friendship, may be very relevant.
    • ¶ 7.5 Being considered by the public may not change something’s private character: the example is French domesticity.
    • ¶ 7.6 Second, the public is the common world, which relates and separates us, like a table.
    • ¶ 7.7 Mass society is difficult because the table is missing.
    • ¶ 7.8 Only one principle, the Christian charity of Augustine, has been able to replace the missing table. Charity can bind saints or criminals, provided they know the world will end. The Christian community is a body, like a family. It may need rules, as in a monastery, to prohibit excellence and thus pride, so that a public realm does not develop, though it was not likely to develop anyway, since that doesn’t happen in a family.
    • ¶ 7.9 A public realm requires permanence. Conviction of impermanance, as after the downfall of the Roman Empire or today, may produce Christian worldlessness or a spirit of carpe diem.
    • ¶ 7.10 The public realm used to be where one sought immortality; but almost nobody seeks this anymore.
    • ¶ 7.11 The polis, the res publica, were “guarantee against the futility of individual life.”
    • ¶ 7.12 What is sought now is only admiration or money, to feed one’s vanity.
    • ¶ 7.13 Reality depends on plurality, found in public life, but not family life.
    • ¶ 7.14 That plurality needs also a common concern, which is lost in radical isolation (as in tyranny) or in mass society (or mass hysteria).
  • 8 the private realm: property
    • ¶ 8.1 Private life offers no reality, no “objective” relations, no permanence.
    • ¶ 8.2 Without mass society, private life may be pleasant, as in Rome, though no replacement for political life.
    • ¶ 8.3 That Christians and socialists see public life as a burden shows that something has already withered away.
    • ¶ 8.4 When the public goes away, so does private property, which is not private in the privative sense.
    • ¶ 8.5 We don’t understand this, because we confuse property and wealth.
    • ¶ 8.6 Property used to be sacred, but not wealth.
    • ¶ 8.7 Greek law was about boundaries.
    • ¶ 8.8 The private was the other side of the public.
    • ¶ 8.9 Wealth became a condition for public life, to ensure that a person was free to engage in it.
    • ¶ 8.10 Before this, there was no shame in menial occupations.
    • ¶ 8.11 Proudhon was right that property is theft, in the sense that wealth accumulation started with expropriation.
  • 9 the social and the private
    • ¶ 9.1 Society began with the demand, not to enter the public because of one’s wealth, but to have safety to accumulate more wealth.
    • ¶ 9.2 Wealth as capital has permanence, but not like that of the shared world.
    • ¶ 9.3 Unlike Marx, we understand that the contradiction of using public government to protect private wealth has submerged both private and public into the social.
    • ¶ 9.4 This loss of privacy provokes the flight into subjectivity which is intimacy. Property is no longer a place, but has its source in us.
    • ¶ 9.5 That is Locke’s idea, likely to become true.
    • ¶ 9.6 Two non-privative traits of privacy precede intimacy. First is that we need our private possessions more than anything else. Elimination of this need, through excess wealth, is effectively elimination of freedom.
    • ¶ 9.7 Second is that we need a place to hide from the world. Entirely public life is shallow.
    • ¶ 9.8 A public realm needs fences around the citizens’ property; modern political and economic theory disregards this for the sake of private wealth accumulation.
    • ¶ 9.9 It used to be the necessities of life that were hidden: thus slaves and women.
  • 10 the location of human activities
    • ¶ 10.1 Every activity has its proper location, one extreme example in particular.
    • ¶ 10.2 The example is good works, a Christian invention.
    • ¶ 10.3 The good deed as such cannnot be seen, even by the doer, as the Gospel teaches.
    • ¶ 10.4 Compare with the thirty-six righteous men of the Talmud, unknown even to themselves; or with Socrates, who saw that nobody could be wise. This led to the love of wisdom, as Jesus leads to love of goodness.
    • ¶ 10.5 These loves cancel themselves if their object can be achieved.
    • ¶ 10.6 However, the philosopher need not hide from himself.
    • ¶ 10.7 The lover of goodness cannot be alone, but must be lonely. Thought can be remembered and made tangible in writing; not so good deeds.
    • ¶ 10.8 Not all can be philosophers, but all can love goodness. They still need the company of God.
    • ¶ 10.9 Machiavelli knew the negative ruinous quality of doing good.
    • ¶ 10.10 Our concern has been only “to indicate that the historical judgments of politi­cal communities, by which each determined which of the activities of the vita activa should be shown in public and which be hidden in privacy, may have their correspondence in the nature of these activities themselves.”

7 the public realm: the common

¶ 7.1

The term “public” signifies two closely interrelated but not alto­gether identical phenomena:

¶ 7.2

It means, first, that everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity. For us, appearance—something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves—constitutes reality. Compared with the reality which comes from being seen and heard, even the greatest forces of intimate life

  • the passions of the heart,
  • the thoughts of the mind,
  • the delights of the senses

lead an uncer­tain, shadowy kind of existence unless and until they are trans­formed, deprivatized and deindividualized, as it were, into a shape to fit them for public appearance.41 The most current of such transformations occurs in storytelling and generally in artistic transposition of individual experiences. But we do not need the form of the artist to witness this transfiguration. Each time we talk about things that can be experienced only in privacy or in­timacy, we bring them out into a sphere where they will assume a kind of reality which, their intensity notwithstanding, they never could have had before. The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves, and while the intimacy of a fully developed private life, such as had never been known before the rise of the modern age and the concomitant decline of the public realm, will always greatly intensify and enrich the whole scale of subjective emotions and private feelings, this intensification will always come to pass at the expense of the assurance of the reality of the world and men.

  1. This is also the reason why it is impossible “to write a character sketch of any slave who lived. … Until they emerge into freedom and notoriety, they remain shadowy types rather than persons” (Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 156). [50]

I propose that the transformation of the intimate into the public is what Collingwood calls expression in The Principles of Art. A clue is how Collingwood identifies art and language, while Arendt effectively makes us artists whenever we speak.

I don’t think Collingwood quite says that expression is the transformation of feeling into thought, but it is suggested in Chapter VIII, “Thinking and Feeling”; § 1, “The Two Contrasted”:

… there is a special kind of privacy about feelings, in contrast with what may be called the publicity of thoughts. A hundred people in the street may all feel cold, but each person’s feeling is private to himself. But if they all think that the thermometer reads 22° Fahrenheit, they are all thinking the same thought: this thought is public to them all. The act of thinking it may or may not be an entirely private act; but a thought in the sense of what we think is not the act of thinking it, and a feeling in the sense of what we feel is not the act of feeling it … The cold that our hundred people feel is not the physical fact that there are ten degrees of frost; nor is it even something due to that fact, for if one of them had lately been living in a colder climate he would not feel cold in those physical conditions; it is simply a feeling in them, or rather a hundred different feelings, each private to the person who feels it, but each in certain ways like all the rest. But the ‘fact’ or ‘proposition’ or ‘thought’ that there are ten degrees of frost is not a hundred different ‘facts’ or ‘propositions’ or ‘thoughts’; it is one ‘fact’ or ‘pro­position’ or ‘thought’ which a hundred different people ‘apprehend’ or ‘assent to’ or ‘think’. And what is here said of the relation between different persons in respect of what they feel and think respectively is equally true of the relation between different occasions of feeling and thinking re­spectively in the life of a single person.

Collingwood allows that the act of thinking may be private, and perhaps this is corroborated by Arendt’s listing of “the thoughts of the mind” among “the greatest forces of intimate life.” Would Arendt follow Collingwood in allowing a thought itself to be public to oneself over time?

¶ 7.3

Indeed, the most intense feeling we know of, intense to the point of blotting out all other experiences, namely, the experience of great bodily pain, is at the same time the most private and least [50] communicable of all. Not only is it perhaps the only experience which we are unable to transform into a shape fit for public appear­ance, it actually deprives us of our feeling for reality to such an extent that we can forget it more quickly and easily than anything else. There seems to be no bridge from the most radical subjec­tivity, in which I am no longer “recognizable,” to the outer world of life.42 Pain, in other words, truly a borderline experience be­tween life as “being among men” (inter homines esse) and death, is so subjective and removed from the world of things and men that it cannot assume an appearance at all.43

  1. I use here a little-known poem on pain from Rilke’s deathbed: The first lines of the untitled poem are: “Komm du, du letzter, den ich anerkenne, / heil­loser Schmerz im leiblichen Geweb”; and it concludes as follows: “Bin ich es noch, der da unkenntlich brennt? / Erinnerungen reiss ich nicht herein. / O Leben, Leben: Draussensein. / Und ich in Lohe. Niemand, der mich kennt.”

  2. On the subjectivity of pain and its relevance for all variations of hedonism and sensualism, see §§ 15 and 43. For the living, death is primarily dis-appear­ance. But unlike pain, there is one aspect of death in which it is as though death appeared among the living, and that is in old age. Goethe once remarked that growing old is “gradually receding from appearance” (stufenweises Zurücktreten aus der Erscheinung); the truth of this remark as well as the actual appearance of this process of disappearing becomes quite tangible in the old-age self-portraits of the great masters—Rembrandt, Leonardo, etc—in which the intensity of the eyes seems to illuminate and preside over the receding flesh. [51]

How is bodily pain to be distinguished from emotional? I suppose a headache is bodily. I have also considered bodily ills to more real than anything else, since they demand attention. Their appearance blots out everything else, and as Arendt says in ¶ 7.2 and will again in ¶ 7.4, appearance is reality. I agree with her that we forget bodily pain more easily than emotional. Yet this may be because the emotional is less real until we verbalize it as a thought, which can be shared. Let us see what is to come, as note 43 says. Indeed, see ¶ 7.12.

