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On Revolution

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,789 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Tracing the gradual evolution of revolutions, Arendt predicts the changing relationship between war and revolution and the crucial role such combustive movements will play in the future of international relations. She looks at the principles which underlie all revolutions, starting with the first great examples in America and France, and showing how both the theory and ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published 1956)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  1,789 ratings  ·  98 reviews

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Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hannah Arendt was a much more perceptive critic of the French Revolution than Burke, although she had the virtue of hindsight. In On Revolution (1963), Arendt made the provocative claim that the American Revolution was actually more ambitious than the French Revolution, although it failed to set the world ablaze. On Revolution is a work of dichotomies. Arendt claimed that the French Revolution was a struggle over scarcity and inequality, while the American Revolution was quest to secure ...more
Oct 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As difficult as The Human Condition (see my review), and it takes longer to pick up steam. Luckily though, Arendt keeps the momentum building until the end, starting around Chapter 3. Overall, Arendt spends too long discussing abstract philosophical ideas and linguistic origins and not enough time discussing the practical distinctions among revolutions, and what makes them work or fail. When she does this, the book becomes much more interesting, although any enjoyment is still hampered by the ...more
The Greeks held that no one can be free except among [their] peers, that therefore neither the tyrant nor the despot nor the master of a household—even though [they were] full liberated and [were] not forced by others—was free.

As no [one] shall show me a Commonwealth born straight that ever became crooked, so no [one] shall show me a Commonwealth born crooked that ever became straight.

–James Harrington
Contrary to appearances, I don't regret reading this. True, it took forever, but that's
Justin Evans
Feb 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
If you know nothing about Arendt, I imagine this book will be incomprehensible and at the same time seem really radical. Knowing a little bit about her, as I do, rather undermines that. Perhaps if you know a lot about her, you can swing back round to radical? That would be nice.

Arendt argues that the American revolution should have been the model for the 20th century revolutions in, e.g., South America and Africa, but instead the revolutionaries took the French revolution as their model. At the
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and unexpected -- focuses on French and American revolutions to explore not what revolutions have been historically so much as what they were intended as, or ought to be. Her argument is that revolutions are essentially political events, that are sidelined by the need to address the immediate concerns of the poor through redistribution. The unique success of the American revolution was due, first, to the "natural abundance" of America, which allowed the revolution here to complete its ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I previously tried and failed to read ‘On Revolution’ back in 2013. It isn’t the easiest thing to get into, not because Arendt’s writing is obscure or confusing but because every paragraph contains a high density of ideas. The whole book is saturated in erudition, including many quotations in French, Latin, and Ancient Greek. It demands and rewards concentration from the reader. As a consequence, I read the latter 250 pages in two chunks just after drinking strong coffee. Your brain needs to be ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book's conception of politics and the political is narrow and elitist, and its portrayal of Marx was not accurate. But what made it exceptionally lacking was the way it treated the American revolution. While Arendt acknowledges slavery and colonialism, she brushes it aside so it does not challenge her idealistic picture of the US revolution and US society. Neil Roberts, in "Freedom as Marronage", provides an excellent overview of why Arendt's argument has undertones of anti-blackness.
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
a lot of people told me this book is very bad. turns out, they're correct
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It is a must read for all Leftist, and especially Anarchists. I am so happy I read this. I need to read more by her. It gives so much more depth to thoughts I've already thought. Way more depth. It also sheds light on organizations and I found it interesting to apply the ideas to the establishing of authority and community ethics at Apro. It is making me think politically in a new way, and I'm grateful to have read this in South Africa right around election time 15 years post-liberation.

Eileen Ying
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
"it was the polis, the space of men's free deeds and living words, which could endow life with splendour."

i am very torn on arendt. she's a bit of an anomaly as far as theorists come; she somehow fuses a profound appreciation for the anarcho-communist (although she would never use this term) movements of the 19th and 20th century with a strange devotion to the american revolution and its founding fathers. i've seen her referenced by both right- and left-wing thinkers.

her comparison of the
Charles J
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a book that rewards patience. The problem is, I am not a patient man, nor do I think that the reward here would be commensurate with the effort. Thus, I spent enough time, which was quite a bit, to grasp maybe half of this book. I think the rest escaped me. That’s partially my fault—but it’s also the author’s fault, since an elliptical writing style combined with frequent use of untranslated French phrases (even the educated don’t generally learn French anymore), along with scatterings ...more
Jonathan Norton
Sep 19, 2013 rated it liked it
This is mostly a comparative study of the American and French revolutions, and Arendt tries to discern the reasons why the former succeded and the latter didn't (the Russian revolutions are seen as essentially recapitulating the failures of the French model). The ideas of the Founding Fathers are compared with what they claimed to be their classical inspirations, and divergences pointed out. In view of the recent breakdown of confidence between Congress and the President it is possible that the ...more
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is about the American and French Revolutions of the XVIIIth century , always with an eye on the Ancient Greeks and the Roman Republic . The Russian Revolution appears once in a while , but only once in a while . The main characters are : John Adams , Thomas Jefferson , Montesquieu , Rousseau , Robespierre , and fellows . The book is full of quotes and notes , and the quotes of John Adams are the best ones . Adams was the second president of USA . I don't know his writings , but looking ...more
Oct 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political-theory
"The momentous role that hypocrisy and the passion for its unmasking came to play in the later stages of the French Revolution, though it may never cease to astound the historian, is a matter of historical record. The revolution, before it proceeded to devour its own children, had unmasked them, and French historiography, in more than a hundred and fifty years, has reproduced and documented all these exposures until no one is left among the chief actors who does not stand accused, or at least ...more
Ian Rogers
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it
I really enjoy Arendt's writing - accessible, thorough, and incredibly in-depth. My only complaint about this book is that it focuses specifically on the US and French revolutions to the point of exclusivity, and I think that many of the points that she makes in comparing the two could have been well-served by exploring other revolutions like Russia, China, and Cuba. In this sense it's a bit unnecessarily Cartesian in tone, which saddens me as Arendt is certainly capable of comparing and ...more
Sep 01, 2013 rated it liked it
The style makes it a bit of a slog tbh.

