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Source: PRAXISInternational(PRAXISInternational),issue:1+2/1989,pages:4871,


Jeffrey C. Isaac Political theory is beset by a growing dissatisfaction with prevailing modes of thought. This is expressed in a variety of idioms post-structuralism, pragmatism, conventionalist philosophy of science and signals an abandonment of the Enlightenment project of the unity of human reason and human freedom, and of its attempt to ground freedom upon first principles, and universal truths about human nature. This disenchantment was aptly articulated by C. Wright Mills thirty years ago: Our major orientations liberalism and socialism have virtually collapsed as adequate explanations of the world and of ourselves. These two ideologies came out of the Enlightenment, and they have had in common many assumptions and values. In both, increased rationality is held to be the prime condition of increased freedom. The liberating notion of progress by reason, the faith in science as an unmixed good, the demand for popular education and the faith in its political meaning for democracy all these ideals of The Enlightenment have rested upon the happy assumption of the inherent relation of reason and freedom.1 The current rejection of this happy assumption has largely been the work of philosophical movements. Richard Rortys critique of epistemology has called into question two ideas central to modern political thought: that we can have grounded knowledge of ourselves, and that the institutions of modern politics are based upon real progress in such knowledge.2 Conventionalist philosophies of science, rejecting the notions of scientific truth and progress in understanding reality, have reinforced this epistemological skepticism.3 Post-structuralism, with its emphasis upon the discursive constitution of human identity, has gone even further, challenging the very notion of human nature as a possible object of knowledge.4 These philosophical currents have converged into a theoretical tidal wave commonly referred to as postmodernism.5 Lyotard, in The Postmodern Condition, has offered an influential statement of this view. As he writes:
I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse . . . making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth . . . if a metanarrative implying a philosophy of history is used to legitimate knowledge, questions are raised concerning the validity of the institutions governing the social bond: these must be legitimated as well. Thus justice is consigned to the grand narrative in the same way as truth . . . Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.6

This view rests upon a cogent critique of modern epistemology, and correctly locates itself amidst a contemporary crisis of metaphysical philosophy and

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intellectual disciplines. Furthermore, it voices a sound skepticism about the various discourses of legitimation which have been articulated in the modern world. Yet the call to abandon such discourses to cease our inquiries into human nature, our attempts to articulate epistemological criteria, and, most importantly, our efforts to provide reasons for social and political obligation or rebellion is troubling. One reason is that it is hard to avoid the suspicion that such legitimations, however understood, are necessary to our theoretical discourse, and that postmodernist theory equally rests upon a discourse of legitimation, however implicit or covert.7 Another reason is its generally apolitical character. Let me be clear about what I mean here. Clearly postmodernism is staking a claim vis a vis modern philosophical and political discourse. In this sense it is, of course, political. But the nature of this claim, and of the critique it articulates, is often distressingly vague and abstract. The paradigmatic metaphors of postmodernism discourse, communication, conversation are disturbingly idealist, obscuring the practical involvements and struggles, the material concerns and relations, which are equally constitutive of social life.8 Related to this is the relative disinterest in the state which is exhibited when thinkers like Rorty, Lyotard, or even Foucault write about discourse and power.9 Finally, it is clear that postmodernism is premised upon the effacement, if not the abandonment, of critique as the guiding ideal of theoretical practice. This is most clearly expressed in Rortys philosophy of edification, but it is equally exhibited in the generally playful way in which people like Feyerabend and Foucault write about the world, and in their quite explicit efforts to subvert the notions of freedom and truth.10 Perry Anderson has written about the exorbitation of language characteristic of postmodern theory, suggesting that this reflects the professionalization of intellectual life and the hegemony of philosophical discourse within it. If true the latter is particularly ironic, given the general suspicion of philosophy characteristic of postmodernism. To say that postmodernism insufficiently addresses political problems, however, is not to deny that it has been crucially influenced by politics. In a peculiar way, the reaction of many contemporary theorists of postmodernism to the shattering political events of the twentieth century is analogous to the behaviour of the individuals in Platos cave. Afraid to look into the light, they have instead turned away towards its reflections, addressing metaphysics rather than political reality. The political writings of Hannah Arendt and Albert Camus are interesting because they point the way towards a more satisfactory postmodernism. As Norman Jacobson has put it, they offer us a political theory without solace, without the guarantees which traditional political thought purported to provide.12 Like current postmodernists, both writers criticize the Enlightenment project and its foundationalist views of human reason and human freedom. However, for Arendt and Camus this critique is grounded in a deconstruction of concrete historical experience as much as metaphysical philosophy. Further, their critique represents neither an abandonment of politics as a specific practice of effecting public power, nor a Utopian idealization of the status quo. In short, their theoretical and practical orientations, far from being edifying, were based upon an attempt to reappropriate historical themes of modernity and to reconstruct a revitalized public life. In what follows I will examine the theoretical perspectives Arendt and Camus offer us as


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inhabitants of a postmodern world, and the historical contexts which illuminate them. My aim here is not to present these thinkers as saints or authorities, only as exemplary theorists and political actors, who point the way towards a political and critical postmodernism. 1. The Abyss of the Twentieth Century

Both Arendt and Camus experienced the traumas of the mid-twentieth century first hand. For Arendt, as a German Jewess, this meant exile, internment, and homelessness.13 Politicized by the rise of Nazism, she became a Zionist and worked with the German Zionist Organization, helping to raise international consciousness about the plight of German Jews. In this capacity she was arrested and held for eight days, prompting her to clandestinely leave Germany, making her way from Prague, to Geneva, to Paris. There she worked with various Zionist organizations until 1940 when, after war broke out between France and Germany, she was interned as a German refugee. Of this she later wrote, sardonically: Apparently nobody wants to know that contemporary history has created a new kind of human beings the kind that are put into concentration camps by their foes and in internment camps by their friends.14 The experience of displacement was traumatic: We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives ... we were once somebodies about whom people cared, we were loved by friends, and even known by landlords as paying our rent regularly.15 Arendt reflected elsewhere on the more political situation of the Jewish refugee, foreshadowing her later interest in politics as the space of public appearances: Today the truth has come home: there is no protection in heaven or earth against bare murder, and a man can be driven at any moment from the streets and broad places once open to all . . . 16 Homelessness and statelessness were bad enough but, as Elisabeth Young-Bruehl reports, Arendt was shattered by the knowledge of Hitlers Final Solution. As she recounted years later:
At first we did not believe it . . . This was really as though the abyss had opened . . . I dont mean the number of victims, but the method, the fabrication of corpses I dont need to go further into that. This . . . was something that none of us could reconcile ourselves to . . . That was completely different. Personally, one could deal with everything else.17

Camus experience was rather different, but no less intense or formative. As a French-Algerian philosophy student he had joined the Communist Party in 1934, but he left shortly after in protest over the partys drastic move toward French nationalism during the Popular Front period. Camus objected to the partys attitude toward the native Algerians, as well as its authoritarianism and hypocrisy.18 His first political experience was thus grounded in the fateful developments of fullfledged Stalinism. After giving voice to the cause of oppressed native Algerians

