This article addresses the crucial role political principles play in Hannah Arendt’s account of political action and judgment. It proposes a new interpretive framework for understanding their political logic and the varied contexts within which they appear in Arendt’s work. Principles can be understood according to three distinct perspectives from which they inspire, guide and organise political action. Reading Montesquieu alongside Kant, Arendt claims that principles operate according to a logic of exemplarity. Political action carries within itself and exemplifies a more general principle, which nevertheless cannot be determined as a rule. It does not establish a universal law according to which future action could be determined, but it does attempt to embody and exemplify a more general standard against which future action could be judged. Arendt argues that attending to the importance of principles in politics offers new possibilities for returning to the past and transforming contemporary practices.