This article provides a genealogy of Hannah Arendt’s treatment of political economy in the years prior to the publication of The Human Condition (1958). In the early 1950s her archival papers and diary entries display deep concern for a host of topics at the intersection of political and economic thought: labor, work, slavery, consumption, industrialization, and automation. Such interests, which were passed through the philosophical canon from Aristotle to Marx, would serve as the theoretical basis for many of the distinctions that define The Human Condition. When set within the context of midcentury debates around political economy, it becomes clear that Arendt conceived the distinctions not only to respond to the aporias of Western philosophy but also to contest contemporaries who put stock in dialectical materialist accounts of political emancipation. Understanding Arendt’s adversaries more clearly provides the chance to see her conceptual distinctions as interventions into concurrent attempts to revise Marxian political economy in the latter half of the twentieth century.

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