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Hannah Arendt in her work The Human Condition discusses the concept of the private and the public.
The public is the sphere of human life that can be explained by two interrelated phenomena: appearance and the world. Public life involves publicity because what is happening in the public sphere is apparent to everybody; it is seen and heard by all. Hence, the importance of appearance cannot be underestimated. It is the publicity that can preserve through the history those things that would have vanished otherwise. It is opposite of private which is “shadowy kind of existence” (50). The freedom can only be found in the public. Any deeds done in public can become glorious, unlike anything done in private. Some matters, however, can only be relevant to the public realm and, if taken to the public, will become extinguished. For example, friendship is a public matter, while love, taken out of the private realm, will lose its purity and will become “false and perverted” (52). However, the public has its charm as it, being an enlarged private, can consider irrelevant thus offering an alternative way of life which some people may adopt.
The public is significant with “the world itself” – a “tissue” that connects humans, the things people have in common but that, at the same time, keep people separated from each other. As an illustration of the world, H. Arendt successfully uses a table (52) that people are gathered around. It is common to them; at the same time it keeps them apart thus enabling them to bare the situation regardless of the number of people around the table. The public realm is considered by the author as the essential element of the humanity: it is a human need to be seen and heard by others, to have relationships with them and to have a possibility of achieving great deeds that will be treasured in the annals of history.
A man is a social “animal” whose existence can be proved only by other people by the effect and consequence of his thoughts and actions on others. In fact, if a man lives only private life, “it is as though he did not exist” (58). If taken to the extreme, it results in the most “antihuman” form that is manifested in “the mass phenomenon of loneliness”(59). The social destroys the public as well as the private because the private and the public are tightly connected, even though historically, public realm grew out of at the expense of private. Thus, the private is in opposition to social, though it does not oppose the political, or the polis, even though the nature of the two is different. “To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence”(26), which is unlike “characteristic of life outside the polls, of home and family life, where the household head ruled with uncontested, despotic powers” (27).
Modern day society is characterized by social reality dominating over the private, which is different from the ancient world organization. The private sphere provided the primary existence for an individual while political or public provided another kind of existence, which transcended the necessity and usefulness being not essential for human natural life. The household, the family, and the home represent a place of the natural need. It has a strict hierarchy and inequality. Hence, the dependency on needs and hierarchy does not allow for freedom. It is found outside of the household and private propriety, detached from natural needs and in the polis – a place of personal freedom and equality. There is no place for violence in this realm, unlike the private, where the violence is justified to maintain control over the necessity. Justification of the violence is the downside of the “household”. It stems from the necessity of liberating oneself since all the humans are subjected to necessity, thus are “entitled to violence toward others” (31). Inside the household there was no freedom for anyone as freedom “meant neither to rule nor to be ruled” (32). The ruler of the household, being not free from obligations to rule, could, however, utilize additional realm with true freedom and equality, a political realm. However, the present day understanding of equality and the politics is very different with the ancient understanding of it. Modern day premise for equality includes justice, while in ancient day it meant the freedom from ruling over or being under someone’s rule. To leave the ordinary life in the household and to enter the political life took courage. “Good life” (37) was associated with being freed from necessity of laboring and working for the survival and having altogether different, nobler life. With the time, the gulf between the private and the politic was breached. Furthermore, the household and the family were consumed by the social – the family unit with the single household ruler became a part of the larger social group, thus creating larger family-like units. However, this form of reality has its downsides as well, such as conformism and “no-man” rule, which can at times result in tyranny. The society creates and imposes certain rules on its members, “which tend to “normalize” its members, to make them behave, to exclude spontaneous action or outstanding achievement”(40). Thus, equality in the present day society is based on the conformism.