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Review: Arendt's Judgment on Kant's Political Philosophy

Author(s): Robert E. Meyerson


Review by: Robert E. Meyerson
Source: The Review of Politics, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1983), pp. 620-624
Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of
Review of Politics
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1407171
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620

THE REVIEW OF POLITICS

thatclassictragedy"seemsalwaysto
Second,in supportofhis statement
have avoidedthechromaticscale"(p. 143), Lord observesthattheone
pieceoftragicmusicfromclassicaltimesuses theenharmonic
surviving
in
the
ofcourse,can hardlybe
Phrygianmode.A singlefragment,
genus
consideredas confirmation
forsucha claim. Presumablysubsequentto
Lord'sworkhere,a newfragment
ofmusichas emergedfromtheclassic
Aulidensis
period,an excerptfromEuripides'Iphigenia
(1500-1509).This
datesfromabout 250 B.C. and thusis earlierthanthe Orestes
fragment
to byLord (Lord'snote61 shouldread:pp. 427-31,not
papyrusreferred
is setin theHyperaeolianmode and
"pp. 110-12").The "new"fragment
This singlecounterexample,
of
employsa greatdeal of chromaticism.
on tragedyand chromaticism
course,does not refuteLord's statement
it(see ThomasJ. Mathiesen,
just as theOrestes
papyrusdoesnotconfirm
"New Featuresof AncientGreek Music,"Actamusicologica,
53 (1981),
14-32). Third,Lord'sdate forAristidesQuintilianus(p. 203)-"2nd c.
A.D. ?"- is probablyabout 150yearstooearly(see "The LifeofAristides
to Thomas J. Mathiesen'sEnglish
Quintilianus"in the introduction
translation
of theDe musica(New Haven, forthcoming).
becomesinVirtuallyall writingon Aristotleand the peripatetics
fectedwiththeperipatetic
style,includingLord'sbookand thisreview.
Nonetheless,Carnes Lord has produceda studythatshouldappeal to a
widevarietyofreaders:classicists,
and
politicalscientists,
musicologists,
others.The book is wellwritten.
- ANDREr BARBERA

ARENDT'S JUDGMENT ON KANT'S


POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
Hannah Arendt:Lectures
on Kant'sPoliticalPhilosophy.
Edited by Ronald

Beiner.(Chicago:University
ofChicagoPress,1982.Pp. 192.$15.00.)

In her newly and posthumouslypublished Lectureson Kant's Political

Hannah Arendt,in whatat firstseemslikean amusingaside,


Philosophy,
triesto accountforKant's curioushope thathis Critique
ofPureReason
would eventuallyattain a certaindegree of popularity:"What Kant
- so strangein a philosopher,
a
hopedforin hishope forpopularization
- was thatthecirtribethatusuallyhas suchstrongsectariantendencies
cle ofhisexaminerswouldgraduallybe enlarged"(p. 39). This remarkis
typicalofArendtin a numberof ways.
First,Arendt'sanalysisis alwayshumanistic,thatis, closelytiedto
of human life.As a chamimmediate,even mundane,considerations
at a timewhenthatbranchofthephilosophical
tree
pion ofmetaphysics
was being marked for pruningby the professionalhusbandmenof
of a
philosophy,Arendtwas a particularlythis-worldly
practitioner
traditiondiscreditedforits other-worldly
obscurity.She saw nothing
unusual in thisquestionabout Kant's personalaspirations.But then,
such humanismis characteristic
of Arendt'sparticularcontribution
to
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621

theExistenz
in whichshe was intellectually
raised.
Philosophie
Also typical is Arendt'slight irony-who else has referredto
philosophersas a "tribe that usually has such strong sectarian
the
tendencies"?How can anyoneseriouslymaintainthatphilosophers,
are a tribe?Of course,Arendtisn'tquite
mostsolitary
ofall intellectuals,
serioushere,butratherironic.And, as withall irony,thetouchoffaceare tribalinsofaras they
value truthis thesuggestionthatphilosophers
carryon a conversationamong themselves,the sine qua non of their
thinking.Philosophersas a tribe?Well, it'sa joke, son.
Finally,Arendt'slittleaside is not quite so inconsequentialas its
and irrelevant
irreverent
tonemightsuggest.Indeed,
characteristically
as Arendtdrawsherlecturesto a close,and callsup forreviewa number
ofherphilosophical
dramatispersonae,itbecomesapparentthatKant's
seeminglyvain hope was the personalequivalentof his philosophical
grand finale, the "enlarged mentality"by which the individual
intohis own thinking
thedialecticalvoicesof
philosopherincorporates
his fellowmen,therebyachievingthe greatestexpressionof whichthe
- in this
of mankindis capable. Arendtuses theparticular
community
case, Kant'snaive hope- in orderto drawout and illuminatethemore
general- Kant's purpose.

