Bergensnettverket for kvinner i filosofi
Hannah Arendt

Anne Granberg: An interpretation of Arendt's concept of 'natality'

How is Arendt's concept 'natality' to be understood? Among readers of Arendt's texts the opinions vary a great deal. Anne Granberg's hunch is that 'natality' makes up the axis of Arendt's political thought.

Bilde av Hannah Arendt i velkjent positur med bok og røyk
Hannah Arendt in her preferred activity


Benhabib has described Arendt quite poignantly as the thinker who countered western philosophy’s love affair with death with her category of ‘natality’. However, when it comes to determining more precisely what this concept refers too and what the term ‘natality’  represents in Arendt’s thought more generally, opinions vary wildly. Some have seen it as a reevaluation of birth and nurture and the feminine or simply as a metaphor for freedom, our capability to act  spontaneously. As a metaphor for freedom it is, however, not a 
particularly apt one, and as a fact of life, birth belongs to the cyclical movement of biological nature, and thus appears to have very little to do with neither freedom nor politics in Arendt’s sense. Still, Arendt explicitly states in The Human Condition that 'the faculty of action is ontologically rooted in the fact of natality' (HC:247). My hunch is that ‘natality’ makes up the axis of Arendt’s political thought, a kind of conceptual center which connects all her other basic concepts, including the more explicitly political ones. An obvious problem in claiming that natality is such a central concept, is the fact that this concept is underdeveloped in Arendt’s texts. My reading here must thus be regarded as an attempt at a reconstruction of what this 'ontological rootedness' of action in the 'fact of natality' may mean on the basis of textual hints.