Koselleck, Arendt, and the Anthropology of Historical Experience

This essay is the first attempt to compare Reinhart Koselleck's Historik with Hannah Arendt's political anthropology and her critique of the modern concept of history. Koselleck is well-known for his work on conceptual history as well as for his theory of historical time(s). It is my contention that these different projects are bound together by Koselleck's Historik, that is, his theory of possible histories. This can be shown through an examination of his writings from Critique and Crisis to his final essays on historical anthropology, most of which have not yet been translated into English. Conversely, Arendt's political theory has in recent years been the subject of numerous interpretations that do not take into account her views about history. By comparing the anthropological categories found in Koselleck's Historik with Arendt's political anthropology. I identify similar intellectual lineages in them (Heidegger, Lowith, Schmitt) as well as shared political sentiments, in particular the anti-totalitarian impulse of the postwar era. More importantly, Koselleck's theory of the preconditions of possible histories and Arendt's theory of the preconditions of the political, I argue, transcend these lineages and sentiments by providing essential categories for the analysis of historical experience.