Fabio Paolo Barbieri (fpb) wrote,
Fabio Paolo Barbieri

A sketchy thought about the study of politics

A historian called Andreas Herberg-Rothe has written an interesting study of the famous Prussian military theorist, "Clausewitz's Puzzle: The political theory of war," part of whose thesis is that Clausewitz's celebrated study of war, though completed and published with great success, is in effect unfinished - Clausewitz wanted to rewrite, it, and it bears notable problems within itself, as Rothe points out. That made me think. A number of the most influential writings about politics are either unfinished, or self-contradictory, or both. Karl Marx' Das Kapital is unfinished. Machiavelli's The Prince bears problems of interpretation so formidable that it would be hard to find two scholars who read it exactly the same. And going back to the grandest and strangest of them all, Plato's dialogues are full of contradictory and speculative views. The two most important political texts among them, The Laws and The Republic, contradict each other in many ways, and The Republic, though one of Plato's most famous and popular texts, is also an outlier among its work in some ways, such as its doctrine of the tripartite soul, which also reflects on its politics.

I have a suspicion that sufficiently ambitious and brilliant studies of human society and history will always either taper off into silence, or include severe self-contradiction, or both. Of all objects of study, humanity in action is probably the most complex and confusing. It is possible that, at the highest levels, these things are not signs of failure, but of as much engagement with the subject as a single mind, however brilliant, may manage.
Tags: history, sociology

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