Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought – The Broken Thread of Tradition

Hanna Arendt – Thinking Without a Banister

These two connected statements had already been torn asunder by a tradition that translated the one by declaring that man is a social being, a banality for which one would not have needed Aristotle, and the other by defining man as the animal rationale, the reasoning animal. (pg 23)

What Aristotle had seen as one and the same human quality, to live together with others in the modus of speaking, now became two distinct characteristics, to have reason and to be social. And these two characteristics, almost from the beginning, were not thought merely to be distinct, but antagonistic to each other: the conflict between man’s rationality and his sociability can be seen throughout our tradition of political thought (pg 23)

The law was now no longer the boundary (which the citizens ought to defend like the walls of the city, because it had the same function for the citizens’ political life as the city’s wall had for their physical existence and distinctness, as Heraclitus had said), but became a yardstick by which rule could be measured. Rule now either conformed to or overruled the law, and in the latter case the rule was called tyrannical usually, although not necessarily, exerted by one man-and therefore a kind of perverted monarchy. From then on, law and power became the two conceptual pillars of all definitions of government, and these definitions hardly changed during the more than two thousand years that separate Aristotle from Montesquieu. (pg 28)

But bureaucracy should not be mistaken for totalitarian domination. If the October Revolution had been permitted to follow the lines prescribed by Marx and Lenin, which was not the case, it would probably have resulted in bureaucratic rule. The rule of nobody, not anarchy, or disappearance of rule, or oppression, is the ever present danger of any society based on universal equality. (pg 33)

In Marx’s own opinion, what made socialism scientific and distinguished it from that of his predecessors, the “utopian socialists,” was not an economic theory with its scientific insights as well as its errors, but the discovery of a law of movement that ruled matter and, at the same time, showed itself in the reasoning capacity of man as “consciousness,” either of the self or of a class. (pg 35)

The logic of dialectal movement enables Marx to combine nature with history, or matter with man; man becomes the author of a meaningful, comprehensible history because his metabolism with nature, unlike an animal’s, is not merely consumptive but requires an activity, namely, labor. For Marx labor is the uniting link between matter and man, between nature and history. He is a “materialist” insofar as the specifically human form of consuming matter is to him the beginning of everything (pg 35)

Politics, in other words, is derivative in a twofold sense: it has its origin in the pre-political data of biological life, and it has its end in the post-political, highest possibility of human destiny (pg 40)

the fact that the multitude, whom the Greeks called hoi polloi, threatens the existence of every single person, runs like a red thread throughout the centuries that separate Plato from the modern age. In this context it is irrelevant whether this attitude expresses itself in secular terms, as in Plato and Aristotle, or if it does so in the terms of Christianity. (pg 40)

true Christians wohnen fern voneinander, that is, dwell far from each other and are as forlorn among the multitude as were the ancient philosophers. (pg 41)

Each new birth endangers the continuity of the polis because with each new birth a new world potentially comes into being. The laws hedge in these new beginnings and guarantee the preexistence of a common world, the permanence of a a continuity that transcends the individual life span of e each generation, and in which each single man in his mortality can hope to leave a trace of permanence behind him. (pg 46)

introduced the terms nomo and physei, by law or by nature. Thus, the order of the universe, the kosmos of natural things, was differentiated from the world of human affairs, whose order is laid down by men since it is an order of things made and done by men This distinction too, survives in the beginning of our tradition, where Aristotle expressly States that political science deals with things that are nomo and not physei. (pg 47)



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