This is Hannah Arendt'sstyleof philosophizing.


She nevergetsso
immersedin theabstrusequestionsofthoughtthatshelosessightofthe
thinker.And yet,at thesame time,she does not reducephilosophyto
some consequentialresidueof thephilosopher's
condition.For Arendt,
thephilosophical
momentis an occasion,an occasionforherto getabout
her own businessof thinking.One mightalmostsay thatshe turnsthe
tableson Leo Strauss,forwhomphilosophers
have bothan exotericand
an esotericmessage:Arendthas an ostensibleand a manifestmessage.
The ostensiblemessage is her subject, her occasion. The manifest
messageis herargument.True, thisis morea devicethana method,but
it is a devicerootedin herassumptionthatappearancesare to be taken
seriously.
In thislastofArendt'sworks- lastin thesensethathereditorintends
itto sketchout thebookthatshewas aboutto beginwhenshedied- her
ostensiblesubjectis Kant'spoliticalphilosophy.The ostensiblequestion
is: How do you talk about a book that Kant never wrote?Arendt's
answeris thatKant'spoliticalphilosophy
is implicitin hisCritique
ofJudgment.
Whatis surprising
about thisansweris notthatArendtturnsto a
seeminglyapoliticalbook in orderto wrestout some hidden,esoteric
is thatArendtregardsthewholeof
message.Ratherwhatis surprising
Kant's Critique
as hispoliticaltestament.
And this,indeed,is
ofJudgment
her manifest:politics(as we all knew,or shouldhave known,but are
surprisedto findout in thiscontextanyway)is a questionofjudgment.
The missinglink betweenjudgmentand politicsis the sensuscom"The it-pleases-or-displeases-me,
which
munis,thesenseof community:
as a feelingseemsso utterly
is actually
privateand non-communicative,
rootedin thiscommunity
senseand is therefore
opento communication"
(p. 72). One's judgments are not simply an expressionof one's
but rathera consequenceof one's choicesas rootedin the
preferences,
community.The implicationis that, at its best, judgment carries
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622

THE REVIEW OF POLITICS

and pointstheway to a betterlifeforall.


