Skip to main content

The Rule of the People: Arendt, Archê, and Democracy


This article presents a novel critical account of a key concept in democratic theory, “rule,” via an unorthodox interpretation of Hannah Arendt's work. Many theorists treat democracy as one type of regime; others, stressing the importance of unruliness to democratic politics, challenge the reduction of democracy to a form of rule. Although this debate remains caught within conventional oppositions between order, closure, and continuity; and interruption, openness, and novelty, Arendt shows this whole matrix of oppositions to be an artifact of the dominance of a hierarchical understanding of rule. Her unusual critique of rule and her distinctive account of the meaning of “beginning” draw attention to an important dimension of political activity that lies off these axes of opposition, shedding new light on democratic agency and the forces that obstruct it.

Corresponding author
Patchen Markell is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago, 5828 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 (
Hide All
Arendt Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Arendt Hannah. 1960. Vita Activa oder vom tätigen Leben. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag.
Arendt Hannah. 1965. On Revolution. Rev. ed. New York: Viking Compass.
Arendt Hannah. 1968. “What is Freedom?” In Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. New York: Penguin.
Arendt Hannah. 1994. “Understanding and Politics.” In Essays in Understanding, 1930–1954, ed. Jerome Kohn. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.
Arendt Hannah. 2002. Denktagebuch, 1950–1973. ed. Ursula Ludz and Ingeborg Nordmann. Münich: Piper.
Aristotle. 1984. Metaphysics. Trans. W. D. Ross. In The Complete Works of Aristotle, The Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Beiner Ronald. 1984. “Action, Natality, and Citizenship: Hannah Arendt's Concept of Freedom.” In Conceptions of Liberty in Political Philosophy, ed. Zbigniew Pelczynski and John Gray. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Bickford Susan. 2000. “Constructing Inequality: City Spaces and the Architecture of Citizenship.” Political Theory 28 (June): 30736.
Bowen-Moore Patricia. 1989. Hannah Arendt's Philosophy of Natality. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Cavell Stanley. 1987. “The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear.” In Disowning Knowledge In Six Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Collin Françoise. 1999. “Birth as Praxis.” In The Judge and the Spectator: Hannah Arendt's Political Philosophy, ed. Joke J. Hermsen and Dana R. Villa. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters.
Curtis Kimberly. 1999. Our Sense of the Real: Aesthetic Experience and Arendtian Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Dahl Robert A. 1961. Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Dahl Robert A. 1989. Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Dante Alighieri. 1996. Monarchy, ed. and trans. Prue Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dante Alighieri. 1998. Dante's Monarchia, ed. and trans. Richard Kay. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
Dastur Françoise. 2000. “Phenomenology of the Event: Waiting and Surprise.” Hypatia 15 (Fall): 17889.
d'Entrèves Maurizio Passerin. 1994. The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt. London: Routledge.
Deranty Jacques. 2003. “Jacques Rancière's Contribution to the Ethics of Recognition.” Political Theory 31 (February): 13656.
Dietz Mary G. 2002. Turning Operations: Feminism, Arendt, and Politics. New York: Routledge.
Durst Marguerite. 2004. “Birth and Natality in Hannah Arendt.” Analecta Husserliana 79: 77797.
Ferguson Michaele. 2003. Sharing and Sharing Alike: Political Unity in Diverse Democracies. Ph.D. diss. Harvard University.
Flathman Richard E. 1998. “Ruling, Rules, and Rule Following: Mainstay or Mirage, Miracle or Misfortune?” In Reflections of a Would-Be Anarchist: Ideals and Institutions of Liberalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Frank Jill. 2004. A Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fung Archon. 2004. Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gottlieb Susannah Young-Ah. 2003. Regions of Sorrow: Anxiety and Messianism in Hannah Arendt and W.H. Auden. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gunnell John G. 2004. Imagining the American Polity: Political Science and the Discourse of Democracy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Hardt Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hardt Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2004. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Press.
Held David. 1996. Models of Democracy, 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Herzog Annabelle. 2004. “Political Itineraries and Anarchic Cosmopolitanism in the Thought of Hannah Arendt.” Inquiry 47 (February): 2041.
Honig Bonnie. 1992. “Toward an Agonistic Feminism: Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Identity.” In Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott. London: Routledge.
Honig Bonnie. 1993. Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Honig Bonnie. 2001. Democracy and the Foreigner. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kateb George. 2000. “Political Action: Its Nature and Advantages.” In The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt, ed. Dana Villa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Keenan Alan. 2003. Democracy in Question: Democratic Openness in a Time of Political Closure. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Laclau Ernesto. 1996. “Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony.” In Deconstruction and Pragmatism, ed. Chantal Mouffe. New York: Routledge.
Laclau Ernesto. 2001. “Democracy and the Question of Power.” Constellations 8 (March): 314.
Laclau Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. 1985. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. London: Verso.
Lefort Claude. 1988. Democracy and Political Theory, trans. David Macey. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lewis Charlton T., and Charles Short. 1879. A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. <> (July 15, 2005).
Moraw Peter. 1982. “Herrschaft. II. Herrschaft im Mittelalter.” In Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, ed. Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck. Vol. 3, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
Passavant Paul A. 2004. “From Empire's Law to the Multitude's Rights: Law, Representation, and Revolution.” In Empire's New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri, ed. Paul A. Passavant and Jodi Dean. New York: Routledge.
Pateman Carole. 1970. Participation and Democratic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pitkin Hanna Fenichel. 1993. Wittgenstein and Justice. With a new preface. California: University of California Press.
Pitkin Hanna Fenichel. 1998. The Attack of the Blob: Hannah Arendt's Concept of the Social. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Plato. [1926] 2004. Laws. Books VII–XII, trans. R. G. Bury. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rancière Jacques. 1999. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rancière Jacques. 2001. “Ten Theses on Politics.” Theory & Event 5 (3). <> (July 15, 2005).
Shapiro Kam. 2004. “The Myth of the Multitude.” In Empire's New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri, ed. Paul A. Passavant and Jodi Dean. New York: Routledge.
Schumpeter Joseph. 1942. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Tsao Roy T. 2002. “Arendt Against Athens.” Political Theory 30 (February): 97123.
Tully James. 1999. “The Agonic Freedom of Citizens.” Economy and Society 28 (May): 16182.
Tully James. 2003. “Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy: Understanding Practices of Critical Reflection.” In The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy, ed. Cressida J. Heyes. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Vatter Miguel E. 2000. Between Form and Event: Machiavelli's Theory of Political Freedom. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Villa Dana R. 1996. Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Xenos Nicholas. 2001. “Momentary Democracy.” In Democracy and Vision: Sheldon Wolin and the Vicissitudes of the Political, ed. Aryeh Botwinick and William E. Connolly. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Warner Michael. 2002. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Verso.
Wittgenstein Ludwig. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan.
Wolin Sheldon S. 1994. “Norm and Form: The Constitutionalizing of Democracy.” In Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstruction of American Democracy, ed. J. Peter Euben, Josiah Ober, and John R. Wallach. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Wolin Sheldon S. 1996. “Fugitive Democracy.” In Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, ed. Seyla Benhabib. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Wolin Sheldon S. 2004. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought. Expanded ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Zerilli Linda M. G. 2003. “Doing without Knowing: Feminism's Politics of the Ordinary.” In The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy, ed. Cressida J. Heyes. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Zerilli Linda M. G. 2005. Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed