According to Democratic Peace Theory, democracies do not go to war with each other. The most ardent and idealistic supporters of the proposition believe that democratic forms of governance cultivate a culture of political civility, promote transparency, responsible rule, and intertwine national economies to an extent that sustains nonviolent relationships between democracies.1 Although the theory is empirically reflective, its proponents are criticized for misidentifying the causes of peace between democracies. Scholars aligned with realist school of international political thought are the most ardent critics of the democratic peace hypothesis. The most common counter-argument advanced by realists attributes peace between democracies to the Cold War division of the world into democratic and communist blocs. To balance against the communist threat, as their argument goes, democracies naturally forged cooperative and amicable relationships. Based on this assessment, the democratic peace is the result of balance of power considerations inherent to anarchical structure of the international system and not the conditions produced by democracy.2 Both realist and democratic peace theorists ascribe the absence of war to supposedly enduring factors of their models: balance of power politics and democracy, respectively. While constructivism initially seems to support both explanations of the peace, it eventually undercuts both arguments by acknowledging the capacity of actors to change their behavior depending on their identity as determined by internal and external conditions.

Leading constructivist Alexander Wendt writes that the behavior of an agent is shaped by its experiences during the process of socialization with alters vis-à-vis institutions of the international system. If, on one hand, state A is perceived as cooperative by state B, then state B is likely to act cooperatively with state A. On the other hand, if state A is perceived as threatening by state B, then state B will not cooperate with state A. The process of socialization is continuously in flux, depending on changes to agents’ identities, alters’ perceptions, and, subsequently, agent interaction.3 At the systemic level, bilateral and multilateral interaction creates a set of social norms determining a system’s general inclination toward conflict or cooperation.

At first, constructivism seems to support the realist understanding of the democratic peace. The posturing of the two superpowers during the Cold War precipitated the division of the globe into two antagonistic blocs. For the most part, the zero-sum game resulting from great power competition compelled states to enter into cooperative a relationship with one of the great powers. The primary concern of the states, according to the realist and possibly the constructivist account, was the predatory inclinations of the two dominant states. The identity of democracies and their cooperation with like governments, then, can be wrapped up in pure power identities concerned with survival, which are not attributable to the social conditions created by democratic regimes. Constructivism ostensibly supports realism’s longue duree perspective of the democratic peace by temporally situating the democratic peace within a dialogical and historical context.

The constructivist approach to international politics, though, allows for a more flexible explanation of the peace than realism’s strict determinism. Some academics criticize realists for dismissing the influence of democracy on the democratic peace, asserting that the realist position cannot account for the continued lack of military confrontations between democracies since the end of the Cold War. Unlike realism, constructivism’s process-driven model offers a cogent response to the democratic peace counterargument. The endurance of democratic-oriented international institutions following the Cold War coupled with the mass identification of states with democracy and the absence of an alternative ideology have contributed to a process of socialization promoting democratic cooperation. State identities and the structural forces of the international system are ever-changing and influence the cooperative or conflictual behavior of state interaction. If the realist claim that realpolitik considerations obliged democratic cooperation, constructivists will respond that the dynamic social realities of international politics render such relations impermanent.

One may also find that constructivism appears to accommodate the idea that the democratic peace is the product of a democratic identity and not the simple balance of power politics explanation. A state’s identity is a product of the internal conditions produced by its internal order and their interaction with outside states. In other words, identity is complexly constructed at the national level when leaders must balance constituent preferences against their interpretation of other state’s intentions and strength. 4Another empirical analysis of democratic cooperation during the Cold War may help elucidate this contention. Within democratic societies, the acceptance of democratic ideas skews their leaders perception toward other democracies as ‘natural’ allies during the Cold War. Democracies generally share similar values and their process of socialization via the institution of the Cold War reinforced this notion. Abstractly, however, this claim is problematic. Forms of governance do not necessarily predicate the nature of interstate relationships. Democracies’, for example, notoriously allied with autocrats during the Cold War to counteract the communist threat due to shared, anti-communist identities. Simply, identity rather than regime type determines states’ capacity for harmonic relationships with others in the system.

