terça-feira, 28 de julho de 2015

The immortal life of the species? Political Theology and Animality in Arendt’s The Human Condition

by Diego Rossello

In suggestive, and often neglected, passages of The Human Condition, Arendt lays out the specific historical condition of the human being according to the Greeks. She writes: “Immortality means endurance in time, deathless life on this earth and in this world as it was given, according to Greek understanding, to nature and the Olympian Gods” (18). Thus, according to Arendt, the specifically historical condition of human life was conceived, for the Greeks, in contradistinction to two immortal ways of being: Gods and natural life. A few lines later Arendt expands on this idea and writes: “[m]en are the mortals, the only mortal thing in existence, because unlike animals they do not exist only as members of a species whose immortal life is guaranteed through procreation” (18-19). In this paper I will suggest that this description of animal immortality has important consequences for Arendt’s understanding of the political. Arendt assumes that natural life, and therefore also animal life, is somewhat self-sustaining, a-historical and, ultimately, immortal. Arendt’s understanding of animal life as immortal resurfaces, I will argue, in her understanding of the anti-political condition of animal laborans. According to Arendt, “animal laborans is indeed only one, at best the highest, of the animal species that populate the earth” (84) which means that animal laborans remains caught in the “ever recurring cycle of biological life” (99). Moreover, this ever-recurring condition of (human and non-human) animal life, this immortality of the species, is later assimilated by Arendt to a Christian perspective where “the immortality of individual life became the central creed of Western mankind, that is [...] with the rise of Christianity, did life on earth also become the highest good of man” (316). Consequently, Arendt consistently pits human mortality against animal and Godly (or Godly infused) immortality. What this opposition implies is that animal immortality rivals with, or even impedes, human attempts to reach the worldly immortality that political action can provide. However, Arendt’s vindication of the specifically human, worldly, and political access to immortality is made at the price of construing a peculiarly worldless, immortal animal-God that, ultimately, threatens to destabilize her own understanding of the human political condition.

Diego Rossello obtained his Ph.D. in Political Science at Northwestern University under the supervision of Bonnie Honig. He is professor of political theory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and is the editor of the journal Revista de Ciencia Política. He has published articles, reviews and interviews in the following journals: Revista de Filosofía, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, New Literary History, Theory and Event, Political Theory and Philosophy Today. He is currently working on his first book manuscript that deals with the politics of human-animal indistinction in modern sovereignty. He can be reached at: drossello@uc.cl

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