Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Commentators disagree about what Hannah Arendt means by political action. One interpretation emphasizes that political action is rational deliberation, another interpretation identifies political action with expressiveness or the performative expression of personal virtuosity and greatness. Both interpretations fall short. The deliberative model captures the aspect of constituting political power through collective agreement based on reason-giving (combining a plurality into a polity). The expressive model captures the aspect of natality, originality, spontaneity, and freedom from conventional ways of reasoning. The deliberative and expressive models of Hannah Arendt's political action can be reconciled contrary to a claim that her theory is incoherent. The key to this argument is that the expressive interpretation also focuses on how political action exemplifies an objective principle of promise-making and promise-keeping. Promise-making/keeping implies a weak normative rule-- implying free consent among equals to cooperate together for the sake of some purpose. In the paradigm case of revolutionary political action, this purpose does not strive to seek some material (social) end outside of political action; rather it seeks only to found an enduring institutional framework to make possible further and more augmented political action. In this respect it can be said that for Arendt, political action is a kind of instrumental action that chooses institutional means for realizing an end (a "work of art") at least in a qualified sense. For Arendt posterity can participate in re-performing constitutional founding through the process of constitutional amendment.

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