¶ 7.4

Since our feeling for reality depends utterly upon appearance and therefore upon the existence of a public realm into which things can appear out of the darkness of sheltered existence, even the twilight which illuminates our private and intimate lives is ultimately derived from the much harsher light of the public realm. Yet there are a great many things which cannot withstand the implacable, bright light of the constant presence of others on the public scene; there, only what is considered to be relevant, worthy of being seen or heard, can be tolerated, so that the irrele­vant becomes automatically a private matter. This, to be sure, does not mean that private concerns are generally irrelevant; on the contrary, we shall see that there are very relevant matters which can survive only in the realm of the private. For instance, love, in distinction from friendship, is killed, or rather extin­guished, the moment it is displayed in public. (“Never seek to tell [51] thy love / Love that never told can be.”) Because of its in­herent worldlessness, love can only become false and perverted when it is used for political purposes such as the change or sal­vation of the world.

Lots going on here! What does “relevant” mean?

Worldlessness will be coming back in charity in ¶ 7.8.

¶ 7.5

What the public realm considers irrelevant can have such an extraordinary and infectious charm that a whole people may adopt it as their way of life, without for that reason changing its essen­tially private character. Modern enchantment with “small things,” though preached by early twentieth-century poetry in almost all European tongues, has found its classical presentation in the petit bonheur of the French people. Since the decay of their once great and glorious public realm, the French have become masters in the art of being happy among “small things,” within the space of their own four walls, between chest and bed, table and chair, dog and cat and flowerpot, extending to these things a care and tenderness which, in a world where rapid industrialization constantly kills off the things of yesterday to produce today’s objects, may even appear to be the world’s last, purely humane corner. This enlarge­ment of the private, the enchantment, as it were, of a whole people, does not make it public, does not constitute a public realm, but, on the contrary, means only that the public realm has almost com­pletely receded, so that greatness has given way to charm every­where; for while the public realm may be great, it cannot be charming precisely because it is unable to harbor the irrelevant.

Recall the distinction in ¶ 6.3, between poetry, music, and novels on the one hand, and public architecture on the other. I’m not sure what Arendt means by petit bonheur; perhaps one can call it domesticity, although Wikipedia connects this with the American cult of true womanhood. For the French Wikipédia, “Petit Bonheur” is a 1969 song by Salvatore Adamo.

¶ 7.6

Second, the term “public” signifies the world itself, in so far as it is common to all of us and distinguished from our privately owned place in it. This world, however, is not identical with the earth or with nature, as the limited space for the movement of men and the general condition of organic life. It is related, rather, to the human artifact, the fabrication of human hands, as well as to affairs which go on among those who inhabit the man-made world together. To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men at the same time.

Things must be separate to have any relation other than identity.

¶ 7.7

The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people [52] involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world be­tween them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely un­related to each other by anything tangible.

Tables! What difference does it make whether a discussion is held around a table or not? What if all sat on the floor?

¶ 7.8

Historically, we know of only one principle that was ever de­vised to keep a community of people together who had lost their interest in the common world and felt themselves no longer related and separated by it. To find a bond between people strong enough to replace the world was the main political task of early Christian philosophy, and it was Augustine who proposed to found not only the Christian “brotherhood” but all human relationships on chari­ty. But this charity,

  • though its worldlessness clearly corresponds to the general human experience of love,
  • is at the same time clearly distinguished from it in being something which, like the world, is between men:

“Even robbers have between them [inter se] what they call charity.”44 This surprising illustration of the Christian political principle is in fact very well chosen, because the bond of charity between people, while it is incapable of founding a public realm of its own, is quite adequate to the main Christian principle of worldlessness and is admirably fit to carry a group of essentially worldless people through the world,

  • a group of saints or
  • a group of criminals,

provided only it is understood that the world itself is doomed and that every activity in it is undertaken with the pro­viso quamdiu mundus durat (“as long as the world lasts”).45 The unpolitical, non-public character of the Christian community was early defined in the demand that it should form a corpus, a “body,” whose members were to be related to each other like brothers of the same family.46 The structure of communal life was modeled [53] on the relationships between the members of a family because these were known to be non-political and even antipolitical. A public realm had never come into being between the members of a family, and it was therefore not likely to develop from Christian community life if this life was ruled by the principle of charity and nothing else. Even then, as we know from the history and the rules of the monastic orders—the only communities in which the principle of charity as a political device was ever tried—the danger that the activities undertaken under “the necessity of present life” (necessitas vitae praesentis)47 would lead by themselves, because they were performed in the presence of others, to the establishment of a kind of counterworld, a public realm within the orders them­selves, was great enough to require additional rules and regula­tions, the most relevant one in our context being the prohibition of excellence and its subsequent pride.48

  1. Contra Faustum Manichaeum v. 5.

  2. This is of course still the presupposition even of Aquinas’ political philoso­phy (see op. cit. ii. 2. 181. 4).

  3. The term corpus rei publicae is current in pre-Christian Latin, but has the connotation of the population inhabiting a res publica, a given political realm. The corresponding Greek term sōma is never used in pre-Christian Greek in a political [53] sense. The metaphor seems to occur for the first time in Paul (I Cor. 12: 12–27) and is current in all early Christian writers (see, for instance, Tertullian Apolo­geticus 39, or Ambrosius De officiis ministrorum iii. 3. 17). It became of the greatest importance for medieval political theory, which unanimously assumed that all men were quasi unum corpus (Aquinas op. cit. ii. 1. 81. 1). But while the early writers stressed the equality of the members, which are all equally necessary for the well-being of the body as a whole, the emphasis later shifted to the differ­ence between the head and the members, to the duty of the head to rule and of the members to obey. (For the Middle Ages, see Anton-Hermann Chroust, “The Corporate Idea in the Middle Ages,” Review of Politics, Vol. VIII [1947].)

  4. Aquinas op. cit. ii. 2. 179. 2.

  5. See Article 57 of the Benedictine rule, in Levasseur, op. cit., p. 187: If one of the monks became proud of his work, he had to give it up. [54]

Again (as last time), Socrates wanted the guardians to be as a family; according to Arendt, was this plan bound to fail?

If charity is distinguished from love by being between men, is love between a man (that is, a human being) and a thing (which may not love back)?

Concerning criminals, Arendt says in “Truth and Politics” (1967), as I quoted in “Plato and Christianity,”

[The] underlying principle [of Kant’s categorical imperative] is the axiom of non-contradiction – the thief contradicts himself because he wants to keep the stolen goods as his property – and this axiom owes its validity to the conditions of thought that Socrates was the first to discover.

Here is Collingwood on action in “The Devil” (1916):

The truth is that evil neither requires nor admits any explanation whatever. To the question, “Why do people do wrong?” the only answer is, “Because they choose to.” To a mind obsessed by the idea of causation, the idea that everything must be explained by something else, this answer seems inadequate. But action is precisely that which is not caused … An act of the will is its own cause and its own explanation; to seek its explanation in something else is to treat it not as an act but as a mechanical event.

In Arendt’s terminology, a mechanical event is an instance of behavior. I noticed the passage of “The Devil” while looking up the following, which is relevant to Arendt’s juxtaposition of saints and criminals (and which also brings in pride, forbidden in the monastery):

To set oneself against current beliefs and practices is the central character­istic of all heroes, and it is equally the central characteristic of all criminals; of Christ and of Lucifer. The difference is not psychological; it is not that the hero has noble and ex­alted sentiments while the criminal gives way to ignoble and debased passions. The essence of crime is the pride of Lucifer, the feeling of nobility and exaltation, of superiority to conven­tion and vulgar prejudice.

In Aquinas, Question ii. 2. 181. 4 is, “Whether the active life remains after this life?”

I answer that, As stated above (A[1]), the active life has its end in external actions: and if these be referred to the quiet of contemplation, for that very reason they belong to the contemplative life. But in the future life of the blessed the occupation of external actions will cease, and if there be any external actions at all, these will be referred to contemplation as their end. For, as Augustine says at the end of De Civitate Dei xxii, 30, “there we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise.” And he had said before (De Civ. Dei xxii, 30) that “there God will be seen without end, loved without wearying, praised without tiring: such will be the occupation of all, the common love, the universal activity.”

¶ 7.9

  • Worldlessness as a political phenomenon is possible only on the assumption that the world will not last;
  • on this assumption, however, it is almost inevitable that worldlessness, in one form or another, will begin to dominate the political scene.

  • This hap­pened after the downfall of the Roman Empire and, albeit for quite other reasons and in very different, perhaps even more dis­consolate forms,
  • it seems to happen again in our own days.

  • The Christian abstention from worldly things is by no means the only conclusion one can draw from the conviction that the human arti­fice, a product of mortal hands, is as mortal as its makers.
  • This, on the contrary, may also intensify the enjoyment and consump- [54] tion of the things of the world, all manners of intercourse in which the world is not primarily understood to be the koinon, that which is common to all.

Only the existence of a public realm and the world’s subsequent transformation into a community of things which gathers men together and relates them to each other de­pends entirely on permanence. If the world is to contain a public space, it cannot be erected for one generation and planned for the living only; it must transcend the life-span of mortal men.

