What is public happiness? Hannah Arendt and the invention of a concept

Starting date
September 1, 2017
Duration (months)
24
Managers or local contacts
Guaraldo Olivia

The project focuses on the concept of “public happiness” in Arendt’s oeuvre, in order to test its originality, its
relevance within the Arendtian political reflection and its potential interest for contemporary political theory
concerned with the crisis of politics.
In On Revolution (1963) and other coeval essays, after her work on the decline of political action in the “modern
age” (1958), Arendt elaborates the notion of a “hidden tradition” in Western political thought, a tradition she
sees as linked to participatory practices of self-government and/or active citizenship. In such a context “public
happiness” emerges as a subjective and inter-subjective lived experience connected to the exercise of public
freedom.
Yet critical readings of her On Revolution, usually regarding the negative judgment Arendt expresses on the
social question and the French Revolution, seem to neglect or underestimate the reflections on “public
happiness” she formulates in this work.
This is why this project aims, in the first place, at critically reconstructing Arendt’s treatment of this theme. On
one hand, part of the research will be devoted to the two authors who, according to Arendt, significantly
contributed to name and comprehend such experience: Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville. On the
other hand we also intend to verify the following hypothesis: Arendt, when evoking public happiness is in fact
doing something more than simply inserting her own work within the “republican tradition”; she is, in fact,
inventing a notion, or nuancing the historically traceable notion of ‘public happiness’ according to her specific
vision of politics, public space, action.
Secondly, through the historical-critical assessment of this theme we intend to (a) highlight the originality of the
Arendtian concept of public happiness; (b) investigate its relevance in times of progressive de-politicization.
The project includes three foreign partners who will support the research activities (reference material,
bibliographical resources), share and discuss research themes (seminars and final conference) and elaborate in
their respective fields research products (books, essays, proceedings).

Project participants

Olivia Guaraldo

Activities

Research facilities