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February 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-3


The Idea of "the West" and the Revolt Against It

by Donald Paul Byron Racheter



Political Philosophy



The conceptions of justice prescribed through Nietzsche’s “values,” Heidegger’s new gods, Lyotard’s “paganism,” and Vattimo’s “weak thinking,” each seem to lack a true attention to and evaluation of the human condition. To examine our political order, we must consider the question of justice. If as Pangle suggests there is a more accurate reading of Plato which has escaped Lyotard and his teachers, the fundamental enterprise of which is based on dialectical cross-examination of our opinions of the just, we will need to at least consider what Pangle suggests as possible. This will require an investigation of what Plato and his brightest students indicate the nature of justice to be, especially in relationship to the political order. Pangle shows through his exposition of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, and Vattimo that this school of thought which culminates in postmodernism has misunderstood the fundamental enterprise of Plato’s philosophy as essentially political in nature.


We recall from earlier that Pangle has indicated that authentic Socratic or classical political rationalism is a civic philosophy that flourished for the last time in the Islamic and Judaic Middle Ages in such works as Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato and Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed.[71] Pangle suggests that if we are to ennoble our understanding of our democratic political regime, we will need to cross-examine dialectally our opinions of the just, as did Plato and his greatest students. That political philosophy is missing from the postmodern account of rationalism; that the educational goals of postmodernism result in vacuous students; and that the political goals of postmodernism, at best, remain vague, all have dire implication to our understanding of civic responsibility and our political order. If Lyotard’s “paganism” and other postmodern thought are to define our conception of the just regime, we Americans ought to investigate the civic implication of the moral and political thought that shapes our political existence. To ennoble democracy and better our postmodern notions of justice will require an authentic examination of and critique of classical political rationalism.


Having revealed telling questions as to the nature of the postmodern account of education and the political regime, Pangle turns in his following chapters to investigate what classical political rationalism reveals about education and the political order. He then applies these insights to American education and liberalism. In chapter seven, “Reinvigorating the Legacy of Classical Republicanism,” Pangle examines classical republicanism primarily through Aristotle’s account of the just regime in his Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, and Laws.


Pangle says that freedom and rule together as inseparable concepts distinguish classical republican government. To be free is not to be an independent individual, but to be a citizen of a polity in which one has access to the deliberations that authoritatively shape communal life. Since not all can rule at once, rule is rotated. Pangle says to know how to rule as a republican, one must know how to submit to being ruled. Voluntary obedience drives the republican citizen. Freedom is not incompatible with being ruled, but rather presupposes being ruled and the character capacities that make one a truly obedient follower.



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