Hannah Arendt on the Crisis of Authority
University of Puget Sound
Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper
In the 1950s, Hannah Arendt wrote that the modern world faced a crisis of authority because authority had 'vanished from the modern world' (Hannah Arendt. 'What Is Authority?' Between Past and Future. Penguin: New York,1968. P. 91). Most scholars take Arendt to be lamenting the loss of a republican and conservative notion of authority. In this essay, I agree that Arendt's invocation of the Roman concept of foundation is a conservative move, but I argue that it is a conservative move that makes a radical kind of politics possible. In particular, this essay reflects on Arendt's notion of authority (and its connections to tradition and religion) in order to re-imagine a Roman notion of the authority of political foundings that is fluid and (re-)invigorated by the ongoing political practices of citizens. The crisis of authority that is evident with the loss of authority is not, as some would argue, merely that the world needs more authority, but rather, that without a particular kind of authority to ground politics, humans also lose the capacity for freedom.
Date posted: March 29, 2010 ; Last revised: April 6, 2010
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