¶ 7.10

Without this transcendence into a potential earthly immortali­ty, no politics, strictly speaking, no common world and no public realm, is possible. For unlike the common good as Christianity understood it—the salvation of one’s soul as a concern common to all—the common world is what we enter when we are born and what we leave behind when we die. It transcends our life­span into past and future alike; it was there before we came and will outlast our brief sojourn in it. It is what we have in common not only with those who live with us, but also with those who were here before and with those who will come after us. But such a common world can survive the coming and going of the genera­tions only to the extent that it appears in public. It is the publicity of the public realm which can absorb and make shine through the centuries whatever men may want to save from the natural ruin of time. Through many ages before us—but now not any more—men entered the public realm because they wanted something of their own or something they had in common with others to be more permanent than their earthly lives. (Thus, the curse of slavery consisted not only in being deprived of freedom and of visibility, but also in the fear of these obscure people themselves “that from being obscure they should pass away leaving no trace that they have existed.”)49 There is perhaps no clearer testimony to the loss of the public realm in the modern age than the almost complete loss of authentic concern with immortality, a loss somewhat over­shadowed by the simultaneous loss of the metaphysical concern with eternity. The latter, being the concern of the philosophers [55] and the vita contemplativa, must remain outside our present con­siderations. But the former is testified to by the current classifica­tion of striving for immortality with the private vice of vanity. Under modern conditions, it is indeed so unlikely that anybody should earnestly aspire to an earthly immortality that we proba­bly are justified in thinking it is nothing but vanity.

  1. Barrow (Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 168), in an illuminating discus­sion of the membership of slaves in the Roman colleges, which provided, besides “good fellowship in life and the certainty of a decent burial … the crowning glory of an epitaph; and in this last the slave found a melancholy pleasure.” [55]

Once men sought glory; now only vainglory. See ¶ 7.12 below.

Billionaires today are not building universities or museums (are they?). Perhaps some of them, along with people like Ray Kurzweil, are trying to live forever. Is this an “inauthentic” concern with immortality, because vain? Arendt did refer to such concern in ¶ 0.4: “the wish to escape the human condition, I suspect, also underlies the hope to extend man’s life-span far beyond the hundred-year limit.” Here is Alex Moshakis, writing in “Do we have to age?” (Observer, 3 Jan 2021) about biologist Andew Steele:

Eventually, he says, “I think we are very likely to have a drug that treats ageing in the next 10 years.”

Steele believes we will be hopelessly unlucky if scientists don’t make a breakthrough within that time, given how many human trials are in progress or upcoming. And although these breakthroughs won’t result in treatments that extend our lives by 100 years, they will give us enough extra time to ensure we’re alive for subsequent breakthroughs, subsequent treatments, subsequent additions in lifespan and so on. Our lives will be extended not all in one go but incrementally – one year, another year, suddenly we’re 150. In Ageless, Steele talks of a generation of people that grows up expecting to die but, thanks to an accumulation of new treatments, each more effective than the last, just doesn’t. “One after another,” he writes, “lifesaving medical breakthroughs will push their funerals further and further into the future.”

¶ 7.11

The famous passage in Aristotle, “Considering human affairs, one must not … consider man as he is and not consider what is mortal in mortal things, but think about them [only] to the extent that they have the possibility of immortalizing,” occurs very prop­erly in his political writings.50 For the polis was for the Greeks, as the res publica was for the Romans, first of all their guarantee against the futility of individual life, the space protected against this futility and reserved for the relative permanence, if not im­mortality, of mortals.

  1. Nicomachean Ethics 1177b31.

In the translation of Rackham, the Aristotle (Bk X, Ch. 7) is

Nor ought we to obey those who enjoin that a man should have man’s thoughts and a mortal the thoughts of mortality, but we ought so far as possible to achieve immortality, and do all that man may to live in accordance with the highest thing in him.

οὐ χρὴ δὲ κατὰ τοὺς παραινοῦντας ἀνθρώπινα φρονεῖν ἄνθρωπον ὄντα οὐδὲ θνητὰ τὸν θνητόν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ὅσον ἐνδέχεται ἀθανατίζειν καὶ πάντα ποιεῖν πρὸς τὸ ζῆν κατὰ τὸ κράτιστον τῶν ἐν αὑτῷ.

¶ 7.12

What the modern age thought of the public realm, after the spectacular rise of society to public prominence, was expressed by Adam Smith when, with disarming sincerity, he mentions “that unprosperous race of men commonly called men of letters” for whom “public admiration … makes always a part of their reward …, a considerable part … in the profession of physic; a still greater perhaps in that of law; in poetry and philosophy it makes almost the whole.”51 Here it is self-evident that public admiration and monetary reward are of the same nature and can become substitutes for each other. Public admiration, too, is something to be used and consumed, and status, as we would say today, fulfils one need as food fulfils another: public admiration is consumed by individual vanity as food is consumed by hunger. Obviously, from this viewpoint the test of reality does not lie in the public presence of others, but rather in the greater or lesser urgency of needs to whose existence or non-existence nobody can ever testify except the one who happens to suffer them. And since the need for food has its demonstrable basis of reality in the life process itself, it is also obvious that the entirely subjective pangs of hunger are more real than “vainglory,” as Hobbes used [56] to call the need for public admiration. Yet, even if these needs, through some miracle of sympathy, were shared by others, their very futility would prevent their ever establishing anything so solid and durable as a common world. The point then is not that there is a lack of public admiration for poetry and philosophy in the modern world, but that such admiration does not constitute a space in which things are saved from destruction by time. The futility of public admiration, which daily is consumed in ever greater quantities, on the contrary, is such that monetary reward, one of the most futile things there is, can become more “objective” and more real.

  1. Wealth of Nations, Book 1, ch. 10 (pp. 120 and 95 of Vol. I of Every­man’s ed.). [56]

Is admiration then the vain form of glory or renown?

¶ 7.13

As distinguished from this “objectivity,” whose only basis is money as a common denominator for the fulfilment of all needs, the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever be devised. For though the common world is the common meeting ground of all, those who are present have different locations in it, and the location of one can no more coin­cide with the location of another than the location of two objects. Being seen and being heard by others derive their significance from the fact that everybody sees and hears from a different posi­tion. This is the meaning of public life, compared to which even the richest and most satisfying family life can offer only the pro­longation or multiplication of one’s own position with its attend­ing aspects and perspectives. The subjectivity of privacy can be prolonged and multiplied in a family, it can even become so strong that its weight is felt in the public realm; but this family “world” can never replace the reality rising out of the sum total of aspects presented by one object to a multitude of spectators. Only where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects without chang­ing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see sameness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear.

¶ 7.14

Under the conditions of a common world, reality is not guar­anteed primarily by the “common nature” of all men who con­stitute it, but rather by the fact that, differences of position and the resulting variety of perspectives notwithstanding, everybody [57] is always concerned with the same object. If the sameness of the object can no longer be discerned, no common nature of men, least of all the unnatural conformism of a mass society, can prevent the destruction of the common world, which is usually preceded by the destruction of the many aspects in which it presents itself to human plurality.

  • This can happen under conditions of radical iso­lation, where nobody can any longer agree with anybody else, as is usually the case in tyrannies.
  • But it may also happen under con­ditions of mass society or mass hysteria, where we see all people suddenly behave as though they were members of one family, each multiplying and prolonging the perspective of his neighbor.

In both instances, men have become entirely private, that is, they have been deprived of seeing and hearing others, of being seen and being heard by them. They are all imprisoned in the subjec­tivity of their own singular experience, which does not cease to be singular if the same experience is multiplied innumerable times. The end of the common world has come when it is seen only under one aspect and is permitted to present itself in only one perspec­tive.

8 the private realm: property

¶ 8.1

It is with respect to this multiple significance of the public realm that the term “private,” in its original privative sense, has meaning. To live an entirely private life means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life:

  • to be deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others,
  • to be deprived of an “objective” relationship with them that comes from being related to and separated from them through the intermediary of a common world of things,
  • to be deprived of the possibility of achieving something more permanent than life itself.

The priva­tion of privacy lies in the absence of others; as far as they are concerned, private man does not appear, and therefore it is as though he did not exist. Whatever he does remains without sig­nificance and consequence to others, and what matters to him is without interest to other people.

¶ 8.2

Under modern circumstances, this deprivation of “objective” [58] relationships to others and of a reality guaranteed through them has become the mass phenomenon of loneliness, where it has as­sumed its most extreme and most antihuman form.52 The reason for this extremity is that mass society not only destroys the public realm but the private as well, deprives men not only of their place in the world but of their private home, where they once felt sheltered against the world and where, at any rate, even those excluded from the world could find a substitute in the warmth of the hearth and the limited reality of family life. The full development of the life of hearth and family into an inner and private space we owe to the extraordinary political sense of the Roman people who, unlike the Greeks, never sacrificed the private to the public, but on the contrary understood that these two realms could exist only in the form of coexistence. And although the conditions of slaves probably were hardly better in Rome than in Athens, it is quite characteristic that a Roman writer should have believed that to slaves the household of the master was what the res publica was to citizens.53 Yet no matter how bearable private life in the family might have been, it could obviously never be more than a substitute, even though the private realm in Rome as in Athens offered plenty of room for activities which we today class higher than political activity, such as

  • the accumulation of wealth in Greece or
  • the devotion to art and science in Rome.

This “liberal” attitude, which could under certain circumstances result in very prosperous and highly educated slaves, meant only that

  • to be prosperous had no reality in the Greek polis and
  • to be a philosopher was without much consequence in the Roman republic.54 [59]
  1. For modern loneliness as a mass phenomenon see David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (1950).

  2. So Plinius Junior, quoted in W. L. Westermann, “Sklaverei,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl. VI, p. 1045.

  3. There is plenty of evidence for this different estimation of wealth and cul­ture in Rome and Greece. But it is interesting to note how consistently this esti­mate coincided with the position of slaves. Roman slaves played a much greater role in Roman culture than in Greece, where, on the other hand, their role in economic life was much more important (see Westermann, in Pauly-Wissowa, p. 984). [59]

How was wealth accumulated in Greece?

