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Disclosure and responsibility in Arendt’s The Human Condition

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date01/2015
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Number of pages18
Early online date7/03/14
Original languageEnglish


Hannah Arendt is one of the few philosophers to examine the dynamics of political action at length. Intriguingly, she emphasises the disclosure of who the actor is as a specific distinction of political action. This emphasis is connected with some long-standing worries about Arendt’s account that centre on its apparent unconcern for political responsibility. In this paper I argue that Arendt’s emphasis on disclosure actually harbours a profound concern with responsibility. I do so by examining three questions. The main part of the paper focuses on how disclosure is bound up with political actors’ attempts to act with one another. It asks: what would it be for an actor to evade disclosure? And: what is involved in an actor acknowledging the fact of disclosure? – Looking at the matter negatively, attempts to evade disclosure and its implications lead to irresponsibility. Positively, for the actor to accept disclosure is to see herself as bound to her fellow actors and audience by relations of joint action and mutual accountability. The conclusion asks a third question: what would it mean for on-lookers to deny the relevance of actors’ disclosure? I argue that Arendt’s historiography – which revolves around stories in which political actors reveal who they are – reflects her conviction that people can and must take responsibility for their world.