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Hannah Arendt and the Political Meaning of Human Dignity
Journal of Social Philosophy (2016)
  • John Macready, Collin College
In Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Human Dignity, Professor John Douglas Macready offers a post-foundational account of human dignity by way of a reconstructive reading of Hannah Arendt. He argues that Arendt’s experience of political violence and genocide in the twentieth century, as well as her experience as a stateless person, led her to rethink human dignity as an intersubjective event of political experience. By tracing the contours of Arendt’s thoughts on human dignity through a close reading of her published works, letters, lectures, and journals, Professor Macready offers convincing evidence that Arendt was engaged in retrieving the political experience that gave rise to the concept of human dignity in order to move beyond the traditional accounts of human dignity that relied principally on the status and stature of human beings. This allowed Arendt to retrofit the concept for a new political landscape and reconceive human dignity in terms of stance—how human beings stand in relationship to one another. Professor Macready elucidates Arendt’s latent political ontology as a resource for developing strictly political account of human dignity hat he calls conditional dignity—the view that human dignity is dependent on political action, namely, the preservation and expression of dignity by the person who bears it, and/or the recognition by the political community to which the person belongs or seeks membership. Professor Macready then situates the notion of conditional dignity within Arendt’s political ontology and shows how it informed her notion of political personhood, which relies on a recognitive politics that emphasizes the co-responsibility of individuals and political regimes to insist upon the right of human beings to have a place in the world. He argues that it is precisely this “right” to have a place in the world—the right to belong to a political community and never to be reduced to the status of stateless animality—that indicates the political meaning of human dignity in Arendt’s political philosophy.
  • Hannah Arendt,
  • Human Dignity,
  • Human Rights
Publication Date
Winter January, 2016
Citation Information
John Macready. "Hannah Arendt and the Political Meaning of Human Dignity" Journal of Social Philosophy Vol. 47 Iss. 4 (2016) p. 399 - 419
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