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Arendt: The Human Condition

Posted on September 20, 2009 in Reading Project

I’m pretty sure that The Human Condition is about the reasons that modern people aren’t as fulfilled as the ancient Greeks, but what I am absolutely sure about is that it’s a big fat apologetic for slavery. I read the “Labor” chapter which basically ends up concluding that working people are a bunch of disgusting cretins.

A hundred years after Marx we know the fallacy of this reasoning; the spare time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption, and the more time left to him, the greedier and more craving hist appetites.

Along the way, Arendt claims that Marx

predicted correctly, though with an unjustified glee, “the withering away” of the public realm under conditions of unhampered development of the “productive forces of society,” and he was equally right, that is, consistent with his conception of man as an animal laborans, when he foresaw “socialized men” would spend their freedom frmo laboring in those strictly private and essentially worldless activities what we now call “hobbies.”

and then, as if it supports her position, she quotes the passage from The German Ideology in which Marx claims that people in a socialist society would be free to

Do this today and that tomorrow, who hunt in the morning, go fishing in the afternoon, raise cattle in the evening, are critics after dinner, as they see fit, without for that matter ever becoming hunters, fisherman, shephards or critics.

(N.b.: Not sure what’s going on w/ the plurals there; in My Tucker Marx-Engels Reader all of the professions in the last sentence are singular, but whatever.)

Now the first problem here is that Marx does not, with of without glee, predict the withering away of the public realm. Instead, the final accomplishment of socialism is the withering away of the state. In a society free from oppression there would no longer be a need for an external apparatus the regulate behavior. The goal then is human interaction with fewer sources of mediation and regulation.

Reading through The Human Condition it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this conflation is based entirely on contempt for working people. It takes a pretty strong sense of indifference to the needs of those whose pants aren’t as fancy as one’s own to think that we live in a laborer’s society and that the mechanisms used by the people who live off of the sweat and blood of the animal laborans to keep their subjects in the dark are somehow an indictment of the character of those subjects. Like the Helenes she clearly idolizes, she assumes that someone’s status as a laborer allows her to understand their essence completely, and condemn them without qualms to serving her so that she might contribute to the public realm rather than soiling her own hands taking care of herself.

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