Statelessness. On Hannah Arendt and Michael Walzer's political thoughts

Essay, 2015

14 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1 Introduction

2 Hannah Arendt on Statelessness
2.1 Human Rights and Nation-State
2.2 The Right to Have Rights

3 Michael Walzer and Distributive Justica

4 Findings


We are in an age of global migration streams and world-wide job seekers. The acquisition of citizenship can neither be grounded on territorial reasons, nor on principles of descent, but only on the participation in a political community and the everyday life of civil society. Political philosopher Hannah Arendt recognized this already many years ago.

In several of her texts, Arendt offers the problematic nature of human rights. In The Origins of Totalitarianism she declares the impotence of human rights protection in the mass phenomenon of statelessness after World War I.

In the following essay I am going to examine important aspects about statelessness in connection to human rights. In a first step I am going to find an access to the term of statelessness itself, especially how Hannah Arnedt presents it in some of her written philosophical thoughts. Further going I will put a spot on whether the after French Revolution adopted human rights failed, in cause of the phenomenon of statelessness after the First World War.

As the situation, faced by persons who are stateless, is one of complete vulnerability, I am going to examine Hannah Arendt's claim to the right to have rights, wheather its an adequate Lösungsvorschlag zum Schutz Staatenloser. In addition I am going to put a spot on the principle of help and assistance, a position of moral obligatory, which is presented by the american sociologist Michael Walzer.


Hannah Arendt was born the 14th October 1906 in Linden, Germany. In 1933, with National Socialism on the rise, her Jewish roots and political activism forced Hannah Arendt to emigrate from Nazi-Germany. In 1937 Hannah Arendt became denaturalized by the National Socialist Regime. She was stateless until she received in 1951 US American Citizenship. There she was working as a journalist and university teacher. Arendt published very influential contributions on political thought.[1]

While having a short insight into Hannah Arendt's biography, it becomes obvious that her philosophical thoughts about political membership and non-membership are directly connected to her personal life, because she found herself in-between these situations. Arendt names people, who leave for various reasons their state- federation, as stateless persons. The rights guaranteed by citizenship are getting lost after deprivation from it. Moreover, philosopher Michael G. Gottsegen points out:

Worldlessness is defined by Arendt as the condition of those persons who do not belong to a world, in which they matter as Individuals [...] people who are deprived of their political rights.[2]

A stateless person is neither officially represented, nor protected by any state. They find themselves in a position outside of the law and dependent on the acquiescence of any host state. Moreover, Gottsegen emphasizes a lack of individuality while using the term "worldlessness".

Arendt situates a large emergence of this group in the time after World War I, when giant refugee-flows dominated the European picture. Previously statelessness presented rather a rare case of denaturalization. She underlines at the beginning of the 9th Chapter in her influential book The Origins of Totalitarianism:

The days before and the days after the First World War are separated not like the end of an old and the beginning of a new period, but like the day before and the day after an explosion.[3]

Further Arendt points, in relation to statelessness, to the absence of international treaties governing the status and the situation of stateless persons in the period after World War I. From the triad state - people - territory and the departure of people from these categories, several problems derived for the countries concerned.

The absence of a national territory made this new group of people incapable of deportation, in legal terms. The solution, which asserted itself after a while, was presented by internment camps. Due to the enormous increase of this phenomenon, it also changed the handling and nomination of this group of people. Arendt points out an elementary moment of nation-state sovereignty in the decision of who is and who is not a member of a state. Stateless persons were entirely in a no man's land "outside of all laws".[4]

Arendt distinguishes between minorities and stateless people, because after World War I minorities have been seen by politicians as people without state, but they were living under special minority rights, which guaranteed them, at least contractually secured, additional international protection:

The minorities were only half stateless; 'de jure' they belonged to some political body even though they needed additional protection in the form of special treaties and guarantees.[5]

From a juridical perspective, minorities are part of a state. Additional they are entitled to citizenship rights with mostly cultural rights, the right to their own language, their own education and their own social and religious institutions. Right of residence or work was not included.

Arendt grounds the reason of the minority question in Europe on the expansion of the national principle in Eastern and Southern Europe after the First World War. This was an attempt, according to the Western European model, to divide the formerly heterogeneous areas, nationality states, into homogeneous units. The remaining rest in the process of divergence of ethnic groups constituted, according to Arendt, the group of minorities. In the course of the peace treaties, state-citizen and minorities emerged from different nationalities, originally living in a common and large territory. This had an impact on all around Europe and promoted the increase of the numbers of refugees and stateless persons.

I think it can be said, that statehood is the framework in which these processes of getaway take place. People who for some reason lose the protection of their nation, find themselves again in a disenfranchised, vulnerable and often ambiguous position. A position, which is nowadays still seen as an "anomaly". Arendt calls "the realization that it was impossible to get rid of them or transform them into nationals of the country of refuge", as a great "European shock".[6]

Stateless people are dependent on international arrangements or the "goodwill" of other states. But international treaties appear very selective and allow only a relatively small group of people, "refugee" as a sociological category, to benefit from protection and assistance. Many people are fleeing their home countries and do not receive the recognition of a refugee status. To escape into illegality is the only way that often remains to people in such situations.

I think Arendt's characterization of stateless persons can nowadays be compared to a larger group of refugees who are in a very similar situation. These are, in my view those refugees who apply for asylum in another country, but do not obtain an official refugee status, so called "convention-refugees".


[1] Online Source:

[2] Gottsegen, Michael G: Thepoliticalthought of HannahArendt. NewYork. 1994. p.5.

[3] Arendt, Hannah: The Origins of Totalitarianism. Chapter Nine: The Decline ofthe Nation-State and the End ofthe Rights of Man. Meridian Books. Cleveland and New York. 1958. p.267.

[4] cf. Förster, Jürgen: Die Sorge um die Welt und die Freiheit des Handelns. Würzburg. 2009. p. 118.

[5] Arendt, Hannah: The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 276.

[6] Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism, p.281.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


Statelessness. On Hannah Arendt and Michael Walzer's political thoughts
Universität Paderborn  (Philosophie)
Political Philosophy
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
1109 KB
statelessness, hannah, arendt, michael, walzer
Arbeit zitieren
Philipp Falk (Autor), 2015, Statelessness. On Hannah Arendt and Michael Walzer's political thoughts, München, GRIN Verlag,


  • Noch keine Kommentare.
Im eBook lesen
Titel: Statelessness. On Hannah Arendt and Michael Walzer's political thoughts

Ihre Arbeit hochladen

Ihre Hausarbeit / Abschlussarbeit:

- Publikation als eBook und Buch
- Hohes Honorar auf die Verkäufe
- Für Sie komplett kostenlos – mit ISBN
- Es dauert nur 5 Minuten
- Jede Arbeit findet Leser

Kostenlos Autor werden