Arendt’s political thought: the relationship between truth and politics
In the scholarship on the thought of Hannah Arendt we find a recurrent view that she sees truth and politics as not just distinct but mutually exclusive phenomena. In this thesis I argue that this is not an adequate understanding of Arendt. It has been pointed out in the previous scholarship that Arendt asserts the importance of at least one kind of truth for politics, namely “truth of facts.” I argue that this view of the relationship between truth and politics is more complex than that. In Arendt’s writings we can see a sustained enquiry into the relationship between politics and truth, in which truth includes, but is more than, “truth of fact.” To demonstrate this, I proceed from the assumption that Arendt sees “thinking” as the vehicle of this relationship between truth and politics. Thus my investigation of Arendt’s conception of the relationship between truth and politics foregrounds an exploration of Arendt’s conception of thinking. As I indicated above, in Arendt we find a fascinating and provocative suggestion that thinking concerns “the quest for meaning.” Understood as such, thinking is not released from truth-seeking. Truth here is something other than fact, although it may need to be informed by fact. Truth-seeking in relation to meaning, for Arendt, loses any connection to definite results because it has to become adequate to what she calls plurality as well as to the need of humans to “reconcile themselves” to the world that they share with others. By providing a close textual analysis of five essays in which Arendt enquires into what is thinking, I will show that Arendt associates thinking, understood as the quest for meaning, with the willingness to express one’s doxa (or opinion), the willingness to think for oneself (selbstdenken), the willingness to engage in storytelling, the willingness to practise the dialogue of the “two-in-one,” the willingness to face up to reality and the related willingness to recognise and accept factual truth, and, finally, the willingness to assume personal responsibility for judgment. I suggest that the quest for meaning in all these different modes must involve “truthfulness” – truthfulness in the sense of an opening to the truth of what is disclosed. This kind of truth is neither irrefutable nor refutable – it belongs to the domain of significance and profoundly concerns human experience. It is not an “objective” truth that exists independently of humans. This truth is a phenomenological achievement that demands of humans that they actively engage in an unending process of discovering this truth and are willing to seek truth. An orientation to truth involved in the quest for meaning is expressed especially in the willingness to engage with “the fact of human plurality” – perhaps, for Arendt, the quintessential “fact.” For truthfulness requires of a thinker a willingness to articulate and maintain one’s own perspective on the world, which in turn demands an orientation towards others and recognising them as unique individuals.