Natality and the rise of the social in Hannah Arendt's political thought




Parker, Jeanette

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This thesis focuses on Hannah Arendt’s theory of natality, which is identified with the event of birth into a pre-existing human world. Arendt names natality the “ontological root” of political action and of human freedom, and yet, as critics of Arendt’s political writings have pointed out, this notion of identifying freedom with birth is somewhat perplexing. I return to Arendt’s phenomenological analysis of active human life in The Human Condition, focusing on the significance of natality as the disclosure of a unique “who” within a specific relational web. From there, I trace the distinct threats to natality, speech-action, and worldly relations posed by the political philosophical tradition, on the one hand, and by the modern biopolitical “rise of the social” on the other. Drawing connections between Arendt’s theory of the social and Michel Foucault’s work on the biopolitical management of populations, my thesis defends Arendt’s contentious distinction between social and political life; the Arendtian social, I argue, can fruitfully be read as biopolitical.



Arendt, Natality, biopolitics, sovereignty, mass society, Foucault