On Revolution – Hannah Arendt (1963)


On Revolution is a 1963 book by political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt presents a comparison of two of the main revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. Twelve years after the publication of her The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), looking at what she considered failed revolutions, Arendt optimistically turned her attention to predict nonviolent movements that would restore democratic governments around the world. Her predictions turned out to be largely true, these revolutions being largely, but unconsciously, based on the principles she laid out. In On Revolution Arendt argues that the French Revolution, while well studied and often emulated, was a disaster and that the largely ignored American Revolution was a success, an argument that runs counter to common Marxist and leftist views. The turning point in the French Revolution came when the revolution’s leaders abandoned their goal of freedom in order to focus on compassion for the masses. In America, on the other hand, the Founding Fathers never betrayed the goal of Constitutio Libertatis – the attempt to establish a public realm, where political freedom would be guaranteed for all. Yet Arendt believes the revolutionary spirit of those men was later lost, and advocates a ‘council system’ as an appropriate institution to regain it.  In an earlier book, The Human Condition, Arendt argued that there were three states of human activity: labor, work, and action. ‘Labor’ is, essentially, a state of subsistence—i.e., doing what it takes to stay alive. For Arendt, this was the lowest form of human activity (all living creatures are capable of this). ‘Work’ is the process of creating—a painter may create a great work of art, a writer may create a great work of fiction, etc. For Arendt, ‘working’ is a worthwhile endeavor. Through your works, people may remember you; and if your work is great enough, you may be remembered for thousands of years. Arendt notes that people still read the Iliad, and Homer will be remembered for as long as people keep telling his stories. However, Arendt argues the Iliad is only still read because of its protagonist: Achilles. …”
Wikipedia
LitHub: Never-Before-Published Hannah Arendt on What Freedom and Revolution Really Mean
[PDF] On Revolution, amazon

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