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as a writer for the socialist Alger Republicain, he enlisted in the struggle against fascism. Turned down by the French army in 1939, and having moved to France, he involved himself in the Resistance, most notably as editor of the underground newspaper Combat. In his Letters to a German Friend he reflected upon the Occupation: Death strikes everywhere and at random. In the war we are fighting, courage steps up and volunteers, and every day you are shooting down our purest spirits . . . for five years it was no longer possible to enjoy the call of birds in the cool of the evening . . . For five years the earth has not seen a single morning without death agonies, a single evening without prisons, a single noon without slaughters.19 The Resistance was for Camus an experience of heroism and courage, but this did not overshadow the horrors or war and of occupation. His reflections on fascism in a later essay, Why Spain? sum up this experience. In response to the criticism of Gabriel Marcel, who had expressed surprise that a play about totalitarian tyranny would be laid in Spain rather than Eastern Europe, Camus writes:
May I confess that I am somewhat ashamed to ask the question for you? Why Guernica, Gabriel Marcel? Why that event which for the first time, in the face of a world still sunk in its comfort, gave Hitler, Mussolini and Franco a chance to show even children the meaning of totalitarian technique? Yes, why that event, which concerned us too? For the first time men of my age came face to face with injustice triumphing in history. At that time the blood of innocence flowed amid a chatter of pharisees, which, alas, is still going on. Because there are some of us who will never wash their hands of that blood . . . I have stated as vigorously as I could what I thought of the Russian concentration camps. But they will not make me forget Dachau, Buchenwald, and the nameless agony of millions, nor the dreadful repression that decimated the Spanish Republic.20

For Camus the mid-twentieth century was a terrible juncture in history, and his words certainly capture the spirit of the moment, one far removed from Enlightenment optimism: The world makes us feel sick, like this universal wave of cowardice, this mockery of courage, this parody of greatness, and this withering away of honor.21 The theoretical efforts of both writers dramatically bear the imprint of these terrible events. This is clear, for example, in Arendts first political work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, where she writes:
Two world wars in one generation, separated by an uninterrupted chain of local wars and revolutions, followed by no peace treaty for the vanquished and no respite for the victor, have ended in the anticipation of a third World War between the two remaining world powers . . . never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries . . . On the level of historical insight and political thought there prevails an ill-defined, general agreement that the essential structure of all civilizations is at the breaking point. Although it may seem better preserved in some parts of the world than in others, it can nowhere provide the guidance to the possibilities of the century, or an adequate response to its horrors.22

This sensibility pervades her work. As she goes on: Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous, deducing the unprecedented from precedents, or


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explaining phenomena by such analogies and generalizations that the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt. It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us22 the burden of our self-knowledge, and of the task of reconstituting some decency out of chaos. As the title of another book expresses it, we are Between Past and Future, the heirs of totalitarianism and global destruction, which in its unprecedentedness cannot be comprehended through the usual categories of political thought, and whose crimes cannot be judged by traditional moral standards or punished within the legal framework of our civilization.23 Perhaps this sense of the shattering of tradition is most poignantly articulated in an early essay on the Nazis and organized guilt:
how great a burden is mankind for man . . . Perhaps those Jews, to whose forefathers we owe the first conception of the idea of humanity, knew something about that burden when each year they used to say Our Father and King, we have sinned before you, taking not only the sins of their own community but all human offenses upon themselves. Those today who are ready to follow this road in a modern version [have] . . . in fear and trembling . . . finally realized of what man is capable and this indeed is the precondition of any modern political thinking . . . upon them and only them, who are filled with a genuine fear of the inescapable guilt of the human race, can there be any reliance when it comes to fighting fearlessly, uncompromisingly, against the incalculable evil that men are capable of bringing about. 24

This insight is a far cry from the happy assumption of the inherent relation of reason and freedom of which Mills speaks, and it renders the notions of reason and freedom as problematic as anything observed by our contemporary postmodernists. This sense of a historical crisis of meaning is also at the heart of Camus thinking. It informs his notion of the absurd experience, that unspeakable penally in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing, and his famous absurdist wager on the desperate encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe.25 Camus articulated this sense most explicitly in a short defense of existential philosophy, Pessimism and Courage:
The coexistence, in certain minds, of a philosophy of negation and a positive morality illustrates, in fact, the great problem that is painfully disturbing the whole epoch. In a word, it is the problem of civilization, and it is essential for us to know whether man, without the help of either the eternal or rationalistic thought, can unaided create his own values . . . the uneasiness that concerns us belongs to a whole epoch from which we do not want to dissociate ourselves . . . No, everything is not summed up in negation and absurdity. But we must first posit negation and absurdity because they are what our generation has encountered and what we must take into account.26

Camus identified this problem of nihilism in his Letters: For a long time we both thought that this world had no ultimate meaning and that consequently we were cheated. I still think so in a way. But I came to different conclusions from the ones you used to talk about . . . You never believed in the meaning of this world, and you therefore deduced the idea that everything was equivalent and that good and evil could be defined according to ones wishes. You supposed that

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in the absence of any human or divine code the only values were those of ... the realism of conquests. As Camus noted, this moral crisis cannot be ignored; it must be directly addressed, thought out, lived through. The commonplaces of the past will no longer do. Thus he proceeds: What is truth, you used to ask? To be sure, but at least we know what falsehood is; that is just what you have taught us. What is spirit? We know its contrary, which is murder. What is man? There I stop you, for we know. Man is that force which ultimately cancels all tyrants and gods. He is the force of evidence.27 This belief that political values must emerge from the eye of the historical storm animates Camus most important political work, The Rebel. He begins in much the same tone as Arendt in The Origins:
The purpose of this essay is . . . to understand the times in which we live. One might think that a period which, in a space of fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand. But its culpability must be understood. In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conquerors chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to wild beasts in front of the assembled people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and judgement remained unclouded. But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in one sense cripple judgement. On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence through a curious transposition peculiar to our times it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself.

Once again we are at the edge of an historical abyss. Our inherited categories cannot serve us. Indeed these are themselves part of the problem. Therefore Camus, like Arendt, refuses to fall back upon an invidious essentialism, refuses to view the horrors of the century as an unfortunate aberration or accident, to be simply put behind us. As he writes: The important thing, therefore, is not, as yet, to go to the root of things, but, the world being what it is, to know how to live in it.28 A political theory which excavates, deconstructs, and then, crucially, reconstructs, the foundations of modern politics. 2. Totalitarianism and the Intoxication of Power

For both thinkers there was much that was shattering about the twentieth century the destruction wrought by the First World War, the dashing of revolutionary hopes, symbolized by the brutal assassinations of Luxemburg and Liebknecht and later the brutalities of Stalinism, the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco, the fratricidal destruction of the Spanish Republic, World War Two and the Holocaust. And for both thinkers these happenings, savagely destructive of both peoples and Enlightenment dreams, pointed towards a novel political reality totalitarianism. In identifying this unprecedented reality through the concept of totalitarianism, they were not alone. As Bernard Crick has pointed out the thinking of an entire generation of political writers Orwell, Silone, Borkeneau, Koestler converged upon this concept.29 For Arendt and Camus totalitarianism, as it had emerged in both Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, made it necessary to abandon certain foundational modern political beliefs. The systematic and successful employment of deceit, and the


