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Levinas Studies

Volume 2, 2007

Adriaan T. Peperzak
Pages 197-214
DOI: 10.5840/levinas2007211

From Politics to Ethics (Hegel) or from Ethics to Politics (Levinas)?

Modern philosophy has had difficulty attempting to show the unbreakable unity of the individual with communal aspects of human existence. A number of modern thinkers began their treatises by rationally, even geometrically, constructing a more or less real or ideal community based on a multiplicity of individuals. Yet others, convinced that no form of individualism could ever supply insight into the communal structure of human life, saw all individuals from the outset as members — or even as organs — of a collective whole. While the former struggled in vain to show that contracts or other forms of freely chosen exchange necessarily mutate into communal dispositions and institutions, the latter had to cope with the modern dogma that all philosophy must begin from an autonomous (individual or transcendental) ego. Modern philosophy, then, has not produced a wholly satisfactory synthesis of individualism and communitarianism. This failure could be a symptom of a faulty start, which may be due to the initial questions: Can individuality and commonality be opposed? Does their distinction concern two aspects, two levels, two dimensions of one reality? How do they evoke, provoke, imply, and fortify one another?

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