the right to be children: an arendtian exploration of our responsibility to grow up

anya r. topolski


Due to the intersection of world history and biological boundaries Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) sadly never had the opportunity to experience maternity; nonetheless, this did not prevent her from writing, with passion and promise, about the miraculous responsibility of childbirth and childrearing. What may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with her work is that her views on children are to be found throughout her political writings. It is thus the first task of this piece to articulate the connection, within Arendt’s project, between children and the political. After this, I intend to develop two of her political arguments, the first her well known critique of the contemporary discourse on human rights, and the second on education. I will use these to argue that the vision of children’s rights, as put forward first by Janusz Korczak in the 1920’s and later codified in the 1959 declaration of the UN Rights of the Child, is being destroyed by the refusal of all adult citizens (parents, educators, politicians, etc) to grow up. At the heart of Arendt’s political writings, especially those concerning children, is a sincere plea to address the crisis in responsibility in our contemporary society. As citizens we must accept that only by limiting our own childish desires to be free of responsibility and accepting the burden of being an authority is there a chance that children might have the right to be children. All rights are meaningless illusions unless they are founded upon relationality and responsibility. It is this preamble, which is sadly absent from the 1959 declaration, that Arendt would argue is necessary not only for the sake of children but also for that of the shared world.


Arendt, responsibility, children’s rights, community, education

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e-issn 1984-5987 | p-issn 2525-5061