As to the ideas, they're interesting. I've never known much about the American revolution and my knowledge of the French revolution from my obsession with it in highschool has faded but I feel that a lot of the broad strokes that she makes aren't quite right, and that it would be a better book if it the comparisons between French and American revolutions were less abstract.
Trashy Pit
Feb 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: revolutions
DEFINITELT DO NOT READ! A complete waste of time and ink and trees. A bunch of sophisticated-sounding nonsense and complicated yet meaningless bullshit that for some reason sounds really deep to people who have no knowledge of history.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
A mixed bag, but with some great bits. I'm sure thousands of people have critiqued the book similarly. It is certainly a product of its time (1963), and that perhaps excuses some of its faults. It is certainly rather rah-rah about the United States of America, which makes it a fascinating read now, as this country is in obvious and steep decline. Indeed, late in this book as she discusses town councils and the idea of locally engaged citizenry, and how this seems to be the only real problem with ...more
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it

She who describes herself, not a philosopher but, as a political scientist analyses American and French Revolutions in terms of their philosophies, driving force behind their motivations, expectations and and their implications across the world. Even though both revolutions justify themselves through the wants of the poor, she thinks that French Revolution did not meet this expectations and ended up very bloody.

Pre-modern social cahnges were understood as restoration not as radical changes.
Jon C.
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book made me want to be a better citizen. We need better spaces to exercise our freedom. Lots of great analysis on revolutions, their goals and failures. A super comparative study as well.
Oh wow I do not have the attention span for this.
Dorian Alexander
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
The last chapter is really the only decent bit. Plenty of interesting observations throughout, but the premise is based on such a faulty understanding of American colonial history that it's almost entirely useless. Her near seething disdain for impoverished people isn't very endearing either.

Overall, Arendt seemed to be less concerned with theorizing revolution and more concerned with masturbating to the idea of American exceptionalism.
Seth Reeves
Dec 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I'd call this a good comparison of the French and American revolutions as well as analysis of why the latter was a far greater influence in future revolutions than the former. Arendt does have profound things to say about hypocrisy as a political sin and a human psychological necessity and the nature and origin of revolution in the modern sense of the word but I felt she went more off base with her praise of the American political system versus the more multi-party systems of continental ...more
Ben Cullimore
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
In On Revolution, one of her finest and most important works, Hannah Arendt focusses with wonderful attention on the American and French revolutions, arguing with great clarity that the former was a success and the latter a failure.

In relation to the American Revolution, Arendt claims that its success came from the fact that it was a "political revolution" concerned with creating a strong and stable state, whilst the French Revolution that arose soon after was, in stark contrast, a primarily
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent meditation on the meaning, possibilities and consequences of modern revolutions. It is also Arendt further working out her political philosophy, begun in The Human Condition, in a more concrete context.
I think she's probably right in her general assessment of the French and American Revolutions. However I found her imperative to maintain a strict division between the private affairs of the household and the political or public realm to be problematic. The boundaries of these
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, own, reviewed
How come this isn't one of the most influential books of 20th century is a mystery to me. It deals with two major political events of modern time and tries to put them in modern perspective. Every political issue of our time can be traced back to those as Arendt diligently describes. For the beginning is thought to be more than half of the whole, as old adage quoted by Aristotle says. This is no small feat and this work should be very important for society movements that awaits us.

Style is very
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hanna Arendt is one of the more brilliant minds of the last century. Her historical and insightful breakdown of the revolutions of the world is prodigious. Describing the merits and flaws of the Russian, French, and American revolutions, she discusses the sociopolitical nature of the revolutionary process, it's lamentable link to violence, briefly shares her hope of severing revolutionary thought with violent action, and in layman's terms at the end of the book, she describes the fundamental ...more
Sep 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've forgotten all but the basics on the American Revolution and know very little about the French Revolution, so am not well qualified for a critical review of Arendt's theory. I will say that this is a book of many profound ideas that will persist in the way I think about government and philosophy. These include, working with more precise definitions of power, authority and violence as well as considering the distinction between political freedom and civil liberties. Arendt has moments of ...more
Mark Valentine
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Arendt answers the question: Why did the American Revolution succeed while the French Revolution led to the Reign of Terror and the despotism of Napoleon? with the thoroughness and patience of a monument builder.

She searches as far back as Plato for rationales, then studies Macchiavelli, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Robespierre, Burke, Tocqueville, and Marx for insight.

I recommend reading it for anyone who has an interest in reading Madison, Jefferson and Adams. And
Nov 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
reading this book as the latest shanghai bookclub assignment. disappointed, because i don't see what point arendt tries to make. sure she has a brilliant intellect, but i miss the message.

i happen to be recommended another read, almost at the same time: the mindfulness revolution. perhaps this is also an expression of my personal state of mind, but i feel that the message of this book does make much more sense: man does not improve by violently changing the masses but by peacefully changing
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Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and lived in Paris for the next eight years, working for a number of Jewish refugee organisations. In 1941 she immigrated to the United States and soon became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York. She held a ...more
“When an old truth ceases to be applicable, it does not become any truer by being stood on its head.” 17 likes
“Revolutions are the only political events which confront us directly and inevitably with the problem of beginning.” 16 likes
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