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on 1 November 2001
_The Human Condition_ (hereafter HC) is a strange and rare exmaple of political and social theory. Standing outside the mainstream of academic discourses, it has an unusual structure and pays scant regard to conventional modes of argument. As Margaret Canovan tells us, in her excellent, succinct introduction, Arendt ignored mainstream debates and ploughed through the quagmire of philosophy and culture in order to present her own highly original and deep conclusions.
HC is a vast and deep work that has many complex themes and lines of argument which seem to weave in and out of each other, sometimes slowly and obviously; more often than not sharply and seemingly without reason. As a result, one contention of hers, that humans have the great and miraculous capacity for the unexpected, is all the more convincing. Arendt in this book has thrown a lot at us, too much to consider after one reading. This is a book I will have to read again, and I daresay again and again.
Most obviously HC is concerned with the rise of technology and the Weberian/Frankfurt School theme of technological/rational domination, and with the more vicious and madly rampaging consumer economy, a capitalist system out of control. The book laments the loss of public glory and action, and stresses that human beings have seemingly surrendered themselves to forces and processes they cannot control, particulrly with regrd to modern science. (Reflection on the current and ongoing ecological uncertainty we face might seem to confirm this.)
Arendt is most famous for her celebration of political action and public-spiritedness, and looks to the ancient Greek polis as a from of participatory democracy. It is a heartening message in our times where 'democracy' is manipulated and politics is more market-driven than ever. But she is not utopian, and strongly criticises those who seek to find an ultimate harmony among human beings that does not exist. Human affairs are fragile: humans are plural and mortal, they can set off processes beyond their control and events have unintended consequences (she cites the Reformation and the rise of capitalist soicety - I would add Plague to that, too). History is almost a series of accidents.
My tradition is mostly within the Hegel-Marx school of philosophy, one which comes in for some great criticism by Arendt. Ultimately Hegel and Marx see in history a kind of progress toward an ultimate goal, so that everyone is a mouth-piece of the Zeitgeist. They do not recognise the contingency or frailty of human affairs, their capacity to do the unexpected.
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on 9 November 2006
This is simply one of the best books I have ever read. It's been a while since I last visted it but the analysis of consumer society in here is startling. People accused Arendt of "polis envy", such was her regard for the political structure of the Greek city state. "But they were built on slavery!" you might object, and Arendt is aware of this, but for her it was a necessary institution to allow some full citezins exercise their full rights. Without having slaves to take care of all the activites relating to the life-process (production and consumption, necessity) the citezins of the state would be bound by this cycle of unfreedom.

For Arendt, public space is where people should precisely prove their freedom from the eternal recurrance of necessity and it also provided an arena where other free men could witness (and remember) acts from thier fellow citezins that exceeded expectations. In order to create this situation, a clear public (freedom), private (necessity) devide was necessary. I seem to remember her saying something about the "gulf that every citezin stepped across each morning as they left thier home" and how the immensity of this act was unimaginable today. Her conception of consumer society is that it involves the socialising of the "life process" - instead of being kept behind closed doors as the "biological" inheritance that freemen had to transcend, it was now the motor of went out to work in order to earn enough to survive and so on. Although this might be an advance from a society founded on slavery in someways, it was responsible for a general banalisation as nothing escaped and transcended this cycle. There was a generalised condition of slavery as the concept of "freedom" was whittled down. On this point her thought is very reminiscent of the Situationists.

This is the overarching narrative I best recall from the book - but it is full of fascinating insites and elaboration on this theme. This is certainly Arendt's most original work.
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on 28 March 2013
I shall spare the reader a summary of what I take to be Arendt's philosophy, I dare say that such a summary may only make proper sense after they have read the book. It is a truly original work, which only seems to become more valuable with every passing decade.

