Hannah Arendt was one of the seminal political thinkers, who provided an account of the understanding of human activities. She is interested in viva activa, and according to her, labor, work, and action are the three most significant elements adding to viva activa. Altogether, they define the meaning of being human, and according to Arendt in ‘what is freedom,’ she describes freedom as a virtuosity phenomenon that is always not easy to conceive (Arendt 2017,61). Furthermore, the conception of Arendt regarding the world makes it the intermediary between humanity and nature. The world is a non-natural humanized space that unites us under an everyday reality.
Labor, Work, and Action
The vita activa in political thought is a radical challenge to two traditions. Arendt opposes the first tradition that has its privileges on contemplation, vita contemplative, above action. She traces it to the ancient political thought of Greek, which has its continuation in ideas of Christianity about the end of human life properly. The tradition lessens and disregards political action values. An alternative tradition that values action is recovered by vita active (Arendt 2017, 59). Secondly, a modern tradition is opposed by Arendt that turns down vita contemplative and shows value and concern on labor and work above political action. Therefore, Arendt is seen to defend political action over the laboring process and work.
According to Arendt’s account, labor is an activity that is necessary for the maintenance of life. These include eating, physical care, digestion, planting, shopping for groceries, reproducing life, and sustaining industrial activities. She describes these activities as continuous and never-ending, and with time, the processes such as digestion can be understood. Her focus is that labor produces products exhausted during consumption, and nothing permanent is left by labor apart from life. Arendt states that actions create the possibility of immortality since they occur at a time conception that is linear and not the circular conception time of labor. Furthermore, actions form something special since they introduce an original thing that was not anticipated.
What Is Freedom?
Arendt describes freedom as a phenomenon that is virtuous and original. Although, according to her, the shortcoming of freedom is how human beings live together, the freedom of being human marks the start of something new. The reason why people hold together in politics is because of freedom. The argument of Arendt is how we tend to think of freedom in the political sense and not as an individual’s property (Fayard & Ann-Laure 2021, 215). It is one of the many problems existing in the political realm. However, men are united together politically, and political life would have been meaningless without freedom.
In the whole of philosophy history, no preoccupation regarding freedom exists. When it made its first philosophical appearance, the experience was of conversion religiously, first, conversion of Paul, then Augustine, this gave rise to all of it. The political theory takes freedom for granted. Based on ancient understanding, one way a man could ensure liberation to himself is through power over other men, and one could be accessible through owning a place or a home. However, not all people and communities are characterized by freedom. A body politic is not necessarily formed where tribal people reside together. Their actions are ruled by the factors and not necessarily freedom but life’s necessities and preservation concerns.
Critique of Marx’s Account of Estranged Labor
The alienation theory of Karl Marx conceals the nature of labor by examining how the worker providing labor and the production objects relate. Therefore, Marx’s goal of revolution is not laboring emancipation or working classes but rather man emancipation from labor. The realm of freedom emerges where the determination of labor through physical needs is ending. Furthermore, Marx viewed why vita activa was not discovered after the traditional, modern break. His perspective was that; “It lies in the very nature of the famous turning upside-down of philosophic systems or hierarchies of values that the conceptual framework itself is left intact” (Arendt 2017, 59). After all, this is true, especially for Marx, who was sure that making Hegel fall was the way to find the truth.
In his account based on alienated labor, Marx was trying to constantly redefine labor regarding working at political activity expense. Nevertheless, things were different and political activity no longer mattered based on coming up with laws to make a commonwealth. Instead, young Marx viewed labor as an activity corresponding to the body’s biological processes, including metabolism in all living organisms (Marx, 2018). Through laboring, the vital objects necessary to continue the processes of life in the human body are obtained.
Based on this context, automatic processes surround human life, which proceeds to the political realm. Arendt perceived freedom as an idea of active participation as a citizen, collective and civic deliberation, and community engagement. The central idea of her work is freedom. Also, labor forms an essential aspect of her work since she views it as an activity on which all living organisms, particularly humans, are dependent. Karl; Marx, a philosopher, redefined labor in almost the same way since he connected it to the body’s biological processes.
Arendt, Hannah. “Freedom and politics.” In The Liberty Reader, pp. 58-79. Routledge, 2017.
Fayard, Anne-Laure. “Notes on the meaning of work: Labor, work, and action in the 21st century.” Journal of Management Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2021): 207-220. Web.
Marx, Karl. Alienation and social classes. Routledge, 2018.