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Hannah Arendt and the Boundaries of the Public Sphere

Russian Sociological Review. 2018. Vol. 17. No. 4. P. 9-13.

Hannah Arendt is one of the most vigorous advocates of public politics and agonistic debate

among contemporary political philosophers. Because of our essential plurality, humans

can access and preserve their common world “only to the extent that many people can talk

about it and exchange their opinions and perspectives with one another, over against one


However, Arendt’s position is challenged by the recent transformations of democracy

which are making us reconsider the limits of political discussion. With both traditional and

new media undergoing a radical transformation, it is becoming increasingly common to deny

political opponents the moral right to justify their position in public debate. This pattern can

be observed across the political spectrum and also across borders: in some places in the world

many refuse to debate with the rising extreme right, while in other places it is the liberals

who are considered traitors and therefore excluded from public discussion. The outcome is a

remarkable fragmentation of the public sphere and the coexistence of communities holding

incompatible views of reality.

Arendt’s thought is a promising point to access the problem of who can and who cannot

be admitted to the public forum. While arguing for the cultivation of plurality as a political virtue,

she nevertheless calls for responsible politics which implies protecting the public sphere.

Arendt is no less famous for noticing the intrinsic link between freedom and lying in politics

than for her alarming analyses of totalitarianism. How can these positions be reconciled and/

or synthesized in an age of ‘alternative facts’, ‘post-truths’ and the threatening encapsulation

of people within their echo chambers?

Arendt’s own positions have been criticized many times for going beyond the admissible,

from her nuanced reflection on the Holocaust to alleged contamination by Nazi philosophy.

The lessons from Arendt’s controversial biography for present-day politics are still to be drawn.

The Russian Sociological Review invites submissions focusing on how Arendt’s political

concepts can be used to establish justified limits for public discussion and promoting public

politics today. How can politics benefit from conflict and control it? Are there any positions

and ideologies to be disqualified from public debate? In what ways are individuals responsible

for upholding pluralism? How should the public sphere accommodate new types of political

lies? How can Arendt’s vision of the political be mobilized to answer the political challenges

of the present day?