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frightening gullibility and acceptance of the masses, flew in the face of Enlightenment notions of human reason. The seemingly unproblematic identification of individuals with totalitarian regimes, and their willing performance of genocidal acts, falsified any concept of a necessary human inclination toward freedom. And the perverse technologies of death, and the bureaucratic administration of their use, simply mocked the characteristically modern dictum of Bacon: Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.30 There is no more apt description of the intellectual operations of the Nazi scientists, for whom contemplation of the various causes of mass death was one with their murderous operationalization. As Arendt put it: The concentration camps are the laboratories where changes in human nature are tested. . . 31 If for Smith the paradigm of human technique was the pin factory, and for Marx the textile mill, for Arendt, a witness to the true, terrible greatness the unity of theory and practice is capable of producing, it is the corpse factory. The analyses of this new mode of production provided by Arendt and Camus are remarkably similar. For both, the most obvious characteristic of totalitarianism is its bureaucratization of murder. In The Rebel Camus acknowledges the ubiquity of murder and oppression throughout history, and yet wishes to insist that there is something horrifyingly novel in the current forms which these inhumanities have taken: There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined. But the Penal Code makes the convenient distinction of premeditation. We are living in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime.32 For Arendt too it is the murderous logic of totalitarianism which marks its novelty: Suffering of which there has been always too much on earth, is not the issue, nor is the number of victims. Human nature as such is at stake ... these experiments succeed not in changing man but only in destroying him, by creating a society in which the nihilistic banality of homo homini lupus is consistently realized. . . 33 Perhaps the starkest portrayal of this machinery of death is Arendts Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann, she reports, was chief officer of office IV-3-4 of the R.H.S.A., the Head Office for Reich Security of the Nazi S.S. Section IV, we learn, was the Gestapo; Subsection IV-A handled opponents accused of Communism, Sabotage, Liberalism, and Assassinations, and Section IV-B dealt with sects, that is, Catholics, Protestants, Freemasons ... and Jews. Each of the categories in these subsections received an office of its own, designated by an arabic numeral, so that Eichmann eventually in 1941 was appointed to the desk of IV-B-4 in the R.S.H.A. Arendt discusses the various bureaucratic language rules governing the classification of Nazi operations: The prescribed code names for killing were final solution, evacuation . . . and special treatment . . . deportation unless it involved Jews directed to Theresienstadt, the old peoples ghetto for privileged Jews, in which case it was called change of residence received the names of resettlement . . . and labor in the East . . . And she details the various cross-cutting authorities responsible for The Jewish Question (their ambition was always the same: to kill as many Jews as possible, she notes sardonically), and the role Eichmann played in their activities:

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Eichmanns position was that of the most important conveyor belt in the whole operation, because it was always up to him and his men how many Jews could or should be transported from any given area, and it was through his office that the ultimate destination of the shipment was cleared, though that destination was not determined by him. But the difficulty in synchronizing the departures and arrivals, the endless worry over wrangling enough rolling stock from the railroad authorities and the Ministry of Transport, over fixing timetables and directing trains to centers with sufficient absorptive capacity, over having enough Jews on hand at the proper time so that no trains would be wasted, over enlisting the help of the authorities in occupied or allied countries to carry out arrests, over following the rules and directives with respect to the various categories of Jews, winch were laid down separately for each country and constantly changing - all this became a routine . . . 34

A daunting task, the handling of the Jewish Question, but certainly no crime of passion and Arendt, through the brilliant understatement of her prose, conveys its unprecedented horribleness. In this light, possibly the most telling incident in Eichmanns career regards his attitude towards the Rumanians, who had managed, within a matter of months, to kill close to three hundred thousand of their Jews with hardly any German help. Arendt reports that even the S.S. were taken aback, and occasionally frightened, by the horrors of old-fashioned, spontaneous pogroms on a gigantic scale; they often intervened to save Jews from sheer butchery, so that the killing could be done in what, according to them, was a civilized way. What Camus called the calculated culpability involved here led Arendt to conclude that the crime was unprecedented less because of its enormity than because of its mode of organization. In making this judgment she reproached the Jerusalem Court, for whom the Nazi atrocities were simply an extreme form of the anti-Semitic persecution Jews had experienced throughout history. This conclusion, she argued, was based on a failure to understand that the supreme crime it was confronted with, the physical extermination of the Jewish people, was a crime against humanity, perpetrated on the body of the Jewish people, and that only the choice of victims, not the nature of the crime, could be derived from the long history of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism.35 This leads us to a second key feature of totalitarianism its relentlessly ideological character. For both writers, ideologies are totalistic world views based upon a necessitarian logic. For Camus, the murderous systems of Stalinism and Nazism are both rooted in a kind of cowardice typical of the ideological mentality: As soon as man, through lack of character, takes refuge in a doctrine, as soon as crime reasons about itself, it multiplies like reason itself and assumes all the aspects of the syllogism ... Ideology today is concerned only with the denial of other human beings, who alone bear the responsibility of deceit. It is then that we kill.36 Camus calls the consequence of this totality: nothing other than the ancient dream of unity common to both believers and rebels, but projected horizontally onto an earth deprived of God. Totality is a form of perfectionist politics premised upon the suppression of any and all human difference, dedicated with a murderous logic to the fabrication of uniformity. He writes:


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[Totality] supposes a negation and a certainty: the certainty of the infinite malleability of man and the negation of human nature. Propaganda techniques serve to measure the degree of this malleability and try to make reflection and conditioned reflex coincide . . . The experiment has not yet been brought to an end, but its principle is logical. If there is no human nature, then the malleability of man is, in fact, infinite. Political realism, on this level, is nothing but unbridled romanticism, a romanticism of expediency.

Ideology, purporting to articulate cosmic necessity, whether of World History or Aryan Destiny, demands the unequivocal submission of concrete human beings, who are hostile to it in so far as human nature, to date, has never been able to live by history alone and has always escaped from it by some means. 37 Ideology is thus both figuratively and literally terroristic, insofar as its claim to absolute universality cannot tolerate the particularities which comprise the existing world. It is figuratively terroristic insofar as it entails a perpetual uncertainty regarding what precisely is necessary, an uncertainty affecting all but the sanctum sanctorum of the party elite, who alone can claim to speak for it with confidence in their objective innocence. And ideology is terroristic literally insofar as it licenses systematic murder. Arendt highlights these same features in the concluding chapter of her Origins, Ideology and Terror: A New Form of Government. Here she argues that the essence of totalitarianism is the rejection of all legality. Denying all fixed standards of right and orderly conduct, totalitarian policy claims to transform the human species into an active unfailing carrier of a law to which human beings otherwise would only passively and reluctantly be subjected. Totalitarianism is premised upon a refusal to view or accept anything as it is. Whether the driving force of this development was called nature or history is relatively secondary, In these ideologies, the term law itself changed its meaning: from expressing the framework of stability within which human actions and motions can take place, it became the expression of the motion itself. For Arendt, too, insofar as there is no rest, no order on which to base ones expectations and ones conduct, totalitarianism is terroristic. Law, here, becomes but the execution of historical necessity, itself understood as being disclosed only to those in power. Moreover, this law is executed with what Arendt calls a frightening stringent logicality:
While the totalitarian regimes are thus resolutely and cynically emptying the world of the only thing that makes sense to the utilitarian expectations of common sense, they impose upon it at the same time a kind of supersense which the ideologies actually always meant when they pretended to have found the key to history or the solution to the riddles of the universe ... The insanity of such systems lies not only in their first premise but in the very logicality with which they are constructed. The curious logicality of all -isms, their simple minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality and factuality.38

Such contempt for the given is called by Camus an insensate passion for nothingness.39 For both writers totalitarian ideology licenses the performance and rationalization of the most barbarous deeds, the denial of the most obvious experiences. Orwells nightmare vision of Oceania, where historical events are

