Volume 5, 2021
Judith Shklar’s Critique of Hannah Arendt
Judith Shklar wrote about Hannah Arendt throughout her career. However, her nuanced readings are often ignored by scholars who prefer to depict both philosophers as stark counter-images. In this paper, I offer a more complex comparison on the basis of all of Shklar’s writings about Arendt. Shklar’s critique is grounded in what she sees as the Romantic strand in Arendt’s thought, which she identifies with a metaphysical, elitist, and aestheticizing stance towards politics, a distaste for modernity, and a nostalgia for Greek antiquity. For Shklar, this position comes to the fore both in what she believes to be Arendt’s purely therapeutic notion of revolution as well as the rejection of her own Jewish identity. Nevertheless, Shklar also admired Arendt’s insights about exile and her appreciation of Kant. Through her sustained critique of Arendt, Shklar developed her own conception of a realist, rights-affirming, and anti-metaphysical liberalism.