Attack of the Blob: Hannah Arendt's Concept of the Social

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One of the most brilliant political theorists of the century, Hannah Arendt intended her work to liberate and empower, to restore our capacity for concerted political action, to convince us that improving our flawed arrangements is up to us. At the same time, Arendt developed a metaphor of "the social" as an alien, all-consuming monster appearing as if from outer space to gobble up human freedom; she blamed it--not us--for our public paralysis and depoliticization. How can we understand her vision of the social that seems to conflict with her most important teaching?

"The Attack of the Blob" is an imaginative and wonderfully written study in which Hanna Pitkin seeks to resolve this paradox by tracing Arendt's notion of "the social" from her earliest writings to "The Human Condition" and beyond. Interpreting each work in its historical and personal context, Pitkin develops an answer that considers language and rhetoric, psychology and gender, authority, and even the nature of political theory itself. Her book is an intellectual genealogy, reading at times like a detective novel, that traces the provenance and vicissitudes of Arendt's shifting concept. Along the way, Pitkin repeatedly challenges established interpretations of Arendt's project, including the role in it of her teacher and lover Martin Heidegger and her supposed neglect of economic concerns.

"The Attack of the Blob" raises disturbing and compelling questions about what freedom can mean today. Criticizing Arendt's flawed concept but insisting on the urgent reality of the problem that concept was intended to address, Pitkin honors Arendt's achievements by continuing her enterprise.

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