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falsified and current events manufactured daily, and Koestlers reconstruction of the supersense which leads the Bolshevik Rubashov to deny himself, are vivid fictional accounts of this perverse synthesis of worldly cynicism and eschatological idealism. This nihilistic contempt for reality brings us to the third key feature of totalitarianism its radical subversion of language. For both thinkers language is constitutive of facticity; it is a potential means of individual lucidity, public disclosure, and interpersonal understanding. Totalitarian nihilism would destroy all of these. As Camus writes: Dialogue and personal relations have been replaced by propaganda or polemic, which are two kinds of monologue. Abstraction, which belongs to the world of power and calculation, has replaced the real passions ... the gospel preached by totalitarian regimes in the form of a monologue [is] dictated from the top of a lonely mountain. On stage, as in reality, the monologue precedes death.40 Arendt too identifies the horrifying subversion of language which is central to totalitarianism. I have already noted her remarks about the Nazis bureaucratic language rules. Eichmann, she argues, is symptomatic of these, the paradigmatic totalitarian individual. Officialese is my only language, she quotes him as testifying, observing of this that officialese became his language because he was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliche. Even for Eichmann, she argues, slogans, code words, and cliches were not a completely effective insulation from the cold realities of Nazism. She recounts that he was sickened by some of the concentration camp murders that he witnessed; but only temporarily, and he never let it interfere with the performance of his duties as a law abiding citizen of the Third Reich. As Arendt observed of his conduct during his trial: The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.41 Eichmann was completely bereft of what Arendt later called the power of judgment, which rests on an anticipated communication with others with whom I know I must finally come to some agreement.42 And, so lacking, he could not be considered an authentic agent. As Arendt writes in The Human Condition, with Eichmann clearly in the back of her mind: The disclosure of who somebody is, is implicit in both his words and his deeds . . . Without the accompaniment of speech, at any rate, action would not only lose its revelatory character but, by the same token, it would lose its subject, as it were; not acting men but performing robots would achieve what, humanly speaking, would remain incomprehensible. . . 43 The totalitarian individual, a product of terror and the manipulation of language, is just such a nobody. He/she is not simply privatized but atomized, deprived, in the literal sense, of the means of any human solidarity. Even the realm of friendship must be negated, for its principles, selectivity and particularity, run counter to the general loyalties which totalitarian language prescribes and totalitarian power demands. Arendt calls this the experience of loneliness, the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.44 Camus too reflects upon this experience:


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Beyond the confines of the Empire there is no salvation. This is, or will be, the Empire of friendship. But this friendship is the befriending of objects; for the friend cannot be preferred to the Empire. The friendship of people and there is no other definition of it is specific solidarity ... The friendship of objects is friendship in general, friendship with everything, which supposes when it is a question of selfpreservation mutual denunciation. He who loves his friend loves him in the present, and the revolution wants to love only a man who has not yet appeared ... In the kingdom of humanity, men are bound by ties of affection; in the Empire of objects, men are united by mutual accusation. The city that planned to be the city of fraternity becomes an ant-heap of solitary men.45

This loneliness and atomization would seem to bring us full circle. We are back to the beginnings of modern philosophy, to Descartes cogito, radical inwardness, self-subsistent subjectivity. But it only seems this way. Because the totilitarian individual, according to Arendt and Camus, lacks any firm anchoring, he or she is virtually deprived of self altogether. Bereft of reason, autonomy, and conscience, ready and willing to destroy what exists, be it traditions or entire peoples, the totalitarian individual would seem to give the lie to the Enlightenment, and leave us, at the dawn of the twentieth century, adrift in the morass of a desperate nihilism. 3. Deconstructing Totalitarianism Such a nihilism was inimical to the thinking of both writers, and so they undertook to understand the origins of the moral crisis in order to move beyond it. For both of them this meant a critical analysis of Enlightenment humanism and its culmination in Marxism. Both thinkers agreed that Nazism, terrifying as it was, was the product of subterranean currents in Western politics. As Camus put it, the various fascisms chose to deify the irrational, and the irrational alone, instead of deifying reason. In this way they renounced their claim to universality. True, fascism was symptomatic of the crisis of European civilization. But, as Camus insists: Despite appearances, the German revolution had no hope of a future. It was only a primitive impulse whose ravages have been greater than its real ambitions. Russian communism, on the contrary, he continues, has appropriated the metaphysical ambition that this book describes, the erection after the death of God, of a city of man finally deified.46 Hitlerism represented the ethics of the gang. Communism, on the other hand, has behind it a respectable tradition; as Arendt put it, one cannot understand it without taking into account the whole tradition of political philosophy.47 Camus The Rebel and Arendts The Human Condition and On Revolution represent efforts to excavate this tradition and to understand how and why it went wrong. The astonishing history evoked here is the history of human pride.48 So Camus concludes his introduction to The Rebel. For Camus rebellion is at the heart of the Western metaphysical experience. It is a demand on the part of man for recognition, a passionate affirmation of human value. Camus traces this experience of rebellion back to the ancient Greeks, particularly as expressed in the myth of Prometheus, the most perfect myth of intelligence in revolt. However, he argues, rebellion was not central to the Greeks, who believed in physis, and for whom rebellion against nature was like butting ones head against a wall.

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The Greeks thus did not experience metaphysical alienation; they experienced their world as unproblematic, and they simply lived in it. As Camus tellingly puts it: The Greeks never made the human mind into an armed camp, and in this respect we are inferior to them.49 Authentic rebellion, Camus argues, does not appear, in coherent form in the history of ideas until the end of the eighteenth century when modern times begin to the accompaniment of the crash of falling ramparts.50 Modern politics is based upon the ideology of humanism a belief in the inherent integrity and freedom of man, liberated from the constraints of Church and privilege to create his own destiny. For Camus this is certainly a momentous development, and it poses the possibility of a truly humanized world. But humanism is not without its problems, which center around its aspiration toward absolute universality, as Camus observes in a way which prefigures the more recent writing of Foucault on the modern subject and its disciplines:
this attempt indicates the highest point in a drama that began with the end of the ancient world and of which the final words have not yet been spoken. From this moment, man decides to exclude himself from grace and to live by his own means. Progress, from the time of Sade up to the present day, has consisted in gradually enlarging the stronghold where, according to his own rules, man without God brutally wields power. In defiance of the divinity, the frontiers of this stronghold have been gradually extended, to the point of making the entire universe into a fortress erected against the fallen and exiled deity. Man, at the culmination of his rebellion, incarcerated himself; from Sades lurid castle to the concentration camps, mans greatest liberty consisted only in building the prison of his crimes ... To kill God and to build a Church are the constant and contradictory purposes of rebellion. Absolute freedom finally becomes a prison of absolute duties, a collective asceticism, a story to be be ought to an end.51

Modern politics is thus founded upon what Lyotard has called a grand narrative of Human Progress. Originating in an authentic effort to cast off the fetters of oppression and affirm the dignity of concrete persons, humanism produced the prison of its own crimes. Seeking to destroy external forms of authority, man has unintentionally created his own Church, complete with priests, dogma, rites of passage, and heavenly aspirations a universal will to power masking itself as the Rights of Man or the Movement of History. Crucially, this is not all Camus discerns in humanism, something to which we will return below. To be precise, he calls it a contradiction. But he refuses to let us simply dismiss one ominous pole of this contradiction as an aberration. He insists that it is deeply ingrained in modern political thinking. Camus sketches this intoxication with power in The Rebel. He locates it in Rousseaus sacred body politic and in the French Revolutionary reign of terror. Echoing Hegel, he remarks that morality, when it is formal, devours. However, Hegels attempt to substitute concrete universal reason for the abstract reason of the Jacobins was, for Camus, simply a further instance of the reification of man: Truth, reason, and justice were abruptly incarnated in the progress of the world . . . These values have ceased to be guides in order to become goals . . . reason has embraced the future and aspired to conquest . . . From this moment dates the idea (hostile to every concept of ancient thought. . . ) that man has not been endowed with a


