​​​​​​2016 ISSEI conference 

The University of Lodz, Poland

As is well known, in Part 7 of Plato’s Republic, Socrates favoured the idea of uniting the philosopher and the king into the ideal ruler of the ideal republic.[1] Modern concepts of open societies rely, in contrast, on the separation rather than merging of powers. Our separation of powers is not limited to the political division between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, but extends to and is supported by cultural spheres of action, such the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression, as well as artistic and academic freedom.

            In practice, however, there is a growing separation between the world of artists, intellectuals, and academics and that of the politicians and administrators who are expected to follow their party’s agenda and thus have little if any genuine interest in the processes of public opinion building.

            In the long process of European integration, the administrative frameworks and the ups and downs of the  economies of the member states have become so complex that to follow the Union’s policies in all spheres of life,  the public yearns for guidance and simple, even simplistic, policy statements--a fact that in itself seems to endanger the very hope for transparent decision-making. Political rhetoric answers these needs by drawing heavily on expressions of unity, togetherness, playing by rules, constancy, sustainability, and solemnly emphasizing  personal virtues—a discourse that more and more replaces critical debates of substantial political issues. The response of the intellectual elites to this inflated rhetoric, the grinding process of administering the EU, and the endless task of trying to meet the expectations of voters, has been one of quiet resignation mixed with contempt, as though saying ‘we are not part of the political game’.

So, while the separation of powers remains crucial for any democratic government, including the European Parliament, it seems that the alienated elites should get out of their respective bubbles and start taking notice of what is happening in other parts of society. The goal of this  desperately needed dialogue between the two spheres, however, is not to identify the ideal European president-king-philosopher who can manoeuvre the EU’s great imperial ship over the oceans of globalisation. The goal would be, on the contrary,  to meet the real need of transparency and active participation in order to make Europe less of a “fate” and more of a “common project” of educated and critical citizens. The first hoped for outcome of this more intense confrontation and exchange between intellectuals and EU politicians, between individuals and EU institutions, would be  to pare down  today’s pretentious, self-congratulatory, and increasingly alienating political/academic rhetoric. 

This panel invites contributions on the various aspects of the intellectual-political divide/dialogue.  Please submit a 350–500 word abstract to Gesine Palmer, at: gesine.palmer@t-online.de

[1] “The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosphers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands, while the many natures now content to follow either to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. This is what I have hesitated to say so long, knowing what a paradox it would sound; for it is not easy to see that there is no other road to real happiness, either for society or the individual.” Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, 2d ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 473c-e.

Chair: Dr. Gesine Palmer

Berlin, Germany

Workshop: The Republic of Letters and Political Reality: How Intellectuals Relate to Politicians and Vice Versa