The Care of the Common 2 - The Care of the Common Politics...

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The Care of the Common: Politics in an Age of Uncertainty Hans Sluga We are standing today on the edge of a cliff and notice the ground before us falling away: we see an uncontrolled growth of world population, a quickly disintegrating environment, the accumulations of resources in the hands of the few, the cynical transfer of powers from the state to private interests, an unstable shifting of weights from one side of the globe to another, education swamped by ever more ruthless varieties of entertainment, the academy divesting itself of its erstwhile humanism, philosophy abandoned as a luxury we can do without. These and other such other signs alert us to the precariousness of our condition – an uncertainty that manifests itself in all walks of life but not least in the political arena. At a moment like ours, when the political institutions are mutating or coming apart or when we despair of them for some reason, the question of the meaning of politics, of its bearing on who we are, the question of our concept and conception of the political becomes inevitable and urgent. Our greatest political dilemma today is certainly not what party to vote for or what cause to espouse, but why , when , to what extent , and how we should engage ourselves at all in political matters. This uncertainty manifests itself in the rampant apathy that is now affecting all democratic societies, in the unwillingness or inability of citizens to decide political questions and the resulting split between opposing political forces – their even balance not an indicator of political maturity wisdom but of the randomness of our decision-making. We waiver between the thought that politics can be left to the professionals at the upper levels of government and the realization that it may call for everybody’s active engagement. In short, our concept of the political has come apart and with it the sense we once had of what our role might be in the political order. Our conception of politics was once built securely on the institutions of government and the state. Politics, so Plato and Aristotle taught us, is the rule of the polis or, as we learned, it is government of the state. But it is precisely the institutions of government and the state that have become problematic for us – their identity no longer quite determinate and their legitimation no longer assured. In the face of this situation we ask ourselves: can we recover a sense of politics, a concept of the political without presupposing from the start the existence and legitimacy of the old institutional order? This is, indeed, what some political thinkers have been asking themselves in the course of the last seventy-five years or so, most prominent among them Carl Schmitt in his indispensable essay on “The Concept of the Political” and subsequently Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault in various writings. To this end Schmitt sought to show that all our political terms are constructed on a basic friend-enemy distinction, Arendt that the
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