Northern Illinois University Press

Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Tragedy

Robert C. Pirro

"Lucid and elegant…. A timely and rich contribution to understanding both Arendt and our modern times."—Alkis Kontos, University of Toronto

"Thoughtful and thought provoking."—Phillip Hansen, author of Hannah Arendt

A German Jewish refugee suffering tremendous personal and political upheaval during the years of Nazi conquest, Hannah Arendt turned to classical literature and drama as she struggled to make sense of the terrible events of her time. Studying fiction, plays, and poetry, she found a way to meld theoretical political philosophy and concrete personal commitment to action. Among her literary resources, the epics and plays of ancient Greece provided the ideal balance of politics and culture.

In Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Tragedy, Pirro focuses especially on the influence of Greek tragedy on Arendt's political writings. Pirro casts Arendt's political thought as tragic storytelling, crafted to inspire her audience both to appreciate political freedoms and to act on those freedoms by participating in public life. Echoing an affinity for Greek drama common in the tradition of German philosophy and letters, Arendt draws on tragic characters, scenes, and dramatic conventions, as well as theories, to assess the maddening and often fatal contradictions of political life in modern times.

Classical narratives of heroic achievements and failures shape the structure and content of Arendtian thought, as when she compares Jewish refugees' attempts to confront their stateless condition during the 1930s and 1940s to Ulysses's mythical quest. Turning her attention in the postwar years to the promise and limits of political freedom in American life, Arendt invokes Sophocles's last drama, Oedipus at Colonus, in an attempt to outline an alternative, aesthetic sense of political authority in the American Republic.

In providing this new avenue of approach to Arendt, Pirro shows how elements of Greek tragedy helped her grapple with the problems of modern politics in the chaos of a universe without rules. Arendt enthusiasts and readers interested in the classics and politics will find fresh ideas to consider in Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Tragedy.

(2000) 231 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-268-8
cloth $42.00

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Greek Tragedy, Storytelling, and Political Theory: In Search of an Intuitive Basis for Democractic Citizenship
Chapter Two: Arendt's Resort to Greek Tragedy in the Context of German Philhellenism
Chapter Three: Tragic Foundations: Promoting Political Freedom in a Post-Authority World
Chapter Four: Tragic Intuitions: Judgment as an Instance of Political Freedom
Chapter Five: Mortal Messages: Tragic Theory and Democratic Heroism

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-268-8
cloth $42.00