The present dearth of military confrontation between democracies does not presuppose a continuation of the trend. Changes to international institutions or perceptions of international institutions can alter state behavior and intentions. If, hypothetically, the World Trade Organization came to be widely perceived as an exploitative and/or corrupt institution, democracies participating in the institution may revert to autarkic or protectionist economic policies. If Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s hypothesis that interdependence between states promotes peaceful interaction is correct, then war between all states – including democracies – is more likely to occur when the economic linkages are severed. 5 Neither is it difficult to imagine that competition over essential and scarce resources like potable water may force democratic states into military conflicts with other democracies. Or, if one accepts Samuel Huntington’s argument, tensions originating from intercultural schisms will be the catalyst for future interstate conflict, regardless of forms of governance. The cultural hostility between the West and Islam, he contends, increases the likelihood of conflict between democracies of each culture.6

In sum, the argument that democracies do not wage war against similar governments is currently empirically substantiated. It is qualitatively difficult, though, to explicate the links between the abstract affects of democracy and tangible product of peace. The realist explanation is too structurally deterministic and rigid, whereas the democratic peace account too idealistically applauds the benefits of democratic governance. In the end, constructivism offers a more refined model for analyzing the causes and endurance of democratic peace. On broad theoretical grounds, constructivism is generally more complementary towards liberal approaches of international relations. In the case of the democratic peace, constructivism exists independently in the space separating the democratic peace and realist positions.

1 David Plotke, Democracy and Boundaries: Themes in Contemporary American Politics, 100-102.

2 James Lee Ray, “Does Democracy Cause Peace,” Annual Review of Political Science 1 (1998): 37-38.

3 Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” International Organization 46 (1992): 405.

4 Robert Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42 (1988): 424.

5 Robert Keohane, “Theory of World Politics,” in Neorealism and its Critics, ed. Robert Keohane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986): 197.

6 Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Policy 72 (1993): 32.

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How Much Anarchy?

May 30, 2009

Realism and neorealism make five central claims about the international politics: 1) An international system exists; 2) The system is anarchic; 3) States are sovereign and the primary units of the system; 4) States seek power; and 5) States act rationally. While each claim complements the others, I believe that realism’s understanding of anarchy is the nucleus of the tradition’s analyses of interstate relations. In this essay, I explore the validity of the proposition that anarchy determines the nature of state interactions in the system. Ultimately, I determine that realism’s strict definition of anarchy is a beneficial tool for understanding international relations in a broad historical sense but deficient when analyzing the current era. Anarchy exists in degrees of intensity dependent on state behavior and the orientation of the great powers. Here, I distinguish two types of anarchy: hard and soft. I use the former label to describe a state of more anarchy and the latter to describe less anarchy. Of note, my use of the term realism in this study encompasses the neorealist approach.

For realists, anarchy is a product of the multitude of sovereign states within the international system. States are free to pursue courses of action without any structural restraints. Without a hierarchical structure providing rules for state interaction, states are situated in relationships of self-help and, consequently, are in direct competition with one another to secure their national interest defined as power. In the realist conception of international politics, power is both an ends and a means. The zero-sum game ignited by anarchy compels states to act rationally, otherwise there is a chance that a competitor will become more powerful and, therefore, threaten another’s national interest. Despite the omnipresence of rational-egoism in the system, cooperation is not absent from the realist model. In fact, anarchy compels states to cooperate – but only temporarily to enhance their interests. Kenneth Waltz’s defensive realism, which articulates the effects of anarchy on balance of power politics, explicates cooperation’s role in the realist framework. In order to protect national interest, Waltz says, states will ally to negate the ascending power of another. Once the power equilibrium is restored, the allied states pursue their interests independently, only to balance again in the future when one state disrupts the distribution of power.[1] International institutions do not play a role in softening realism’s anarchy because no international body exists to extricate states from the self-help principle. Basically, international institutions are a tool for enhancing national interest against the welfare of other states. Thus, zero-sum competition is an enduring feature of the international system.

From the Treaty of Westphalia’s establishment of the nation-state as the primary unit of international relations in 1648 to World War II, realism’s anarchy offers a compelling longe duree perspective of the motivations of states and interstate conflict. During that time, the insubstantial information flows between nation-states exacerbated the question of other states’ policy intentions. Realism’s strict interpretation of anarchy, however, seems anachronistic considering the technological advances of the mid- to late-twentieth century that connected nations and facilitated the integration of national economies into the complex global economy.

