Within the heart's darkness: The role of emotions in Arendt's political thought

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Interest in the political relevance of the emotions is growing rapidly. In light of this, Hannah Arendt's claim that the emotions are apolitical has come under renewed fire. But many critics have misunderstood her views on the relationship between individuals, emotions and the political. This paper addresses this issue by reconstructing the conceptual framework through which Arendt understands the emotions. Arendt often describes the heart - where the emotions reside - as a place of darkness. I begin by tracing this metaphor through her work to demonstrate that it is meant to convey the inherently uncertain nature of emotions rather than a devaluation of them. I proceed to challenge the notion that Arendt adopts the Enlightenment dichotomy between reason and emotion. In fact, she rejects both as a basis for politics. However, she does identify some constructive roles for the emotions. I argue that fear is intrinsically connected to courage - the principal political virtue - in Arendt's philosophy. In light of my discussion, I then reinterpret the role of compassion and pity in On Revolution, concluding that Arendt's insights can help us avoid the potential pitfalls of the contemporary project to recuperate the emotions in politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-173
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number2
Early online date18 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 May 2019

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