Do We Still Need Early Modern Political Philosophy to Describe Political Reality?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, IWM library
Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes_600_400The political philosophy of the early European modernity is part of our heritage and standard education in the humanities and social sciences, and it is still alive today. New books on Machiavelli and Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke appear every year, and contemporary political philosophers sometimes refer to them as if these thinkers were alive and participating in current debate. Why is that so? We know that the classics tried to create a new science, however, they did it centuries ago. Their visions of the universe or the construction of the human body are outdated from the point of view of modern sciences. While the universe and the human body are largely the same as they were centuries ago; it is the progress of science that makes old knowledge obsolete. The political world, on the contrary, has changed dramatically since those times. So why do we still refer to concepts like sovereignty, reason of state, multitude, or social contract? Different answers are possible to this questions. One answer could be that sometimes we prefer to use these old concepts because they seem to grasp the social and political reality more adequately than new concepts and approaches. They are still there because it sometimes seems that the movement of social life is not linear. In some places of Europe, at least in Russia, we feel as if we live not after WWII but even before the Westphalian Treaty.

Aleksandr Filippov is Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Humanities and Head of the Laboratory Centre for Fundamental Sociology in Moscow.