The Perception of Freedom and Citizenship: Thomas Jefferson and Hannah Arendt

Introduction

Thomas Jefferson was the 3d President of the United States of America. Besides, he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and an American Founding Father. In fact, it is a well-known fact that the third President forcefully opposed the slavery. Therefore, one can make a conclusion about his main ideas and political beliefs. Thomas Jefferson was a revolutionary person and played a great role in the history of the United States. His philosophy is a basis of American ideals. He had an opportunity to enhance his ideas for the United States´ development. Another prominent figure of the world of politics is Hannah Arendt who was a German political theorist. She also has a direct relation to the United States since she became a citizen of America escaping Europe during the Holocaust. As a political theorist, Hannah Arendt had a lot of ideas and beliefs concerning politics both of Europe and the United States. Lots of her statements are well-known all around the world. One can state that both political representatives were rather influential in the American politics. Moreover, they had some opinions that were similar, as well as having some contradicting ideas and beliefs. In order to estimate their contribution to the US political world and to compare and contrast their beliefs and ideas, it is necessary to conduct a thorough analysis.

Citizenship and Freedom

One of the brightest examples of human rights is considered to be the Declaration of Independence created by Thomas Jefferson. In this document, one may find rights that every human being has and can demand to obtain. The Declaration of Independence has become the symbol of the modern Western democracy and liberty. Nevertheless, there is another vision of freedom and citizenship, which is promoted by another philosopher Hannah Arendt. According to her ideals, natural laws are much more powerful than state laws, which do not give freedom, but only limit it and create new barriers. However, Jefferson and Arendt have a lot in common though their perceptions are still different.

Thomas Jefferson and Hannah Arendt have a similar vision of citizenship and the necessity of freedom in a society (Frankel 2001). According to the Declaration of Independence, every person has natural rights such as the right for life and freedoms like the freedom of speech or the freedom of choosing religion. These rights make all citizens equal because everybody is protected in the same way in spite of his/her social status. Hannah Arendt shared principles of the Declaration of Independence because they were close to the ones that she introduced in her numerous works.

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Arendt believed that the importance of citizenship predetermines that a citizen of a particular country has certain privileges. Once a person has lost his/her citizenship, rights of the society where he/she lived do not apply to him/her anymore. Since that time, a person shares natural rights of a human being, but not rights of a citizen. Arendt states that the Declaration of Independence provides rights that predetermine not only citizenship rights, but human rights in general. In other words, whenever one belongs or does not belong to a particular society, he/she has these rights. In other case, if a person loses his/her citizenship status, he or she becomes a person without rights because all his/her rights were promoted only by the society and within this very society (Frankel 2001). In this respect, Jefferson’s and Arendt’s vision of freedom and citizenship was similar from the perspective of all human beings’ natural rights and the role of the citizenship, which is to protect these rights, but not to use them as a means of threatening or influencing one’s behavior.

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Nevertheless, Jefferson and Arendt had a bit different perceptions of freedom. According to Jefferson, freedom is a variety of choices. The Declaration of Independence predetermines many of such varieties. For instance, a person has a freedom of speech, a freedom of religion, a freedom of expression, and many others. Hence, freedom is a choice and one may choose to be a Buddhist or a Christian or to support ideas of the minority rather than the majority. According to Arendt, it is the liberal freedom, but not the social one that must exist (Winham 2012). Arendt viewed freedom in a different way. For her, freedom, first of all, means the beginning of something new, a capacity to begin. Every newborn child may bring something new to this world and freedom predetermines exactly the right to do something that has never been done before.

According to this fact, a fundamental difference between Jefferson’s freedom and the freedom promoted by Arendt is the necessity of freedom. Jefferson’s freedom predetermines equality in the society; if everyone is able to behave the way he/she wants, then it is a freedom of actions. However, this freedom is limited by the number of choices; a person always faces a dilemma what to choose, but never what to start. In addition, Arendt introduced the example of freedom from history like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and even creation of the Soviet Union during the Russian revolution (Winham 2012). The last one is not viewed by democratic and liberal societies as an act of freedom because ideas of the Soviet Union were not bases on principles of freedom and liberty. Nevertheless, the Arendt’s vision of freedom means emergence of something new. Creation of the Soviet Union was a new phenomenon; hence, it is an act of freedom though the new society was not grounded on traditional ideas of liberty and freedom. Thus, the Jefferson’s concept of freedom means a traditional liberal freedom of choice, while Arendt viewed it as an opportunity to start something new.

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One may see the difference between Jefferson’s and Arendt’s perception of citizenship from the perspective of Lock’s political theory. Ideas promoted by Lock embody ideals of both Jefferson and Arendt. Lock states that there are two types of rights with one type being natural rights, which are given to every person when he/she is born. Another type includes rights that are given to people by the government and these rights may differ from natural rights. According to this fact, there are natural rights and state rights or the right of citizenship. Jefferson viewed citizenship from the perspective of state rights though these rights were very close to the natural ones. However, Arendt believed that natural rights are higher in priority than state rights and, thus, she gave her preference to them. Despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence includes many natural rights, it does not reflect them all in full. Hence, one may state the Arendt’s vision of citizenship is more accurate than the one of Jefferson from the natural law perspective. 

Conclusion

As a conclusion, it can be said that Jefferson´s perception of freedom and citizenship differs from the Arendt’s one, but they still have a lot in common. They both realize the supreme role of freedom in the life of people and for the well-being of the society. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence takes much from natural laws, which were introduced in the Lock’s theory, but they are still changed and modernized in line with conditions of the social life. Arendt agrees that freedom is very important, but she has a bit different perception of freedom, which results in differences between their views.

According to the Arendt’s perception, freedom is something more than a multiply of choices provided by modern democracy. She believes that freedom is a right to start something new because every newborn child may change this world. Hence, he/she has to be free to do what he/she wants. At a glance, the Arendt’s perception is clear as it predetermines freedom of actions, but she does not raise the ethical aspect of this issue, which is raised in the Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Hence, comparing visions of these philosophers, it is possible to come to a conclusion that differences of their ideas about freedom and citizenship are motivated mostly by their perception of these phenomena. As a result, their theories are based on their perceptions, which differ and sometimes even contradict each other. Nevertheless, both philosophers view freedom as an essential part of human life, which predetermines development of the society and the humanity. Freedom acts like an impulse, which should change life and reveal inner potential of people, while citizenship should ensure that person’s rights and freedoms will never be changed or vanished.

 

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