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Article

Reading Arendt in the Russian context

Russian Sociological Review. 2019. Vol. 18. No. 4. P. 263-283.

Hannah Arendt is well-studied in Russia; her legacy is noticeable in academic discussions. However, her theoretical positions can hardly bring about a significant change in the present state of local political and philosophical affairs. The reason is the same for both the unusual popularity of her theoretical concepts and their lack of practical relevance. Her non-traditional approach to politics seamlessly fits into recurrent patterns of Russian social life which are no-less distant from the established forms of Western political culture. Being uncritically transplanted into different soil, her unorthodox way of thinking about politics found an immediate enthusiastic reception in Russia, but not at the same level of scrutiny as was in the West. Paradoxically, this proves that Arendt’s views may confirm the local status-quo, rather than challenging it. In this paper, I will try to explain this paradox by presenting both the elements of her theory that remain under-appreciated by her Russian followers, and her dogmatic positions shared with her school of thought, which can be elucidated by reading them against the Russian context. Arendt’s theory features hidden, but distinct, elitist, and liberal tendencies; to some degree, her theory goes well with the Machiavellian character of contemporary Russian politics. However, at the exact point when she finds an unlikely ally in Isaiah Berlin, her normative solutions mostly go unnoticed. On the other hand, reading her texts against the Russian experience exposes some of her preconceptions about human existence, the meaning of political life, and our relations to history, all of which weaken the practical relevance of her thoughts.