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Political ontology, political theory, political philosophy, and the ironic contingencies of political life.

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsChapter

Published

Publication date11/2005
Host publicationDer Mensch- ein Zoon Politikon: Gemeinschaft--�ffentlichkeit--Rech
EditorsHeinrich Schmidinger, Clemens Sedmak
Place of publicationDarmstadt
PublisherWissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft
Pages189-208
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)3534175034
Original languageEnglish

Publication series

NameTop
PublisherWissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft

Abstract

Each of the topoi chosen for discussion in this series on human topology suggests that humanity has a clear and definable essence. This volume addresses the zoon politikon; previous volumes have considered man as a rational animal and as a free spirit (Schmidinger and Sedmak 2004, 2005). But the very plurality of claims to have identified the essence of the human species indicates that any such essence cannot be univocal, universal, fixed, and taken-for-granted. On the contrary, if there is an essence, it will be multifaceted, historically variable, plastic, and contested. This is certainly my own position. It suggests that such claims can be seen as potentially performative, i.e., as discursive and material efforts to transform values, institutions, identities, attitudes, and conduct by winning support for such interpellations. Thus this contribution is less concerned with providing another essentialist reading of the concept of zoon politikon (or any other topos) � surely a challenging exercise given the ambiguities surrounding its meaning and translation in Aristotle�s original usage regarding whether man is a social or a political animal � than with presenting a methodology for discussing this concept and other claims about the human essence. It therefore considers the embedding of political identities and political activities in a specific set of political structures and, in turn, the embedding of these identities, activities, and structures in wider social formations. In this sense the discussion of the zoon politikon is best conducted as part of more general reflections on the nature of politics. This requires an indirect approach to this particular topos in terms of a broader set of theoretical and meta-theoretical concerns. In addition to presenting a general methodology that addresses these issues, I also illustrate it by linking specific claims about the zoon politikon (or, better, about the plurality of zoa politika) to specific views of civil society, the state, and politics. In developing these arguments, I operate as a political and state theorist rather than as a political philosopher. This reflects my own intellectual formation and the related belief that this approach will provide an interesting alternative to other contributions. Moreover, appropriately modified, it may also be relevant to other topoi. I begin with some general (meta-)theoretical comments on the critique of political philosophy and political theory.