Arendt’s Break with the Liberal Imaginary of Society


  • Gorazd Kovačič Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia



Hannah Arendt, concept of society, civil society, early modern liberal political philosophy, John Locke, Thomas Paine, historical materialism


The first part of the article analyses the imaginary of the characteristics and form of (civil) society as developed in early modern liberal political philosophy, especially by John Locke and Thomas Paine. It uses different contemporary receptions of the key authors of this tradition, namely the liberal reception of John Keane, which emphasizes the theoretical distinction between civil society and the state, the materialist reception of Ellen Meiksins Wood, which contextualizes political ideas in the political struggles and class interests of the time, and the reception of Foucault, which focuses on the development of biopolitical governmentality. The article finds that the liberal tradition imagined (civil) society as a given and self-regulating sphere that does not require interference from the state. A socio-historical presupposition of this imaginary was the economic sovereignty of individuals, and it overlooked the relations of domination and exploitation. In its second part, the article presents Hannah Arendt’s critical concept of society. She did not conceptualize society as a given totality and in a spatial way, but used it as a qualifier of a specific, impoverished mode of being, in particular to analyse the situation and perspective of minorities.


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2021-12-31 — Updated on 2022-04-05


How to Cite

Kovačič, G. (2022). Arendt’s Break with the Liberal Imaginary of Society. Filozofski Vestnik, 42(1). (Original work published December 31, 2021)