published on June 15, 2018
Political Agents as Relational Selves
Rethinking EU Politics and Policy-Making with Hannah Arendt
In this article, I argue that Hannah Arendt’s well-known but controversial distinction between labour, work, and action provides, perhaps unexpectedly, a conceptual grounding for transforming politics and policy-making at the EU level. Beyond the analysis and critique of modernity, Arendt brings the conceptual resources needed for the EU to move beyond the modern trap it fell into thirty years ago. At that time, the European Commission shifted its purpose away from enhancing interdependence among Member States with a common market towards achieving an internal market in the name of boosting growth and creating jobs. Arendt provides the conceptual tools to transform the conceptualisation of relations and of agents that fuels the growing dissatisfaction among many Europeans with EU policy-making. This argument is made through stretching and re-articulating Arendt’s labour-work-action distinction and taking seriously both the biological and plural dimensions of the human condition, besides its rational one. By applying this shift in an EU context, EU policies could change their priorities and better address the needs and expectations of plural political agents and of European citizens.