Why should not the philosophers rule

Let us then begin by dismissing all the facts, because they do not touch the question.Without going as far as Rousseau in this famous apostrophe of the Second Discourse, I will here devote myself to considering essentially theoretical considerations. They concern the ability or incapacity of philosophers to exercise a form of power either directly (it is the famous hypothesis of the philosopher-king), or by advising the Princes or by opposing them to any resistance. Not that I wish to pass over in silence some of the most emblematic episodes of the ephemeral marriage of philosophy and politics: we briefly recall the expeditions of Plato (-388, -366 and -361) in Sicily, the misadventures of Seneca , The unfortunate councilor of Caligula, then of Nero (from 54 to 59), or the route, judged rather exemplary, of the Stoic Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor from 161 to 180). It will suffice to point out that these various events do not constitute as such proof of anything, in particular, the inevitability of certain failures: it is known since Machiavelli that Fortune is “the arbitrator of at least half Of our actions, “and that the successes of” great men “in history, a contrario, can not be borne either to their own credit. However, the testimony of some of them, although heavily bitter in the case of Plato and Seneca, deserves the detour even if they are no longer as relevant in the era of democracy “post -modern “- and the question that interests us today is that of the government of democratic peoples. I will show that if philosophy is particularly ill-suited to guide the action of heads of state in this new context, it has never been the best compass to guide the decisions of princes, kings or Despots, or to lead their destinies.

The Unresolved Problem

The most convincing testimonies are those of the philosophers who paid the price. At first, Plato defended Socrates’ bias, that of a prudent withdrawal, while maliciously mentioning the sarcasm of a Callicles of fiction:

I like philosophy in a teenager, it seems to me to be so, and in my eyes denotes a free man. He who neglects it seems to me to have a low soul, who will never believe himself capable of a beautiful and generous action. But when I see an old man who still philosophizes and does not renounce this study, I hold, Socrates, that he deserves the whip. ” Plato, Gorgias, verse – 387, transl. E. Chambry, 1960, 485c

Yet, it is indeed Socrates if we believe Plato – at this stage of his reflections – who made the right choice to turn his back on “business.” Plato, fortified by his catastrophic expeditions to Sicily, will understand even more afterwards that a man freed from sensible illusions can not knowingly choose to assume the responsibility of educating and governing his fellow-citizens (Letter 7, verse-354 ). For if the people need a guide, a thesis from which the philosopher will never depart, he is not in a position either to form it himself or even to identify it, let alone appreciate it to its proper extent. Hence the problem posed by Plato, and always unresolved at the time when we speak: if the people must be educated, who will educate their educators? For the philosopher, it is clear and clear, not only the ideal solution is difficult to conceive, but it also comes up against practically major difficulties for two reasons:

  • First of all, the qualities required for this type of improbable educators are such that they will constitute a narrow elite (“These natives bringing together all the qualities we demanded of the accomplished philosopher, appear rarely and in small numbers” (Republic, , 490 d, Baccou, GF-Flammarion, 1966).
  • Secondly, and the difficulty is even more unacceptable: these exceptional sizes will obviously have no desire to compromise themselves by plunging into the heart of the beast: “Among these few, whoever became a philosopher and tasted the sweetness And the felicity of the possession of wisdom, which has seen the madness of the multitude, and that there is, so to speak, no one who does anything sensible in the sphere of public affairs; Has no ally with whom he could come to the aid of justice without losing himself, but, on the contrary, as a man fallen among ferocious beasts, refusing to participate in their crimes and otherwise incapable of resisting Alone to these savage beings, he would perish before he had served his country and his friends, useless to himself and to others; Penetrated with these reflections, he remained at rest, and busied himself with his own affairs: like a traveler who, during a storm, while the wind raises swirls of dust and rain, shelters behind a small wall, he Sees others sullied with iniquities, and is happy if he can live his life here below for himself from injustice and impious actions, and leave him smiling and tranquil, with a beautiful hope. ” 496 cd).

Plato’s conclusion deprives us of any indication of the mission of the philosophers within the city. Things are difficult to the point of being almost insurmountable, he explains, at least “in the cities as we know them” because “the art of governing” is not improvised, and the people, Bewildered and disoriented by the demagogues, will always tend to reject and even to hate those who deceive him:

“The treatment which the states subject to the wisest men is so severe that no one in the world suffers from it” (488b).

To explain this, he uses a metaphor. Imagine a ship, on which the crew are competing for the helm, the captain not knowing how to sail. These sailors get drunk, take hold of the rudder and “sail as can navigate such people”, that is to say, lead the ship to its loss. Suppose now that one of the crewmen flatter other sailors, and calls “wisdom” their lack of knowledge. The Sophist, who, unlike the philosopher, “is not taught to teach other maxims than those which the people profess in their assemblies, and this is what they call wisdom.” 493 (b).

