Vol. 6 | The Modern Challenge to Tradition | Editorial Introduction

Philosophy and Politics

An Invitation

A first version of the text obviously was written in a flow: Only very few corrections and expansion can be identified and — what is even more telling — Arendt did not recycle any pages from older typescripts for this lecture at Notre Dame University. Everything was written anew. Her correspondence with the historian Matthew Fitzsimons, at the time head of the “Committee on International Relations”, shows that there was a reason for that. On January 13, 1954, Arendt had received an invitation: Would she come to Notre Dame and give a series of lectures, either in late February or in early March? For the topic, Fitzsimons writes: “It is true that we hoped for something more modern. Is it possible to fit in Hobbes and Hegel?” On the back of the letter, a typewritten note by Arendt: “Replied 1 /19 /54: First week of march or May. Start with Hegel and Marx and conclude with Hobbes and Spinoza.”1 On February 5, 1954, Fitzsimons confirmed that Arendt would come on March 3 and 4 and asked “for the exact titles and orders of your lectures.” “I am very bad at titles,” so Arendt on February 12. “This is the best I can do at the moment: 1. Tocqueville’s ‘new science of politics’ and Marx’s science of History. Or: The problem of Action and Thought after the French Revolution. 2. The philosopher and the polis: The birth of political philosophy. 3. The Active and the Contemplative Life at the beginning of the modern age.” Two weeks later, she again changed the focus of her lectures: “While I was working on the lectures, I realized that it would be impossible to discuss at length Hobbes and Spinoza and do justice to the other topics. That means: the third lecture will discuss what I mentioned for the second, and two lectures will discuss what I mentioned for the second, and two lectures will be devoted to the problem of Action and Thought before and after the French Revolution”. (February 26, 1954)

The typescript suggests that Arendt first worked on a text entitled “Philosophy and Politics.” The subtitle “The problem of Action and Thought after the French Revolution” appears to have been added later: While the main title and the text were typed in a perfect angle with the margins of the paper, the subtitle tilts slightly to the left. That supports the hypothesis that Arendt had started to rewrite her text before she wrote to Fitzsimons: The layers of reworking correspond to the structure she suggested in her letter of February 26. As the typescript shows, she reworked the text one more time. Arendt took the train to Indiana, a ride that gave her plenty of time for last revisions: “I shall leave New York on Monday night at 11:10 (The Chicagoan) which should bring me to South Bend on Tuesday, 1:45 p. m.,” so she wrote on February 26, 1954. All the changes for this last layer of reworking are hand written, in all likelihood produced on the train or after her arrival in South Bend and before she delivered her first lecture on the next day. No signs of other layers of reworking the texts remain, it is therefore safe to assume that after her return to New York City late on March 5th, Arendt never went back to her essay on “Philosophy and Politics”.

Three lectures on two days — a rather unusual schedule. On Wednesday, March 3, Arendt gave the first lecture in the afternoon and the second in the evening; the third took place on Thursday evening. “As you doubtlessly recognized, for the evidence was abundant, your lectures were not only successful but an event,” so Fitzsimons on March 15, “People still stop me on the campus to speak about them, this is practically unprecedented.”

The first version of the typescript was not structured into discrete lectures. In fact, it looks as if Arendt divided her text into three parts at the very last moment: While she typed “I” right under the title on the first page, “II” and “III” are handwritten (see her pages 16 and 32). While the first version contained 55 pages, it was enlarged to 67. Too many pages for three lectures, especially because Arendt not only added new pages but also glued on long inserts on existing pages. That is why we find these signs on the margins — arrows and brackets — with which she marked what to omit for the lectures. The typescript shows three series of inserts — each of three pages: 13a-c, 15a-c, and 34a-c. Obviously, they were not written for the lectures: In all three, Arendt omitted more than a page for her presentations. In the same stage of reworking, she also added typed text on the top and in the margins of pages (see pages 20a, 24, 26, 50, and 52). While typescript (A) underwent these layers of reworking, typescript (B), the carbon copy, remained almost intact so that Arendt could revert — if needed — to the old flow of argumentation. Besides these typed additions, we also see handwritten additions, produced for the lectures. It is interesting to see that the latter tend to be more pointed, especially in the discussion of Plato’s versus Socrates’ positions. Since Arendt never went back to this essay her reflections on the shortcomings of political philosophy at its very beginning remained unpublished.

Barbara Hahn

All letters quoted here are to be found in: CU, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind.