I finally decided to start a reading blog. My intention is to share a summary and to collect all the thoughts that I have while reading. Feel free to critically engage and develop them anywhere at any time. Please keep in mind, however, that these are thoughts I have while reading not arguments and I would like to have them treated as such. Moreover, I do not claim ownership over them but would be happy about recognition.

To not infringe any copyrights, I will always indicate the words that start and end the sections to which my thoughts refer.


III (p.28-36)

In chapter three, Arendt raises the problem of absolute value. If human beings have replaced God as creator and labour has replaced thinking as the highest of all human activities, is there nonetheless an absolute value? It seems to follow that all values become relative to social practice.

Marx, however, believed that an absolute value could still be found. Since labour was essential to the human condition, he argued that labour power, measured in labour time, was this absolute value.

The consequences are immense. It means that everything which does not require labour loses its value e.g. love, wildlife, waterfalls etc.

II (p.23-27)

Arendt tells us that Marx’ political theory did not fully break with the tradition. The break happened instead when no political or intellectual authority could find a solution to the problems of the 20th century.

This vacuum was filled by totalitarian movements that proclaimed the authority of culture.

“Die drei Grundsätze sind…” (p.19-22)

Arendt argues that Marx’ three theses lead to contradictions in his thinking

1. If labour is the highest of all human activities, then people’s life would lose most of its value once labouring is not necessary anymore.

Did Arendt already think about the distinction between labour and work when making this point?

2. If violence is the only meaningful activity to bring about social change, then what is left once the classless society is a reality?

I cannot follow Arendt here. Marx’ thesis says that violence is the only means to achieve social change but it does not necessarily imply that violence is generally meaningful.

3. If it is all about changing the world, then what form of thinking will remain?

Arendt concludes that the tradition, beginning with Plato, ends with Marx for whom thinking became irrelevant and action meaningless.

“Marx selbst war sich nicht…” (p 15-19)

According to Arendt, Marx’ political theory is grounded in three theses that are antagonistic towards the tradition:

  1. Human beings recreate themselves through labour.
  2. Only violence changes societies.
  3. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, what matters is to change it.

Arendt argues that the first thesis opposes the tradition in three ways:

  • It opposes God as the creator.
  • It implies that the difference between human beings and animals is not reason but human’s capacity to labour.
  • It appreciates labour over other human activities such as contemplation.

The second thesis opposes the tradition in two ways:

  • It takes violence as the most important factor for social change, whereas Plato detests violence as a means to achieve political ends domestically.
  • It expresses Marx’ antagonism towards discourse and language as means for achieving political ends.

And the third thesis opposes the tradition in two ways:

  • It grounds political theory in human interaction, whereas for Plato philosophy was not a worldly matter.
  • While Marx argues that everyone can become a philosopher once labouring is not necessary anymore, Plato thought that the world of ideas can only be accessed by a few.

“In den Marxschen Theorien…” (p. 11f.)

Arendt tells us that although Marx had the intention to overcome ideal theorising he never fully did so. The Platonic remainders in his thinking got him entangled into contradictions.

Marx brought back the Athenian ideal of a society, one where there is no state authority and no need for labour. His ideal is only different from the Athenian in that he wants a classless society (no one should be required to labour), whereas the Athenian ideal of a society was merely achievable for the upper class (slave did all the labour).

“Viel erstaunlicher…” (p.12)

Arendt points out that the contradiction in Marx’ thinking is due to his rejection of state authority. By rejecting state authority, he rejects politics altogether. What remains is effective administration (bureaucracy).

Arendt: Tradition and the Modern Age


“Die abendländische…” (p. 9)

Arendt dates the beginning of political theory to Plato and its end to Marx. While Plato argued that all truths are to be found in the world of ideas, Marx thought, to the contrary, that truth is only be found in the world of human interaction.

“Jede echte politische…” (p. 9f.)

Moreover, Arendt contends that every “genuine” political philosophy develops from the developing philosopher’s stance towards politics. There was no “genuine” political philosophy in the beginning. Philosophers like Plato found the norms that should dictate politics in the world of ideas (philosophy). It was not until Marx that this way of theorising politics changed: he developed his political theory from the sphere of human interaction thereby turning his back towards philosophy.

Political philosophy” became “political theory” once the “philosophers” who developed it lost their antagonism towards politics. It is in this sense that Arendt does not want to be seen as a political philosopher but instead a political theorist (see also her interview with Günter Gaus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsoImQfVsO4 [2:40])

Chapter III: 2) The Transformation of Medieval Wars (Crusades or Feuds) into Non-Discriminatory State Wars: From Ayala to Vattel

Schmitt discusses in reference to Ayala, Gentili, Grotius, Zouch, Pufendorf, Bynkershoek, and Vattel how medieval wars of annihilation transformed and the concept of “justa causa” transformed into “pure” state wars between equal sovereign European states based on the concept of “justus hostis”.

G. Kant’s Unjust Enemy

Schmitt points out that Kant who finalized 18th century philosophy shows two different faces. On the one hand, he argues that states are moral persons with equal rights in the state of nature (everyone having an equal right to war) and, on the other hand, he contends that there can be an unjust enemy. It was this turn towards the concept of an unjust enemy that dominated the 20th century. Following his categorical imperative, Kant defines an unjust enemy as one that follows a maxim which, if it would be a universal law, would make peace impossible. It seems to follow that preemptive war against the unjust enemy is justified then. Schmitt, however, criticizes this conclusion and Kant’s general concepts. He asks rhetorically whether we can really decide who is just and unjust, and who should decide. (140-143, 168-171)

Moreover, Schmitt also emphasizes that Kant’s concept of the unjust enemy was different from Vitoria’s theory of a just war. Kant, other than Vitoria, did not argue that a just cause gave one a title to the land of the unjust enemy. This would have been an injustice towards the people who live on the land and must never lose their right to association. The only thing the victorious state which fought with a just cause can enforce on the defeated people is a new constitution that makes it less likely for them to begin another war in the future (142, 170).