Title page for ETD etd-07262012-155534

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Tomoka, Grace
Email gracetomoka@yahoo.com
URN etd-07262012-155534
Document Title The relevance of Hannah Arendt’s concept of freedom to African political thought
Degree Master of Arts
Department Philosophy
Advisor Name Title
Dr L M Mabille Supervisor
  • freedom
  • liberalism
  • Arendt
  • political action
  • human rights
  • private
  • public
  • genocide
  • political evil
  • totalitarianism
  • modernity
Date 2012-04-23
Availability unrestricted
This project is a critical evaluation of the relevance of Hannah Arendt’s concept of freedom to African political thought. Freedom is one of the most perplexing aspects of human life, and to determine precisely what freedom consists in is, for most scholars and theorists, hard. What is more, the question of freedom raises fundamental issues about the nature of man. Freedom could be seen as an essential human need and the true mark of humanity; mere survival without that does not constitute a truly human life.

Philosophers and political theorists in postcolonial Africa have for a long time been preoccupied with restoring the lost ‘humanity’, or identity, of the African people. Nonetheless, the search for identity in itself is futile if it is not in the first place a search for freedom. Arendt (1958) defines freedom as political action: the capacity to begin something new and unexpected; the capacity to break with seemingly automatic processes or continuities. She argues that political action discloses the identity of the agent; it is through action and speech that individuals reveal themselves as unique individuals and disclose to the world their distinct personalities. The question of freedom in Hannah Arendt presents a challenge to modern ways of considering it. Contemporary categories of freedom impede the development of the individual’s capacities for agency and action by distorting the distinction between the private and the public spheres and also by adhering to a problematic notion of individuality.

This project evaluates the relevance of Arendt’s political philosophy through five major themes: the rise of the modern self from the social, economic and cultural developments in Europe from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century; the ontological foundation of human rights and the problem of twentieth century political evil; human status and the reality of politics in Africa; the delineation of the public/private spheres; and finally, the redefinition of political freedom. The project takes as its background the political upheavals and violence of the twentieth century, which have been described by some critics as the scourge of modernity. The twentieth century was marked by evil – two world wars, which left people homeless and uprooted; totalitarianism, whose violent population politics led to the annihilation of about six million Jews; and the invention of nuclear weapons. Man would have breathed a sigh of relief at the dawn of the twenty-first century, but as reality reared its ugly head, the transition was a mere passage of time – the elements of the twentieth century political evil are here with us in the present. Twenty-first-century man is horrified at what fellow humans are capable of – at what man may do and what the world may become. For Arendt, it is not a relief that the new millennium offers, but a new opportunity for us to transform elements such as anti-Semitism and racism. This possibility of a new beginning forms the core of Arendt’s analysis of human freedom.

Copyright © 2011, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Tomoka, G 2011, The relevance of Hannah Arendt’s concept of freedom to African political thought, MA dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-07262012-155534 / >


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