The politics of need
University of Exeter
In this chapter, I examine why Hannah Arendt views the satisfaction of human needs as, at best a pre-political concern and, at worst, the basis of an anti-political politics. This requires unpacking how Arendt develops her concept of the political in terms of her critique of Marx’s valorisation of labour. I argue that Arendt’s rejection of the satisfaction of human needs as a properly political concern is premised on a reductive ontological conception of needs, which neglects their historical dimension. I agree with Arendt that the end of politics is the enjoyment of freedom in a community of equals. Against Arendt, however, I take it that politics begins with the articulation of injustice, which often arises from the experience of unmet need. From this perspective, Arendt’s conception of the political has the perverse consequence of potentially depoliticising injustice. Yet Arendt’s understanding of the political in terms of praxis might nonetheless enable a distinction to be drawn between an authentic (political) form of the politics of need and an inauthentic (anti- or a-political) one. In this context, both Marx’s concept of ‘radical need’ (as discussed by Agnes Heller) and the work of Jacques Rancière suggest the possibility of a politics of need that might have the world-disclosing potential that is, for Arendt, the defining feature of the political.
Copyright © 2010 Ashgate
In: Andrew Schaap, Danielle Celermajer & Vrasidas Karalis (eds), Power, Judgment and Political Evil: In Conversation with Hannah Arendt, Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.