For Dialogue Between Strauss and Stiegler.

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  • Author(s): Hui, Yuk1,
  • Source:
    NanoEthics; Dec2022, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p339-342, 4p
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For Dialogue Between Strauss and Stiegler 

Any encounter between Strauss and Stiegler requires critical elucidation of the notions of polis and nomos as central to classical political philosophy and the ways in which both have been transformed by technology. We must ask with Stiegler what kind of new geopolitical configuration is possible in our time, in the digital age, and in the Anthropocene.

Keywords: Bernard Stiegler; Leo Strauss; Carl Schmitt; Anthropocene

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The call by Carl Mitcham for a Tractatus Politico-Technologicus [[1]] and the suggested agenda for the historical reconstruction of a political philosophy of technology or a political philosophy after Strauss present a task that is both urgent and difficult. I would like to bring it into a closer dialogue with Bernard Stiegler, while also taking things a bit further than what Stiegler has left us. I want to start from where Mitcham concluded his talk, namely political philosophy as first philosophy, as well as the central theme of the lecture, the identification of the concept of technology in and beyond Strauss's political thought. I would like to turn the question around, by asking if political philosophy is not in itself already technological from the beginning. I say this in the spirit of the early Stiegler, who remained a disciple of Jacques Derrida, especially in the first volume of Technnics and Time [[2]], where the method of deconstruction is central.

Let me clarify with three points before turning to the possibility but also the future of a Tractatus Politico-Technologicus.

First of all, we have to clarify what Strauss means by political philosophy. The political philosophy that Strauss aspires to should be distinguished from political science, as Strauss indicated in a 1965 course on positivism and historicism, in words that remain relevant today:Political philosophy is no longer credible, and political science takes its place — to make this quite clear: a nonphilosophic political science. This is, if not the full reality today, at least the tendency. [[3], p. 6]

This lament for the credibility of political philosophy is also a criticism of non-philosophic political science and a proposal to return to the fundamental question of political philosophy which has been largely undermined by historicism and positivism. Political philosophy aspires to a good society in which everyone is able to excel, that is also to say to pursue virtue, arete. Arete can be used to describe a tool (as excellence), and for a citizen is techne. What does it mean to be a citizen? Here I would like to refer to Joachim Ritter's exposition on Aristotle's concept of the citizen and its relation to praxis. Praxis is the means through which nature — including human nature — can realize itself: "the highest good is identical with the purpose" [[4], p. 60]. It is only through this self-realization that one can speak about Selbstständigkeit, that is to say, of the citizen. A citizen is a particular being, who is independent, meaning that he has a role in the society as an individual, but not as a dependent being like women, children, and slaves (we are talking about the ancient Greeks).

It is here we must recognize that the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy is first of all a philosophy of the polis. That is to say, if there were no polis, there would not be Athenian philosophy. Freedom is nothing but the right of the citizen to enter praxis, namely to become an independent individual, through praxis. For Aristotle, praxis and techne are not separated as we might see in Plato, for whom techne is defined by its ergon. The realization of the human is found in praxis, namely the perfection of techne. There is an important claim here, namely, happiness and the highest good corresponding to it, which are grounded in the question of technology. Happiness is nothing emotional, as when one feels happy while having a delicious meal; instead, happiness is not to be found in the customer, but rather in the cook who made the meal; the cook realizes himself as a cook. Strauss, of course, is not unaware of that, since he also wrote about it in Natural Right and History [[5], p. 128]. However, it seems to me that the question of technē is also undermined in Strauss's defense of classical political philosophy against historicism and positivism, since he opposes them to natural right.

A second point: What made a polis possible is its nomos, law. As Jean-Pierre Vernant [[6]] tried to suggest, the polis is not possible without a written law, because absent a written form, law cannot be interpreted by the people. Questions of right cannot be understood, so no freedom is possible. Society would be dominated by some privileged and aristocratic influence (the Areopagos, for example, in the legal code of Solon). The founding of the polis is highly dependent on the law in written form. Through its externalized form, law synchronizes the citizen toward a civic time and civic space (in the sense of Pierre Lévêque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet [[7]]).

