Political Philosophy’s Logic of Self-alienation from Real Politics

In “Persecution and the Art of Writing”, Leo Strauss expounded a famous point: philosophy and politics are naturally opposed. For politics necessarily requires an ideology of one kind or another, and philosophy cannot be anything but a retrospective reflection. Starting from this, Strauss pointed out that philosophers will inevitably become the targets of political persecution, so they have to weave texts with both explicit and implicit writing techniques, hiding the appalling true thoughts between the lines, waiting for future generations of philosophers The hook is heavy and hidden, and this has also achieved Strauss’s rather unique approach to text interpretation.

However, careful scrutiny reveals that political philosophy inherently contains a discourse logic of self-estrangement from the society in which it lives, or even self-exile. In this regard, the following generalizations can be made:

1. Philosophers try to say something about political affairs. If this kind of talk is important and worthy of attention, it must not be a commonplace that we hold every day, because commonplaces are obviously not worth writing or paying attention to.

2. So this leads to a question: Why can’t we understand the important ideas elucidated by philosophers in our daily life? Obviously because there are certain obstacles in our daily life, and these obstacles must be essential. It could even be said that the more important the point the philosopher is trying to make, the greater the obstacles we face in our daily lives.

3. So this brings up another question: Since we, as ordinary beings, cannot get rid of the state of daily life, we cannot overcome those essential obstacles, and we are still unable to understand the important ideas elucidated by philosophers, how can philosophers persuade us?

I do not mean to say that the external constraints mentioned by Strauss do not exist, but the discursive logic of political philosophy at least presents a certain self-denial: it promises to tell us something important about politics; but it The more important what is meant to tell us, the less likely it seems that we ourselves will listen to the philosopher.

So the question becomes two: How is such a thinking path of political philosophy possible? And how does political philosophy reconcile a position of self-estrangement with having something to say to us? Considering that I intend to focus on the second question in this article, the first question can be simply summarized as follows: philosophers’ thinking must have originated from the situation of trying to escape from the real politics and there is nowhere to escape. Of course, it is implemented in each person, and the specific situation is very different. Plato, a talented young man from a famous family, originally tried to devote himself to political life. It was only when he met Socrates and witnessed Socrates being executed by the Athenian democratic system that he exiled himself, left Athens, and traveled overseas for more than ten years. Returning to Athens, he founded a college and wrote books. Athens was his inescapable reality. But for Machiavelli, if he had to choose between being a politician or a philosopher, he would undoubtedly choose the former. It was only after the restoration of the Medici family that, as a powerful official of the previous regime, he was purged and even arrested and imprisoned, tortured, and finally found a place to live outside Florence, and he was forced to read and write. Politics has always been the white moonlight that he has been thinking about but is already elusive.

It is now a question of how the philosopher bridges the alienated position and tries to say something to us, the former means that what the philosopher says is obscure and tiresome, and the latter means that the philosopher is always there. Try to make us listen. Let’s take the Euthyphron Chapter as an example to illustrate.

As the opening scene of the tetralogy describing the trial of Socrates, Euthyphron tells a brief conversation between Socrates and Euthyphron on the way to the court. At that time, Euthyphron was also preparing to go to court, intending to report that his father had mishandled him, causing the slaves in the family to die.

Reporting on one’s own father is more or less surprising. Asked why, Euthyphron said: “If you don’t do this, you will be impiety to the gods.” To this, Socrates praised: “Friends like no other in the world! Apart from being your disciple, I don’t think I will There may be better options.”

There is an urgent reason for Socrates to say this, because one of the two charges he was prosecuted by Meletus and others was to fabricate new gods and be impious to the gods of Athens. So Socrates was anxious to know what piety was, in order to meet Meletus’ charges in court; and Euthyphron evidently knew exactly what piety was, and how could a man be otherwise? Would he denounce his father in the name of piety?

For this reason, Socrates even transfers the accusations that Meletus made against himself to Euthyphron, who makes Euthyphron graciously agree to teach him the truth about piety. This provoked Euthyphron to say something cruel: “If he (referring to Meletus) dares to accuse me of being wrong, as if I can’t find his fault; in the end the court will find him trouble, will be far better than looking for me.”

Of course we know that Euthyphron quickly fell into confusion as Socrates questioned him step by step. Regardless of what they specifically said on the topic of “piety”, just look at Euthyphron’s own situation. He said: “I’m really confused, Socrates, I don’t know how to express my thoughts. Our argument was originally stable, like stepping on solid ground; I don’t understand why, Now the earth seems to turn around and leave us.”

So, what happened in the conversation that unfolded like this? A little analysis reveals that all dialogues have shared preconditions that make dialogue possible. Whatever Euthyphron’s views on piety, there must have been two beliefs in his train of thought: 1. It is very important to know what piety is; 2. I, Euthyphron, Know what piety is. Socrates agrees with the first belief, which is the premise of the dialogue he shares with Euthyphron, but through dialogue, he destroys Euthyphron’s second belief.