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definitive human nature, that he is not a finished creation but an experiment, of which he can be partly the creator. With Napoleon and the Napoleonic philosopher Hegel, the period of efficacy begins. Hegels philosophy of history inserts man into a cosmic drama where freedom progressively, and necessarily, unfolds. Authentic value is thus to be found only at the end of history; until then there is no suitable criterion on which to base a judgement of value. One must act and live in terms of the future. All morality becomes provisional.52 For Camus this historicism operates with a vengeance in the thought of Marx, which blended the most valid critical method with a Utopian Messianism of highly dubious value. This is marked by many dimensions of Marxs thought his refusal to articulate a constructive morality (Camus writes, only half facetiously, that Marx is only anti-capitalist in so far as capitalism is out of date), his bourgeois optimism about science and industrialism, and his utopian vision of communism as the riddle of history solved, a veritable New Jerusalem, delivered unto mankind by a missionary proletariat. Camus argues that the ethical vision of dignified work and creativity forms the basis of the Marxist dream and constitutes the real greatness of Marx. But, he insists, the reduction of every value to historical terms leads to the direst consequences. Marxs doctrine, however unintentionally, devalues the present in the interest of historical necessity. Thus the ground is laid for Lenins justifications of revolutionary violence and proletarian dictatorship and for Stalins dictatorship. In this sense Marxism represents the culmination of the Englightenment, the highest form of expression of the modern rebellious experience. It aspires to reinstate the supreme being at the level of humanity . . . From this angle socialism is therefore an enterprise for the deification of man. . . 53 Arendts account of modernity is remarkably similar. Like Camus she identifies the (pre-Socratic) Greek world with unproblematic practical existence. For her the first strains are introduced at the intellectual level by Socratic philosophy, which articulates the concept of the vita contemplativa, driving a wedge between worldly experience and truth, between experienced relationships and justice, and devaluing the political realm, where men subsist and act uniquely as self-disclosing equals. This is further developed by Christianity, which replaces the Greek concept of cyclical time with a concept of linear, albeit sacred, history. The central argument of The Human Condition is that the tradition of Western political thought, from Plato to Marx, conceives of politics on the metaphors of subsistence and fabrication rather than action in common with others.54 Even Plato and Aristotle, who seek to restore the polis, think of political life in terms of craft analogies. As Arendt writes: By sheer force of conceptualization and philosophical clarification, the Platonic identification of knowledge with command and rulership and of action with obedience and execution overruled all earlier experiences and articulations in the political realm and became authoritative for the whole tradition of political thought . . . [substituting] making for acting in order to bestow upon the realm of human affairs the solidity inherent in work and fabrication.55 Political philosophy is thus founded on a quest for worldly permanence, on a fear of instability and difference, and on an interest in control. Arendt argues that it is only in the modern world that political philosophy fully articulates this imperialistic urge to remake the world in its own image. With the decline of the public realm, and the rise of what she calls the social, economic

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conduct becomes the central activity of the modern world.56 Coincident with this is the destruction of medieval cosmic certainties and the development of modern science, heralded by Galileos discovery of the telescope. Modern man experienced what Arendt calls world alienation: modern men were not thrown back upon this world but upon themselves. One of the most persistent trends in modern philosophy since Descartes ... has been an exclusive concern with the self. The consequence, she observes, was the following:
Only the modern ages conviction that man can know only what he makes, and that he therefore is primarily homo faber and not an animal rationale, brought forth the much older implications of violence inherent in all interpretations of the realm of human affairs as a sphere of making . . . Marxs dictum that violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one . . . only sums up the conviction of the whole modern age and draws the consequences of its innermost belief that history is made by men as nature is made by God.57

For Arendt, like Camus, modern politics is characterized by successive attempts to replace God with Man as the master of the universe, constructing new churches to replace the old. Hobbes Leviathan is clearly the most vivid illustration of this, but for Arendt not simply monarchical absolutisms, but all forms of modern state, are founded upon violence. As Weber wrote: one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.58 In the Beginning, Man made History; this metaphor itself bespeaks of violence, of a working and acting upon others as if they were natural objects. As Arendt remarks: As long as we believe that we deal with ends and means in the political realm, we shall not be able to prevent anybodys using all means to pursue recognized ends.59 But according to her, modern political philosophy is premised upon just such a view of politics; and it is therefore perpetually liable to the ethics of efficacy of which Camus speaks. As she writes in On Violence: The very substance of violent action is ruled by the means-end category, whose chief characteristic, if applied to human affairs, has always been that the end is in danger of being overwhelmed by the means which it justifies and which are needed to reach it. Since the end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably predicted, the means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals.60 Arendt discerns this authoritarian streak in modern theories of natural right. She writes of Kants Groundwork, for example, that the categorical imperative is postulated as absolute and in its aboluteness introduces into the interhuman realm which by its nature consists of relationships something that runs counter to its fundamental relativity. The inhumanity which is bound up with the concept of one single truth emerges with particular clarity in Kants work precisely because he attempted to found truth on practical reason; it is as though he who had so inexorably pointed out mans cognitive limits could not bear to think that in action too, man cannot behave like a god [emphasis added].61 She sees this also in the deification of Reason characteristic of the philosophies of history which attended the French Revolution. But for Arendt these philosophies, however consequential, were primarily backward-looking. For Vico, as later for Hegel, the importance


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of the concept of history was primarily theoretical. It never occurred to either of them to apply this concept directly by using it as a principle of action. This latter move was left to Marx, who viewed the end of history as an end of human action, a principle of conduct. In Arendts estimation this vision, tied as it was to a utilitarian concern with the social questions of labor and wealth, was bound to result in the end of politics as a collective, deliberative enterprise:
In this version of deriving politics from history, or rather, political conscience from historical consciousness by no means restricted to Marx in particular, or even to pragmatism in general we can easily detect the age-old attempt to escape from the frustrations and fragility of human action by construing it in the image of making. What distinguishes Marxs own theory from all others in which the notion of making history has found a place is only that he alone realized that if one takes history to be the object of a process of fabrication or making, there must come a moment when this object is completed, and that if one imagines that one can make history, one cannot escape the consequence that there will be an end to history. Whenever we hear of grandiose aims in politics, such as establishing a new society in which justice will be guaranteed forever, or fighting a war to end all wars or to make the whole world safe for democracy, we are moving in the realm of this kind of thinking.62

Thus for both thinkers modern political thought deifies Man; in the interests of universal reason and freedom it has licensed the suppression of difference and the denial of plurality; it is based upon an abstract, idyllic dream; its ultimate outcome is a philosophy of history which denies the present, postulates motion as the essence of man, and leans toward totality as an ideal. Milan Kundera, in his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, captures this sense of a humanism intoxicated with itself in his ironic reflection on the seizure of power by the Czech communists in 1948:
Say what you will the Communists were more intelligent. They had a grandiose program, a plan for a brand-new world in which everyone would find his place ... and lost no time in turning their dream into reality . . . an idyll, for all. People have always aspired to an idyll, a garden where nightingales sing, a realm of harmony where the world does not rise up as a stranger against man nor man against other men, where the world and all its people are molded from a single stock and the fire lighting up the heavens is a fire burning in the hearts of men, where every man is a note in a magnificent Bach fugue and anyone who refuses his note is a mere black dot, useless and meaningless, easily caught and squashed between the fingers like an insect. From the start there were people who realized they lacked the proper temperament for the idyll . . . [and] they went behind bars. They were soon joined by thousands and tens of thousands more. . . And suddenly those young, intelligent radicals had the strange feeling of having sent something into the world, a deed of their own making, which had taken on a life of its own, lost all resemblance to the original idea, and totally ignored the originators of the idea. So these young, intelligent, radicals started shouting to their deed, calling it back, scolding it, chasing it, hunting it down. If I were to write a novel about that generation of talented radical thinkers, I would call it Stalking a Lost Deed.63

