Neither Domenico Losurdo nor Hannah Arendt

Dora Longo Bahia, Liberdade (project for Avenida Paulista II), 2020 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper 29.7 x 21 cm


On the priority of politics over history and philosophy

The relationship between history and philosophy gained a definitive outline with the work of Hegel, who gave rationality to what would apparently be the privileged realm of contingency: time. Far from reflecting a limit to reason, history is its maximum expression because only in time can we recognize the rational purposes that astutely govern our actions. That is why, for Hegel, philosophy acts like an owl because even in the dark it manages to perceive the traces of what is no longer: the day. The owl, unlike other animals, is able to perceive the thread of continuity between day and night.

Philosophy comes, therefore, after the denouements of history to conceptually recover what was always immanent to it as the very condition of its development. After Hegel, history is no longer a collection of disconnected facts, but the arena where these facts share a root whose perception requires philosophical lenses.

With this understanding, philosophy is responsible for determining the meaning of history. It seems to me that this understanding follows the argument of a recent text by my colleague Filipe Campello in which he tries to resume the centrality of philosophy for the very understanding of history. That is, it would be unavoidable to start from philosophy in order to make a value judgment on political systems in history. Historical facts would be entangled, with regard to what they can teach us, only when they are supported by a previous philosophical decision and without which they would not be meaningful to us.

On the other hand, my colleague Jones Manoel, in response to Campello's text, shows that philosophy often runs away from history. This danger is present when philosophical reflections obliterate, as Marx pointed out, that they themselves are at stake in the interests of interpreting history. It is no coincidence that Jones opens his response to Campello by referring to the German Ideology, in which Marx denounces that German Idealism is one more of the bourgeoisie's various ideological constructions to keep the material root of contradictions in the shade; responsible, in fact, for the change and rationality of history. Thus, against Hegel, it is important to show that the eyes of the owl have their attention directed according to the interests of the class and not by a kind of rationality uprooted from historical facts.

And when Jones Manoel accuses Campello of running away from history and takes Hannah Arendt's work as an example, not without reason, since it was quoted by Campello, he shows that the history of the French revolution would not authorize Arendt's conclusions about the revolution itself . And here it is worth emphasizing that Arendt would be wrong not only for the serious omission of the importance of the Haitian revolution for the understanding of revolutionary processes in modernity, but above all because she would have read the history of the French revolution from an ideological bias. Campello insists that this does not refute Arendt's ideas because philosophy, or rather what she proposes as a normative sphere, would not be hit by death for not having correct and accurate historical support. It seems that philosophical ideas would not be affected by history, since history itself can only be understood as such by philosophy. History without philosophy would be blind, insists Campello. But here is the question, which is in a way Jones Manoel's, wouldn't philosophy without history be empty in turn?

Unlike my two colleagues, this is not about trying to find out which came first: philosophy or history. This distinction does not exist because one cannot understand history without first having a philosophical lens to give it meaning, but neither is philosophy exempt from all the games of interests – ideology – that govern the very place of philosophy's speech. So my point is that philosophy is both the way we read history and the result of the interplay of interests that prevail in our understanding of history. The blurred border between philosophy and history does not authorize, as I argue, that one cancels the other (historical facts refuting philosophy) or that one can survive without the other (in this case, philosophical ideas are valid without a historical basis).

In fact, there is no path that can justify the priority of history or philosophy over the dispute over the best political model, because politics is the starting point for both history and philosophy. In these terms, what must be at stake is, on the one hand, the understanding that history can always call into question philosophical theories, which start from clippings that are always interested in history itself. On the other hand, the understanding that philosophy can sustain that certain ideas can prevail when one leaves the immediate horizon of history and realizes that certain notions of good can create the conditions for the possibility of a new policy.

*Erico Andrade is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).


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