Again, I believe that Strauss is very much aware of this, because he clearly states in "What Is Political Philosophy?," thatThe difference between the classics and us with regard to democracy consists exclusively in a different estimate of the virtues of technology." [[8], p. 37]

In general, there is a question of technology in Strauss's political thought, which remains a site for deconstruction. However, there is no systematic reading of politics via technology, and for what concerns modern technology Strauss at times becomes very close to Heidegger. Now to a third point, concerning the question of technology among the moderns: As already noted, nomos in written form was fundamental to the founding of the polis. Nomos, which is often translated as law, is discussed by Carl Schmitt, also etymologically, as nehmen (appropriation) and teilen (division) of land [[9]]. Therefore, all nomos is first of all technological. Schmitt's The Nomos of the Earth in my reading is first of all a work on the history of technology [[10]]. In a way, I think Mitcham agrees with this when he argues the importance of technology in the construction of modern nation states:Modernity is constituted by a dual sovereignty of political and technological power or a political-technological sovereignty that is in its turn a secularization of a revelation religion conception of divine sovereignty.

Strauss credited Niccolò Machiavelli as the thinker who brought technology into political philosophy in a way that necessarily broke from classical political philosophy. In classical philosophy, there existed a tendency to suppress technologies that were considered unnecessary, while in Machiavelli, the "conquest of nature" via technology was closely linked to the task of the state, as Mitcham argued with regard to Machiavelli and Francis Bacon.

But there is a need to say more on this point by going to Thomas Hobbes, who Mitcham mentioned only in passing in relationship to a secularization of divine sovereignty after Machiavelli. The sovereign is the result of the secularization of the divine power. However, this was not yet the case with Jean Bodin who made the term sovereignty known, because, first of all, Bodin was a devout Catholic and remained loyal to the Church until his death. Additionally, it was not possible in his time; secularization only made a significant appearance with and through Hobbes' mechanism. What was shared by Bodin and Hobbes was the bitterness of civil wars, to which their discourse on sovereignty was a response.

Setting aside Strauss's treatise on Hobbes, let me turn instead to Schmitt, with whom Strauss had a fraught relationship. For Schmitt, the Leviathan as the symbol of the sovereign state was born at the same time British sea power began to dominate the continental land power (the Behemoth), in conjunction with the emergence of European public law. The Hobbesian state is a mechanism in both epistemological and theological senses. The state is compared to a mechanism: The Sovereign is an Artificial Soul, the Magistrates and Officers are Artificial Joints, Reward/punishment are Nerves, and so on. The Hobbesian state is also a completion of the Cartesian project in the sense that Hobbes went beyond Descartes's mechanization of the body to the mechanization of the state [[11], p. 99].

Now building on the above three points, which constitute a deconstructive method—it seems to me that a Strauss-inspired Tractatus Politico-Technologicus might benefit from a deconstructive reading of his work—let me turn to the late Stiegler and his questioning. I think Stiegler would agree with us on the following challenge that we have to take up: What kind of new geopolitical configuration is possible in our time, or more precisely in the digital age and in the era of the Anthropocene? Strauss's warning against technology is still valid, though it is very close to the Heideggerian one. If we agree with Mitcham that the birth of the nation state is a technological event, then the concept of the state will have to be submitted to the history of technology. It will become only one phase in historical progress, like in the Hegelian logical lineage, from the family to civil society and finally the political state exemplified by the Prussian state.

As indicated, in Hobbes' political philosophy, the secularization of the sovereign is realized via technology, but today technology is no longer that of the time of Hobbes. As Schmitt observed, after land and sea, there came a third element, air, in which sovereign power is exercised. But neither Schmitt nor Strauss lived in the time of digital technologies. What might be the fate of the state in our age of digital technologies and the processes of increasing automatization and mechanization?

There are first of all ecological problems that we all know, and we tend to forget due to the current wars and the immanent threats of wars. Technological acceleration intensifies military competition and the danger of nuclear warfare, consolidating the nation state as a basic unit of politics. Quentin Skinner correctly mocks those political theorists who have announced the death of the state; in reality, the state is more than ever present, and now beyond the traditional classification of sovereignties, we also saw the emergence of the discourse of digital sovereignty. Yet at the same time, we also see that today's political problems are planetary, not only because technology has become planetary, but also because politics has become planetary in the sense that the territorial definition of the sovereign is challenged, and nationalist thinking will not take us beyond the twentieth century. On the contrary, nationalism presents a great danger today.

