[POL S 319] - Midterm Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam (13 pages long!)

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POL S 319
MIDTERM EXAM
STUDY GUIDE
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Hannah Arendt; On Revolution
Dirk Deam Law & Politics
Chapter 1: The Meaning of Revolution
Antiquity knew well that “tyrants rise to power through the support of the
plain or the poor people, and that their greatest chance to keep power
lies in the people’s desire for equality of condition.” Prior to the modern
era, political overthrows and upheavals, “prompted by interest…
depended on a distinction between poor and rich which itself was
deemed… natural and unavoidable in the body politic.” In the modern
age, however, “men began to doubt that poverty is inherent in the human
condition,” and the “social question”, the question of poverty and
inequality, began to play a revolutionary role.
America, in particular, became “the symbol of a society without poverty.”
The prior regimes viewed “labour and toil” as the “appanage of poverty.”
But these became viewed as “the source of all wealth”, challenging the
distinction between the working poor and the land-owning aristocrats.
American society, even before the American Revolution, challenged
ancient distinctions and brought about a new revolutionary spirit.
After discussing these changes, Arendt challenges the claim that “all
modern revolutions are essentially Christian in origin.” She argues that
secularization, “the separation of religion from politics and the rise of a
secular realm with a dignity of its own,” is crucial in revolution. Thus,
revolution may be “that transitory phase which brings about the birth of a
new, secular realm,” and that secularization itself, rather than Christian
teachings, constitutes the origin of revolution. Indeed, “no revolution was
ever made in the name of Christianity prior to the modern age.”
The modern view of revolution seeks to establish an entirely new world
order which, in history, “resolves” the “social question.” History in the
Christian view, however, remains “bound with the cycles of antiquity—
empires would rise and fall as in the pastexcept that Christians, in the
possession of an everlasting life, could break through this cycle of
everlasting change and must look with indifference upon the spectacles
it offered.” In this way, Christianity had “ a greater affinity with classical
Greek… philosophical interpretations of human affairs than with the
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classical spirit of the Roman res publica.” The Greeks were convinced
that changeability was an essential part of mortal affairs. The Romans
emphasized a continuity of affairs in using education to “bind the ‘new
ones’ to the old, to make the young worthy of their ancestors”, while the
Greek philosophers experienced the “inherent changeability of all things
mortal… without any mitigation or consolation” and were persuaded that
they need not take human affairs too seriously.
II
According to Arendt, the modern concept of revolution includes the
notion that history begins anew, and this new beginning coincides with
an idea of freedom. Indeed, in the Free World, “freedom, and neither
justice nor greatness, is the highest criterion for judging the constitutions
of political bodies.” So Arendt turns to the “aspects under which freedom
then appeared.”
She distinguishes between liberation and freedom, though liberation
“may be the condition of freedom.” The distinction if “frequently
forgotten”, since “liberation has always loomed large and the foundation
of freedom has always been uncertain, leading political theory to
“understand by political freedom not a political phenomenon, but… the
more or less free range of non-political activities” permitted and
guaranteed.
“Freedom as a political phenomenon” arose with the Greek city-states
and was first understood as “a form of political organization in which the
citizens lived together under conditions of no-rule,” called isonomy.
Those proposing democracy criticized this as the worst form of
government, “rule by the demos.” The equality founded under isonomy
was not equality of condition, but political equality. Men were not equal
by nature, but became equal through the law of the polis.
Social life was essential for freedom, according to the Greeks. No man
could be free except among his peers, so rulers could not be free. “The
life of a free man needed the presence of others. Freedom itself needed
a place where people could come togetherthe agora, the market-
place, or the polis, the political space proper.”
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