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For Arendt and Camus the political practices engendered by modern humanism represent just such a lost deed. In some respects this analysis of modernity seems itself historicist. Both thinkers, resolutely opposed to philosophies of history, which devalue contingency and concrete human judgment, seem to subscribe to just such a mode of thinking, whereby modernity bears the seeds of twentieth century totalitarianism in much the same way as an acorn bears the seeds of an oak. But I think it makes more sense to read them as simply identifying an optimistic essentialism at the heart of modern political thought which severely underestimated the capability of humans to practice self-deception and logical crime, and a blindness about ends and means which made possible, if it did not require, totalitarianism. Arendt herself denied that the emergence of totalitarianism was characterized by any inevitability, just as she insisted that it is even more dangerous than it is unjust to hold modern political theorists responsible in any meaningful sense for the horrors of the twentieth century.64 And Camus too consistently rejected any kind of historicism. It is thus, I propose, more useful to interpret Arendt and Camus as stalking a lost deed than as identifying some kind of historical necessity. There is, of course, independent evidence for this interpretation, for the historicist view is usually associated with a kind of Heideggerian or Straussian political conservatism and romantic nostalgia for the pre-modern past. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of Arendt and Camus, for whom the reappropriation of modern humanism is the primary task of political theory and practice.65 4. The Reconstruction of Politics
The pillars of the best known truths. . . today lie shattered; we need neither criticism nor wise men to shake them anymore. We need only look around to see that we are standing in the midst of a veritable rubble heap of such pillars. Now in a certain sense this could be an advantage, promoting a new kind of thinking that needs no pillars or props ... [But] long ago it became apparent that the pillars of the truths have also been the pillars of the political order, and that the world . . . needs such pillars in order to guarantee continuity and permanence, without which it cannot offer mortal men the relatively secure, relatively imperishable home that they need.66 It is essential for us to know whether man, without the help of either the eternal or rationalistic thought, can unaided create his own values.67

We are without political foundations. Contemporary history has exploded them.68 A deconstruction of modernity has laid bare their limits. We are, with Rorty and Lyotard, suspicious of Grand Narratives, skeptical of the state, and indeed, of politics altogether. At its most political, postmodernist theory has proposed what Lyotard calls an agonistics the celebration of the sheer heterogeneity of local political struggles, and a refusal to propose any overarching criteria of legitimacy: political sans public life. At its least political, as in the work of Rorty, it has suggested an edifying and complacent conversationalism, one possibly suited to the armchair philosopher, but hardly up to the task of helping us to live in the world. For Arendt and Camus, the moral impasse of contemporary politics is much


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too serious to allow either of these options. For them new foundations are necessary. True, these foundations will eschew any form of essentialism, refusing to presume that things have to be any particular way. They will be articulated as modest proposals rather than as god-like pronouncements. They will be grounded in a recognition of their own historicity. And they will be based upon the lessons of the past, on the need to respect difference and plurality, and in awareness of the dangerous consequences of a belief in the end of history. But they will be linked to the revitalization of public life and to the necessity of political engagement in the struggle for human dignity. In this sense I must issue a qualified dissent from Jacobson, for whom Arendt and Camus prescribe not glittering triumph, not even improvement, but the far more modest, though indispensable, concern to prevent catastrophes . . . In our nakedness, and our shame, the only possibility for the political theorist is to give himself wholeheartedly to the project of inventing a set of limits to political action.69 It is certainly true that both thinkers abandon any notion of glittering triumphs or World Historical transformations, as it is true that for both the lesson of modernity is the importance of theoretical and practical limits. Man is not God. But neither does it make him less than man. In The Rebel Camus warns that this dichotomy, between utopian nihilism or political withdrawal, is only apparent, and that both poles of this contradiction lead to surrender:
But these contradictions only exist in the absolute. They suppose a world and a method of thought without mediation. There is, in fact, no conciliation possible between a god who is totally separated from history and a history purged of all transcendence. Their representatives on earth are, indeed, the yogi and the commissar . . . The former chooses only the ineffectiveness of abstention and the second the ineffectiveness of destruction. Because both reject the conciliatory value that rebellion, on the contrary, reveals, they offer us only two kinds of impotence, both equally removed from reality, that of good and that of evil.

For both Arendt and Camus politics involves risks, opens up difficult paths, involves the possibility of doing good or harm. Limits are therefore crucial, but limits in and of themselves are only a token of desperate surrender. What is called for is not that we aspire toward limits but that we limit our aspirations. As Camus puts it: Rebellion itself only aspires to the relative and can only promise an assured dignity coupled with relative justice.70 Richard Bernstein has recently argued that Arendts work is best understood against the backdrop of contemporary doubts about the project of grounding philosophy, knowledge, and language, and that it exhibits an overriding concern with the practical task of furthering the type of solidarity, participation, and mutual recognition that is founded in dialogical communities.71 This is attested to by many facets of her thought her agreement with Aristotles notion that language is the essential human capacity, her vision of politics as a realm of praxis, based on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself, and her later interest in Kants notion of representative thinking. A similar claim could be made about Camus, who concludes The Rebel, for instance, by asserting that: The mutual understanding and communication discovered by rebellion can survive only in the free exchange of

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conversation. Every ambiguity, every misunderstanding, leads to death; clear language and simple words are the only salvation from his death.72 I fear, however, that Bernsteins formulation about dialogic community fails to give sufficient weight to the political principles, institutions and commitments which might give substance to such a community. The key problem of our civilization, Camus writes, is whether man without the help of either the eternal or rationalistic thought, can unaided create his own values. This is clear repudiation of any notion of normative foundations as given by nature or history. We are out in the cold, bereft of the pillars of political life; we must think without bannisters, and can expect no doctrine or natural force to decide our fate. We must decide. But for both writers our decisions, our dialogical communities, must be constrained. For, despite their common rejection of any a priori or ideological view of human nature, they both insist that the we we humans are creatures of a certain definite sort, and that this carries certain normative implications. In short, both are reconstructed humanists, and both are democrats. Camus, we may recall, insisted that Man is that force which ultimately cancels all tyrants and gods. He is the force of evidence.73 He invokes some kind of elementary reality about human being and human dignity as an obstacle to tyranny. Arendt accomplishes a similar move with her concept of natality: the freedom of man, which even totalitarian rulers cannot deny, for this freedom irrelevant and arbitrary as they may deem it is identical with the fact that men are being born and that therefore each of them is a new beginning, begins, in a sense, the world anew.74 She relates this naturalistic concept of natality to the notion of plurality, which she defines as the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.75 For both thinkers this elemental human reality is not only an obstacle to tyranny; it is also the premise of authentic political life. Now, this itself sounds like a reversion to philosophical essentialism deep down, beneath the surface of contemporary man and his murderous propensities and complicities, lies the true man, in whom we can find solace. Tyrants will be cancelled. Given everything that both of them have written, however, it is impossible to interpret their remarks in this way. Arendt is most explicit about this in a response to Eric Voegelin, who questioned her observation that the concentration camp is a laboratory for experiments in changing human nature. Voegelin insisted that a nature cannot be changed or transformed. Arendt replied:
The success of totalitarianism is identical with a much more radical liquidation of freedom as a political and as a human reality than anything we have ever witnessed before. Under these conditions, it will hardly be consoling to cling to an unchangeable nature of man . . . Historically we know of mans nature only insofar as it has existence and no realm of eternal essences will ever console us if man loses his essential capabilities.76

