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Hannah Arendt Center presents

Lecture by Arendt Center fellow, John LeJeune

Hannah Arendt’s Revolutionary Leadership

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When Time Magazine dubbed 2011 “Year of the Protestor” it highlighted not only the extraordinary scope of revolutionary events that year—in North Africa and the Middle East, North America and Europe, Asia and elsewhere—but that in the process the idea of “leaderlessness” in revolution took global center stage.  Indicatively, Occupy claimed to adopt the “revolutionary Arab Spring tactic” and defined itself as a “leaderless resistance movement.” Of the Egyptian Revolution, a Huffington Post editorial proclaimed that “The revolution was successful because it had no leaders, only coordinators of bottom up energy,” and that “One of the first celebrities to emerge from the uprising, Wael Ghonim, made this point as emphatically as he could to CNN in the midst of the celebrations. ‘I am not a leader. The leaders are in Tahrir Square.’”

Hannah Arendt’s political thought was often cited for normative purposes in this context, based largely on her support of “associative power” (or “horizontalism”), her doubts concerning the politics of representation, and her enthusiasm for revolutionary councils. This talk will consider the merits of this approach and suggest that Arendt offers several reasons to be suspicious of revolutionary programs that reject political representation and leadership. Indeed, in a discussion that ranges from Occupy and Egypt in 2011, to Eastern Europe in 1989, to the Russian Revolution in 1917, I suggest that for Arendt the willingness to assume responsibility for and “pick up” revolutionary power is a defining feature of what she approvingly calls a “real revolutionary.” 

Time: 12:00 pm

Location: Arendt Center