On Revolution: Arendt, Locke and Republican Revisionism

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Abstract

When Hannah Arendt's On Revolution was published in 1963, Locke was still widely viewed as the philosopher of the American Revolution. Arendt, however, marginalizes the importance of Locke's thought to the founders without much discussion. Instead, she emphasizes the almost accidental discovery of republicanism by the American founders, who were men of action and concrete political forms rather than of principle and theory. This essay explores two questions: first, what is the basis of Arendt's antagonistic reading of Locke? Second, is Arendt's reading of Locke justified? Without taking sides in the republicanism–liberalism debate, this paper explores whether Locke's thought is, in fact, incompatible with the civic humanism that Arendt is advocating. In the process of answering these questions, it becomes clear that while Arendt may seem to be an early advocate of the 'republican synthesis', her thesis goes beyond the mere historicizing of American republicanism; that is, rather than looking for the 'influences' of the American founders, it may be more accurate to see their appeal to classical and European thinkers as an attempt to articulate and give expression to what was self-consciously understood to be a momentous undertaking: namely, the founding of a new nation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of Political Thought
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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