Tijdschrift voor filosofie vol:69 issue:3 pages:419-445
This paper situates Arendt's ideal of political participation at the cross-roads of two entirely opposite traditions of thought: the one, anti-representationist, the other pleading for something stronger than mere representation. The first leads Arendt into playing off participation against representation in order to avoid the loss of presence that she fears the latter will entail. Whereas this line of thought seems to derive from what contemporary thought has deconstructed under the heading ‘metaphysics of presence', Arendt's work at the same time shows traits that unmistakeably belong to a tradition that is irreconcilable with the presuppositions of such a metaphysics. In fact, her view of freedom as an inner product of the public realm, forbids the latter to merely mirror, express or harmonize the antecedent freedoms of the private sphere. It should rather change these freedoms by transforming them and forcing them into a structure that has an independence of its own. This anti-expressivism seems to share its presuppositions with what we nowadays recognize as ‘the symbolic' (in the sense the term has taken with Lévi-Strauss and others, like Claude Lefort).
Not having that notion at her disposal, Arendt manages to balance these two contradictory legacies by the weight she puts on the ideal of participation, and she ‘succeeds' in doing this so well that she may not have noticed how they are at work in her own texts. In the second part of the paper the author shifts that weight to a number of quasi-concepts that Arendt did not or could not take beyond the level of metaphor, like the daimon in The Human Condition or the short passage on masks in On Revolution. Connecting these two to an ontological analysis of the difference between the private and the public, he then attempts to delineate a new conception of the public realm that, surprisingly, might salvage the meaning and sense of the separation between the social and the political Arendt was notoriously criticized for, even by those who were otherwise sympathetic to her ideas.
In conclusion, the relevance of what the author calls ‘the monumental recognition' of appearing in public is indicated by showing its potential as a response to some of the difficulties that have set contemporary multicultural societies ablaze.