There no clearer contemporary statement of the necessity of abandoning essentialism in political theory. The capability of free action may not be an eternal characteristic of human beings. Man will not necessarily cancel tyranny. And yet Arendt insists that historical reality evidences that freedom has been, and still is,


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constitutive of human nature. One can go even further. Her concept of natality suggests that, while we cannot predict what transformations of human nature the future may bring, the mere fact of human difference, rooted in both biology and phenomenology, makes a complete identification of humans and their world highly unlikely if not impossible. There is, then, some ground, some basis, for resistance to totalitarianism and for the reconstruction of political life. It may not be much, a slender pebble rather than a pillar, but it is something, and it is something Arendt is unwilling to abandon. So too Camus, who concludes The Rebel by appealing to an irrepressible demand of human nature, of which the Mediterranean, where intelligence is intimately related to the blinding light of the sun, guards the secret... hoping that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them all.77 Both thinkers, in short, refuse to completely abandon the notion of human nature, however much they revise it. Their dialogic communalism is thus grounded in a humanism with distinctly naturalist overtones. It is, to be sure, a humanism shorn of the self-righteous optimism and the god-like pretensions which characterized much of the tradition of modern political thought; but it is a humanism, a commitment to human dignity and freedom, nonetheless. Neither of them, it should be remarked, has provided a fully adequate account of this humanism. But both refuse to make this a condition of their commitment. It is something almost taken on faith, but a faith itself grounded on the untenability of its opposite, the barbarous consequences of abandoning it altogether, and leaving the historical field to the nihilists.78 Indeed, Camus would undoubtedly insist that only the cowardice of logic could lead us to deny human dignity simply because we cannot adequately demonstrate it. We might not fully know what man is, but he is the force of evidence, even if the evidence is, in Orwells words, the human face on which totalitarian boots stamp79 (although, as Arendt and Camus make clear, this is not the only evidence of man, as witness the various forms of resistance to totalitarianism). In any case, Camus has not hidden his own theoretical intentions: the important thing, therefore, is not, as yet, to go to the root of things, but, the world being what it is, to know how to live in it.80 This humanism has, for both thinkers, distinctly radical democratic implications. This is more clearly recognized in the case of Camus. His advocacy of native Algerian rights, his support of the Spanish republic, his identification with the European labor movement, his criticism of the gallows socialism practiced in Hungary after the suppression of the 1956 workers revolt, his advocacy of libertarian socialism, and his refusal to be blinded by Cold War ideology in his criticisms of East and West, all demonstrate the decidedly activist and political character of his humanism.81 This is also true for Arendt who, much more widely read and interpreted by political theorists, is often taken to be a writer nostalgic for the ancient past and condescending toward contemporary politics.82 Her philosophy of the human condition also involves a substantive critique of existing political institutions and a vision of a better way of organizing our political life. For her this was accomplished through an immanent criticism of the republicanism she saw at the heart of the American political experience. But her republicanism involved neither empty talk about community nor uncritical celebration of the status quo. She was an active

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critic of McCarthyism and the liberal intellectual capitulation to it, a life-long advocate of freedom of speech and a supporter of the American civil rights movement.83 Her collection Crises of the Republic includes stinging criticism of American official deceit during the Vietnam War, and of the war policy more generally a vigorous defense of collective civil disobedience as a constitutional right essential to democratic government, and enthusiastic, if qualified, support for the student antiwar movement as a rediscovery of the republican spirit (she writes of its determination to act, its joy in action, the assurance of being able to change things by ones own efforts).84 Her defense of the revolutionary tradition and its lost treasure is itself sometimes lost on those who see her as simply a died-in-the wool Aristotelian, but even more unremarked is the linkage between her support for the council system spontaneous, decentralized, and participatory and her advocacy of a form of global federalism. In short, her republicanism not only involved a defense of civil liberties and a call for more diverse forms of political participation; it also involved a critique of the state as an over-centralized and militarist institution. Few realize that this is a subtext of her Origins of Totalitarianism, where she identifies imperialism as a major cause of the breakdown of Europe, and suggests that a new form of international law might prevent its reoccurrence. It is also a subtext of Eichmaan in Jerusalem, where she bemoans the absence of authentic international legal institutions which alone could make juridical sense of Eichmanns novel crime performing the duties of a law-abiding citizen in a criminal state. Her support of socialist reform in Eastern Europe mirrors that of Camus, and her diagnosis of its chances of success is of telling relevance to contemporary peace movements: generally speaking, I would say that I grant a chance to all the small countries that want to experiment, whether they call themselves socialist or not, but I am very skeptical about the great powers.85 There are two major points of divergence in the writings of Arendt and Camus. On both of these points I believe Camus to have offered a more satisfactory analysis. The first concerns what Arendt called the social question in politics. Arendt, ever fearful about the dangers that a fabricating mentality posed to the body politic, consistently maintained that all questions having to do with labor, the economy and distribution be properly excluded from the public realm. As many commentators have observed, this entailed a narrowly utilitarian definition of the social, as something determinable outside of the realm of human decision; and it also entailed a disturbingly rarified concept of politics, as a kind of mutual rhetorical selfdisclosure devoid of material significance.86 Camus Bread and Freedom contains a powerful critique of such a view. Echoing one of Arendts heroes, Rosa Luxemburg, he insists that the few democratic liberties we still enjoy are not unimportant illusions that we can allow to be taken from us without protest. . . There is no ideal freedom that will someday be given us all at once, as pension comes at the end of ones life. But he continues in a vein at odds with Arendt. Between freedom and justice, he argues, we cannot choose one without the other. If someone takes away your bread, he suppresses your freedom at the same time. But if someone takes away your freedom, you may be sure your bread is threatened, for it no longer depends on you and your struggle but on the whim of the master. 87 For Camus, human dignity requires some kind of democratic socialism. Arendt


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never gives a satisfactory account of the connection of the property question to her advocacy of political freedom. This relates to the second issue the relationship of means to ends. Arendt sometimes writes as if the categories of ends and means have no proper place in political life. As we have seen, she argues that: As long as we believe that we deal with ends and means in the political realm, we shall not be able to prevent anybodys using all means to pursue recognized ends.88 But, if this criticism is true then what is politics to be about? Arendt herself writes about politics as a process of collective decision, and, as she well knows, decisions involve means and ends. This once again is related to the rarified view of politics which is articulated in some of her more theoretical works, one which, it is important to note, is not rigorously maintained in her more substantive discussions. Camus formulation is, however, more satisfactory: When the end is absolute, historically speaking, and when it is believed certain of realization, it is possible to go so far as to sacrifice others. When it is not, only oneself can be sacrificed, in the hazards of a struggle for the common dignity of man. Does the end justify the means? That is possible. But what will justify the end? To that question, which historical thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means. Thus for Camus what we call power, and what he, and Arendt, call violence the possession and exercise of capacities to shape the world, a means of achieving ends is inherent in political life. Our task is thus, without laying claim to an innocence that is impossible, to discover the principle of reasonable culpability.89 Conclusion These are important issues, and they deserve more discussion. However my central point is that for both thinkers the task of political theory is to reappropriate the themes of modern humanism and reconstruct the institutional forms of our political life. Both Arendt and Camus were professionally trained philosophers. It is useful to locate them in the context of contemporary academic debates about postmodernism. But it is a mistake to ignore the highly politicized context of the mid-twentieth century in which they wrote. Their own efforts to deconstruct modern political theory and practice are otherwise unintelligible, as is the profoundly important political vision upon which they both converged, that of a revitalized and democratized public life. Albrecht Wellmer has recently suggested that the postmodernist deconstruction of modern political thought is a necessary but insufficient enterprise. Its proper implication, he insists, is not that we abandon the humanistic impulses of modernity: it means rather that we must think the moral-political universalism of the Enlightenment, the ideas of individual and collective self-determination, reason and history, in a new fashion. In the attempt to do this I would see a genuine postmodernist impulse towards a self-transcendence of reason.90 Wellmer is quite right. As Arendt saw, we can have no recourse to the received truths of the past. Our contemporary political moment is one of uncertainty. But this is no cause for celebration, for conviviality, nor for agonistics. For the world Camus starkly described is still our world: Each day at dawn, assassins in judges robes slip into some cell: murder is the problem today.91 The owl of Minerva can thus no