Plato’s conclusion is without appeal: “It is impossible for the people to be a philosopher … and it is necessary that philosophers be blamed by him” (494a). Plato will nevertheless try to imagine in Book 7 a different city “from those we know”…

House of Cards represents this vision of a power monopolized by self-declared experts.

The philosophers at the shelters

Having no doubt heard the warnings in Book 6, Lucretius (98-85 BC) will remember that the place of the sages – who definitely have no seafaring foot – is not on the swell but on the contrary, Well dry, on the beach:

“It is sweet, when the great sea is raised by the winds, to assist from the shore to the distress of others; Not that one finds such great pleasure in looking at suffering; But we are pleased to see what evils you spare. It is also sweet to be present at the great struggles of war, to follow the battles ranged in the plains without taking part in the danger. But the greatest gentleness is to occupy the high places, fortified by the thought of the wise, those serene regions from which the rest of mankind can see the distant, wandering here and there by seeking the path of life at random, Who struggle for genius or dispute the glory of birth, who are exhausted in day and night efforts to rise to the height of wealth or seize power. ” (Of Nature, Book II, v. 1-52, Garnier-Flammarion).

No bitterness here, only the recommendations of a philosopher who, to try to preserve happiness and probity – indissociable without mortal damage – undoubtedly prudently kept away from public affairs. The case of Seneca is different but its conclusions are similar. When, on the evening of his life, he wrote his Letters to Lucilius, he long ago renounced presiding over the destinies of Rome. On the other hand, he is able to draw the balance sheet in order to spare his young disciple many unnecessary torments:

“I point out to others the right way that I later recognised and tired of wandering. I shout: “Avoid all the goods that please the vulgar, whom chance assigns; Before all fortunate happiness, stop, filled with suspicion and terror: game and fish are also duped by some hope that amuses them. You think these objects are gifts of fortune? These are traps. Any one of you who wishes to spend his life in safety will avoid as much as possible these benefits full of glue, which, to our greatest misfortune, deceive us by this decoy: we believe we possess them, we are stuck to it ” (Letter 8 to Lucilius, Ed. GF-Flammarion, translation by Marie-Ange Jourdan-Gueyer, 1972, p.52).

Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation, a classical view of philosophy isolated from the world.

When politics becomes realistic

Spanning nearly two millennia of recommendations concerning the wisest ways of either legislating or resisting oppression – from Aristotle to Sartre – I shall merely mention here briefly the revolution carried out by Machiavelli. It is well known that Laurent de Medici’s advisor could flatter himself that he had invented “realistic politics”

“Many have imagined republics and principalities that have never really been seen or known, for there is such a gap between the way one lives and the way one should live, that one who abandons what is done For what ought to be learned is rather to be lost than to escape “The Prince, chapter 15, translation Thierry Menissier, Hatier, 2007, p.75)).

Does this mean that the status of the philosopher has definitely changed from the Prince? Not really. Machiavelli takes the opposite side of classical political philosophy-ambitioning to stick to “the actual truth of the thing” -which can properly be asked, with Thierry Menissier (op.cit.), If the title of “political thinker” does not suit him better than that of a philosopher in the usual sense of the term: “Often Machiavelli is not recognized as a philosopher and this is based, given the extreme caution of the anxious author Not to leave concrete analysis a concrete situation “(op.cit, p.141). Machiavelli’s thought was all the more fertile because refusing to speculate in the perspective of the Universal, he endeavoured to answer the problems posed practically in circumstances as unique as they were unimportant. Such is, moreover, the essence of all politics: even if conceived a priori, theories are admissible only when they prove themselves in practice (cf. Kant, “On current expression:” it is true in Theory but it is worth nothing in practice”).

Governing is not necessarily dominating

Now the question is that of the status of the philosopher in the city at the moment we speak. She has come back by chance to the forefront of news because our young president seems to have benefited from a brief philosophical training, which obviously does not confer the status of a philosopher! Nevertheless, this very special and not very significant case can not make us forget decades of hazardous speculation, hollow dreams, inconsiderate engagements, even feather crimes (I think of the specific case of Heidegger!). The philosopher’s word on the political scene has long since been largely demonetized, for reasons that are very far from being cyclical or anecdotal. Many sociologists and philosophers have always pointed to this since the 1950s. The crisis of culture (1961, Idées / Gallimard, translation by Patrick Levy, 1972), one of the works to which Hannah Arendt owes its notoriety, includes a chapter entitled “Truth and Politics” in which she explains how Relationship with the truth, jostled in the context of the late modernity, is decisive to understand the stakes of any democratic policy. The question of the antinomy between opinion and expertise (this famous “art of governing”) was at the heart of Plato’s anxiogenic problem. It is found as it is with Hannah Arendt, but it gives her a diametrically opposite solution. Since neither reason nor truth is authoritative in the Democratic city:

“The modes of thought and communication which deal with truth, if considered from the political point of view, are necessarily tyrannical; They do not take into account the opinion of others. While this taking into account is the sign of all strictly political thought “(p.

