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by Stephan Kampowski
Eerdmans, 364 pages, $50 paper

This scholarly study relates Hannah Arendt’s early dissertation on St. Augustine to her mature thought. Stephen Kampowski, professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome, exposes the prevalence of two pervading themes: human temporality and human conditionedness. These motifs, he shows, are fundamental for understanding Arendt’s action theory and moral thought. Action can be a new beginning in time, breaking the eternal chain of cause and effect, only because the human creature is a temporal being who lives his life from some beginning to some end. Kampowski also shows the importance of the term natality , by which Arendt refers to our birth as the origin of our spontaneity. The fact of human conditionedness, in turn, confronts the human creature with an alternative: choosing between grateful acceptance and resentful refusal. For Arendt, to be able to choose the former, it is essential that the human creature be a thinking, and hence remembering, being who is reconciled both with his past and with the fundamental conditions of the life given to him.