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Arendt and Hobbes: Glory, Sacrificial Violence, and the Political Imagination

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The dominant narrative today of modern political power, inspired by Foucault, is one that traces the move from the spectacle of the scaffold to the disciplining of bodies whereby the modern political subject, animated by a fundamental fear and the will to live, is promised security in exchange for obedience and productivity. In this essay, I call into question this narrative, arguing that that the modern political imagination, rooted in Hobbes, is animated not by fear but instead by the desire for glory and immortality, a desire that is spectacularly displayed in the violence of the modern battlefield. I go on to argue that Hannah Arendt, writing in the ruins of the Second World War, rethinks the modern legacy of political glory. I claim that Arendt’s reflections on violence and glory, which she rethinks from her earliest writings on violence in the 1940s to her later reflections on war in the 1960s, offer the possibility of a new political imagination wherein glory and the desire for immortality is now rooted in the responsibility of bearing an enduring world.

Affiliations: 1: DePaul University


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