Scenes from a Traumatic History of Political Theory

Jan. 20th 2021 at 6 pm GMT

By Samir Gandesha

Part of the Psychoanalysis and Politics digital series Crises and Transmission

“Leisure,” argued Thomas Hobbes, “is the mother of philosophy.” But is this really true? The proposition seems to contradict Hobbes’ own experience. His most famous book, Leviathan, in which he portrays life within the state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” was far from being a product of leisure. Leviathan was written at the conclusion of the English Civil War (1642-1651) and was deeply shaped by the fear that Hobbes himself experienced during this tumultuous period of English history. Hobbes even took direct aim at the quintessential philosophy born of leisure, which was, of course,  that of Aristotle, which defines the good life as a life devoted to “quiet contemplation.” Yet even the aristocratic “pathos of distance” that apparently serves as a condition of possibility for such a philosophy is marked by a darker, unconscious and traumatic history not unlike the events that so shook Hobbes: the profoundly traumatic trial and execution of Socrates. Socrates’s students sought, therefore, to make the world safe for philosophy by denigrating politics. In my paper, I will discuss these and other scenes from a traumatic history of political theory.

Samir Gandesha is Director of the Institute of Humanities, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. 

Image: Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, (1787), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This event has passed. The film based on the seminar is available for rental on Vimeo.