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An Ambiguous Citation in Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition

Authors


Frederick M. Dolan is associate professor of rhetoric, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94270-2670 (fmdolan@socrates.berkeley.edu).

Abstract

Hannah Arendt's concept of natality is by common consent one of her most numinous contributions to political philosophy. Arendt introduces the idea in the course of her attempt to draw out the significance of the ever-present possibility that someone, somewhere, sometime might say or do something that makes possible a fresh start in the realm of human affairs (Arendt 1958, 247). She characterizes this ineradicable possibility as nothing less than “the miracle that saves the world” from the ruin to which it is otherwise subject. The greatest symbol of this possibility—“its most glorious and succinct expression,” Arendt says—is the Christian Gospels’ announcement of “glad tidings”: “A child has been born unto us.” It is this Christian figuration of the miraculous through the image of the newborn that gives Arendt the term “natality.”

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