We must admit it and stop once and for all to deplore it. Taking note of the obsolescence of the traditional forms of government, the philosopher, haunted permanently by the totalitarian event, aims at a radical rehabilitation of politics conceived as a plural space of initiative and deliberation. Power is a collective phenomenon which proceeds from the exchange of opinions without ever having either an individual or a group the legitimacy to impose its own decisions without prior consultation. Its natural expression is interaction and not rivalry or competition, which, ultimately, humiliates the defeated.

Towards a politics of insubordination

Hannah Arendt traces an original path by rejecting politics as a struggle for power – which is generally defined as the ability to subjugate others to their own will. For H. Arendt, on the contrary, politics is a process that results from the conjunction of discordant and often conflictual voices, hence all forms of sovereignty will be ipso facto banned. In consequence, contrary to any Platonic and aristocratic tradition, H. Arendt imagines the people no longer as a great rebellious animal, which a clever pastor ought to endeavour to frame and subdue, but as the heterogeneous subject of ” A power emanating from its own plurality assumed. Politics, as Hannah Arendt conceives it, can henceforth be a pure and simple face-to-face relationship between rulers and governed (the “Caste” and the “people”?). To have power is to speak together in order to act in concert, that is why only a policy of insubordination can do justice to this type of “power” which resides entirely in plurality. Libertaire, the political concept of power in Arendt is not, however, anarchic, since it gives a place to the idea of law, on the understanding that it must remain outside “power”. Associated with the “memory of authority”, the fundamental laws alone will be able to ensure the solidity of the political bond (on the necessity of the law which replaces sovereign will to limit the government of men, see Essay on the Revolution, pp. 228-229, Gallimard, 1967, Michel Chrestien).

The inhumanity of the unique truth

In such a context, is the philosopher still the repository of any knowledge? First of all, it should be remembered that H. Arendt did not define herself as a philosopher but as a theoretician of politics – one might say today a political scientist or a “politician”. So the question posed here is not so much to know what the philosopher can still claim but to determine to what kind of “science” the political world can still claim. For H. Arendt,

“Opinion, and not truth, is one of the indispensable bases of all power” (The Crisis of Culture, p.

But let us not be mistaken, the proposal shows no nostalgia: the theoretician considers public opinion not as a form of deficient and faltering knowledge, but as the only admissible mode of apprehension of political reality. Not only does Hannah Arendt rehabilitate public opinion, but it also degrades a certain conception of truth – in the sense of a content proceeding from a rational necessity. Contrary to the truth about unity, opinion accepts confrontation with other, even opposed, views, since they all express the aspects of an ontologically plural reality. Hannah Arendt finds an affinity between the doxa and the world of phenomena. A particularly flagrant affinity in the register of politics where the plurality of actors, the contingency and the unpredictability of events forbid political decision-making in the sphere of rational necessity. Thus, Hannah Arendt, in the text she devotes to Lessing (in Political Lives, Gallimard, 1974), prefers “the infinity of possible opinions in which the The debate of men on the world “(page 37). It is only such a deliberate, assumed confrontation that can be derived from a form of generality approaching impartiality that ideally would be the optimum of political knowledge.

Under these conditions, the political theorist can no longer be a witness – critic, radical, indignant or disillusioned as the case may be – and in no case a prophet or enlightened legislator as were or wished to be so many of their predecessors. As for the philosopher, he will engage in the battles he considers just as a citizen, just as anyone else. “The fact that the president of a democracy is a philosopher looks at his person, not his status as president” (Michaël Foessel, article of Libération quoted above) above)!

The elaboration of concepts or even only their elucidation (“What is a law?” What is a people? “” What does the word “populism” mean? “” How to define democracy? “) Are less gratifying tasks but much more appropriate to the regimes we are validating today, namely all those – and only those – who have given away all old conceptions – absolutist, unilateral, uniformizing – of truth or justice.

Capture of 1984, inspired by the work of George Orwell, in which truth becomes the object of political control.

A self-governing society

There is another reason why philosophers today can no longer “define and legislate”. We know that for a long time this was the mission they had set for themselves, an eminent task which most often went hand in hand with a virulent, even radical critique of the existing reality. Such a project would be difficult to sustain now because, among other reasons, the so-called “post-modern” society has completely broken the lines, at least in this respect, with modernity. This is explained in particular by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (based on the analyses of the Frankfurt philosophers (Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer) or those of the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard (The post-modern explanation for children, Galilee 1993). Modernity, following the Enlightenment, had never ceased, setting aside all the disappointments:

“The magic formulas were then called History and Reason: Reason of History or History as a Work of Reason … or Reason passing through History to attain its own” (p.280).