The physical types present in a society depend on the condition of medicine. Likewise perhaps the mental or spiritual types. I am thinking of introversion and extraversion. I am thinking of how, in the Turkey of my experience, and perhaps everywhere, at least if you go back far enough, it has been unheard of to live alone or even to be left alone while your spouse goes out visiting.

¶ 8.3

It is a matter of course that the privative trait of privacy, the consciousness of being deprived of something essential in a life spent exclusively in the restricted sphere of the household, should have been weakened almost to the point of extinction by the rise of Christianity. Christian morality, as distinguished from its fun­damental religious precepts, has always insisted that everybody should mind his own business and that political responsibility constituted first of all a burden, undertaken exclusively for the sake of the well-being and salvation of those it freed from worry about public affairs.55 It is surprising that this attitude should have survived into the secular modern age to such an extent that Karl Marx, who in this as in other respects only summed up, concep­tualized, and transformed into a program the underlying assump­tions of two hundred years of modernity, could eventually predict and hope for the “withering away” of the whole public realm. The difference between the Christian and socialist viewpoints in this respect, the one viewing government as a necessary evil because of man’s sinfulness and the other hoping to abolish it eventually, is not a difference in estimate of the public sphere itself, but of human nature. What is impossible to perceive from either point of view is that Marx’s “withering away of the state” had been preceded by a withering away of the public realm, or rather by its transformation into a very restricted sphere of government; in Marx’s day, this government had already begun to wither further, that is, to be transformed into a nation-wide “housekeeping,” until in our own day it has begun to disappear altogether into the even more restricted, impersonal sphere of administration.

  1. Augustine (De civitate Dei xix. 19) sees in the duty of caritas toward the utilitas proximi (“the interest of one’s neighbor”) the limitation of otium and contemplation, But “in active life, it is not the honors or power of this life we should covet, … but the welfare of those who are under us [salutem subdi­torum].” Obviously, this kind of responsibility resembles the responsibility of the household head for his family more than political responsibility, properly speaking. The Christian precept to mind one’s own business is derived from I Thess. 4: 11: “that ye study to be quiet and to do your own business” (prattein ta idia, whereby ta idia is understood as opposed to ta koina [“public common affairs”]). [60]

In the first sentence, I originally missed the emphasis on the privative trait as having weakened. The sense of privacy as being simply privation had withered away.

One longs for the withering away of the state, because this is what has taken the place of the polis.

¶ 8.4

  • It seems to be in the nature of the relationship between the public and private realms that the final stage of the disappearance [60] of the public realm should be accompanied by the threatened liquidation of the private realm as well.
  • Nor is it an accident that the whole discussion has eventually turned into an argument about the desirability or undesirability of privately owned property.

For the word “private” in connection with property, even in terms of ancient political thought, immediately loses its privative charac­ter and much of its opposition to the public realm in general; property apparently possesses certain qualifications which, though lying in the private realm, were always thought to be of utmost importance to the political body.

The private and the public are not opposite, but interdependent (see especially ¶ 8.8), and this will be seen through the concept of private property. The term is apparently built up from three uses of the Indo-European root per¹, which is, according to the The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix,

Base of prepositions and preverbs with the basic meanings of “forward,” “through,” and a wide range of extended senses such as “in front of,” “before,” “early,” “first,” “chief,” “toward,” “against,” “near,” “at,” “around.”

Derivatives include far, paradise, afford, first, protein, veneer, probe, privy, pristine, and priest.

One does speak of public property, although it seems Arendt does not. In note 58 to ¶ 8.6 below we are going to see the peculium, which according to the Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary is

private property of a son, daughter, or slave, held with the father’s or master’s consent.

The Indo-European root is peku-, meaning “Wealth, movable property,” according to the AHD; other derivatives include “fellow,” “fee,” “pecorino,” and “impecunious.”

¶ 8.5

The profound connection between private and public, manifest on its most elementary level in the question of private property, is likely to be misunderstood today because of the modern equation of

  • property and wealth on one side and
  • propertylessness and poverty on the other.

This misunderstanding is all the more annoy­ing as both, property as well as wealth, are historically of greater relevance to the public realm than any other private matter or concern and have played, at least formally, more or less the same role as the chief condition for admission to the public realm and full-fledged citizenship. It is therefore easy to forget that wealth and property, far from being the same, are of an entirely different nature. The present emergence everywhere of actually or poten­tially very wealthy societies which at the same time are essentially propertyless, because the wealth of any single individual consists of his share in the annual income of society as a whole, clearly shows how little these two things are connected.

I suppose Arendt is referring at the end to socialist countries.

Arendt’s distinction between property and wealth would seem to be the distinctions, or to be similar to the distinctions, between

  • real and personal property,
  • immovable and movable property (or immobile and mobile property, as in ¶ 9.4),
  • fungibiles and consumptibiles (see again ¶ 9.4).

The term real property is significant, since

  • publicity gives reality, as Arendt said in ¶ 8.2;
  • having [real] property is required for a public life, as Arendt is going to say now, in ¶ 8.6.

¶ 8.6

  • Prior to the modern age, which
    • began with the expropriation of the poor and then
    • proceeded to emancipate the new propertyless classes,

    all civilizations have rested upon the sacredness of private property.

  • Wealth, on the contrary, whether privately owned or publicly distributed, had never been sacred before.

Originally, property meant no more or less than

  • to have one’s location in a particular part of the world and therefore
  • to belong to the body politic, that is,
  • to be the head of one of the families which together constituted the public realm.

This piece of privately owned world was so completely identical with the family who owned it56 that [61] the expulsion of a citizen could mean not merely the confiscation of his estate but the actual destruction of the building itself.57 The wealth of a foreigner or a slave was under no circumstances a substitute for this property,58 and poverty did not deprive the head of a family of this location in the world and the citizenship resulting from it. In early times, if he happened to lose his loca­tion, he almost automatically lost his citizenship and the protec­tion of the law as well.59 The sacredness of this privacy was like the sacredness of the hidden, namely, of birth and death, the begin­ning and end of the mortals who, like all living creatures, grow out of and return to the darkness of an underworld.60 The non-privative trait of the household realm originally lay in its being the realm of birth and death which must be hidden from the public realm because it harbors the things hidden from human eyes and [62] impenetrable to human knowledge.61 It is hidden because man does not know where he comes from when he is born and where he goes when he dies.

  1. Coulanges (op. cit.) holds: “The true signification of familia is property; it designates the field, the house, money, and slaves” (p. 107). Yet, this “prop- [61] erty” is not seen as attached to the family; on the contrary, “the family is at­tached to the hearth, the hearth is attached to the soil” (p. 62). The point is: “The fortune is immovable like the hearth and the tomb to which it is attached. It is the man who passes away” (p. 74).

  2. Levasseur (op. cit.) relates the medieval foundation of a community and the conditions of admission to it: “Il ne suffisait pas d’habiter la ville pour avoir droit à cette admission. Il fallait … posséder une maison. …” Furthermore: “Toute injure proférée en public contre la commune entraînait la démolition de la maison et le bannissement du coupable” (p. 240, including n. 3).

  3. The distinction is most obvious in the case of slaves who, though without property in the ancient understanding (that is, without a place of their own), were by no means propertyless in the modern sense. The peculium (the “private posses­sion of a slave”) could amount to considerable sums and even contain slaves of his own (vicarii). Barrow speaks of “the property which the humblest of his class possessed” (Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 122; this work is the best report on the role of the peculium).

  4. Coulanges reports a remark of Aristotle that in ancient times the son could not be a citizen during the lifetime of his father; upon his death, only the eldest son enjoyed political rights (op. cit., p. 228). Coulanges holds that the Roman plebs originally consisted of people without home and hearth, that it there­fore was clearly distinct from the populus Romanus (pp. 229 ff.).

  5. “The whole of this religion was inclosed within the walls of each house. … All these gods, the Hearth, the Lares, and the Manes, were called the hidden gods, or gods of the interior. To all the acts of this religion secrecy was necessary, sacrificia occulta, as Cicero said (De arusp. respl. 17)” (Coulanges, op. cit., p. 37). [62]

  6. It seems as though the Eleusinian Mysteries provided for a common and quasi-public experience of this whole realm, which, because of its very nature and even though it was common to all, needed to be hidden, kept secret from the public realm: Everybody could participate in them, but nobody was permitted to talk about them. The mysteries concerned the unspeakable, and experiences beyond speech were non-political and perhaps antipolitical by definition (see Karl Kerenyi, Die Geburt der Helena [1943–45], pp. 48 ff.). That they concerned the secret of birth and death seems proved by a fragment of Pindar: oide men biou teleutan, oiden de diosdoton archan (frag. 137a), where the initiated is said to know “the end of life and the Zeus-given beginning.”

Birth and death must be hidden because we cannot explain them? How is that? In this connection, we might ask about activities that are usually hidden today, such as defecation and sexual intercourse; perhaps in ancient times the public latrines did not have individual stalls, and the brothels were easy to find (but that’s true in Amsterdam today too).

The Pindar fragment is numbered 137 (102) and headed “The Eleusinian Mysteries” on pages 590–3 in the 1915 Loeb edition of Sir John Sandys (the numbers seem to be of Bergk and Boeckh respectively):

ὄλβιος ὅστις ἰδὼν ἐκεῖνα
κοίλαν εἶσιν ὑπὸ χθόνα·
οἶδεν μὲν βιοτου τελευτὰν
οἶδεν δὲ δόσδοτον ἀρχάν.

Blessed is he who hath seen these things before he goeth beneath the earth; for he understandeth the end of mortal life, and the beginning (of a new life) given of god.

Pindar flourished during the Persian Wars.

