THOUGHTS ON POVERTY, MISERY, AND THE GREAT REVOLUTIONS OF HISTORY
This manuscript, never before published, is marked “A Lecture” and dated “1966-67.”
Source: Never-Before-Published Hannah Arendt on What Freedom and Revolution Really Mean | Literary Hub
– “A Lecture”, by Hannah Arendt (dated “1966-67”)
A large number of revolutions during the last two hundred years went to their doom, but relatively few were dissipated by superiority in the application of the means of violence. Conversely, military interventions, even when they were successful, have often proved remarkably inefficient in restoring stability and filling the power vacuum. Even victory seems unable to substitute stability for chaos, honesty for corruption, authority and trust in government for decay and disintegration.
it would not only be wiser but also more relevant if, instead of boasting that we are the mightiest power on earth, we would say that we have enjoyed an extraordinary stability since the founding of our republic, and that this stability was the direct outgrowth of revolution. For, since it can no longer be decided by war, the contestation of the great powers may well be decided, in the long run, by which side better understands what revolutions are and what is at stake in them.
The fact that the word “revolution” originally meant restoration is more than a mere oddity of semantics.
what actually happened at the end of the 18th century was that an attempt at restoration and recovery of old rights and privileges resulted in its exact opposite: a progressing development and the opening up of a future which defied all further attempts at acting or thinking in terms of a circular or revolving motion. And while the term “revolution” was radically transformed in the revolutionary process, something similar, but infinitely more complex, happened to the word “freedom.”
Liberties in the sense of civil rights are the results of liberation, but they are by no means the actual content of freedom, whose essence is admission to the public realm and participation in public affairs. …
liberation from oppression could very well have been fulfilled under monarchical though not tyrannical government, whereas the freedom of a political way of life required a new, or rather rediscovered, form of government. It demanded the constitution of a republic.
Revolutions are not necessary but possible answers to the devolution of a regime, not the cause but the consequence of the downfall of political authority.
it is the desire to excel which makes men love the company of their peers and spurs them on into the public realm. This public freedom is a tangible worldly reality, created by men to enjoy together in public—to be seen, heard, known, and remembered by others. And this kind of freedom demands equality, it is possible only amongst peers. Institutionally speaking, it is possible only in a republic, which knows no subjects and, strictly speaking, no rulers.
No doubt, it is obvious and of great consequence that this passion for freedom for its own sake awoke in and was nourished by men of leisure who had no masters and were not always busy making a living.
For us, who owe it to a revolution and the resulting foundation of an entirely new body politic that we can walk in dignity and act in freedom, it would be wise to remember what a revolution means in the life of nations. Whether it ends in success, with the constitution of a public space for freedom, or in disaster, for those who have risked it or participated in it against their inclination and expectation, the meaning of revolution is the actualization of one of the greatest and most elementary human potentialities, the unequaled experience of being free to make a new beginning, from which comes the pride of having opened the world to a Novus Ordo Saeclorum (a new order of the ages).
The men of the first revolutions, though they knew well enough that liberation had to precede freedom, were still unaware of the fact that such liberation means more than political liberation from absolute and despotic power; that to be free for freedom meant first of all to be free not only from fear but also from want.
if violence pitted against violence leads to war, foreign or civil, violence pitted against social conditions has always led to terror.
We have little reason to hope that at some time in the not too distant future such men will match in practical and theoretical wisdom the men of the American Revolution, who became the Founders of this country. But that little hope, I fear, is the only one we have that freedom in a political sense will not vanish again from the earth for God knows how many centuries.