This put Euthyphron in a situation both perplexed and exasperated. He probably thought this way in his heart: Sure enough, Socrates is indeed an annoying guy, always using some weird and inexplicable questions to make things difficult for others, the purpose is to show how superior he is to others. For such a guy, it is better to keep a respectful distance.

So, although Socrates repeatedly advised the tour guide Suffron not to slack off, he still found an excuse and walked away.

It can be seen that the words of philosophers are always easy to arouse the resentment of the listeners. But what Socrates expects from Euthyphron through the dialogue is that he will form the idea that since it is very important to know what piety is; and I, Euthyphron, do not know What is piety, so I should start from the beginning and really think about what piety is.

Why is it important to know piety? Because it is related to our happiness before and after life, and it is related to our orientation to settle down. In other words, if Euthyphron really wanted to live a pious and happy life, he should thank Socrates for helping him clear the second belief he had mistakenly held and start real thinking.

Euthyphron would certainly not deny such an end, nor would any Athenian deny such an end, any more than any sane man would deny his intention to live a happy life. Therefore, teleology has become an inevitable way for philosophers to bridge the alienated position and try to say something to us. In theory, as long as the pursuit of happiness is our undeniable purpose in life, listening to what philosophers have to say seems irresistible to us.

Machiavelli’s speech is also teleological, but in a very different way from Plato’s. As a former politician, Machiavelli is of course very familiar with the special and complicated situations that politicians face all the time. In this situation, a politician needs to make repeated trade-offs and make strategic choices under highly uncertain conditions. It must be very difficult to make such a choice, because if you are not careful, the regime may be overthrown and your reputation will be ruined.

The problem is that the choice of strategy is always at one end, and each has its own reasons. Just browse through the “History of the Peloponnesian War”, which records many debates between different strategies. For example, how should we deal with the rebellious Mytilene people? Hardliners believe that if severe punishments are not imposed on rebellious city-states, other allied city-states will find the cost of rebellion so low, and it will be easier to rebel in the future. The moderates believed that rebellion was inevitable in the war, and if such a severe punishment was imposed on the rebellious Mytilene, there would be no city-state rebellion in the future, and they would never surrender and would fight to the death.

It is probably impossible to discern which side’s point of view is more reasonable on its own grounds. For this reason, Machiavelli chose a way to learn from history. Since the Romans established a powerful regime that lasted for thousands of years, the Romans must have done a lot of things right, which deserves to be taken seriously and successful strategies drawn from them. This is the origin of “On Livy”.

So reading Machiavelli is a completely different experience from reading Plato: if reading Plato always enters into a dramatic game of rational deduction, interlocking and advancing step by step, then reading Machiavelli will feel his The discourse is disorganized, if not fragmented. There is no other reason. Machiavelli only roughly took the history of Rome as the outline, mixed with comments on current events, and expounded his analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various strategies. Let me say one more thing here: Of course, I admit that one should take an extremely serious attitude towards classic works and study them carefully; but whether it is necessary to do such a detailed interpretation like Strauss’s, it must be based on Machiavelli’s layout, I have deep reservations about finding hidden teachings hidden in the words between the lines.

As far as his specific analysis is concerned, it is difficult to say that Machiavelli is always right. First of all, his description of Li Wei’s “History of Rome” is basically taken as it is, without any analysis of the authenticity of historical materials. Second, when he asserts that a certain strategy is more effective, his arguments are essentially exemplified. Not to mention whether his explanation of the examples is reasonable, for a modern reader, it is inevitable to ask such a question: If there is no statistical proof, for example, how convincing is the example?

In fact, from the perspective of the history of political philosophy, the importance of Machiavelli certainly has nothing to do with his specific demonstration of a certain strategy. For example, he tried his best to demonstrate that the emergence of artillery did not replace the core of infantry in warfare. status, for example, he tried his best to argue that building fortresses has little effect on maintaining the regime, and so on. What is really important is the path of his whole thought, pointing to the choice of strategy in a specific situation. From this, we can deduce a series of premises and conclusions that make this approach possible: since we are learning from Rome, there are of course human nature and general principles based on it; Since it is a strategic choice, of course it can serve both the republic and the monarchy; since there is an optimal strategic choice, a qualified ruler should put aside moral concerns and do what is inevitable; since no matter how good the strategy is, Choices always encounter accidents, so a qualified ruler can only do his best and obey the destiny, which is the so-called duality of virtue and destiny, and so on.