The late Stiegler described this process as an Entropocene in contrast to the Anthropocene, namely the dissipation of all form of energies toward the nihil. Stiegler attempted to construct a new narrative of an exorganism taking off from Vladimir Vernadsky's biosphere and passing through Erwin Schrödinger, Alfred Lotka, and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen [[12]]. Perhaps in this unfinished project of Stiegler, there is the possibility of conducting a more profound dialogue with Strauss concerning the question of a future political philosophy.

Back to Strauss, we see that we are moving further and further away from the aspiration to a good society and good life. Mitcham reminded us that it is crucial to ask (1) what might be the status of technology after Strauss's political philosophy and (2) what might be the Straussian political philosophy after a new reading of technology. I am not sure what the answer might be, since as indicated the task is laborious and urgent. Maybe we can agree on this point that a political philosophy of the twenty-first century, a Tractatus Politico-Technologicus, is fundamentally a philosophy of technology beyond any too narrow an understanding of what we mean by technology and beyond the limit of sovereign states. I conclude with another hint from Strauss:Listener: I still find it difficult to understand why the gods in relation to the city are products of the desire for beauty.Mr. Strauss: Not in relation to the city. The gods as beautiful have no relation to the city, they are the product of the human love of beauty. This has no essential relations to the polis. [[13], p. 215]

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1 Mitcham C. Political philosophy of technology: After Leo Strauss (a question of sovereignty). NanoEthics. 2022. 10.1007/s11569-022-00428-9

2 Stiegler B (1998) Technics and time, 1: The fault of Epimetheus. Trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins. Stanford University Press

3 Strauss L (2018) On political philosophy: Responding to the challenge of positivism and historicism. Ed. Catherine H. Zuckert. University of Chicago Press

4 Ritter J (2003) Metaphysik und Politik. Studien zu Aristoteles und Hegel. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt

5 Strauss L (1953) Natural right and history. University of Chicago Press

6 Vernant J-P (1982) The origins of Greek thought. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

7 Naquet V, Pierre L (1996) Cleisthenes the Athenian: An essay on the representation of space and time in Greek political thought from the end of the sixth century to the death of Plato. Trans. David Ames Curtis. Humanity Books, Amherst

8 Strauss L (1959) What is political philosophy? And other studies. University of Chicago Press

9 Schmitt C (2015) Land and sea: A world-historical meditation. [orig. 1942] Trans. Samuel Garrett Zeitlin. Telos Press, Candor

Schmitt C (2006) The nomos of the earth in the international law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. Trans. G.L. Ulmen. Telos Press, Candor

Schmitt C (1996) The Leviathan in the state theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and failure of a political symbol [orig. 1938]. Trans. G. Schwab and E. Hilfstein. University of Chicago Press

Stiegler B (2018) The Neganthropocene. Ed. and trans. Daniel Ross. Open Humanities Press, London

Strauss L (2001) On Plato's symposium. Ed. Seth Benardete. University of Chicago Press

By Yuk Hui

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    • Subjects:
      Strauss, Leo, 1899-1973; Schmitt, Carl, 1888-1985; Political philosophy; Geopolitics
    • Author Supplied Keywords:
      Bernard Stiegler
      Carl Schmitt
      Leo Strauss
    • Abstract:
      Any encounter between Strauss and Stiegler requires critical elucidation of the notions of polis and nomos as central to classical political philosophy and the ways in which both have been transformed by technology. We must ask with Stiegler what kind of new geopolitical configuration is possible in our time, in the digital age, and in the Anthropocene. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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      1City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
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      HUI, Y. For Dialogue Between Strauss and Stiegler. NanoEthics, [s. l.], v. 16, n. 3, p. 339–342, 2022. DOI 10.1007/s11569-022-00429-8. Disponível em: Acesso em: 6 jun. 2023.
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      Hui Y. For Dialogue Between Strauss and Stiegler. NanoEthics. 2022;16(3):339-342. doi:10.1007/s11569-022-00429-8
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