Europe, War and the Pathic Condition. A Phenomenological and Pragmatist Take on the Current Events in Ukraine

Pragmatism Today 14 (1):13-33 (2023)
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In my paper, I develop a phenomenological and pragmatist reflection on the fragility of liberal democracy’s moral foundations in times of war. Following Judith Shklar’s conception of the “liberalism of fear”, the legitimacy of the liberal-democratic order is seen as grounded in experiences of suffering caused by political violence. It is also assumed that the liberalism of fear delivers an adequate conception of the normative foundations of the European project. With the help of phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Henry, the paper ants to philosophically deepen the liberalism of fear by outlining a theory of “pathic evidence” as a normative foundation and the concept of a common “flesh of the political” as a shared moral sensitivity that sets boundaries to political conflict as well as the political imaginary, excluding what I call the production of “monumental meaning”. It then examines the question which political conditions are needed for this evidence to become a shared, communal criteria of ethical thought, and considers inner and outer challenges to the transmission and reproduction of this evidence in time, drawing especially on John Dewey’s ideas of democratic communication and social intelligence. In the current war, the following problem appears as crucial for the “soul” of European democracies which are confronted with the need to respond to Russia’s attack: How can a political morality grounded in pathic evidence be sustained, once it is challenged by an aggressor who, out of cultural and political reasons, shows a higher level of toleration towards violence? Besides aggression from an external foe, there are also temporal dynamics that further the loss of the inhibiting force of pathic evidence from the inside. As it shall be argued, boredom can be such a factor. The paper concludes by drawing conclusions for the current war in Ukraine.

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Albert Dikovich
Universität Konstanz


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