authority
hersubject,Arendtnotes,noncommitally,
that
By way of finishing
based as it is on his assumption
Kant's conceptof thesensuscommunis,
that"thehighestend intendedforman is sociability"
(p. 73), "joinsefwithhis hopes foruniversalpeace. Well, not quite so effortlessly"
forKant positsthe idea of an originalcompactamongmen
fortlessly,
fromwhicha seriesof maximsregulatingpoliticalbehaviorfollows.
Arendt seems to approve of these maxims and even proposes a
foractionofherown: "Alwaysact on themaxim
categoricalimperative
which
this
compactcan be actualizedinto a general
original
through
law" (p. 75). Thus, whereArendtmay be skepticalabout ultimate
about the consequences.One mighteven
choices,she is enthusiastic
supposethatforall heridealismsheassumesthepragmaticstandardaccordingto whichprinciplesarejudged by theirresults.
What is so interesting
forstudentsofArendt'sis thelightthisessay
throwson her otherwork,in particularher argument,so basic to The
and Between
thateconomicshas nothing
HumanCondition
PastandFuture,
to do withpolitics.Obviously,ifone wereto describethewaypoliticians
actuallyspendtheirtime,one wouldhave to devotemostattentionto
economicmatters:taxation,appropriation,
insurance,banking,trucking,etc. Arendt'ssystem,however,is not to be understoodas descripwhichcan onlybe
tion, but ratheras a sortof politicalmetaphysics
judged byitsconsequences,amongwhichwouldbe suchmaximsas,that
ratherthandrafted;a healthy
politicalactorsoughtto be self-selected,
politicalliferequiresbothlibertyand authority;and acquiringa good
nameis thehighestaim ofpoliticalaction.Arendt'spoliticalphilosophy,
likeKant's,is normative
and yetpragmaticin theend. It has itsground
outsideofpoliticsand yet,in Arendt'scase, culminatesin politicaljudgment.Her Lectures
onKant'sPolitical
Philosophy
bringus to thisconclusion
and to the realizationthatExistenzPhilosophieis not so veryfarremoved fromthe strainsof both idealismand pragmatismthathave
dominatedtwentieth-century
in Europe as wellas
politicalphilosophy,
theUnitedStates.
We owe a debtto Ronald Beiner,a lecturer
in politicsat theUniverforbringing
theseArendtlecturestoourattention.
sityofSouthampton,
He is certainlyrightthatKant and the questionofjudgmentplay a
decisiverolein Arendt'scollectedand unfinished
works.Indeed,hisimwhole- despitetheprobpliedthesisthatArendt'sworkis a philosophic
lem thispresentsforunderstanding
a thinkerwho rejectedsystemsof
thoughtas inimicalto thinking-is a welcomeadditionto a growing
shelfofcommentaries
thathavebeenall toocontenttoexaminepiecesof
Arendt'sphilosophical
worldwithouttryingto stepbackand determine
ifthosepiecesfitintoa largerpattern.
But Beiner'sproblemis thatwhathe gainsin perspective
on Arendt,
he losesin perspective
on himself.GivenArendt'smostsalienttrait,her
asideor thecontentious
abilityto takeus abackwiththearresting
thesis,
in sum her talent for writingan eminentlyinterestingform of
philosophy,Beinerlooks pale, if not pedantic,by comparison.When
Arendtlecturesus about Kant, her subject,forbetteror worse,is not
preciselyKant but ratherjudgmentitself.When Beinerwritesabout
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623

Arendt,thesubject,alas, remainsmerelyArendt.
On the other hand, one must conclude that the risk Beiner
takes-the risk of treatingin a scholarlyand detailed manner a
philosopherwho was apt to disdain such strictscholarship-waswell
takenand, indeed,successful.His argumentis thatArendt'streatiseon
judgmentwas to have been herstrongsuit;that,once played,it would
have freedhergamefromwhatappearedto be the"impasse"reachedby
on thinkingand willing.That "impasse"is variously
her deliberations
describedas natality,thefactthatman is "doomedtobe freebyvirtueof
is dependentupona
beingborn"(Arendt,p. 90), orthathumanfreedom
Arendt'sprobfacultyas elusiveas thewill.Beinerproceedsto construct
able way out of thisimpasseby using the presentessayon Kant, an
earlieressay entitled"The Crisis in Culture,"and some of her unargued, is thatjudgment
publishednotes. His answer,convincingly
itselfis Arendt'swayout of theimpasse.But forBeiner,Arendt'ssoluforbyrelegating
tionis onlypartiallysuccessful,
judgmentto therealm
ofthoughtratherthanaction,"Arendtwas forcedto expeljudgingfrom
The
theworldofthevitaactiva,to whichit maintainsa naturalaffinity.
reflection
on thenatureofjudging
upshotis thather moresystematic
resultedin a much narrower(and perhaps less rich) concept of
judgment"(p. 140).
Aside fromthe obvious objectionthatBeinercan hardlycriticize
Arendtfora positionthathe, Beiner,fabricates
forherwiththepublication of theselectures-an objectionweakenedby Beiner'sconvincing
- Beineris vulnerableon anotherscore.To viewjudgment
performance
in termsofa philosophical
"impasse"is, I think,onlyone wayto understandArendt'sposition.A farmorecompelling
by
approachis suggested
Beiner himself,namely, thatjudgmentprovidesa bridge between
and politics,thought
and action,evenifitbelongsessentially
philosophy
to therealmofthought.Beinercorrectly
perceivesa divisionin Arendt's
and the vitaactiva.He also correctly
thoughtbetween the vitacontemplativa

