Life itself is an interesting and complex spectacle. We wander around trying to figure our own, and while doing so, we affect others around us whether we realize it or not. Regardless, if we feel as though we live a public or private life, all things considered, everything we do makes a drop in the pool. In current times, most grow up, get an education, then acquire some sort of livelihood with a career. Even with the very fundamentals of life here in the West- everything is political.
The experiences we interact with on a daily, for example; public works like parks, buildings, and transportation, the way we treat our environment, dealing with our health, etc. – are all a product of our own private decisions, which in turn, are inherently public. Arendt and Tocqueville make very interesting observations on the ideology of democracy and how we, the masses, affect its structure.
To be able to live within a sovereign nation under Democratic rule, it’s important to value any opportunity for political participation.
But the question is… are we or should we be motivated to participate in the public realm to fulfill one potential and possibly achieve greatness/have our name live on in the future – or should participation be made to join in on the collective problem solving for the overall good of society. Arendt promotes the idea that immortality can be achieved by working publicly in society, speaking out, and proving that we can articulate and contemplate issues and work towards something better by living this sort of active lifestyle.
Or in the words of Tocqueville, is it better to strive to be a part of the communal participation which is working to create a better world to live in together. Both Arendt and Tocqueville have strengths and weaknesses in their arguments, both are idealistic, but I feel the most attractive model of participation rests with Tocqueville because the value placed on the community is important for putting aside common differences to live peacefully in the public realm and create a more harmonious future.
In observation of Hannah Arendt’s writing in “The Human Condition”, it is critical to look back in history and remember how it has played out, especially in Democratic nations – specifically our own here in the United States. A movement is typically symbolized by a certain character(s) that took direct action through their voice. One specific example that always comes to mind is Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech. Many think of this movement, which was a push to end racism and strive for civil and economic rights for the African American community, as being carried on by MLK and his actions. This is true in a sense, but it is important to remember that this movement would have never been able to live on with just one person and their words. One person can never build an entire movement. It takes many collective actions to create permanent change. MLK just became the symbol for this movement, but clearly, it was carried on by the masses and their fight for true freedom. Arendt points out that “…most political action in so far as it remains outside the sphere of violence, is indeed transacted in words at the right moment, quite apart from the information or communication they may convey, is action.” (Pg. 26). With the notion that action, at the right moment in time, is what transcends any sort of outbursts of violence or ideas being thrown across the board, is a very accurate statement of how history has unfolded and how we reflect on it in current times. Immortality/greatness has been achieved for these memorable figures but the make-up of these movements has not been carried on with just a singular figure. Arendt isn’t necessarily saying that political participation should be made to achieve immortality or greatness, but she conveys that those will only be accomplished by living in the public realm. If someone stays entirely private, they will never reach their full potential- they’ll only experience their own opinions and biases and never open themselves up to other perspectives. This makes a person entirely ignorant of their surroundings, hence limiting them to only living a mundane life with no true satisfaction. Arendt fails to mention that these changes in the course of political history, don’t just get accomplished with one character alone which is why I lean towards valuing the kind of political participation that Tocqueville presents.
Compared with the idealistic notion of immortality bringing forth political participation mentioned by Arendt, Tocqueville promotes the unique concept of collective problem solving and the importance of the community. Tocqueville makes it clear that he finds the political climate brought on by democracy in America as one of a kind considering our relatively new upbringing and the fresh start that came along with that. There is a stark political difference between the kind of democracy had in the West compared to that in Europe. People had to rely on one another to get by, rather than looking to a feudal lord or the king to welcome prosperity. Equality inherently is paired with a sense of individuality, but since people had to look to one another to get things accomplished, the individualist nature of the masses didn’t hamper the progress made by working together. This is exemplified by a statement from Tocqueville which states that “…the free institutions that the inhabitants of the United States possess, and the political rights of which they make so much use, remind each citizen, and in a thousand ways, that he lives in a society. At every moment they lead his mind back toward this idea, that it is the duty as well as the interest of men to make themselves useful to their fellow men…” (pg.210). Instead of allowing the selfishness that typically pairs with a sense of individuality to take over thought, in the early part of our history, the lawmakers of America purposely gave political life to sections in territories to increase the likelihood of citizens working together and to make them realize that it is necessary to rely on one another which thwarted the kind of individualist mentality that creates a sense of not being interested in the collective good.