Recently, during PhD course Liberalism and Its Critics (Political Theory course) we discussed Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. Those who are familiar with her work know that Arendt was very demanding political thinker (she was not a philosopher, as she said herself). Arendt claimed that modernity destroyed participation in the public affairs. We do not act, we behave. The action is the highest in the hierarchy of the activities included in vita activa. We are not human when we live only private life. We live fully and are truly human by public presence. Being heard and seen by others creates reality and form our identity. Her demand toward people was to act and to struggle for our causes. We cannot achieve anything without public disclosure. By remaining in the realm of private life we deprive ourselves of humanity. The professor said that Arendt’s way of thinking is not for everyone. Those who want just live their lives or wait for others to make their existence better cannot become “friends” with Arendt. On the other hand, those who have existential dilemmas are more likely to agree with Arendt. The professor is a big fun of Arendt and he said that he asks himself existential questions all the time: why am I here? What is the sense of my life? Am I going to achieve something before I die? The group divided into those who do not have existential concerns and want to live happy and tranquil life, and those who have existential dilemmas- including me. Professor said those who are not bothered with the existential dilemmas are lucky because their lives are much easier and less frustrating. I must agree with him. Every single day I ask myself what am I doing with my life? Will I ever do something that will make me proud of myself? Will I be able to contribute to the humanity in any way? I agree with the opinion that when you do not ask yourself any of those questions your life is much easier. Of course, I do not believe that all of us are able to do great things. In fact, I strongly doubt that I will be able to achieve anything great partially because I do not do enough, partially because of the world that surrounds me. I am well- aware of my own limitations and the obstacles in today’s world.
What Arendt had in mind was ancient Athens where people lived in small city- state and public sphere was the realm of freedom, which gave every citizen a chance to become individual. Unfortunately, current size of the states and democratic system do not allow us to become free and individual in Arendt’s understanding of the concepts. We focus on our private matters because the public remains in the hands of our representatives. We believe that the representatives take from us the burden of politics. The private sphere became our realm of freedom. However, we deprive ourselves of opportunity to express who we are. Arendt wanted people to be courageous, to do great things and become recognized and remembered.
With the professor and the other student we concluded that when you ask yourself existential questions you feel frustrated and powerless, you think that you do not do enough. You feel like you waste your life, while time passes relentlessly. Although you work hard and want to contribute to the humanity, you still have that feeling that your life lacks real meaning, purpose and value. It is not that we are unhappy with our lives but we desire to achieve something important, to genuinely contribute to this world.
Do you share similar dilemmas? Do you ask yourself what is the meaning of your life?