concludesthatArendt'smissionforjudgmentis partofherlargereffort
to rehabilitate
thattraditionally
discredited
as
activity,
"mere"judgment
opposed to truth.But Beinerarguesthatthisdivision,as it relatesto
judgment,issues in a shiftin Arendt'sthinking(p. 109). If by "shift"
Beinermeansa changein a former
position,ratherthana moveto new
thenhe is lettinghimselfbe misled.
territory,
That Arendt'slifeand thought
is markedbycontrasts
and
ofthought
actionis undeniable.Fromher studentyearsgrowingup in the"traditionofGermanphilosophy"-as sheaccountedforherallegiancesin the
famousexchangeofletterswithGershomScholemduringtheEichmann
affair-to her rathersudden immersionintoJewishpoliticswiththe
Nazi seizureofpower;fromherrelatively
stableyearsas a professor
and
wifeduringthe 1940'sand 1950's,to themoreturbulent
concernsand
the"shift
in
politicaldemandsofthe1960's,Hannah Arendtexperienced
became
emphasis"in a ratherdramaticpersonalfashion.Her writings
the almost seismographicrecord of these underlyingshifts.The
on Augustine'sconceptof love
apoliticalconcernsof her dissertation
gave way to themoreengagedsubjectmatterofemancipated
Jewryas
exemplifiedby Moses Mendelssohnand Rahel Varnhagenor, later,
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THE REVIEW OF POLITICS

cameto mean
BernardLazare and FranzKafkaforwhomemancipation
Arendtwas
alienation.Withthepublicationof Origins
ofTotalitarianism,
followedbythe
able to shiftintothecalmerseas of TheHumanCondition,
as worldmodelofsuccessful
revolution.But
Americanpoliticaltradition
herownrumblings
Arendtfoundherself
thrustintoa periodof
following
in
conflictand advocacythatbegan withthatevened score,Eichmann
and did notcease until"Lyingin Politics"and theconclusion
Jerusalem,
of theVietnamwar. Only thendid she returnfulltimeto thevitaconand the subject of On Thinking.
templativa

Despite thesedialecticalshifts,or contrasts,Arendt'sthoughtreifvaried.That consistency


mainsconsistent,
is sometimesobscuredby
as comprehensive
as Arendtis boundto be exthevariety.But a thinker
pansive. And ratherthan regard her turbulentlife as a kind of
faultlinewhichcontinually
shifted,
therebynecessitating
unpredictable
a readjustment
on thesurfaceofherlife'sphilosophy,
one mightbetter
as a kindofgeyserwhoseperiodiceruptions
regardherlife'sexperiences
hertheopportunity
afforded
tolocatethosephilosophical
pressurepoints
which would otherwisehave remainedhidden below the surfaceof
love is quitedifferent
speculation.Of course,theArendtofAugustine's
is far
fromthe Arendtof Eichmann'sbanality.But that difference
smallerthan the difference
of, say, the Hegel of the EarlyTheological
ofReligion,or the Kant of the pre- and
Writingsand the later Philosophy

postcritical
periods.
The roleofjudgmentin Arendt'sthought
is morethanjust a wayout
ofthe"impasse"ofwilling.It is thelink,nottheshift,
betweenthevitaactivaand thevitacontemplativa.
It helpsaccountforthecuriousaffinity
of
thatmostactiveof vitas,politics,withthatapparentlymostprivateof
vitas,judgment.It helpscompletethefullcircleofphilosophical
speculation fromthe existentialconditionof labor and workto the farmore
familiar
terrainofthinking
and willing,backthrough
the
philosophically
arbitrarybut principledconclusionsof judgment.As Arendtherself
noted in what mightwell be the epitaph of her life'swork: "The
cultivatedpersonis one whoknowshow to choosehis companyamong
men, among things,amongthoughts,in the presentas well as in the
past."
- ROBERT

E. MEYERSON

DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
Michael Waller:Democratic
An Historical
Centralism:
Commentary.
(New York:
St. Martin'sPress, 1981. Pp. v, 155. $20.00.)
Vladimir Lenin developed three basic modifications in Marxist
theorywhich so changed the ideas of Marx and Engels that MarxismLeninism became essentiallydifferentfromother variants of Marxism.
None of these three ideas, the theoryof imperialism,the concept of the
vanguard party and democratic centralism,is whollyoriginal to Lenin.
But democratic centralism,the least studied of these concepts, is often
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