Evil as an expression of and a threat to human plurality: Hannah Arendt’s agonistic realism

Christof Royer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article challenges ‘agonistic’ readings of Arendt by demonstrating that Arendt’s work can be interpreted as ‘agonistic realism’. It argues that many agonistic readings of Arendt–I will discuss the readings of Bonnie Honig and Chantal Mouffe in particular–miss the central orientation of Arendt’s thought. By ignoring works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem, contemporary agonists overlook that her preoccupation with evil forms the basis of Arendt’s agonistic thought. The article suggests that a (re)turn to Arendt’s writings on evil, and a demonstration of their intimate relationship with works such as The Human Condition, reveals the ‘realist’ dimensions of Arendt’s thought: It reveals the picture of a thinker who is deeply concerned with the ever-present possibility of evil and who insists that perpetrators of evil must be treated as ‘enemies’. Furthermore, such a return to Arendt’s works on evil brings to the fore Arendt’s tragic insight that evil is both an expression of and a threat to human plurality and free political action. Arendt, in other words, accepts that while evil–as an expression of our humanity–can never be eradicated, it must–as a threat to our common humanity–be confronted.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 May 2020


  • evil
  • Hannah Arendt
  • humanity
  • Political agonism
  • tragedy


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