Thus “modern narrative” sought its legitimization “in the future to be made to come, that is to say, in an Idea to be realised” (Jean-Francois Lyotard). Criticism then drew its energy, particularly in the nineteenth century, from the “unshakeable belief that a solution can be found, a positive program not only possible but still imperative”. If we add to this the fact that the “local legislation of Western civilization that has baptized itself modernity” had been attributed a civilizing mission proceeding from “the universality of the embrace in which the West Compressed the rest of the human globe “(Zygmunt Bauman, op.cit, p.281), we measure the extent of the revolution accomplished. For Zygmunt Bauman, in the absence of God from now on, it is no longer possible to ignore that “existence is purely accidental”. Morality itself is also contingent, it has no rational foundation: it has become extremely difficult for us to understand why a subject “ought to be moral as to recognise that it is when it is” (p. ). We now live in a society that can no longer ignore that it is condemned to self-

“In other words, she knows that the meanings in and through which she lives and she is as a society are her work and that they are neither necessary nor contingent” (Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions of society and religions” in Domaine de The man, The Crossroads of the labyrinth, II, 1986, Seuil, p.480).

The advent of postmodernity, for Zygmunt Bauman, is the recognition of the fact that “Being is more the work of Chaos and Absurd than of Order and Signification, Advance “(p.282).

Starry Night, by Van Gogh, representing a perfect order, a cosmological vision of the world in which man would have to melt.

From the Universal to the Global

In this chaotic context, Western civilisation faces a new and completely destabilising situation in the 21st century: globalisation: “Modernity was once considered universal. She now considers herself global. ” It is little to say that, under these conditions, the legislative ambition of the heirs of the Enlightenment has become totally obsolete and derisory. We must not be surprised, therefore, at the decay of the word of the clergy. Disillusioned, frustrated, bitter, philosophers and intellectuals may also gain clarity, as can be seen, for example, in reading this type of warning: “All the inflamed eyes presage murder” or “Who proposes A new faith is persecuted, until it becomes persecutory: truths begin with a conflict with the police and end up relying on it “(EM Cioran, Decomposition, Flammarion, 1985). Universality was an ambitious project, while globality demanded only a docile consent to which the bitterness of capitulation mingled (“If you are not sure of vanquishing them, put yourself on their side”). The sociologist’s conclusion is a somewhat dry but not without clear-sighted answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article: “Universality was a feather hanging from the hats of philosophers. Globality urges philosophers to return to exile, naked, in the desert whose universality promised to get them out “(p.283).

Of course, neither philosophy nor political science, nor ethical, or even metaphysical speculation, diminished or wounded in this new configuration, are prepared to throat. Certainly, the status of the intellectuals has changed completely, the perorations are more discreet. The philosophers who had hitherto only interpreted the world in different ways … would have, in the end, renounced transforming it, reversing the famous Marxist prophecy (11th Thesis on Feuerbach)? At the same time, however, there are paradigm shifts and promising changes.

Unpublished proposals and new aspirations

Let us note, for example, that many intellectuals today are involved in movements of contestation with planetary resonance such as “Occupy Wall Street” or the movement of the Indignants. As explained by two young anthropologists, Riccardo Ciavolella and Eric Wittgensenstein, in a recent book (Introduction to Political Anthropology, Ed. Deboeck, 2016), the question of commitment is fully up-to-date and one must assume Possible “to engage without blindness” (p.231). The authors consider that anthropological work and militant engagement are two distinct but not exclusive moments in the social activity of an intellectual. They observe that anthropology, far from focusing solely on European political issues, tries to put man at the centre of his analysis, “not the man in general, but the human being as historical subject Particular “. At the same time, it examines “the popular forms of enunciation and political action”, attentive to “the social history of popular revolts and the philosophy of insubordination” – which brings us back to H. Arendt. Finally, they conclude that philosophers-anthropologists – who have abandoned any project of communication that is beyond their grasp – can nevertheless follow and accompany unprecedented aspirations. They observe that new proposals to make the policy “otherwise” emerge all over the world:

“From neo-rural and alternative movements to autonomous and anarchist experiences, from new populist parties to new promises of religious discourse, and especially in the multiplication of collective speeches and mobilization of varied and unexpected groups in the post world -colonial “(” Some Specifics of the Anthropological Approach “, Introduction to Political Anthropology, p. 228).

Laurence Hansen-Löve, author: Forget the good. Name the evil. A paradoxical moral experience, Belin, 2016.

You may also like...