Arendt and Benjamin: Tradition, Progress and Break with the Past

This essay explores the influence of Benjamin’s fragmentary historiography on Arendt’s understanding of narrative. I argue that Arendt and Benjamin shared a common understanding of the problems of modernity. For both thinkers contemporary conditions of existence were defined on the one hand, by a similar conception of history, and on the other hand, a break with the tradition of philosophy. I demonstrate that Benjamin’s fragmented history, adopted by Arendt in response to this contemporary politico-philosophical crisis, allowed her to redeem the past as a basis of a future-oriented philosophy by creating a space for arresting the continuum of history and asserting the importance of human agency.