Politics and Political Thought

I

Polis, Politeia, Politika

In the circle around Socrates, there were men like Alcibiades and Critias … who had turned out to be a real threat to the polis, and this not because they had been paralyzed by the electric ray but, on the contrary, because they had been aroused by the gadfly….Not content with being taught how to think without being taught a doctrine, they changed the non-results of the Socratic thinking examination into negative results…

The quest for meaning, which relentlessly dissolves and examines anew all accepted doctrines and rules, can at any moment turn against itself, produce a reversal of the old values, and declare these contraries to be “new values.”[1]

In his notes to his translation of Plato’s Republic, Allan Bloom traces Politeia, the Greek term which Cicero translated to Latin which has come down to us in its English equivalent as “Republic”, as derived from polis, by way of politēs, i.e., “citizen”.[2] While the polis in the context of Plato’s Republic is commonly understood as “city-state”, Bloom focuses on its being a “city”, specifically “the community of men sharing a way of life and governing themselves, waging war and preserving the peace … the natural social group, containing all that is necessary for the development and exercise of the human powers.”[3] This is already a rich definition, which shall be detailed in this paper. But, before that, some more definitions of the terms derived from polis need to be introduced. Politēs (citizen), obviously, is one who belongs to the said community. Another term derived from polis is politikos, the “statesman”, “one who knows the things of the city.”[4] Politika (politics) “is merely what has to do with the city.”[5] Further,

The central political concern is the proper organization of a city, and the politeia is that organization. The politeia can largely be identified with the class of citizens who rule, for they impress their way on the city and are the source of the laws. The politeia is, as it were, the soul of the city, [i.e.] related to the individuals who compose the city as form is to matter.[6]

In his Parmenides lecture, Heidegger stresses that “Plato’s Politeia is a recollection of the essential and not a plan for the factual.”[7] As for polis (πόλις, πόλος) it is, simply,

“the pole, the place around which everything appearing to the Greeks as a being turns in a peculiar way. The pole is the place around which all beings turn and precisely in such a way that in the domain of this place beings show their turning and their condition….The essence of the Greek πόλις is grounded in the essence of άλήθεια.”[8]

Heidegger takes us back to a grounding in the πόλις, commonly known as the Utopia, the no-place which is Plato’s Republic. But, restoring the term to its context, for him, the πόλις is not a city, not a state, not a city-state, but “the abode, gathered into itself, of the unconcealedness of beings.”[9] This is in his lecture on the Greek άλήθεια, ordinarily translated as truth, which for him, “[s]trictly speaking, the word ‘truth’ does not give us anything to think and still less anything to represent intuitively.”[10] Thus, he turns to a “borrowed definition” of the word which flows to a literal translation: “unconcealedness” which opens to a fourfold directive: First, un-concealedness, i.e., drawing attention to “concealedness”, where a concealing must occur or must have occurred. Second, un-concealedness, i.e., of a taking away, cancellation, or annihilation of concealment. The first two directives reveal a conflict, where “the essence of truth as unconcealedness stands in some sort of opposition to concealment,”[11] which reveals, that “‘Truth’ is never ‘in itself,’ available by itself, but instead must be gained by struggle. Unconcealedness is wrested from concealment, in a conflict with it.”[12] Third, truth, on the basis of its conflictual essence, stands within ‘oppositional’ relations,”[13] e.g., the counter essence of άλήθές (the true), ψευδος, which “involves a covering that simultaneously unveils.”[14] The openness of the πόλις and the security in the proximity with άλήθεια, brings us to the fourth directive: unconcealedness as “open” and “free”. Finally, here, it is important to note that when Heidegger drifts into the political, the saying is always rooted in the political thinking of the polis[15] as that in Plato’s Politeia.