In ¶ 8.11, there will be more on expropriation: “the expropriation of the peasant classes which in turn was the almost accidental consequence of the expropriation of Church and monastic property after the Reformation.” One should mention too the expropriation of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand.

¶ 8.7

Not the interior of this realm, which remains hidden and of no public significance, but its exterior appearance is important for the city as well, and it appears in the realm of the city through the boundaries between one household and the other. The law originally was identified with this boundary line,62 which in an­cient times was still actually a space, a kind of no man’s land63 between the private and the public, sheltering and protecting both realms while, at the same time, separating them from each other. The law of the polis, to be sure, transcended this ancient under­standing from which, however, it retained its original spatial sig­nificance.

  • The law of the city-state was neither the content of political action (the idea that political activity is primarily legis­lating, though Roman in origin, is essentially modern and found its greatest expession in Kant’s political philosophy)
  • nor was it a catalogue of prohibitions, resting, as all modern laws still do, upon the Thou Shalt Nots of the Decalogue.
  • It was quite literally a [63] wall, without which there might have been an agglomeration of houses, a town (asty), but not a city, a political community.

This wall-like law was sacred, but only the inclosure was political.64 Without it a public realm could no more exist than a piece of property without a fence to hedge it in; the one harbored and inclosed political life as the other sheltered and protected the biological life process of the family.65

  1. The Greek word for law, nomos, derives from nemein, which means to distribute, to possess (what has been distributed), and to dwell. The combination, of law and hedge in the word nomos is quite manifest in a fragment of Heraclitus: machesthai chrē ton dēmon hyper tou nomou hokōsper teicheos (“the people should fight for the law as for a wall”). The Roman word for law, lex, has an entirely different meaning; it indicates a formal relationship between people rather than the wall that separates them from others. But the boundary and its god, Terminus, who separated the agrum publicum a privato (Livius) was more highly revered than the corresponding theoi horoi in Greece.

  2. Coulanges reports an ancient Greek law according to which two build­ings never were permitted to touch (op. cit., p. 63). [63]

  3. The word polis originally connoted something like a “ring-wall,” and it seems the Latin urbs also expressed the notion of a “circle” and was derived from the same root as orbis. We find the same connection in our word “town,” which originally, like the German Zaun, meant a surrounding fence (sce R. B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought [1954], p. 444, n. 1).

  4. The legislator therefore did not need to be a citizen and frequently was called in from the outside. His work was not political; political life, however, could begin only after he had finished his legislation.

The Heraclitus is DK B47, LM D107:

μάχεσθαι χρὴ τὸν δῆμον ὑπὲρ τοῦ νόμου ὅκωσπερ τείχεος.

The people must fight for their law just as for their city wall.

Lex is cognate with λόγος; the Indo-European root leg- means to collect.

¶ 8.8

It is therefore not really accurate to say that private property, prior to the modern age, was thought to be a self-evident condi­tion for admission to the public realm; it is much more than that. Privacy was like the other, the dark and hidden side of the public realm, and while

  • to be political meant to attain the highest possi­bility of human existence,
  • to have no private place of one’s own (like a slave) meant to be no longer human.

Property could not from the beginning be the condition for admission to citizenship, because this would presume that a citizenry for setting the rules has already been constituted. Having real property was initially the condition for citizenship, simply because being a citizen by definition meant having this other side. Then could come the developments of the next paragraph. See also ¶ 9.3 in the next section.

¶ 8.9

Of an altogether different and historically later origin is the political significance of private wealth from which one draws the means of one’s livelihood. We mentioned earlier the ancient iden­tification of necessity with the private realm of the household, where each had to master the necessities of life for himself. The free man, who disposed of his own privacy and was not, like a slave, at the disposition of a master, could still be “forced” by poverty. Poverty forces the free man to act like a slave.66 Private wealth, therefore, became a condition for admission to public life

  • not because its owner was engaged in accumulating it
  • but, on the contrary, because it assured with reasonable certainty that its owner would not have to engage in providing for himself the [64] means of use and consumption and was free for public activity.67

Public life, obviously, was possible only after the much more urgent needs of life itself had been taken care of. The means to take care of them was labor, and the wealth of a person therefore was frequently counted in terms of the number of laborers, that is, slaves, he owned. To own property meant here to be master over one’s own necessities of life and therefore potentially to be a free person, free to transcend his own life and enter the world all have in common.

  1. Demosthenes Orationes 57. 45: “Poverty forces the free tu do many slavish and base things” (polla doulika kai tapeina pragmata tous eleutherous hē penia biazetai poiein) [64]

  2. This condition for admission to the public realm was still in existence in the earlier Middle Ages. The English “Books of Customs” still drew “a sharp distinction between the craftsman and the freeman, franke homme, of the town. … If a craftsman became so rich that he wished to become a freeman, he must first foreswear his craft and get rid of all his tools from his house” (W. J. Ashley, op. cit., p. 83). It was only under the rule of Edward III that the craftsmen be­came so rich that “instead of the craftsmen being incapable of citizenship, citizen­ship came to be bound up with membership of one of the companies” (p. 89).

  3. Coulanges, in distinction from other authors, stresses the time- and strength-consuming activities demanded from an ancient citizen, rather than his “leisure,” and sees rightly that Aristotle’s statement that no man who had to work for his livelihood could be a citizen is a simple statement of fact rather than the expression of a prejudice (op. cit., pp. 335 ff.). It is characteristic of the mod­ern development that riches as such, regardless of the occupation of their owner, became a qualification for citizenship: only now was it a mere privilege to be a citizen, unconnected with any specifically political activities.

Here is the first explicit indication of how wealth might be evaluated: in numbers of slaves.

¶ 8.10

Only with the emergence of such a common world in concrete tangibility, that is, with the rise of the city-state, could this kind of private ownership acquire its eminent political significance, and it is therefore almost a matter of course that the famous “disdain for menial occupations” is not yet to be found in the Homeric world. If the property-owner chose to enlarge his property in­stead of using it up in leading a political life, it was as though he willingly sacrificed his freedom and became voluntarily what the slave was against his own will, a servant of necessity.69 [65]

  1. This seems to me to be the solution of the “well-known puzzle in the study of the economic history of the ancient world that industry developed up to a certain point, but stopped short of making progress which might have been ex­pected … [in view of the fact that] thoroughness and capacity for organization on a large scale is shown by the Romans in other departments, in the public services and the army” (Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire, pp. 109–10). It [65] seems a prejudice due to modern conditions to expect the same capacity for or­ganization in private as in “public services.” Max Weber, in his remarkable essay (op. cit.) had already insisted on the fact that ancient cities were rather “centers of consumption than of production” and that the ancient slave owner was a “rentier and not a capitalist [Unternehmer]” (pp. 13, 22 ff., and 144). The very indifference of ancient writers to economic questions, and the lack of documents in this respect, give additional weight to Weber’s argument.

The “puzzle” is why people have different inclinations; but the fact is that they do, particularly before the rise of mass society!

¶ 8.11

Up to the beginning of the modern age, this kind of property had never been held to be sacred, and only where wealth as the source of income coincided with the piece of land on which a family was located, that is, in an essentially agricultural society, could these two types of property coincide to such an extent that all property assumed the character of sacredness. Modern advo­cates of private property, at any rate, who unanimously under­stand it as privately owned wealth and nothing else, have little cause to appeal to a tradition according to which there could be no free public realm without a proper establishment and protection of privacy. For the enormous and still proceeding accumulation of wealth in modern society, which was started by expropriation—the expropriation of the peasant classes which in turn was the almost accidental consequence of the expropriation of Church and monastic property after the Reformation70has never shown [66] much consideration for private property but has sacrificed it whenever it came into conflict with the accumulation of wealth. Proudhon’s dictum that property is theft has a solid basis of truth in the origins of modern capitalism; it is all the more significant that even Proudhon hesitated to accept the doubtful remedy of general expropriation, because he knew quite well that the aboli­tion of private property, while it might cure the evil of poverty, was only too likely to invite the greater evil of tyranny.71 Since he did not distinguish between property and wealth, his two in­sights appear in his work like contradictions, which in fact they are not. Individual appropriation of wealth will in the long run respect private property no more than socialization of the ac­cumulation process. It is not an invention of Karl Marx but actually in the very nature of this society itself that privacy in every sense can only hinder the development of social “produc­tivity” and that considerations of private ownership therefore should be overruled in favor of the ever-increasing process of social wealth.72 [67]

  1. All histories of the working class, that is, a class of people who are with­out any property and live only from the work of their hands, suffer from the naive assumption that there has always been such a class. Yet, as we saw, even slaves were not without property in antiquity, and the so-called free labor in an­tiquity usually rurns out to consist of “free shopkeepers, traders and craftsmen” arrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 126). M. E. Park (The Plebs Urbana in Cicero’s Day [1921]), therefore, comes to the conclusion that there was no free labor, since the free man always appears to be an owner of some sort. W. J. Ashley sums up the situation in the Middle Ages up to the fifteenth century: “There was as yet no large class of wage laborers, no ‘working class’ in the mod­ern sense of the term. By ‘working men,’ we mean a number of men, from among whom individuals may indeed rise to become masters, but the majority of whom cannot hope ever to rise to a higher position. But in the fourteenth century a few years’ work as a journeyman was but a stage through which the poorer men had to pass, while the majority probably set up for themselves as master craftsmen as soon as apprenticeship was over” (op. cit., pp. 93–94).

