From the Act to the Decision

Political Theory 32 (3):320-346 (2004)
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There is much disagreement among many commentators of Hannah Arendt's work about whether her contributions to politics and philosophy contain a clandestine version of decisionism or, by contrast, represent an explicit attempt to break away from the elements of voluntarism, arbitrariness, and irrationality, which are considered to be inherent to any theory of the decision. Despite the many disagreements that set apart these two interpretations of Arendt, however, there is a common presupposition that both share. They are in agreement concerning the decision: it is a threat and a vice, intrinsically dangerous and potentially totalitarian in nature, which ought to be expelled from any theory of politics with a normative content. As a result, the terms of the debate pertain solely to whether Arendt was a (crypto-) decisionist and not to the nature and evaluation of the decision as such. This paper argues, contrary to Arendt's critics, that although elements of a theory of the decision can be found scattered throughout many of her writings, she was nonetheless unswerving in her opposition to decisionism. But unlike her defenders, it also argues that had Arendt built on these elements to elaborate a systematic theory of the decision, she would have avoided many of the flaws and inconsistencies that plague her concept of politics



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