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‘ON REVOLUTION’ ANNA ARENDT

EQUALITY AND FREEDOM

“Equality existed only in this specifically political realm, where men met one another as citizens and not as private persons. The difference between this ancient concept of equality and our notion that men are born or created equal and become unequal by virtue of social and political, that is man-made, institutions can hardly be over-emphasized. The equality of the Greek polis, its isonomy, was an attribute of the polis and not of men, who received their equality by virtue of citizenship, not by virtue of birth.

The reason for this insistence on the interconnection of freedom and equality in Greek political thought was that freedom was understood as being manifest in certain, by no means all, human activities, and that these activities could appear and be real only when others saw them, judged them, remembered them. The life of a free man needed the presence of others. Freedom itself needed therefore a place where people could come together, – the agora, the market-place, or the polis, the political space, proper. ” p.31

VIOLENCE AND REVOLUTION

“But violence is no more adequate to describe the phenomenon of revolution than change; only where change occurs in the sense of a new beginning, where violence is used to constitute an altogether different form of government, to bring about the formation of a new body politic, where the liberation from oppression aims at least at the constitution of freedom can we speak of revolution. And the fact is that although history has always known those who, like Alcibiades, wanted power for themselves or those who, like Catiline, were rerum novarum cupidi, eager for new things, the revolutionary spirit of the last centuries, that is the eagerness to  liberate and to build a new house where freedom can dwell, is unprecedented and unequalled in all prior history.” p.35

“Nothing could be farther removed from the original meaning of the word ‘revolution’ than the idea of which all revolutionary actors have been possessed and obsessed, namely, that they are agent  in a process which spells the definite end of an old order and brings about the birth of a new world.” p.42

“The fact that the word ‘revolution’ meant originally restoration, hence something which to us is its very opposite, is not a mere oddity of semantics.” p.43

MULTITUDE

“The answer, to begin with, seems simple. Behind these words, we still can see and hear the multitude on their march, how they burst into the streets of Paris, which then still was the capital not only of France but of the entire civilized world – the upheaval of the populace of the great cities inextricably mixed with the uprising of the people for freedom, both together irresistible in the sheer force of their number. And this multitude, appearing for the first time in broad daylight, was actually the multitude of the poor and the downtrodden, who every century before had hidden in darkness and shame. What from then on has been irrevocable, and what the agents and spectators of revolution immediately recognized as such, was that the public realm reserved, as far as memory could reach, to those who were free, namely carefree of all the worries that are connected with life’s necessity, with bodily needs – should offer its space and its light to this immense majority who are not free because they are driven by daily needs.” p.48-49

“The principle which came to light during those fateful years when the foundations were laid – not by the strength of one architect but by the combined power of the many – was the interconnected principle of mutual promise and common deliberation; and the event itself decided indeed, as Hamilton had insisted, that men ‘are really capable… of establishing good government from reflection and choice’, that they are not ‘forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force’.” p.214

MEMORY

“This, and probably much more, was lost when the spirit of revolution – a new spirit and the spirit of beginning something new – failed to find its appropriate institution. There is nothing that could compensate for this failure or prevent it from becoming final, except memory and recollection.” p.280

POLIS

“Sophocles in Oedipus at Colonus, the play of his old age, wrote the famous and frightening lines:

‘Not to be born prevails over all meaning uttered in words; by far the second-best for life, once it has appeared, is to go as swiftly as possible whence it came.’ 

There he also let us know, through the mouth of Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens and hence her spokesman, what  it was that enabled ordinary men, young and old, to bear life’s burden: it was the polis, the space of men’s free deeds and living words, which could endow life with splendour.” p.281