Arendt’s aspirational constitutions : toward a supplemental framework of judgement through ethical subjection
Robert W. Farwell
May 7, 2019
Department or Program
This paper investigates Hannah Arendt’s constitutive rhetoric at the end of the epilogue to Eichmann in Jerusalem. I argue that Arendt’s constitutions are aspirational invocations which inaugurate a particular kind of collective subject that is best situated within a mode of ethical subjection. The invocations are constituents of a cosmopolitan community, and that community is endowed with a supplemental capacity for judgement, which is additive to other institutionally legitimate forms of judgement. The paper begins by setting the contextual stage of the Eichmann trial in 1961 Jerusalem, and an explanation of Arendt’s criticisms of the moment. The paper then moves into a discussion of constitutive rhetoric and the critical paradox of subject assertions. Next, we enter a discussion of rhetoricity, modes of coming-into-being, and frames of legibility and ask what it mean to be rhetorically response-able, as is a condition of Levinasian ethical subjection. Finally, with that mode of subjection in mind, we textually analyze Arendt’s constitutions to demonstrate their legitimacy within the conversations discussed above, and to perform critique of Eichmann's defense in accordance with the ontological frames we have thus repositioned. In sum, I move for an expansion of a constitutive rhetoric to include aspirational audiences. Arendt’s fictive constitutions offer the conditions of possibility for audience to seeing itself as a member of a plurality within cosmopolitanism, from which she formulates and so enacts her theory of judgement. This expansion is also an example of a constitutive rhetoric which may be mobilized for other than nationalist aims, as it is most frequently.