Philosophers and Tyrants: Politics in the Platonic Seventh Letter and in Martin Heidgger's Black Notebooks
Friday, November 11th, 2016
Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism has often been compared to Plato’s association with Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse. Both cases are seen as only examples of a naiveté with regard to politics that has always characterized philosophy, to the point that Hannah Arendt has called it a ‘déformation professionnelle’. The argument of this talk is that such a view is a complete misrepresentation of the politics of both Plato and Heidegger. Plato, far from being naive in this regard, was fully cognizant of the irresolvable tensions existing between philosophy and politics. There was also nothing naive about Heidegger’s political involvement, though for a very different reason: his long-lived and unconditional embrace of National Socialism, with regard to which there can remain no doubt today, results from a deliberate destruction of ‘the political’ as an autonomous sphere of reflection and action. Only once we get beyond the trite idea that these philosophers were politically naive, can we confront the different questions they pose: in the case of Plato, in what way and to what extent can philosophy guide and intervene in politics? In the case of Heidegger, is politics even possible, does the word ‘political’ retain any meaning, at the end of metaphysics?
University of Ottawa