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Arendt and Trust in Government

On a trip last year to the Hannah Arendt Collection housed in Bard College’s Stevenson Library, we came across a copy of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.


This book was originally published in 1960 and was based on an analysis on the whole of Locke’s publications, writings, and papers. Since then, the book has been revised to incorporate references to recent scholarship.


Hannah Arendt made several annotations to her copy of this book. For example, in the Introduction, she underlined a sentence that connects page 112 and 113. That passage reads:

He [Locke] divides off the process of compact, which creates a community, from the further process by which the community entrusts political power to a government.


And further down in that same paragraph, she underlined the following:

… [T]he relation between government and governed is not contractual, for a trust is not a contract.

If a contract is to be set up, or understood, it is necessary that the parties to it should each get something out of it, and applied to politics this would mean that the government got something out of governing which the subjects are bound to give. Now this is what Locke was most anxious to avoid. Although contractually related to each other, the people are not contractually obliged to government, and governors benefit from governing only as fellow members of the ‘Politick Body’ (I, § 93). They are merely deputies for the people, trustees who can be discarded if they fail in their trust (II, § 240).


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The Hannah Arendt Collection at Bard College is maintained by staff members at the Bard College Stevenson Library. To peruse the collection’s digital entries, please click here.

For more Library photos, please click here.

Posted on 11 February 2016 | 8:00 pm

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