    Thus, the working class in antiquity was neither free nor without property; if, through manumission, the slave was given (in Rome) or had bought (in [66] Athens) his freedom, he did not become a free laborer but instantly became an independent businessman or craftsman. (“Most slaves seem to have taken into freedom some capital of their own” to set up in trade and industry [Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire, p. 103]). And in the Middle Ages, to be a worker in the modern sense of the term was a temporary stage in one’s life, a preparation for mastership and manhood. Hired labor in the Middle Ages was an exception, and the German day laborers (the Tagelöhner in Luther’s Bible translation) or the French maneuvres lived outside the settled communities and were identical with the poor, the “labouring poor” in England (see Pierre Brizon, Histoire du travail et des travailleurs [1926], p. 40). Moreover, the fact that no code of law before the Code Napoléon offers any treatment of free labor (see W. Endemann, Die Behandlung der Arbeit im Privatrecht (1896), pp. 49, 53) shows conclusively how recent the existence of a working class is.

  2. See the ingenious comment on “property is theft” which occurs in Prou­dhon’s posthumously published Théorie de la propriété, pp. 209–10, where he pre­sents property in its “egoist, satanic nature” as the “most efficient means to re­sist despotism without overthrowing the state.”

  3. I must confess that I fail to see on what grounds in present-day society liberal economists (who today call themselves conservatives) can justify their optimism that the private appropriation of wealth will suffice to guard individual liberties—that is, will fulfil the same role as private property. In a jobholding [67] society, these liberties are safe only as long as they are guaranteed by the state, and even now they are constantly threatened, not by the state, but by society, which distributes the jobs and determines the share of individual appropriation.

In the last note, for “society” read “capital” or “the capitalist class”?

9 the social and the private

¶ 9.1

What we called earlier the rise of the social coincided historically with the transformation of the private care for private property into a public concern. Society, when it first entered the public realm, assumed the disguise of an organization of property-owners who, instead of claiming access to the public realm because of their wealth, demanded protection from it for the accumulation of more wealth. In the words of Bodin, government belonged to kings and property to subjects, so that it was the duty of the kings to rule in the interest of their subjects’ property. “The common­wealth,” as has recently been pointed out, “largely existed for the common wealth.”73

  1. R. W. K. Hinton, “Was Charles Ia Tyrant?” Review of Politics, Vol. XVIII (January, 1956).

It sounds as if the “rise of the social” might not have coincided with making private property a public concern, and thus they are two. We shall have to look later for an account of the social as such.

¶ 9.2

When this common wealth, the result of activities formerly banished to the privacy of the households, was permitted to take over the public realm, private possessions—which are essentially much less permanent and much more vulnerable to the mortality of their owners than the common world, which always grows out of the past and is intended to last for future generations—began to undermine the durability of the world. It is true that wealth can be accumulated to a point where no individual life-span can use it up, so that the family rather than the individual becomes its owner. Yet wealth remains something to be used and consumed no matter how many individual life-spans it may sustain. Only when wealth became capital, whose chief function was to gen­erate more capital, did private property equal or come close to the permanence inherent in the commonly shared world.74 How- [68] ever, this permanence is of a different nature; it is the permanence of a process rather than the permanence of a stable structure. Without the process of accumulation, wealth would at once fall back into the opposite process of disintegration through use and consumption.

  1. For the history of the word “capital” deriving from the Latin caput, which in Roman law was employed for the principal of a debt, see W. J. Ashley, op. cit., pp. 429 and 433, n. 183. Only eighteenth-century writers began to use the word in the modern sense as “wealth invested in such a way as to bring gain.” [68]

What is a stable structure: a house, the land it is on, or something more abstract (the way a process is abstract)?

¶ 9.3

Common wealth, therefore, can never become common in the sense we speak of a common world; it remained, or rather was intended to remain, strictly private. Only the government, ap­pointed to shield the private owners from each other in the com­petitive struggle for more wealth, was common. The obvious contradiction in this modern concept of government, where the only thing people have in common is their private interests, need no longer bother us as it still bothered Marx, since we know that the contradiction between private and public, typical of the initial stages of the modern age, has been a temporary phenomenon which introduced the utter extinction of the very difference be­tween the private and public realms, the submersion of both in the sphere of the social. By the same token, we are in a far better position to realize the consequences for human existence when both the public and private spheres of life are gone, the public because it has become a function of the private and the private because it has become the only common concern left.

See ¶ 8.8 of the previous section on how, initially, private property was not simply a condition for admission to the public. Utter strangers cannot establish a club with rules for admission; they have to recognize their what they share first. To say otherwise would seem to be such a contradiction as Arendt is talking about now.

¶ 9.4

Seen from this viewpoint, the modern discovery of intimacy seems a flight from the whole outer world into the inner subjec­tivity of the individual, which formerly had been sheltered and protected by the private realm. The dissolution of this realm into the social may most conveniently be watched in the progressing transformation of immobile into mobile property until eventually the distinction between property and wealth, between the fun­gibiles and the consumptibiles of Roman law, loses all significance because every tangible, “fungible” thing has become an object of “consumption”; it lost its private use value which was determined by its location and acquired an exclusively social value determined through its ever-changing exchangeability whose fluctuation could itself be fixed only temporarily by relating it to the common de­nominator of money.75 Closely connected with this social evapora- [69] tion of the tangible was the most revolutionary modern contribu­tion to the concept of property, according to which property was not a fixed and firmly located part of the world acquired by its owner in one way or another but, on the contrary, had its source in man himself, in his possession of a body and his indisputable ownership of the strength of this body, which Marx called “labor-power.”

  1. Medieval economic theory did not yet conceive of money as a common denominator and yardstick but counted it among the consumptibiles. [69]

Academic tenure is supposed to be what private property used to be, except you cannot inherit it.

There are things in the world, but they do not classify themselves; we have to do it.

Thus for example a piece of land becomes property, thus falling into the class of things that are owned, only when we recognize it as property.

Likewise, being male or female is a property (!) of many organisms, including humans, if we choose to recognize it. That doesn’t mean we can just decide to use the sex designations differently. I don’t know if this is connected with Arendt’s unease at the revolution in the understanding of property. See the next paragraph.

¶ 9.5

Thus modern property lost its worldly character and was lo­cated in the person himself, that is, in what an individual could lose only along with his life. Historically, Locke’s assumption that the labor of one’s body is the origin of property is more than doubtful; but in view of the fact that we already live under condi­tions where our only reliable property is our skill and our labor power, it is more than likely that it will become true. For wealth, after it became a public concern, has grown to such proportions that it is almost unmanageable by private ownership. It is as though the public realm had taken its revenge against those who tried to use it for their private interests. The greatest threat here, however, is not the abolition of private ownership of wealth but the abolition of private property in the sense of a tangible, worldly place of one’s own.

Apparently Arendt doubts that people started saying “This land is mine” only after they had worked the land. However, Locke’s claim would seem to be the basis of making property inalienable, and this is part of the move to make the public responsible for one’s own things. This lets you collect so many things that you cannot manage or “work” them alone. Nonetheless, you are not likely to get your things taken away; what you will lose is any sense of belonging to a place. Perhaps this is the key concern, though Arendt has not said it: rootlessness.

¶ 9.6

In order to understand the danger to human existence from the elimination of the private realm, for which the intimate is not a very reliable substitute, it may be best to consider those non-privative traits of privacy which are older than, and independent of, the discovery of intimacy. The difference between what we have in common and what we own privately is first that our private possessions, which we use and consume daily, are much more urgently needed than any part of the common world; with­out property, as Locke pointed out, “the common is of no use.”76 The same necessity that, from the standpoint of the public realm, shows only its negative aspect as a deprivation of freedom pos­sesses a driving force whose urgency is unmatched by the so-called higher desires and aspirations of man; not only will it always be the first among man’s needs and worries, it will also prevent the apathy and disappearance of initiative which so obvi- [70] ously threatens all overly wealthy communities.77 Necessity and life are so intimately related and connected that life itself is threatened where necessity is altogether eliminated. For the elimination of necessity, far from resulting automatically in the establishment of freedom, only blurs the distinguishing line be­tween freedom and necessity. (Modern discussions of freedom, where freedom is never understood as an objective state of human existence but either presents an unsolvable problem of subjectivity, of an entirely undetermined or determined will, or develops out of necessity, all point to the fact that the objective, tangible differ­ence between being free and being forced by necessity is no longer perceived.)

  1. Second Treatise of Civil Government, sec. 27. [70]

  2. The relatively few instances of ancient authors praising labor and poverty are inspired by this danger (for references see G. Herzog-Hauser, op. cit.).

See ¶ 5.5 (pp. 30–1): “the mastering of the necessities of life in the household was the condition for freedom of the polis. Under no circumstances could politics be only a means to protect society.”

The capitalists think workers will work better if paid less; Arendt says the capitalists need to be paid less, that is, given less public protection for their private interests.

Or is that really all she is saying? The analytic philosophers who debate free will: are they simply handicapped from never having had to go hungry?

But then if your experience determines or at least conditions your thought, why does not Arendt tell us of her own experience?

What would Arendt make of the idea that Huck is the freest character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

¶ 9.7

The second outstanding non-privative characteristic of privacy is that the four walls of one’s private property offer the only reli­able hiding place from the common public world, not only from everything that goes on in it but also from its very publicity, from being seen and being heard. A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow. While it retains its visibility, it loses the quality of rising into sight from some darker ground which must remain hidden if it is not to lose its depth in a very real, non-subjective sense. The only efficient way to guarantee the darkness of what needs to be hidden against the light of publicity is private property, a privately owned place to hide in.78

  1. The Greek and Latin words for the interior of the house, megaron and atrium, have a strong connotation of darkness and blackness (see Mommsen, op. cit., pp. 22 and 236). [71]

Is Arendt calling extraverts shallow? See ¶ 8.2.

