Hannah Arendt on Power, Consent, and Coercion

The Acorn 7 (2):24-32 (1992)
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Abstract

Although Hannah Arendt is not known as an advocate of nonviolence per se, her analysis of power dynamics within and between groups closely parallels Gandhi’s. The paper shows the extent to which her insights are compatible with Gandhi’s and also defends her against charges that her description of the world is overly normative and unrealistic. Both Arendt and Gandhi insist that nonviolence is the paradigm of power in situations where people freely consent to and engage in concerted action, and both argue that power structures based on violence and coercion will ultimately fail, because the resort to violence implies an inability to gain free consent or cooperation. Any gains from violence are temporary, since agents will express themselves freely as soon as force is withdrawn. Arendt argues that dominating powers know this, and therefore rely on manipulation, propaganda, and outright lies to win people’s consent, an analysis which can be used to explain some current social dynamics.

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Gail Presbey
University of Detroit Mercy

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