Arendt’s Rahel Varnhagen: Challenging The Public - Private Dichotomy

Yıldırım S.

KULTUR VE ILETISIM, vol.25(1), no.49, pp.102-122, 2022 (Peer-Reviewed Journal) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 25(1) Issue: 49
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.18691/kulturveiletisim.984424
  • Journal Name: KULTUR VE ILETISIM
  • Journal Indexes: MLA - Modern Language Association Database, TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.102-122
  • TED University Affiliated: No


Rahel Varnhagen, among the earliest works of Hannah Arendt, is often treated as an isolated piece in relation to her later political writings. However, this factual biography challenges one of the most inalienable elements in Arendt’s political theory: the public- private dichotomy. I argue that Rahel can be read as an exploration of the public or the private, that Varnhagen herself can be classified as either a parvenu or a pariah. A closer reading reveals that Rahel, as text and as individual, blurs this binary distinction. This blurring, in one exceptional text, helps to undermine the strict conceptual binary between public and private that is assumed to run through all of Arendt’s work. In Rahel, the political is not observed within the confines of a strict separation between the public and the private, but in an intermediate space: the social sphere of the eighteenth century salon. Identifying a conception of the social within Arendt’s political theory that is not detrimental to political actors and their actions would provide us a new reading of the social that is affirmative rather than negative. Such a reading would pave the way for a more inclusive reading of the social in Arendt, through which several “social” issues that are excluded from the political sphere may be recognized and re-conceptualized as political.