II

Political Truth, Truth in Solitude, Organized Lies

Well … people say that there is no need to be solemn about all this and stretch out to such lengths. For the fact is, as we have said … that one who intends to be an able rhetorician has no need to know the truth about the things that are just or good or yet about the people who are such either by nature or upbringing. No one in a lawcourt…cares at all about the truth of such matters. They only care about what is convincing….“the likely,”… you must not even say what actually happened—you must say something that is likely instead….you should pursue what is likely and leave the truth aside…[16]

Truth and the way to it in politics is different from the truth and its attainment in political thinking. First, as said earlier, the polis is “the community of men sharing a way of life and governing themselves, waging war and preserving the peace.” Immediately, there are problems here. In order for men to constitute a community and share a way of life, they must first have a common knowledge of things, raised to a level of convention such that they can be on equal footing and of like minds. If we go by Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, commenting on Hobbes, we can distinguish between man as savage in the state of nature, where he was self-sufficient, and man with cultivated reason who has only what he needs to live in society, accustomed to its ways “and knows how to live only in the opinion of others.”[17] Thus, “[t]he first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, [who] took it into his head to say this is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.”[18] It would take either violence (waging war) or persuasion (preserving peace)[19] to impose on, or influence others with whatever he says, establishing it as his order, agreed to as common knowledge, the convention, and their constitution. Enhanced with an assertion of power, a ruler can secure his domain, and with more violence can enlarge his territory; one can maintain his position through continuous persuasion, or better, infiltrate other thoughts, making them believe that they are with one mind.[20] Arendt observes,

Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the stateman’s trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature of truth and truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful?…Finally, is not impotent truth just as despicable as power that gives no heed to truth?[21]

In contrast to political truth is the truth in solitude, that which is not from popular opinion, whether by force or persuasion, i.e., that which stands against and in solitude from that which is illusory. However, as Arendt also observes,

Throughout history, the truth-seekers and truthtellers have been aware of the risks of their business; as long as they did not interfere with the course of the world, they were covered with ridicule, but he who forced his fellow-citizens to take him seriously by trying to set them free from falsehood and illusion was in danger of his life: “If they could lay hands on {such a} man…they would kill him,” Plato says in the last sentence of the cave allegory.[22]

For Arendt, it is significant yet rather odd that in the long debate between the “antagonism of truth and politics, from Plato to Hobbes, no one, apparently, ever believed that organized lying, as we know it today, could be an adequate weapon against truth.”[23] Historically, she says, the conflict arose out of the opposition of the philosopher, first interpreted by Parmenides, then by Plato, about the truth of “those things which in their very nature were everlasting and from which … principles could be derived to stabilize human affairs,” to “the citizen’s ever-changing opinions about human affairs, which themselves were in a state of constant flux.”[24] This degrading of opinion gave rise to the political conflict between truth and opinion,

for opinion, and not truth, belongs among the indispensable prerequisites of all power. “All governments rest on opinion,” James Madison said, and not even the most autocratic ruler or tyrant could ever rise to power, let alone keep it, without the support of those who are like-minded. By the same token, every claim in the sphere of human affairs to an absolute truth, whose validity needs no support from the side of opinion, strikes at the very roots of all politics and all governments.[25]

Some facts are publicly known, “and yet the same public that knows them can successfully, and often spontaneously, taboo their public discussion and treat them as though they were what they are not—namely, secrets….What is at stake here is this common and factual reality itself, and this is indeed a political problem of the first order.” In the definition earlier, the polis, waging war and preserving the peace, is the natural social group, containing all that is necessary for the development and exercise of the human powers. A common opinion, enshrined as constitution, preserves the foundation of the community, and unites them in the preservation and security of the formed image of the community from destruction by external forces. Any other thought not in the spirit of the held truth, not aligned with the rule of law named by the constitution established by their convention is deemed alien, unconstitutional, and un-political. By the standards of “politics”, political thoughts, disinterested from the aspiration of like minds, transcending common opinion and critical to popular truth, is deemed, “by nature”, anti-political. This is the most-likely scenario, as it had always been. But then, going further back in time, law, from “nomos”, which “can also be translated as “convention”, as Bloom notes, “can be understood as the opposite of physis, ‘nature,’”[26] such that we also have the derivative “nomina”, from nomos, which means “the customary or lawful.”[27] However, in any case, the truthteller, “the reporter of factual truth is always worse off,”[28] and the “commitment even to factual truth is felt to be an anti-political attitude.”[29] There is no place anymore for the enlightened man back in the cave, as there was no place anymore for Joseph the dreamer among his brothers, as there is no place also for a madman in the marketplace. “Philosophical truth, when it enters the market place, changes its nature and becomes opinion.”[30]

One can understand that the philosopher, in his isolation, yields to the temptation to use his truth as a standard to be imposed upon human affairs; that is, to equate the transcendence inherent in philosophical truth with the altogether different kind of “transcendence” by which yardsticks and other standards of measurement are separated from the multitude of objects they are to measure, and one can equally well understand that the multitude will resist this standard, since it is actually derived from a sphere that is foreign to the realm of human affairs and whose connection with it can be justified only by a confusion.[31]

In order to survive as a private individual in a community, it is better to just mind one’s own business and not interfere with the flow of the ever-changing opinion in the public sphere. Since in all efforts to protect what they have at present in order to survive in the future, the citizens in the flow hold on to narratives that not only will preserve the whole community, city, or country, but, most especially, their own interests, one must make sure that one acts, as though with the same mind, for the sake of the general welfare.

Should one wants to be the ruler, or one of the rulers, he must align his political agenda to the shared opinions, such as of national security, job security and individual financial security—by such alignment he can gain loyalty, and secure for himself high trust ratings from well-positioned viewpoints and reliable satisfaction surveys—and exercising utmost diplomacy and observing protocols to maintain his position in the public sphere.

Factual truth … is always related to other people: it concerns events and circumstances in which many are involved; it is established by witnesses and depends upon testimony; it exists only to the extent that it is spoken about, even if it occurs in the domain of privacy. It is political by nature. Facts and opinions, though they must be kept apart, are not antagonistic to each other; they belong to the same realm.[32]

III

Political and Anti-political

It makes no sense to say that Plato, Aristotle, or Kant is surpassed. There is no presumption or disdain in our intention to understand an author better, in that this intention expresses nothing other than our appreciation of what wants to be understood better. For when we comprehend properly what “understanding better” means, we realize from the first that such understanding is possible and meaningful only where something intelligible is already there which contains in itself the possibility of being traced back to its foundations.[33]

We have come a long way from the polis, the place grounded in the essence of truth: the polis, that is, “the abode, gathered into itself, of the unconcealedness of beings;”[34] and truth, that is, “the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”[35]

Plato’s political positions are reduced to just lawgivers, comfortable with protocols rather than reciprocities. Instead of a common preserving of a common dwelling, the Moderns have altered the understanding of the self and the understanding of the world: Descartes introduced the cogito, and with it has declared man, the ego, as the special subject, and everything that surrounds him, by principle of contradiction, have no right to name or describe him, they are just there, the objects, standing ready for control and manipulation by the subject. Hobbes introduced the Leviathan, because for him there is nothing more beyond man, a machine, no such thing as metaphysics, just motion, and so we need a Leviathan, an artificial man, who we can agree can direct traffic so we can avoid collision. If we can all just obey, then all would go well. Rousseau introduced the noble savage, but then, he may just be deceiving us with his insincere social contract which flows from the idea of invincible isolation of the noble savage, concerned mainly with protecting his private property. And so humanity, along with a grandiose global diplomacy run by egotisms, has fallen deep into the pit. The political has turned anti-political.

IV

Solution: From Political Thought to Action

Behold! I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I should like to give it away and distribute it, until the wise among men have become happy in their folly and the poor happy in their wealth.

To that end, I must descend into the depths: as you do at evening, when you go behind the sea and bring light to the underworld too, superabundant star!

Behold! This cup wants to be empty again, and Zarathustra wants to be man again.

Thus began Zarathustra’s down-going.[36]

In a world where evidence is suspected to be forged, where testimonies may be fabricated, and witnesses to factual truths may be sponsored, and events staged before the world may just be deceptions, we can still remain optimistic with the idea that factual truth, which is political (in both senses) by nature and although dealt with an anti-political attitude, exists as long as it is spoken about, but in continuous dialogue, not in emotive persuasions of Rhetoric.

The philosopher can still respond to the call to action—but he must commit to it, and get ready for the risks he is going to face. The tellers of falsehoods have already gone ahead—for they are men of action, they are actors, whose ultimate goal is total substitution of lies in the place of factual truth, they are consistent in their movement to change the world. The philosopher, meanwhile, in the realm of impartial political thoughts, has seen all these from a solitude outside the political realm.

Now, he must come back like Zarathustra: to agitate, as in Heidegger’s Angst, to disturb, as in Nietzsche’s madman, perhaps to annoy, as the gadfly, Socrates[37]. This is going to be risky, but there is, perhaps, no other way, but to move from political thought to action, and to do it by a Socratic example.

