Authority without foundations: Arendt and the paradox of postwar German memory politics

J. Matthew Hoye, Benjamin Nienass

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Hannah Arendt argued that the American Revolution revealed for the first time that all regimes require a reference to an absolute, while the French Revolution revealed that not all absolutes are equal. The American Revolution took as its absolute the act of founding itself, upon which the authority of the constitution could be grounded. By contrast, the failure of the French Revolution to establish an authority stemmed from its reference to the transcendental absolute of the nation. Beginnings, for Arendt, are historically determining. How then are we to explain the present view of authority in Germany which takes as its absolute referent the Holocaust? And how does this inform our understanding of the relationship between absolutes and new foundations? We argue that the key to understanding the German case is found in the particular nature of postwar German memory politics and that authority is not statically related to positive foundations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-437
Number of pages23
JournalReview of Politics
Volume76
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

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