¶ 9.8

While it is only natural that the non-privative traits of privacy should appear most clearly when men are threatened with depriva­tion of it, the practical treatment of private property by premod­ern political bodies indicates clearly that men have always been conscious of their existence and importance. This, however, did not make them protect the activities in the private realm directly, but rather the boundaries separating the privately owned from other parts of the world, most of all from the common world itself. The distinguishing mark of modern political and economic theory, [71] on the other hand, in so far as it regards private property as a crucial issue, has been its stress upon the private activities of property-owners and their need of government protection for the sake of accumulation of wealth at the expense of the tangible property itself. What is important to the public realm, however, is not the more or less enterprising spirit of private businessmen but the fences around the houses and gardens of citizens. The invasion of privacy by society, the “socialization of man” (Marx), is most efficiently carried through by means of expropriation, but this is not the only way. Here, as in other respects, the revolu­tionary measures of socialism or communism can very well be replaced by a slower and no less certain “withering away” of the private realm in general and of private property in particular.

Arendt said the following at a 1972 conference, according to a footnote in Margaret Canovan, “Terrible Truths: Hannah Arendt on Politics, Contingency and Evil,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie, vol. 53, no. 208 (2), 1999, pp. 173–89:

I do not share Marx’s great enthusiasm about capitalism … He was surrounded by the most hideous consequences of this system and nevertheless thought that this was a great business. He was, of course, also Hegelian and believed in the power of the negative. Well, I don’t believe in the power of the negative, of the negation, if it is the terrible misfortune of other people.

I learned the first sentence from a tweet of February 18, 2022, by Arendt scholar Samantha Rose Hill.

¶ 9.9

The distinction between the private and public realms, seen from the viewpoint of privacy rather than of the body politic, equals the distinction between things that should be shown and things that should be hidden. Only the modern age, in its rebellion against society, has discovered how rich and manifold the realm of the hidden can be under the conditions of intimacy; but it is striking that from the beginning of history to our own time it has always been the bodily part of human existence that needed to be hidden in privacy, all things connected with the necessity of the life process itself, which prior to the modern age comprehended all activities serving the subsistence of the individual and the sur­vival of the species. Hidden away were the laborers who “with their bodies minister to the [bodily] needs of life,”79 and the women who with their bodies guarantee the physical survival of the species. Women and slaves belonged to the same category and were hidden away not only because they were somebody else’s property but because their life was “laborious,” devoted to bodily functions.80 In the beginning of the modern age, when “free” [72] labor had lost its hiding place in the privacy of the household, the laborers were hidden away and segregated from the community like criminals behind high walls and under constant supervision.81 The fact that the modern age emancipated the working classes and the women at nearly the same historical moment must cer­tainly be counted among the characteristics of an age which no longer believes that bodily functions and material concerns should be hidden. It is all the more symptomatic of the nature of these phenomena that the few remnants of strict privacy even in our own civilization relate to “necessities” in the original sense of being necessitated by having a body.

  1. Aristotle Politics 1254b25.

  2. The life of a woman is called ponētikos by Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals 775a33. That women and slaves belonged and lived together, that no woman, not even the wife of the houschold head, lived among her equals—other free women—so that rank depended much less on birth than on “occupation” or fanction, is very well presented by Wallon (op. cit., I, 77 f.), who speaks of a “confusion des rangs, ce partage de toutes les fonctions domestiques”: “Les [72] femmes … se confondaient avec leurs esclaves dans les soins habituels de Ia vie intérieure. De quelque rang qu’elles fussent, le travail était leur apanage, com­me aux hommes la guerre.”

  3. See Pierre Brizon, Histoire du travail et des travailleurs (4th ed.; 1926), p. 184, concerning the conditions of factory work in the seventeenth century. [73]

What is left of privacy: the bathroom? Some people are still bothered by eating in public, but public feasting would seem to be age-old.

10 the location of human activities

¶ 10.1

Although the distinction between private and public coincides with the opposition

  • of necessity and freedom,
  • of futility and per­manence, and, finally,
  • of shame and honor,

it is by no means true that only the necessary, the futile, and the shameful have their proper place in the private realm. The most elementary meaning of the two realms indicates that there are things that need to be hidden and others that need to be displayed publicly if they are to exist at all. If we look at these things, regardless of where we find them in any given civilization, we shall see that each human activity points to its proper location in the world. This is true for the chief activities of the vita activa, labor, work, and action; but there is one, admittedly extreme, example of this phenomenon, whose advantage for illustration is that it played a considerable role in political theory.

According to ¶ 4.2, p. 22,

  • one can do labor and work alone, although one is not then doing them as a human; but
  • “only action is entirely dependent upon the constant presence of others.”

In present terms, the latter must mean the “proper location” of action is public; but then does the former mean that everything human is public? According to the previous ¶ 9.9, pp. 72–3, labor was once thought to have its proper location of the private realm, but this is mostly no longer true.

¶ 10.2

Goodness in an absolute sense, as distinguished from the “good-for” or the “excellent” in Greek and Roman antiquity, became known in our civilization only with the rise of Christianity. Since [73] then, we know of good works as one important variety of possible human action. The well-known antagonism between early Chris­tianity and the res publica, so admirably summed up in Tertullian’s formula: nec ulla magis res aliena quam publica (“no matter is more alien to us than what matters publicly”),82 is usually and rightly understood as a consequence of early eschatological expectations that lost their immediate significance only after experience had taught that even the downfall of the Roman Empire did not mean the end of the world.83 Yet the otherworldliness of Christianity has still another root, perhaps even more intimately related to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and at any rate so independent of the belief in the perishability of the world that one is tempted to see in it the true inner reason why Christian alienation from the world could so easily survive the obvious non-fulfilment of its eschatological hopes.

  1. Tertullian op. cit. 38.

  2. This difference of experience may partly explain the difference between the great sanity of Augustine and the horrible concreteness of Tertullian’s views on politics. Both were Romans and profoundly shaped by Roman political life. [74]

Arendt is making the move that Socrates makes in Book I of the Republic, when he trips up Polemarchus by inducing him to think that justice is an art alongside medicine, cookery, and piloting. Replace justice with good and the same problem arises. No activity is simply just or good, but everything is good, as in the formula Quodlibet ens est unum verum bonum.

Maybe this is in Aquinas, but I seem to know it from Kant, Critique of Pure Reason; “Transcendental Doctrine of Elements”; Pt. II, “Transcendental Logic”; Div. I, “Transcendental Analytic”; Bk I, “Analytic of Concepts”; Ch. I, “On the clue to the discovery of all pure concepts of the understanding”; Third section, “On the pure concepts of the understanding or categories” (B 113):

But there is also yet another chapter in the transcendental philosophy of the ancients that contains pure concepts of the understanding that, although they are not reckoned among the categories, nevertheless according tot hem should also count as a priori cooncepts of objects, in which case, however, they would increase the number of the categories, which cannot be. These are expounded in the proposition, so famous among the scholastics: quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum (Every being is one, true, and good).

The translation is that of Guyer and Wood, 1998.

You can set out to do good works, as you may set out to be an artist or a writer. You cannot simply write, but must have something to write; however, things to write about arise naturally, and so do things to be good about, as Jesus taught (John 12):

3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

I brought this up in “Plato and Christianity,” in wondering “whether Socrates has concern for the weak and oppressed,” and before that, “who are those persons?” Arendt has told us in ¶ 7.10, p. 55,

the curse of slavery consisted not only in being deprived of freedom and of visibility, but also in the fear of these obscure people themselves “that from being obscure they should pass away leaving no trace that they have existed.

However, in ¶ 5.13, n. 30, p. 36,

Greek slaves … 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.

¶ 10.3

The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the activity of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency at least of early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be under­stood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works, independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, of being done for nothing but good­ness’ sake.

  • When goodness appears openly, it is no longer good­ness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.

  • Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

By allowing that something good may come out doing good openly, although she calls it being useful or dutiful, Arendt seems to follow Socrates, at the beginning of Book II of the Republic, 357b–8a, in his response to Glaucon, who lays out a trichotomy:

  1. “Tell me, is there in your opinion a kind of good that we would choose to have not because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake—such as enjoyment and all the pleasures which are harmless and leave no after effects other than the enjoyment in having them?”

    “In my opinion, at least,” I said, “there is a good of this kind.”

  2. “And what about this? Is there a kind we like both for its own sake and for what comes out of it, such as thinking and seeing and being healthy? Surely we delight in such things on both accounts.”

    “Yes,” I said.

  3. “And do you see a third form of good, which includes gymnastic exercise, medical treatment when sick as well as the practice of medicine, and the rest of the activities from which money is made? We would say that they are drudgery but beneficial to us; and we would not choose to have them for themselves but for the sake of the wages and whatever else comes out of them.”

    “Yes, there is also this third,” I said …

“An Epicurean chooses [1]; Plato, Aristotle, and most other ancient theorists choose [2]; Stoics choose [3],” by the account in Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction (2018), by Brad Inwood, who continues:

Not only is virtue its own reward, but any additional benefits it might produce are not similarly valuable and cannot be a reason for choosing virtue. In fact, most Stoics would say that it would somehow degrade or taint virtue to choose it even in part for that sort of reason. Stoics aren’t alone in taking this extreme and even counter-intuitive position—the loosely defined group known as Cynics would join them and push the paradoxes even further on occasion; but Stoicism is the school that provides the best worked out and most credible version of the position.

I found this passage in a blog post by Donald Robertson called “Virtue Is Its Own Reward,” which features a collection of quotations about the saying that is its title, and which came up when I searched for the origin of that saying.

