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Hannah Arendt and the Philosophical Repression of Politics
Rancière and Arendt are both praxis theorists who want to escape political philosophy’s reduction of political issues to questions of government. For each of them, Plato seems to stand in for their former teacher, exemplifying the philosopher’s antipathy toward politics. Both look beyond the canon of political philosophy to find a more authentic mode of political thought, sometimes highlighting apparently marginal figures as exemplary political actors. For instance, while Arendt valorises Gotthold Lessing for his passionate openness to the world and love of it, Rancière celebrates Joseph Jacotot as the ignorant schoolmaster who presupposes an equality of intelligence between teacher and student. Arendt and Rancière both understand politics as aesthetic in nature, concerning the sensible world of appearances. They are both preoccupied with ‘events’ or exceptional moments of political action through which social worlds are disclosed to the senses. Given these affinities, sympathetic readers of Arendt might be surprised by Rancière’s claim that Arendt’s political thought, in fact, represses politics in a way paradigmatic of the tradition she sought to escape from. On the contrary, it might appear that rather than offering a rival view of politics, Rancière actually amends and extends an Arendtian conception of politics (e.g. Ingram 2006; 2008). I want to caution against such an interpretation. It is true that Arendt is an important influence on Rancière, despite his polemic against her. Yet, as Rancière (2003a, xxviii) observes in a different context, ‘the power of a mode of thinking has to do above all with its capacity to be displaced.’ Arendt’s understanding of praxis seems to resonate within Rancière’s work. However, those apparently Arendtian notions that Rancière make use of are fundamentally transformed when transposed within his broader thematization of dissensus. To develop this argument I first examine Arendt’s own account of the tension between philosophy and politics in order to understand the phenomenological basis of the political theory that she sought to develop. I then consider how persuasive Rancière’s characterization of Arendt as an ‘archipolitical’ thinker is. In the final section, I discuss some key passages in Disagreement in which Rancière alludes to Arendt. These passages highlight how those Arendtian concepts that do seem to find their way into Rancière’s thought are transformed when displaced from her ontology.
For: Jean-Philippe Deranty & Alison Ross (eds) Jacques Rancière in the Contemporary Scene: The Philosophy of Radical Equality. London: Continuum.