Political philosophy

? – I would like to ask you some questions regarding politics and political philosophy:

Until a few decades ago political philosophers had contentious issues that reflected the conflict between two power blocs – between East and West. –

In your view – what has happened to the political philosophy since then?


Mario Bunge:

Few if any political philosophers have had the courage of tackling the Cold War. Even the best of them have kept silent or have stated some bromides glossing over the serious shortcomings of “our” side, such as racism, social injustice, extreme income disparities, the exploitation of the Third World, and environmental degradation. Was it because of ignorance or cowardice? I do not know, and it matters little.

The fact is that all the important political philosophers and scientists from the great Aristotle on, with the exception of those of the French Enlightenment and Mill, have sided with the powers that be. (I don’t count Marx and Engels because they were ideologists and political journalists rather than political philosophers or politologists.)

I favor integral democracy, that is, a radical expansion of political democracy to include biological democracy (gender and race equality), economic democracy (cooperative ownership and management), and cultural democracy (free access to education). This recipe has never been tried, though the Scandinavian countries are pretty near it.



?- Looking at the current situation: What do you think – is there a digital political revolution going on? – The Arab world is on the move. The „digital political movedness“ of individuals and groups seems to play an important role. Looking at the sequence of revolutions – for example in Tunisia and Egypt – we recognize the importance of social media. The internet-supported information had worked as a instrument coordinating the activities of the critics of governments. In response today Islamic spiritual leaders openly condemn users of Twitter.

In the West, people use the social media to get involved politically, to establish networks and to influence public opinion. As a response Western governments mistrust their citizens and instruct their intelligence agencies to spy on them. In addition, they appear to plan to restrict digital freedom massively.





Mario Bunge:

The new media help mobilize people, but they do not replace organization. Indignation is a passing mood of the individual, whereas organization is a lasting social endeavor.


?- What do you think: Emails, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, etc. – are they tools for the Enlightenment, of individual freedom – or rather of anti-democratic terror or even episodes of post-modern capitalism?


Mario Bunge:

I admire those technological marvels but do not use them because they make you believe that you have acomplished something by sending some smart messages to people who need more time to think and to engage in face-to-face interaction, which is essential for love, friendship, and collaboration. I pity the babies whose mothers are busy texting trivialities instead of playing with their children; I pity the children who are tethered to their cell phones instead of playing ball; I pity the adolescents who are wasting their best years holding one of those artefacts instead of the hand of another young person. All those electronic devices are weakening the social bonds. Sociologists and psychologists should study this serious threat instead of repeating that communication is the cement of society. Communication accompanies social transactions and can instruct or stultify, mobilize or intimidate, but it is no substitute for production, collaboration and fight.



German philosophy and the world


? – By family ties, but also by teaching and working phases in the past, Germany is more familiar to you than to many other philosophers acting internationally.

German idealist philosophies and their historical materialist adaptations seem still today fascinate people today: How do you interpret the fascination of Hegel and Co., for example, in the Anglo-American societies, which are characterized by individualistic lifestyles?


Mario Bunge:

Mainstream „Continental“ philosophy from the 19th century on has been Kantian (subjective idealism) or Hegelian (objective idealism), and occasionally a mixture of the two (Dilthey). Ironically, neither was born in Germany: subjective idealism was invented by George Berkeley, an Irish Anglican priest, and came to Kant via Hume, a Scottish skeptic; and objective Idealism came from Plato. Hegel’s great merit is that he tackled important problems; his great demerit is that he spearheaded the Counter Enlightenment: the reaction against clarity, rationality, scientism, and political progressivism. When Germany was split into two, two Hegel Gesellschaften, one pro-Marx and the other anti-Marx, were organized. But neither of them criticized Hegel’s confusions and attacks on modern science. In particular, both accepted and developed the dialectical absurdities. Once you believe that Hegel was „a mighty thinker“, as Marx did, you can believe that conflict beats cooperation, that the dictatorship of the proletariat will wither spontaneously, and so on. And if you believe that you understand Hegel, you can also believe that Husserl and his star pupil Heidegger were profound thinkers.


? – How do you assess the present importance of „German thinkers“ for the international philosophical discussion?




Mario Bunge:

The only German philosopher who is well-known outside Germany is Jürgen Habermas, who in my opinion is superficial and long-winded. He has managed to skirt all the important philosophical issues generated by contemporay science, in particular atomic physics, evolutionary biology, biological psychology, an socioeconomics. His attempt to fuse Hegel, Marx and Freud has not resulted in a coherent system, and is not a research project. And his conflation of science, technology and ideology betrays his ignorance of all three.



? – From your perspective: What is the future of philosophies which are strongly influenced by national cultures?




Mario Bunge:

All genuine philosophy transcends national boundaries. Patriotic philosophies are just nationalist ideologies.


The Big Questions come in bundles!-
End of part 4 of our interview – go to part 5
– back to part 3

Source of Mario Bunge’s portrait photos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX3qSq1FkEc
(youtube video by www.intramed.net)