See also First Part
This highest potentia (of Being with others) comes into play through political action, which is the highest form of human activity because it evokes the most profound sense of unity and because in acting together lies the possibility of freedom understood as the capacity to begin something new.
The sense of unity residing in action emerges whenever people are “acting and speaking together” in a situation of true political pluralism, in which a plurality of souls, all distinct from each other, form a community, nonetheless. (Arendt, 1958, p. 198) These human beings thus come together each in his/her respective uniqueness, but no hierarchy is established between them; they are “among their peers” and each one is in principle capable to participate equally in their common life. Therefore, as Arendt so accurately says, a situation of an “equality of unequals” is actualized and the main political challenge of promoting unity without undermining individuality is resolved. (Arendt, 1958, p. 215)
This ideal situation is contrary both to the uniformity present in sheer collectivism, in which plurality is forsaken and everyone becomes the same, and to the individualism present in liberal democracies, in which no political equality and thus no actual sense of community can arise.
Furthermore, this kind of plurality or true political pluralism -something entirely different from the apparently similar phenomenon of modern democratic pluralism that makes unity impossible- is, as Adriana Cavarero (2022) so beautifully says, able to produce “public happiness”. This kind of happiness consists in the sentiment of participating together to shape one’s community, which might be testified by people who experienced exceptional historical situations such as moments of rebuilding a country after a mayor crisis. Colin Crouch, when describing his concept of a democratic moment, formulates it in this way: “Democracy thrives when there are major opportunities for the mass of ordinary people to participate, through discussion and autonomous organizations, in shaping the agenda of public life, and when they are actively using these opportunities.” (Crouch, 2020, p. 4) The sentiment produced in this popular participation, is, however and to be sure, the complete opposite of so-called “mass sentiments” that arise when the masses come together as though they were one and cheer to their populist leader, for instance. In these situations, a herd-like mass of people acts in unisono and is held together not by something that lies in-between them, but merely by the existence of an external leader; there is no unity among them, but uniformity; there is no public happiness, but mass sentiment. Moreover, equally opposed to “mass sentiments”, the happiness of common participation is something entirely different from sentiments produced in interest groups. These groups that are so common in liberal democratic states, collectivize individual interests and represent them towards the government. Thus, they are merely held together by the common denominator of each member’s self-interest that is directed towards an external body; there is no unity among them, but an association; there is no public happiness, but the sentiment of collective self-interest.
The acting together of human beings in a situation of political pluralism, therefore, unifies the actors in a way that preserves their individuality while at the same time creating a sense of community that goes beyond the mere association of individual subjects. In this way, the fundamental human activity of action can truly be seen as an encounter and as a coherence between the different parts, or a celebration of diversity and difference as the true content of full unity.
Thus, political action in a situation of plurality evokes the most profound sense of unity because it brings together different people with diverse characters that nevertheless hold together and take equally part in shaping their community. A political form of organization resulting from this activity could then truly be called democratic. Without having to aim directly for this ideal, however, let us just imagine how much more democratic - in our sense - contemporary liberal democracy might be, was it to allow for just a fraction of the above phenomenon. In this admittedly ideal imagination, thinking about unity from our present could truly take on a different face.
The second reason for action being the highest form of human activity, as mentioned above, is that only in action lies the capacity to begin something new, which is probably nowhere better articulated than in the work of Hannah Arendt: “…The life span of man running toward death would inevitably carry everything human to ruin and destruction if it were not for the faculty of interrupting it and beginning something new, a faculty which is inherent in action like an ever-present reminder that men, though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.” (1958, p. 246) And further: “If the meaning of politics is freedom, it means that in this space -and in no other- we have the right to expect miracles. Not because we believe in miracles, but because human beings, as long as they can act, are capable of realizing the improbable and unpredictable and continue to do so, whether they know it or not.” (2003, p. 35) Self-speaking as these words are, please allow me nevertheless to pose two questions here that are hopefully equally self-speaking: In light of the current menaces on the world in-between us and given that only through the capacity of beginning something new can real change happen, is “acting and speaking together” today not more needed than ever? And might our political potential for changing something not in some way act as a force for unity in the world?
Now, on a short note, and before concluding: Considering the incapacity of worldwide political systems to contain the political and its indispensability non the less, there arises a need of revitalizing the original phenomenon of politics, which presupposes reviving a conception of human beingness that contains the condition of possibility of the political in the first place.
This communal conception is the understanding of man as Being – in opposition to the liberal understanding of man as individual subject. The being of human beings is constituted by “Being-with Others”, which lays the cornerstone for the hindsight and emergence of the “political dimension of human existence” that can act as a force for unity. This highest form of human co-existence, manifested through the phenomenon of politics, brings forth from itself this need for a “return of the political”.
Finally, now: Politics is based on political action, which is the activity concerned with shaping the area in-between human beings in the best possible way, and that means in a way that creates the most profound unity among them. Politics, therefore, as the manifestation of action, can form a political organization in which the highest sense of community is actualized; politics can enable a true human community. But political action is not only able to produce the most profound sense of unity among a specific group of actors. If we enlarge our perspective and think in existential terms, unity as the expression of the political potential of human beingness as such, arises in principle among all human beings. We are all united by our shared condition as potential political actors. Therefore, in the political dimension of our existence, we already form a universal and true human community in the world.
Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press. Arendt, H. (2003). Was ist Politik? (U. Ludz, Ed.; 7. Auflage). Piper Verlag GmbH. Arendt, H. (1964). Zur Person, Interview with Günther Gaus.
Augustinus. Confessiones [dt.Bekenntnisse], 397-401 n.Chr., Buch XI, Kap. 14. Cavarero, A. (2022). Hannah Arendt y la felicidad pública, congress CCCB Barcelona. Crouch, C. (2020). Post-Democracy after the crisis. Polity Press.
Heidegger, M. (2006). Sein und Zeit (Fünfzehnte Auflage). Max Niemeyer Verlag.
Innerarity, D. (2021). La Era de la Incertidumbre. La Maleta de Portbou, 44 (Filosofías de la Pandemia, Regreso a la condición humana), 43–49.
Sandel, M. (2020). The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (A. Lane, Ed.). Penguin Random House UK.