¶ 10.4

It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Naza- [74] reth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; it certainly seems to be the reason why he thought and taught that no man can be good: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.84

  • The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves.
  • We are reminded of Socrates’ great in­sight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born;
  • the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.
  1. Luke 18: 19. The same thought occurs in Matt. 6: 1–18, where Jesus warns against hypocrisy, against the open display of piety. Piety cannot “appear unto men” but only unto God, who “seeth in secret” God, it is true, “shall re­ward” man, but not, as the standard translation claims, “openly.” The German word Scheinheiligkeit expresses this religious phenomenon, where mere appear­ance is already hypocrisy, quite adequately. [75]

Translated componentwise into English cognates, Scheinheiligkeit seems to be “shining holy-hood.” The standard translation seems to be “hypocrisy,” but the Wikipedia article for this links to the German article on Heuchelei. That article mentions Scheinheiligkeit, but the link for this is redirected to Bigotterie, which links to the English “bigotry,” which redirects to “prejudice.”

For the cited verses of Matthew 6, which include the Lord’s Prayer, here is the King James:

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Arendt is right that, in the latter parts of verses 6 and 18, “openly” is not in the Greek, which is respectively

καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι,
καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυφαίῳ ἀποδώσει σοι.

But then, an expectation of any reward at all would seem to be an expectation of a reward that is open to oneself, at least. In the search mentioned in my previous comment, on “Virtue is its own reward,” I found another essay with that title, this one by Harrison Perkins (of Edinburgh Theological Seminary), who asks,

is there another way that we can explain why Christians need to pursue godliness regardless of whether we affirm final rewards? … many assume that the only reason for doing something is if we get something in return for ourselves … Divine command theory teaches that we must do something simply because God told us to do it … One plausible response to supplement what can appear like a superficial answer is to add the prospect of final rewards as the reason that we should pursue holiness … I believe that the Scripture offers other reasons that undergird the Christian pursuit of godliness … being made in the image of God entails that we were made to be a certain way and work towards certain ends, namely in this case to reflect the good character of our holy God … this vision for Christian holiness rests upon an understanding of virtue ethics. This ethical paradigm holds that certain things are good in themselves … virtue truly is its own reward because the reward is an unfettered enjoyment of our relationship with Christ, who guarantees our everlasting life by grace alone.

¶ 10.5

Love of wisdom and love of goodness, if they resolve them­selves into the activities of philosophizing and doing good works, have in common that they come to an immediate end, cancel them­selves, so to speak, whenever it is assumed that man can be wise or be good. Attempts to bring into being that which can never survive the fleeting moment of the deed itself have never been lacking and have always led into absurdity.

  • The philosophers of late antiquity who demanded of themselves to be wise were absurd when they claimed to be happy when roasted alive in the famous Phaleric Bull. And
  • no less absurd is the Christian demand to be good and to turn the other cheek, when not taken metaphorically but tried as a real way of life.

Arendt alludes to the fifth of the six Antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5):

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

In The Godless Gospel (2020), Julian Baggini passes along the argument that Jesus was recommending nonviolent resistance against practices of the Roman occupation:

  1. Slapping people to provoke their response, which would justify arrest.
  2. Taking the clothing of debtors.
  3. Ordering people to carry a soldier’s kit a mile (this much was allowed by law).

Pace Arendt, nonviolent resistance was possible then, as it was possible for Gandhi and his followers under the British occupation of India. See ¶ 10.9 below.

I don’t think anybody could claim to be happy inside the Brazen Bull: they would not survive to tell us. There is an ideal to be happy there, or on the rack, as Diogenes Laertius reports, ostensibly in the words of Epicurus (volume II of the Loeb edition, X.117–8, in the translation of Hicks):

There are three motives to injurious acts among men—hatred, envy, and contempt; and these the wise man overcomes by reason. Moreover, he who has once become wise never more assumes the opposite habit, not even in semblance, if he can help it. He will be more susceptible of emotion than other men: that will be no hindrance to his wisdom. However, not every bodily constitution nor every nationality would permit a man to become wise. Even on the rack the wise man is happy (κἂν στρεβλωθῇ δ᾽ ὁ σοφός, εἶναι αὐτὸν εὐδαίμονα). He alone will feel gratitude towards friends, present and absent alike, and show it by word and deed. When on the rack, however, he will give vent to cries and groans.

I learned the citation from “Stoics and Epicureans on Facing Pain and Death Positively” by Katharine O’Reilly and Chris Gill (November 16, 2019).

¶ 10.6

But the similarity between the activities springing from love of goodness and love of wisdom ends here. Both, it is true, stand in a certain opposition to the public realm, but the case of goodness is much more extreme in this respect and therefore of greater rele­vance in our context. Only goodness must go into absolute hiding and flee all appearance if it is not to be destroyed. The philosopher, even if he decides with Plato to leave the “cave” of human affairs, does not have to hide from himself; on the contrary, under the sky of ideas he not only finds the true essences of everything that is, [75] but also himself, in the dialogue between “me and myself” (eme emautō) in which Plato apparently saw the essence of thought.85 To be in solitude means to be with one’s self, and thinking, there­fore, though it may be the most solitary of all activities, is never altogether without a partner and without company.

  1. One finds this idiom passim in Plato (see esp. Gorgias 482). [76]

¶ 10.7

The man, however, who is in love with goodness can never afford to lead a solitary life, and yet his living with others and for others must remain essentially without testimony and lacks first of all the company of himself. He is not solitary, but lonely; when living with others he must hide from them and cannot even trust himself to witness what he is doing. The philosopher can always rely upon his thoughts to keep him company, whereas good deeds can never keep anybody company; they must be forgotten the moment they are done, because even memory will destroy their quality of being “good.” Moreover, thinking, because it can be remembered, can crystallize into thought, and thoughts, like all things that owe their existence to remembrance, can be trans­formed into tangible objects which, like the written page or the printed book, become part of the human artifice. Good works, because they must be forgotten instantly, can never become part of the world; they come and go, leaving no trace. They truly are not of this world.

The goodness of a deed is forgotten by the doer; but is it not part of the goodness that others do remember? Matthew 27:

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

This is where love of goodness comes in; read on.

¶ 10.8

It is this worldlessness inherent in good works that makes the lover of goodness an essentially religious figure and that makes goodness, like wisdom in antiquity, an essentially non-human, superhuman quality. And yet love of goodness, unlike love of wis­dom, is not restricted to the experience of the few, just as loneli­ness, unlike solitude, is within the range of every man’s experience. In a sense, therefore, goodness and loneliness are of much greater relevance to politics than wisdom and solitude; yet only solitude can become an authentic way of life in the figure of the philosopher, whereas the much more general experience of loneliness is so con­tradictory to the human condition of plurality that it is simply unbearable for any length of time and needs the company of God, the only imaginable witness of good works, if it is not to annihilate human existence altogether. The otherworldiness of religious ex­perience, in so far as it is truly the experience of love in the sense [76] of an activity, and not the much more frequent one of beholding passively a revealed truth, manifests itself within the world itself; this, like all other activities, does not leave the world, but must be performed within it. But this manifestation, though it appears in the space where other activities are performed and depends upon it, is of an actively negative nature; fleeing the world and hiding from its inhabitants, it negates the space the world offers to men, and most of all that public part of it where everything and every­body are seen and heard by others.

Is a monk a philosopher?

If God can witness one’s good works, why not anybody who is better than oneself?

¶ 10.9

Goodness, therefore, as a consistent way of life, is not only impossible within the confines of the public realm, it is even de­structive of it. Nobody perhaps has been more sharply aware of this ruinous quality of doing good than Machiavelli, who, in a famous passage, dared to teach men “how not to be good.”86 Needless to add, he did not say and did not mean that men must be taught how to be bad; the criminal act, though for other reasons, must also flee being seen and heard by others. Machiavelli’s cri­terion for political action was glory, the same as in classical antiquity, and badness can no more shine in glory than goodness. Therefore all methods by which “one may indeed gain power, but not glory” are bad.87 Badness that comes out of hiding is impudent and directly destroys the common world; goodness that comes out of hiding and assumes a public role is no longer good, but corrupt in its own terms and will carry its own corruption wherever it goes. Thus, for Machiavelli, the reason for the Church’s becoming a corrupting influence in Italian politics was her participation in secular affairs as such and not the individual corruptness of bishops and prelates. To him, the alternative posed by the problem of religious rule over the secular realm was in­escapably this: either the public realm corrupted the religious body and thereby became itself corrupt, or the religious body re­mained uncorrupt and destroyed the public realm altogether. A reformed Church therefore was even more dangerous in Machia­velli’s eyes, and he looked with great respect but greater apprehen­sion upon the religious revival of his time, the “new orders” which, by “saving religion from being destroyed by the licentious- [77] ness of the prelates and heads of the Church,” teach people to be good and not “to resist evil”—with the result that “wicked rulers do as much evil as they please.”88

  1. Prince, ch. 15.

  2. Ibid., ch. 8. [77]

  3. Discourses, Book III, ch. 1. [78]

¶ 10.10

We chose the admittedly extreme example of doing good works, extreme because this activity is not even at home in the realm of privacy, in order to indicate that the historical judgments of politi­cal communities, by which each determined which of the activities of the vita activa should be shown in public and which be hidden in privacy, may have their correspondence in the nature of these activities themselves. By raising this question, I do not intend to attempt an exhaustive analysis of the activities of the vita activa, whose articulations have been curiously neglected by a tradition which considered it chiefly from the standpoint of the vita contem­plativa, but to try to determine with some measure of assurance their political significance. [78]

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  1. […] §§ 7–10 […]

  2. […] is mentioned but twice more in this reading, the fifth. In the third reading, Arendt ridiculed the notion that government’s job was only to protect private property. She […]

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