But since the world is blinded by factors such as short-sightedness, self-deception, interests, ambitions, etc., and cannot see the truth that Machiavelli saw clearly, how can the world listen to his opinions? Machiavelli’s answer could only have been this: Do you wish to succeed in gaining power, in consolidating it? If you wish, if this is your purpose, then my words are worthy of your careful attention. Once again, teleology bridges the gap between political philosophy’s self-estranged position and its attempt to say something to us.

However, political philosophy does not necessarily use the path of teleology to develop its speech, and Rawls adopts the path of fitting theory to demonstrate.

In “A Theory of Justice”, Rawls conducted a thought experiment: Assuming that a group of people with different endowments and preferences, they discuss the distribution plan of the basic resources of society (which Rawls calls “basic goods”) Negotiation; assuming that there are various allocation schemes in theory, assuming that their negotiation process is not subject to violent coercion or deception, and is rational and procedurally correct, then the allocation scheme they finally agree on can be considered fair of.

Therefore, the key to allowing us to agree with the allocation scheme that Rawls finally deduced is that the people Rawls assumes participating in this negotiation must fit our self-understanding as much as possible. Just imagine, if we are devout believers of a certain religion, devoting all our minds to spiritual practice and soul salvation beyond the mundane world, then any distribution plan may have nothing to do with us. Imagine again that if we are all very adventurous and willing to take huge risks in pursuit of the expansion of returns, then the plan we may finally agree to is the same as if we are all a group of people with only a moderate appetite for risk. Scenarios are definitely different.

Following this approach of fitting theory, Rawls actually assumes that the people who participated in his thought experiment are all rational people with secular life goals, which means that the distribution of basic social resources will change. It greatly affects their chances of achieving their life goals, so they should be very enthusiastic about such negotiations. Beyond that, their appetite for risk should be moderate, and there is no reason to assume they have undue concern for others. It then becomes that the more Rawls’s description of the avatars participating in his thought experiment fits our self-understanding, and if we are sure that the deliberative process he proposes is not overtly violent or fraudulent, we The more you feel the pressure of his rational argument, of course you can also say it is persuasive, and you tend to agree with the principled description of justice he gave.

It is not difficult to see that there is an essential difference between Rawls’s argumentation method of fit theory and Plato’s and Machiavelli’s teleology’s argumentation method: the starting point of Plato’s and Machiavelli’s philosophical thinking on political affairs is always that the world misses the important The truth of political affairs, the obscure thinking and speech of philosophers can only intersect with the world in daily life through teleological detours. Even so, the world is likely to be as perplexed as Euthyphron by the babbling of philosophers to the point of annoyance. For Rawls, the starting point is to keep as much as possible with the self-understanding we have in our daily life, which is of great significance to the success or failure of his entire argument structure.

With regard to the difference between teleology and fitting theory, it is certainly not difficult for us to attribute it to the difference between classical and modern. In fact, it is precisely because of this essential difference in the way of argumentation that Alan Bloom, who belongs to Strauss’s school, will sneer at Rawls in his book “Towards a Closed American Spirit”. After a while. Of course, if it is said that this denies the rationality of the fitting theory approach, those who obey Rawls will certainly not agree. A debate like this should not have a final result. To paraphrase William James, there are soft-hearted and hard-hearted people who engage in philosophy. Fitting theory is somewhat close to soft-hearted, while teleology is definitely hard hearted.

When interpreting classical texts, we tend to overlook the polemical context in which the text unfolds. This is also related to the characteristics of the text itself, that is, it is “my” point of view, rather than arguing the other party’s claims. Because of this, we can always see, for example, in “Mencius”, those who talk to Mencius are in a state of aphasia, so that the king of Liang Xiang is commented by Mencius as “not looking like a gentleman”. As everyone knows, in the mind of the other party, what he may be thinking is: this gentleman said such a profound, logical and self-consistent truth, regarding the political situation I am facing at the moment, the urgent problems that need to be dealt with, and the important decisions that must be made. , in the end what help? The answer is that it has little effect, so we can only listen to it temporarily and keep it at a respectful distance.

It is precisely in response to such rebuttals that political philosophy further expands its discursive logic inwards, instead of thinking close to the actual political situation, it extends backwards in the opposite direction, by conceiving ideas that are alienated from the actual political situation. General discourses such as “ideal city-state” and “royal politics” completely eliminate the problems faced by the real political situation.

It can be seen that only by grasping the discursive logic of political philosophy and constantly returning to the context in which it debates with real politics can we sort out the inner context of political philosophy; and this also constitutes our review of classical texts From a perspective of interpretation, a series of thinking can be carried out: for example, Mencius said that nature is good, and Xunzi said that nature is evil, which means that they also hold a position of alienation from real politics, and their starting points are different. Then, When they try to say something to us through teleological thinking, the resulting thoughts will inevitably show great differences; There is a high tension between what is said to us, which means that the inheritance of thought must always return to this tension again and again, just as the Tao of Confucius and Mencius in its as shown in the history.

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