One has to get rid of the bad taste of wanting to be in agreement with many….In the end it must be as it is and has always been: great things are for the great, abysses for the profound, shudders and delicacies for the refined, and, in sum, all rare things for the rare.[38]

 

 

 

Ivan Richard Deligero

May 2018

 

 

 


[1] H. Arendt, The Life of the Mind: One Volume Edition (1: Thinking; 2: Willing), (New York and London: First Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 175-176.

[2] Allan Bloom, Notes to his translation of The Republic of Plato, 2nd ed., trans. 1968, (U.S.A: BasicBooks, 1991), 439.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 440.

[6] Ibid.

[7] M. Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. by André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 95. A translation of Heidegger’s lecture course, winter semester 1942-43 at the University of Freiburg, published as vol. 54 of Gesamtausgabe, 1982.

[8] Ibid., 89.

[9] Ibid. More on this point, Heidegger comments, “…we still think the Greek πολις and the ‘political’ in a totally un-Greek fashion. We think the ‘political’ as Romans, i.e., imperially.” (Ibid., 43) “What is Greek about it now is only its sound.” (Ibid., 45)

[10] Ibid., 13.

[11] Ibid., 15-16.

[12] Ibid., 17.

[13] Ibid., 18.

[14] Ibid., 36.

[15] E.g.: First, Heidegger’s 1929 letter (“Letter to Victor Schwoerer.” For the full text in English, see translation by M. Stassen in M. Heidegger, Philosophical and Political Writings, 1.) was both a recommendation along the lines of refusing a Jewish contamination and, at the same time, a presentation of the choices, whether to make Germany take roots again on its native soil, or be dominated and at the mercy of other cultures and influences. Second, his 1933 rectorial address (See “The Self-Assertion of the German University,” trans. by Karsten Harries in M. Heidegger, PPW, 2-11) echoed, for those who wanted to hear it, “nationalism”, while at the same time, surreptitiously, spoke to the faculty and students advocating for a “profound and far-reaching thoughtfulness” with a foundation grounded and built on ancient Greek wisdom. (PPW, 11.) Third, his 1934 welcome speech (See “Follow the Führer!” Trans. by D.D. Runes, PPW, 12-15) as 600 who were previously unemployed were then even received into the largest hall of the university, wherein he concluded by calling for a threefold “Heil!” to the Führer, but also, and just before that, elevated the workers (“Every worker is a learned man in his own way, and only as such he can work.”) through distinguishing knowledge and appearance of knowledge (“On the other hand, the learned man may totally deceive himself by what is only the appearance of knowledge.”). (PPW, 14)

[16] Socrates in the discussion of Rhetoric in Plato, Phaedrus, trans. by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Co., Inc., 1995), 75.

[17] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” in Basic Political Writings, trans. by Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), 81.

[18] Ibid., 60.

[19] Cf. Two Laws of Nature in Hobbes in the Leviathan:

[sic] And because the condition of Man … is a condition of Warre of every one against every one; in which case every one is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemyes; It followeth, that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing; even to one anothers body. And therefore, as long as this naturall Right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, (how strong or wise soever he be,) of living out the time, which Nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or generall rule of Reason, That every man, ought to endeavor Peace, as farre as he hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre. The first branch of which Rule, containeth the first, and the Fundamentall Law of Nature; which is to seek Peace, and follow it. The second, the summe of the Right of Nature; which is, By all means we can, to defend ourselves.

– T. Hobbes, Leviathan (1950), 107.

[20] See Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics” (originally from “Between Past and Future” in The New Yorker, Feb. 25, 1967), in The Portable Hannah Arendt, edited by Peter Baehr (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 545-575.

[21] Ibid., 545-546.

[22] Ibid., 547.

[23] Ibid., 549.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 549-550.

[26] A. Bloom, Notes to his translation of The Republic of Plato, 446.

[27] Ibid., 461.

[28] H. Arendt, “Truth and Politics” in The Portable Hannah Arendt, 553.

[29] Ibid., 554.

[30] Ibid., 553.

[31] (Arendt’s parenthetical remark.) Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] M. Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 3.

[34] M. Heidegger, Parmenides, 89.

[35] H. Arendt,” Truth and Politics,” 574.

[36] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 39.

[37] Socrates as “gadfly, midwife, electric ray.” See H. Arendt, The Life of the Mind: One Volume Edition (1: Thinking; 2: Willing), (New York and London: First Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 172-174.

[38] F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 71.

1 comment
  1. Ray Anthony Bofill said:

    Van,  Nakabilib!!! 

    Basahin ko to

    Salamat

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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