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Can the Polis Live Again?

December 2, 2009

Michael Knox Beran in City Journal:

In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition, her book—part panegyric, part lamentation—on what she called “public space.” What she meant by public space wasn’t just the buildings and gathering places that in a good town square or market piazza encourage people to come together. It wasn’t even civic art viewed more broadly, the paintings and poetry Arendt attributed to homo faber, the fabricating soul who translates “intangible” civic ideals into “tangible” civic art. Public space, for Arendt, was also a metaphysical arena in which people realized their individual potential. They escaped necessity’s pinch—the arduous biological round of life-sustaining labor—through a “sharing of words and deeds.” This was the tradition of the Greek polis, from which Arendt drew much of her inspiration, a place designed “to multiply the chances for everybody to distinguish himself, to show in deed and word who he was in his unique distinctness.”

But a new Leviathan was gobbling up the old public spaces, Arendt believed. With the advent of the modern nation-state, a social dispensation began to emerge, one whose adepts—sociologists, psychologists, planners—were skilled in techniques derived from the social sciences but whose motives were far from pure. The new social technician, part schoolmarm, part bully, sought not merely to study behavior but also, Arendt argued, to control it. The school of Pericles was giving way to the school of Pavlov.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 6:49 PM

    Fantastic blogpost, I didn’t thought this was going to be so awesome when I read the url!!

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