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longer afford to rise at dusk, nor can it afford to indulge in fanciful play and idle daydreaming. It is obligated by its own commitment to truth and reason to help reconstitute a theory and practice of human freedom and dignity. Such a project is postmodern, as it is based upon an awareness of the limits of modernity and of the need to grapple with them. Arendt and Camus have much to inform such a genuine postmodernism, a postmodernism that foresakes the prideful solace of shattered foundations, but refuses to surrender to the nihilistic temptations of our age.
* I would like to thank the following people for their helpful comments: Terence Ball, Seyla Benhabib, Peter Euben, Peter Manicas, Ian Shapiro, David Sprintzen, Svetzar Stojanovic, and Elizabeth YoungBruehl. 1. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 166. 2. Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982). 3. See Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970). 4. Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon, 1980). 5. On postmodernism, see Richard Rorty, Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity. Praxis International, vol. 4, no. 1 (April 1984); and Albrecht Wellmer, On the Dialectic of Modernism and Postmodernism. Praxis International, vol. 4, no. 4 (January 1985). 6. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. xxiii-xxiv. 7. On this point, see Ian Shapiro, Gross Concepts in Political Argument. Political Theory v. 17, n. 1 (February 1989). 8. See Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration: Post-Structuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory (London, 1987). 9. Michael Walzer, The Politics of Michel Foucault, Dissent (Fall 1983). 10. Rorty, Philosophy, pp. 366-94; Paul Feyerabend, Science in a Free Society (London, 1978). On Foucault and the effacement of critique, see Charles Taylor, Foucault on Truth and Freedom. Political Theory, vol. 12, no. 2 (May 1984). 11. Perry Anderson, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism (Chicago, 1984). 12. Norman Jacobson, Pride and Solace: The Functions and Limits of Political Theory. Berkeley, 1978). 13. This biographical sketch is drawn from Elisabeth Young-Bruehls Hannah Arendt For Love of the World (New Haven, 1982). 14. Hannah Arendt, We Refugees, in Arendt, The Jew as Pariah, ed. Ron H. Feldman (New York, 1978), p. 56. 15. Ibid., p. 56. 16. Ibid., p. 90. 17. Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, pp. 184-85. 18. See Herbert Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (New York, 1979). 19. Albert Camus, Letters To A German Friend, in Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (New York, 1960), p. 29. 20. Albert Camus, Why Spain? in Resistance, pp. 78-9. 21. Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942 (New York, 1963), p. 142. 22. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1973), p. vii-viii. 23. Hannah Arendt, Tradition and the Modern Age, in Arendt, Between Past and Present (New York, 1977), p. 26. 24. Hannah Arendt, Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility, in The Jew as Pariah, pp. 235-36.


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25. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York, 1955), p. 91, and The Rebel (New York, 1956), p. 6. 26. Albert Camus, Pessimism and Courage, in Resistance, p. 58-9. 27. Camus, Letters, pp. 27, 14. 28. Camus, The Rebel, pp. 3-4. 29. Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (Boston, 1979), pp. 227-28. 30. Francis Bacon, The New Organon, ed. Fulton H. Anderson (Indianapolis, 1960), p. 39. 31. Young-Bruehl, p. 205. 32. Camus, The Rebel, p. 3. 33. Arendt, The Origins, pp. 458-59. 34. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 1977), pp. 70, 85, 153. 35. Ibid., pp. 196-97, 269. 36. Camus, The Rebel, p. 3-5. 37. Ibid., p. 237. 38. Arendt, The Origins, pp. 464-66, 457-58. 39. Camus, The Rebel, p. 185. 40. Camus, The Rebel, pp. 239-40, 284. 41. Arendt, Eichmann, p. 49. 42. Hannah Arendt, The Crisis in Culture in Arendt, Between, p. 220. 43. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, 1958), p. 178. 44. Arendt, The Origins, p. 475. See Arendts comments about friendship in her On Humanity in Dark Times, in Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York, 1968), pp. 12, 24-5, in particular her contrast between the French Revolutionary notion of fraternit and Lessings notion of friendship as a relationship which is as selective as compassion is egalitarian. 45. Camus, The Rebel, p. 239. 46. Ibid., pp. 175-87. 47. Quoted in Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, p. 279. 48. Camus, The Rebel, p. 11. 49. Ibid., p. 27-8. 50. Ibid., p. 26. 51. Ibid., pp. 102-3. 52. Ibid., pp. 124, 133-4, 142. 53. Ibid., pp. 188, 208-9, 192. 54. See Melvyn A. Hill, ed., Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World (New York, 1979). 55. Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 225. 56. Ibid., pp. 38-40; and Arendt, On Revolution (New York, 1977), pp. 59-114. 57. Arendt, The Human Condition, pp. 254, 228. 58. Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation, in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York, 1946), pp. 77-8. 59. Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 229. 60. Hannah Arendt, On Violence, in Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York, 1972), p. 106. 61. Arendt, Men in Dark Times, p. 27. 62. Hannah Arendt, The Concept of History, in Between, p. 77. 63. Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (New York, 1981) pp. 8-9. 64. Arendt, Tradition and the Modern Age, p. 27. 65. Young-Bruehl remarks on Arendts distaste for the reactionary romanticism of Heidegger and Strauss on pp. 69-70, 98. 66. Arendt, On Humanity in Dark Times, pp. 10-11. 67. Camus, Pessimism and Courage, p. 58. 68. I use the metaphor of explosion here to suggest a process of combustion o bursting forth, intended to register the positive developments associated with the new social movements. These figure importantly in contemporary postmodernism but, insofar as they did not concern Arendt and Camus, I have bracketed them in my discussion. 69. Jacobson, pp. 139, 160. 70. Camus, The Rebel, p. 288, 290.

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71. Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (Philadelphia, 1983), p. 231. 72. Camus, The Rebel, p. 283. 73. Camus. Letters, p. 14. 74. Arendt. The Origins, p. 466. 75. Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 8. 76. Cited in Young-Bruehl, pp. 253-4. 77. Camus, The Rebel, pp. 300, 306. 78. Camus: What is truth? ... To be sure, but at least we know what falsehood is; that is just what you have taught us, Letters, p. 14. 79. George Orwell, 1984 (New York, 1961), p. 20. 80. Camus, The Rebel, p. 4. 81. See David Sprintzen, Camus: A Critical Examination (Philadelphia, 1988). 82. John Gunnell, Political Theory: Tradition and Interpretation (Cambridge, MA, 1979), pp. 102-3. 83. See Young-Bruehl, chapter 9. 84. Arendt, Thoughts on Politics and Revolution, in Crises, p. 202. 85. Ibid , p. 218. 86. See Richard J. Bernstein, Rethinking the Social and the Political, in his Philosophical Profiles (Philadelphia, 1986). 87. Camus, Bread and Freedom, pp. 93-4. 88. Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 229. 89. Camus, The Rebel, p. 292. 90. Wellmer, On the Dialectic, p. 360. 91. Camus, The Rebel, pp. 4-5.