Front Page Titles (by Subject) Democracy vs. Elitism - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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Democracy vs. Elitism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Democracy vs. Elitism
“The Contradictions of Hannah Arendt's Political Thought.” Political Theory 6 (February 1978): 5–26.
Hannah Arendt's political thought is riven by a deep, insoluble, and profound contradiction. On the one hand, she is a great admirer of the political ideal of ancient Athens, participatory democracy; on the other hand, she betrays an elitist streak of almost Nietzschean proportions.
Thus, within her thought one can sense a contempt for the growth of “mass society” as the progenitor of totalitarianism, coupled paradoxically with a utopian vision of self-federating councils. These popular councils would seem to depend upon the political activism of precisely the class which she condemns. Hence, two conspicuous contradictions mar Arendt's thought: (1) her oscillations between democratic and elitist attitudes, and (2) an uncertainty about the relation between her political thought and practice (i.e., how is her utopian dream to be realized, or is it actually meant to be effected?).
This unresolved tension in Arendt's thought has led to some rather jarring ironies in her works. For example, she condemns the Marxians and Nazis for their materialistic explanations of history. But in The Human Condition she argues that man is conditioned by his labor. Also, under the exigencies of the modern world, resulting from technological changes, the working class has prospered. Technological changes which have isolated man and fostered “uprootedness and superfluousness” have also nurtured the loneliness that makes support for totalitarian movements possible. Arendt's inconsistency is apparent, however, when this contempt for the laboring class is contrasted with her repeated emphasis upon the capacity of men to act freely and decisively, and, most obviously, when contrasted with her admiration for the heroism of the working class in the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
For Arendt the ideal resolution of the totalitarian potentialities of mass society seems to be a decentralized model of spontaneously generated workers' councils or neighborhood councils. Political freedom can only be meaningful if it includes the idea of political participation. Action and freedom, then, are indissoluble. The council system represents a partial resolution of the two elements in Arendt's thought: everyone can participate, but in actuality the elite will exercise predominant authority.
It is important to illuminate the paradoxical strain in Arendt's thought between her loathing of totalitarianism and her quest for freedom as the political activity of a political elite.