The edition itself is almost faultless: well presented, a very thorough index and a good introduction by a distinguished scholar. My only problem is that the editor has not seen to translate all of the footnotes into English. Arendt has a habit of quoting French and German authors in their original languages in her footnotes, which makes it difficult for the average reader understand. The footnotes are, by definition, not essential to understanding her work, but some of her most fascinating asides are contained in those footnotes written in English, so it would be interesting to see a version with translated footnotes.

This is only a quibble, the edition is fantastic, and the text itself must surely be a must for any serious student of philosophy, sociology or politics or any person who wants to learn more about the times we find ourselves in.
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on 10 October 2010
In order to rank, i.e. evaluate, a work of thought - which is to be sharply distinguished from a work of scholarship - the same test can be used as it is for film, music, art, science, political leadership and so forth - the merciless test of time. In the somewhat rare and rarefied world of thought for wisdom's sake, of which I consider myself a modest part, The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt is to political wisdom what Martin Heidegger's Being and Time was and is to philosophical wisdom, that is to say: unsurpassed to this day. (It is a fact which will grow in mythical power with each passing generation that these two thinkers were involved in a romantic affair.)

Whoever wants to understand and think the political in a non partisan, non ideological and non resentful way, reading and confronting The Human Condition is a necessary and unavoidable step in order to "think the now", bearing in mind that we are now in 2013 and although first published in 1958, the book has lost none of its thought-provoking and illuminating potency. The rewards of doing this are immense - an unprecedented understanding of how our political world and indeed our condition as Western citizens came to take the shape it has today, a very strong nudge in favour of exploring avenues of thought that are more originary and original than the ideological and vengeful "blinking" that passes as political thought in the media and perhaps a restored faith, if not in mankind, in our own ability to be active and thoughtful agents in an increasingly confusing and confused world.

In addition, Arendt's effect on me was such that I chose to take on mature university study of the classical languages (latin and greek) and engage in my own way with the Western intellectual tradition.

To end on a cheeky note, and whoever has read and understood Nietzsche will understand, The Human Condition is, at bottom, a gospel of love to noble souls everywhere.

Five stars.
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on 18 September 2007
This book is for those few courageous souls who dare look at today and "think what they are doing". Arendt's writing has stood the test of time -- many of her disclosures are actually more visible today than they were in the 1950s when she wrote this treatise.

She must have been aware that this book would be for a limited readership, for readers who before such a work of truth and genius would want to make themselves deserving of the work by modelling their own thinking on it whilst attempting to perpetuate the spirit that animates it, even to surpass it.

Arendt along with Heidegger made thinking possible, even greater than it ever has been, after the collapse of ideological systems into absurdity and the absurd belief in scientific conventions. Thanks to them one activity at least has been preserved and saved from consumer/slavish/egoic society: that of thinking and the transmission it entails.
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on 14 October 2014
I first read this book over forty years ago. Then I was overwhelmed by the sheer power of Arendt's intellect. I was especially taken by her capacity for defining key philosophical concepts through etymological examination. Her knowledge of Greek and Latin and her love of making strong definite definitions struck me as a kind of revelation in thought. I will admit to also not being certain in many cases of fully having grasped her meaning.
I even then however was struck by her idolization of the concept of 'action'. Her finding the model for this in the action of the Greek hero, who by his deeds of courage won immortalization. I too wondered about her three-fold division of human activity and its being too neat to be true to the diversity and complexity of human life.
This current edition of the work contains an informative introduction by one of Arendt's foremost pupils Margeret Canovan.
She argues the book is as relevant today as it was when first published.
When I first read the book I was interested in understanding it completely in the hope that it would contribute to my own way of thinking and understanding the world. It is not Arendt's fault that her distinctions have not remained primary in my thought.
I nonetheless would recommend this book most highly for the power and beauty of its definitions and analysis.
I write this despite my strong reservations about other work of Arendt.
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on 11 September 2015
I like this book very much as matching with my request
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on 5 June 2015
Everything went great!
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on 13 June 2015
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on 30 March 2015
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