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Arendtian constitutional theory: an examination of active citizenship in democratic constitutional orders

Agnihotri, Shree (2024) Arendtian constitutional theory: an examination of active citizenship in democratic constitutional orders. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004633


In this thesis, I draw on Hannah Arendt’s extensive body of work, encompassing her constitutional and non-constitutional writings, to present an Arendtian constitutional theory. I suggest that active citizenship is the normative and critical focal point of an Arendtian understanding of democratic constitutionalism as a system of governance. I examine and develop citizenship as a freedom that is experienced in collective action and in taking responsibility for collective action. Sourcing insights from Arendt’s discussion of the Greek and Roman conceptions of law, I argue that for Arendtian constitutional theory, democratic constitutionalism requires the establishment of structures for citizens to experience political freedom and to take responsibility for the preservation of the constitutional order. I conduct an examination of Arendt’s discourse on freedom, power, and authority to reveal how, in a constitutional democracy, active citizenship is intrinsically connected with the maintenance of a constitutional order. Citizens act and judge through participation in ordinary politics to generate and preserve constitutional principles. I conclude the thesis by emphasising the significance of civil disobedience in a democratic constitutional setting. In my reading, Arendt views civil disobedience as the citizens’ attempt at creating a temporary, extra-institutional political space to preserve constitutional principles in the face of a loss of power and authority of the constitutional institutions. I propose that an Arendtian emphasis on theorising civil disobedience as an intrinsic part of the ordinary politics of a democratic constitutional order implies, on the part of the institutions, a duty to establish structures and platforms for citizens’ right to action and dissent, and on the part of the citizens, a duty to preserve and maintain the constitutional order. Such a conceptualisation, I argue, contributes a unique and nuanced understanding of how citizens actively contribute to and interact with the foundations of democratic constitutional governance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2024 Shree Agnihotri
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Poole, Thomas and Wilkinson, Michael

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