Caroline Ashcroft: Violence and Power in the Thought of Hannah Arendt. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021, 320 p., 74.54 EUR
In her book, by looking through the conception of violence in Arendt’s works, Caroline Ashcroft attempts to illuminate what politics is according to Arendt. Ashcroft’s main project is to argue that there is a type of violence that is political and even necessary for politics in Arendt’s opinion. She argues that the conception of violence and how to approach it, is an essential key to understand Arendt’s political philosophy and to differentiate her philosophy from other contemporary understandings of the political, and even to distinguish between different interpretation of Arendt by authors such as Chantal Mouffe, Bonnie Honig and Seyla Benhabib. In “On Violence,” Arendt claims that there is an inverse proportionality between violence and political power. Power, according to her,
arises if there is a free space for action, or sharing of perspectives, creating the common sense necessary for people’s common worlds, and in other words, a coherent force of the political action. Violence is exactly what disturbs freedom, which is the raison d’être of politics and so violence is anti-political according to a typical reading of Arendt’s “On Violence”. But, as Ashcroft notes, taking this reading seriously, and overlooking Arendt’s other writings leads many philosophers to interpret Arendt as a strict pacifist who “builds on an ideal of politics which is, indeed, absolutely free of violence” (p.6). Some others think that Violence in Arendt’s eye is always “unpolitical” and instrumental. But in contrast to all of these simplistic readings of Arendt, Ashcroft argues that “some forms of
violence can indeed be reasonably considered political and even politically essential for Arendt” (p. 13). But how, in Arendt’s framework, can violence be political?