Contrary to the central assumption of neo-realism, anarchy is not the sole determinant of state behavior in the modern era. One need only open the newspaper for evidence that states are subject to formal and informal constraints. Liberal theorists like Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye agree that the international system is anarchic but contend that international economic institutions, though voluntary, reduce interstate tensions by linking economic welfare – a rational component of the national interest – to stable and contention-minimizing relationships.[2] In the liberal model, states are concerned with absolute gains instead of relative gains, thus rationalizing anarchy as an opportunity instead of a burden. Institutions need not be located in brick and mortar buildings; instead they can be norms widely accepted by the states in the international system. In today’s world, for example, virtually all states agree that war is only considered ‘just’ if waged for defensive purposes. By and large, the ‘institution’ of just war restrains states from aggressively pursuing military conquest.

The question that then arises is whether the tempered anarchy of the twentieth century is a temporary or permanent deviation from realism’s rigid interpretation of anarchy. Some liberals insist that institutions, once formed, acquire a logic and agenda separate from their constituent states; thus becoming pseudo-sovereign agents in the international system.[3] If this is the case, then a system defined by soft anarchy may be a constant. Another way to predict the degree of anarchy in the future is to question the effects of technological progress through history. From steamboats and the telegraph to television and the Internet, human innovation has created an increasingly interconnected and culturally homogenous world. As the globe becomes smaller, institutions are utilized to mediate between disputant agents and formulate responses to the ills produced by the virtual elimination of spatial barriers. Conversely, anarchy may be intensified by a myriad of factors – ranging from resource scarcity to violence perpetrated by non-state actors. In today’s world, it is not outlandish to imagine a state attempting to protect its national welfare from non-state militant groups by wantonly violating the sovereignty of weak and/or unwilling nations while disregarding formal and informal international institutions. In this case, a system marked by hard anarchy is likely to result.

As demonstrated in the paragraph above, predicting the future severity of anarchy is a tenuous task. One alternative model examines anarchy as the product of vacillating norms of international society. In “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” constructivist Alexander Wendt advises scholars of international relations to examine processes of state interaction instead of focusing on the conditions of interaction. The degree of anarchy in the system is determined, he says, by states’ identities as constructed by the interaction of an ego with alters. In other words, at any one time the system can be more or less cooperative based on the socialization process of states.[4]

The soft anarchy defining the current period of the international system can be attributed to the unipolar dominance of the Untied States and the states socialization vis-à-vis the institution of a single great power. Great powers are informal institutions that play a substantial role in creating norms in the international system either through their interaction, as in a multipolar system, or their unrivaled power, as in a unipolar system. In the former case, the system is likely to be more anarchical. Yet, if a single superpower dominates the system and promotes the idea of absolute gains, as the United States does, then a challenger or coalition of challengers is less likely to emerge. In other words, a loose, non-obligatory order built upon common norms and understandings simultaneously sustains anarchy but also provides structure. The degree of anarchy in a unipolar system, though, is contingent upon the identity of the great power. An aggressive great power with a zero-sum interpretation of interstate events will plunge system into a hard anarchy.

In sum, as long as sovereign states remain the primary actors in the international system, anarchy will remain as the structure influencing states’ action. However, the system can at times be more or less anarchic. The realist and liberal arguments concerning anarchy are both correct when situated within an appropriate context. Constructivist’s process-centric analysis of international politics reconciles these two school’s understanding of anarchy. It accepts the idea that hard and soft anarchies are variant conditions of the system dependent on states’ socialization. To understand the international system’s structure of anarchy, one must look at the dominant institutions mediating state interaction.


[1] Kenneth Waltz, “Anarchic Orders and Balances of Power” in Neorealism and its Critics, ed. Robert Keohane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 129.

[2] Robert O. Keohane “Neorealism and World Politics” in Neorealism and its Critics, ed. Robert Keohane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 18.

[3] Richard K. Ashley, “The Poverty of Neorealism” in Neorealism and its Critics, ed. Robert Keohane (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 275.

[4] Alexander Wendt, “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” International Organization 46 (1992): 405.

Dear President Obama

Since the inauguration, your administration has repeatedly announced that you will be addressing the Islamic world from a Middle East capital within your first 100 days in office. While your supporters have endlessly praised this decision as prudent and respectful attempt at dialogue, I believe it is an ill-conceived decision. The speech will not, as many hope, help the United States rebuild its image in the region. Forgive my presumptuousness, but I base the following suppositions on the comments directed to the region in your inaugural address.

In the upcoming speech, I anticipate that you will speak to the political ‘moderates’ of the Middle East, asking them to stand with the United States against the fundamentalists bent on embroiling the region in conflict. I also assume that you will give lip service to the United States’ dedication to regional democratization, peace, and economic progress. While these goals are noble on the surface, the modernist discourse underpinning them bares their imperiousness and, consequently, undermines your aims.

In the West, the discourse of modernity rests on the belief that the non-West has existed on the periphery of the progress of the West. As scholar Tim Mitchell argues, modernity exists in a spatial and temporal relationship to the West. In the context, modernity geographically emanates from the Europe and the United States. The history of the non-West also derives its significance from its relationship to the West. To achieve modernity, then, the West requires the non-West must mimic and actualize Western values and its institutions.

Surely, the West-centric assumptions of the address will not be lost on the inhabitants of the Middle East. In fact, this approach throughout the decades has ignited the ire that you now seek to quell. The address will restate one of the primary justifications for European imperialism, that is the so-called white man’s burden. You seek to drag the people of the region from their seemingly stagnant, if not regressive, cultural, economic, and political relations and introduce them to the West’s definition of modernity. Yet, you do not comprehend that that modernity is a universally affective and objective set of ideas that illicit individuated socio-cultural responses.

The strong political public has long existed in the Middle East, and its liberation from the authoritarian regimes that the United States currently supports will be more beneficial to the image of the United States than your ill-advised but well-intentioned address. Through unimpeded public deliberation, the peoples of the region will be able to formulate a stable and culturally-responsive reaction to modernity. The people of the region yearn for democracy, but on their own terms. When the present governments in the region fall – and they eventually will – Islamist governments will fill the void. But, then again, any truly democratic government in the Middle East will take this form.

Islamist democracies are to be embraced, not feared, for two reasons. First, they are likely to be moderate governments for a myriad of reasons. Second, possibilities for cooperation or conflict between an ego (the United States) and an alter (Islamist democracies) is based upon their previous interactions. A conciliatory orientation by the United States toward these populist movements in the present will build and secure mutual amity and cooperation in the future. Despite the arguments of many in the policy establishment, politics is not just a zero-sum game.

Mr. President, I urge you to rethink your address to the Middle East. While many on the American left will favorably compare your address to John F. Kennedy’s historic 1963 Berlin Speech, the response from the region will certainly be sour. I agree that the United States must act to improve its image in the Islamic world, but the likely undertones of a West-centric modernist discourse in the address will undermine its primary objective.

With respect and honest intentions,

politics & metapolitics

In the post-World War II world, the practice of politics increasing emphasized effective administration rather than the participation of citizens in governance. Hannah Arendt responded to this trend in On Revolution, which attempts to explore the central role of politics in facilitating and perpetuating a good life and society. According to her book, these two aims can only be achieved if citizens create an atmosphere of public freedom in which they can engage in political activity and inquiry inspired by an originating revolutionary spirit. Harkening back to the republican ideals of Thomas Jefferson, she asserts, “No one could be called happy without his share of public happiness, that no one could be called free without his experience in public freedom, and that no one could be called happy or free without participating, and having a share, in public power.”[1] However, her vague terminology begs important questions. What is public freedom? What is public happiness? How does public happiness resulting from the practice of public freedom create a good life and society? In this examination, my aim is to address these questions in addition to explaining how the three outcomes of public freedom suggested in Arendt’s text form a good life and society. Then, I will conclude with an exploration on the implications of her arguments on the discipline of political science. But, before continuing, a quick summary of her work is in order.

Essentially, Arendt argues that revolutions – that is political upheavals aimed at securing liberty and, more importantly, freedom – foster a revolutionary spirit that energizes the masses into pursuing a pluralistic system of political deliberation and governance. Here, it is important to note the distinction Arendt makes between liberation and freedom as it is essential to her argument. She writes that liberation is merely the freedom from tyranny whereas freedom refers to participation in public affairs via unfettered speech, thought, association, and assembly. This freedom, imbued with the revolutionary spirit, is then applied in the public sphere; thus allowing for the creation of a society in which individuals are active in political life. As a result of the energized political atmosphere, citizens generate public happiness resulting in a good life in a good society. In other words, On Revolution argues that the establishment of a revolutionary inspired form of governance is the primary means through which a good life and society can be attained. One means of achieving this end is the institutionalization of town hall meetings where the revolutionary spirit can be sustained through deliberation. According to Arendt, a good life and society is not significantly influenced by the successful management of what she labels the “private welfare” of individuals. Rather, these two goals can be achieved only when citizens attain a certain level of public happiness via their activity in political life. Additionally, it is important to note that Arendt’s definition of a good life and society is cyclical; this idealized life is both the facilitator and product of public happiness. In order to make sense of the self-determining nature of these terms, an examination of the beneficial outcomes of public freedom must be undertaken.

From On Revolution, I have identified three ends that follow from the existence of political freedom in a society: public equality, public accountability, and a sphere in which private happiness can be attained. Consequently, these products of public freedom are the means though which a society can attain public happiness. The foundational elements of public happiness and public equality are, for Arendt, linked to the social capacity of all individuals to participate in public life. Arendt suggests that pubic equality can overcome the social divisions existing due to the differing socioeconomic conditions private welfare creates among individuals. Referencing the meaning of the term freedom in ancient Greece, she discusses the issue of no-rule, or isonomy, which describes a republic in which there is no distinction between the ruler and the ruled. This component of public happiness is vital to the formulation of her argument. It supposes that citizens are equal self-governing agents that are mutually responsible for the actions of government. Arendt labels this alliance of people for rule by the people the “mutual contract.”[2] Second, the capacity of the public to hold the government accountable for its decisions is crucial to the production of public happiness. While it is commonly assumed that public accountability refers to “representatives,” the Arendtian view of “public” – strongly influenced by the idea of isonomy – is more expansive. Arendt contends: “Corruption of the people themselves – as distinguished from the corruption of their representatives or a ruling class – is possible only under a government that has granted them a share of the public power.”[3] Or, to put it differently, an isonomic society, which promotes the active use of public freedoms, must ensure that the people themselves do not become corrupted by the power inherent in practice of public freedom. The absence of public accountability in the Arendtian sense undermines the evaluative democratic function that citizens perform when participating in the various activities of public life, including political deliberation and the electoral process. Public apathy among citizens produces a space in which certain individuals can utilize the public interest to pursue private means. The remedy to this looming specter, she argues, is the practice of public freedoms. Hence, a dearth of public accountability is indicative of a society that lacks the ability to utilize its public freedom and, as a result, is unable to fulfill the fundamental precepts of public happiness.

While Arendt expresses her suspicion of the threats posed by private interests to the sanctity of the public realm, she concedes that after the people have gained liberty and freedom private interests play an important role in preserving the revolutionary spirit. Hence, the final benefit of public freedom is its ability of citizens to pursue private happiness unimpeded. Even though she writes that “under no conditions can [economic factors] either lead into freedom or constitute a proof of its existence,” Arendt juxtaposes this statement with a contradictory argument.[4] To explain this occurrence, she believes private happiness should never be considered above public happiness, as public happiness is the foundation upon which all other goods are pursued. But, as she puts it, “Wealth and economic well-being are the fruits of freedom” – albeit ones that are subordinate to the real benefits of public freedom.[5] As noted previously, private interests can corrupt the isonomic order. This disruption of no-rule presents an opportunity for freedom to be lost or, in the worst case scenario, the return of tyranny. Yet, a certain level of private contentment must be produced by public freedom to ensure that the revolutionary spirit is maintained. As noted by Arendt, a lack of private happiness invariably introduces the “social question” which asks how to provide for the private welfare of citizens into public discourse. In handling this concern, the importance of public freedom in constructing a good society is marginalized due to the need of administrative functions to produce acceptable private welfare. A further examination of the tensions existing between the advantages and disadvantages posed by private happiness to the achievement of public happiness will be addressed later.

Despite explicating the intricacies of Arendt’s argument, On Revolution fails to submit claims that are empirically assessable or defensible in light of critical observation. Even when attempting to explore her line of reasoning regarding the influence of the three products of public freedom on public happiness, the explanations end with a process of cyclical self-justification. These shortcomings ultimately minimize the applicability of her to work to the discipline of political science.

To begin, Arendt’s use of hazily-defined terms and concepts necessitates some standardization of understanding and, thus, a framework of understanding needs to be formulated. To illustrate, if it were quantifiably possible to rate public happiness on a scale of one to ten, with ten being ultimate public happiness, would a rating of seven or above equate to the presence of a good life and society? Even more, there is the problem as to how the appropriate level of public happiness is determined. In other words, what method would be utilized to measure the abstract level of public happiness or its constituent parts? Arendt’s inferences, while logically valid and beneficial to the study of political science, rely solely on a philosophical understanding of the issues surrounding public freedom, which, unfortunately for interested political scientists, renders empirical testing almost impossible. To borrow Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba’s observations in Designing Social Inquiry, “[Social scientists] should choose observable, rather than unobservable, concepts wherever possible. Abstract, unobserved concepts such as utility, culture, intentions, motivations, identification, intelligence, or the national interest are often used in social science theories. They can play a useful role in theory formulation; but they can be a hindrance to empirical evaluation of theories and hypotheses unless they can be defined in a way such that they, or at least their implications, can be observed and measured.”[6] Instead of providing political science with inferences that are testable, On Revolution forces individuals into a logic-based determination of the practicability of attaining public happiness. Of course, this can only be achieved by examining public freedom via a subjective examination of its ill-defined parts.

Not only are Arendt’s positions almost impossible to test quantitatively or qualitatively, her view of human nature is arguably idealistic. A major criticism of On Revolution addresses her assumption that a great majority of individual citizens will embrace the foundational spirit of public freedom and actively participate in the deliberative processes that are central to her position on public happiness and a good life. This belief is difficult to justify on two accounts. First, its contention that all citizens share the same interests and values is unsubstantiated. Often, individuals such as artists and the devoutly pious derive immense satisfaction when pursuing a life that includes little participation in the public sphere. While some political scientists have attempted to methodologically determine the validity of the claim that value plurality is subservient in the presence of public freedoms, Arendt’s text poorly supports this point. Second, implicit in this reasoning is the belief that the invisible hand of the revolutionary spirit will guide individuals away from pursuing private welfare in order to secure public happiness. Again, Arendt produces little evidence to justify these claims. Rather, in both of these cases she returns to a cyclical style of argumentation, asserting that the participatory elements of public freedom generate a good life and vice versa. Stemming from this vein of analysis, she fails to fully address the reasons why individuals should spurn private interests in deference to public freedom. In fact, an argument can be made supporting the belief that a certain level of private welfare and participation in public freedoms are connected. If, for example, an individual finds it difficult to secure their basic means of existence it is naïve to assume that their priority would be political participation. Conversely, individual’s whose private welfare has achieved a certain level of satisfactoriness and consistency can entertain a plurality of concerns, including public activity. Ultimately, the Arendtian counterpoint that public freedom will provide a sphere in which private welfare concerns can be addressed is too utopian. Individuals will always be in a position in where they must find a suitable equilibrium between activity in the public and private spheres.

In light of the individual’s natural struggle between the pursuit private and public happiness, Arendt’s insistence that the existence of public spheres, such as town halls or soviets, where the people can continue to cultivate the revolutionary spirit in an environment promoting and protecting isonomy in order to achieved public happiness is undermined. Despite recognizing that all individuals are publicly equal, the differences in public welfare among individuals produce inequalities regarding the ability of some citizens to gain access to these public spheres. Without the active participation of all elements of society in the public sphere, public accountability through a deliberative processes imbued by the revolutionary spirit is absent. Consequently, this provides privately privileged individuals with an opportunity to circumvent the isonomic order by pursuing private interests within the public sphere.

As a work of political philosophy, On Revolution attempts to promote the idea that the study of politics is a tool through which public freedom can be achieved because the idea concerns the well being of the community. However, it fails as a work that can be used within the constructs of social science for two grounds. First, Arendt’s use of cyclical argumentation to substantiate concepts that lack any viable method of examination via the standards of the social sciences renders any of application of her ideas impossible. Second, further examination of Arendt’s work becomes difficult due to her idealist interpretation of 18th Century revolutionary history to actual patterns of individual decision-making. For these reasons, it becomes difficult for political scientists to verify her theory through the observation of replicable data. Instead, in many cases it is more likely that any empirical attempt to verify her claims would undermine Arendt’s thesis. This is not to insinuate that On Revolution is without any value to the study of politics. While its ambitious aim of directing the discipline of political science towards molding a more perfect society through the recognition of public participation as life’s central good does not succeed, the book is still a philosophical text that students of politics can explore to build future theories. In sum, On Revolution is simply a text that stimulates political inquiry within the profession.


[1] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 225.

[2] Arendt, 170.

[3] Arendt, 252.

[4] Arendt, 217.

[5] Arendt, 217.

[6] Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 109.

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