Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Hannah Arendt and the French Revolution ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Hannah Arendt and the French Revolution
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: outongreystreet5-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 11 Oct 2006 11:41 PDT
Expires: 10 Nov 2006 10:41 PST
Question ID: 772709
I need to write a paper evaluating the role of the "social question,"
as identified by Hannah Arendt, in the the origins, course, and
consequences of the french revolution, and how the revolution affected
the concepts of liberty and freedom as used by Arendt. I need to know
where to start with this, and some good sources for it.
Subject: Re: Hannah Arendt and the French Revolution
Answered By: umiat-ga on 11 Oct 2006 13:04 PDT
Hello, outongreystreet5-ga! 
 While GA reseachers are forbidden from assisting students in writing
homework essays, we can certainly help you identify some sources of
information. I have compiled some good places for you to start your
research. After reading through these sources, you should have a
better idea about where you might want to go with this topic!


About Hannah Arendt


"Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)" 

"Arendt's other works include The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), a
study of Nazism and Stalinism, which sought to locate their roots in
nineteenth century expansionist and anti-Semitic tendencies, and On
Revolution (1963), which compared the French and American

"Arendt claimed that the French Revolution was a limited struggle over
scarcity and inequality, and the American an unlimited search for
political freedom. One of Arendt's central themes throughout her
studies on political theory was the separation of political life (the
public realm) from social and economical life (the private realm).
Looking back to the pre-Socratic Greek polis (city-state) and the
early United States of America, she found models for what public life
should be. In these societies individual citizens sought to devote
their time the community, and were even ready to die for it. When the
public and private spheres were absorbed into the social / economic
sphere, it disturbs the peace of the contemplation, the vita
contemplativa. In the modern age, labor is glorified, and
contemplation itself has become meaningless."


Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

5. On Revolution

From the historical-philosophical treatment of the political in The
Human Condition, it might appear that for Arendt an authentic politics
(as freedom of action, public deliberation and disclosure) has been
decisively lost in the modern era. Yet in her next major work, On
Revolution (1961) she takes her rethinking of political concepts and
applies them to the modern era, with ambivalent results.

Arendt takes issue with both liberal and Marxist interpretations of
modern political revolutions (such as the French and American).
Against liberals, the disputes the claim that these revolutions were
primarily concerned with the establishment of a limited government
that would make space for individual liberty beyond the reach of the
state. Against Marxist interpretations of the French Revolution, she
disputes the claim that it was driven by the 'social question', a
popular attempt to overcome poverty and exclusion by the many against
the few who monopolized wealth in the ancien regime. Rather, Arendt
claims, what distinguishes these modern revolutions is that they
exhibit (albeit fleetingly) the exercise of fundamental political
capacities - that of individuals acting together, on the basis of
their mutually agreed common purposes, in order to establish a
tangible public space of freedom. It is in this instauration, the
attempt to establish a public and institutional space of civic freedom
and participation, that marks out these revolutionary moments as
exemplars of politics qua action.

"Yet Arendt sees both the French and American revolutions as
ultimately failing to establish a perduring political space in which
the on-going activities of shared deliberation, decision and
coordinated action could be exercised. In the case of the French
Revolution, the subordination of political freedom to matters of
managing welfare (the 'social question') reduces political
institutions to administering the distribution of goods and resources
(matters that belong properly in the oikos, dealing as they do with
the production and reproduction of human existence). Meanwhile, the
American Revolution evaded this fate, and by means of the Constitution
managed to found a political society on the basis of comment assent.
Yet she saw it only as a partial and limited success. America failed
to create an institutional space in which citizens could participate
in government, in which they could exercise in common those capacities
of free expression, persuasion and judgement that defined political
existence. The average citizen, while protected from arbitrary
exercise of authority by constitutional checks and balances, was no
longer a participant 'in judgement and authority', and so became
denied the possibility of exercising his/her political capacities."


"The World We Have Gained: The Future of the French Revolution." LYNN HUNT

You might want to pay particular attention to the following paragraph:

"The greatest of the philosophically minded, twentieth-century
interpreters of the French Revolution, Hannah Arendt and François
Furet, both made the role of "the social" central to their analyses of
the Terror, although they did not use the category in exactly the same
way. Arendt insisted that "the whole record of past revolutions
demonstrates beyond doubt that every attempt to solve the social
question with political means leads into terror." 55 Furet would agree
with her to this point, arguing for his part that the Terror followed
from the revolutionary "illusion of politics," that is, the belief
that politics and ideology could be used to reconfigure the social
world. 56 But in the end, Arendt was even more Tocquevillian than
Furet, for like Tocqueville she saw an inevitably tragic contradiction
between concern for the social question and true political freedom. In
her view, preoccupation with the social question (Tocqueville's
equality) led the revolutionaries to ignore the importance of founding
viable political institutions (Tocqueville's liberty). Furet, in
contrast, celebrated the fall of Robespierre as the moment when
society recovered its independence from ideology and politics. 57 In
his account, society and social interests ride in as a kind of savior
of the revolution from the "illusion of politics."


Hannah Arendt: Prophet for our Time by James M. Campbell - Chapter 2:
Revolution -- Action?s Finest Hour


The following paper should provide some interesting material for you:

??THE SOCIAL?? AND ??THE POLITICAL?? A comparison of the writings of Judith N.
Shklar and Hannah Arendt on America," by Andreas Hess


Excerpt of "On Revolution," by Hannah Arendt


Arendt on Sovereignty and Politics

 Scroll down to Summary:

 "Returning to Arendt?s take on what went wrong in the French Revolution..........


Revolution, Freedom and the Council System . NEMESIO S. QUE


Some thoughts on the Arendt posts - Hobson's Choice.


 The following paper has some discussion about Arendt, the french
revolution and the social question:

University of California, Berkeley - The Graduate Conference in Political Theory


Some more discussion of Arendt's views and the French revolution can be found in

"The Dilemma of Active Life."


"If any lesson can be learned from Arendt?s teaching on the French
Revolution, it must be that liberation of the suppressed and
foundation of freedom are not the same thing and that the urgency the
oppressed feel for liberation ought not to cause them to forget the
importance of founding a free body politic......."


You might also want to follow these search strings on Google Scholar:


You have a tough subject! I hope this helps a bit!


Search Strategy on Google and Google Scholar

Hannah Arendt AND french revolution
Hannah Arendt "social question"
"social question" AND french revolution
Hannah Arendt AND french revolution AND social question

Clarification of Answer by umiat-ga on 11 Oct 2006 17:35 PDT
The following commentaries also contain some references to Arendt, the
French Revolution and the "social question":

 Arendt's On Revolution: The Social Question

There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy