What is wrong with the “greatest minds” and “us”?


Melih R. Çalıkoğlu, 29 Haziran 2019

Atina Okulu, Rafael, 1509 – 1511

Is there anything beyond Politics of Conflict?

That old endeavor, the diligent and never ending effort to explain man’s sociality, the search for the deepest meaning leading us to the inner  working of human society is the reason that worths the existence of all the great philosophers that man kind ever generated. 

The undeniable and the unimaginable discrepancies of man’s action as a social agent, his contradictions dashing between concepts of good and evil, just and unjust and the ramifications of his acts that redesign and reproduce the society he is within might be some of the concerns and reasons that caused so many intelligent people to devote their lifetime to the holy grail of explaining the “major” trends what defines a society, Could it be the inconclusiveness and unattainability of such a task  that made this endeavor such enticing to those big minds? 

It seems like that the great thinkers that we know of -thanks to the invention of writing-, and of those that we never heard of who for sure left their traces within the oral tradition, contributing   to  the continuing legacies of human societies – pre-historical, ancient or contemporary- all sought to find “major” answers to those “big” questions. 

Is there a possibility for those “great” people to have missed the ordinary, the minor and the untold in their never ending efforts to read the human society?

Or is it possible that their perspectives were somehow unevenly adjusted to see what is beyond the scope of postulating the “political” to be only exist within the “conflicts”?  What caused the prehistoric societies out of balance that this primordial “conflict” which is supposed to create the so called “political” has emerged as a “major” social force, and adjusted the focus of the “political thought” as such ?

We might not find an easy answer to these questions but we may speculate around the subject to see if we can hold the elephant’s trunk?

For Rousseau it is the birth of the concept of “property” that became a disruptive force,that triggered insecurities and all other bad things within the society. This idea is intriguing since it is quite the opposite of John Locke’s definition of “property” as a positive force as a building block of a society (Evren, 2015). So we may find an answer if we try to dig in deep regarding the idea of  “having” or “owning” something. 

It is almost certain that what ties us to what we “have” or “own” must be related to something deeply encoded within our natural existence. Therefore this idea should be a certain aspect in man’s relation to its natural surrounding. If we are to speak in Rousseau’s term the idea of “property” might be the driving force that has caused us to evolve into something different from our prehistoric ancestors, where as the idea of  “having” and “owning” should expanded with time, with each of our social, cultural or technological advancements that let us think what we might declare as our property is an ever extending list. 

Speaking of the primordial idea of “property” we can ask more questions. We don’t know for sure if it was the family, the concept of procreation or the idea of “having” a child or if it was the affection between the man and woman that laid the ground for our ever growing concept of property. As little as we know of those unwritten times, we also have little clue how the idea of suum , the tentative sphere that is supposed to define what a man is, transformed into the idea of collective property that began to include intangible belongings such as a shared land, a shared culture or a shared tradition etc. Still we can definitively claim that this birth of personal and collective “owning” might have something to do with the “other” people that threaten what we have.

So what is included  in the suum, an ancient concept introduced by the Stoists meaning the sphere that defines the existance of an individual was revitalized by the pre-enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke that is supposed to define what a man is. Property or appropriation of objects by man was an important part of the theory of natural law going  back to Stoists in ancient Greece. In that regard robbing another persons belonging was thought to be committing an injury upon him which in turn meant that property was accepted as an attachment to ones personal existence or suum (Olivecrona, 1974). For a long time this personal sphere is was accepted to include the body and the things that a man declares to “own” as his property. Later John Locke added “freedom” as an other important part of this personal sphere.

It is not a surprise that most of the pre-enlightenment and enlightenment built their concept of the state of nature, upon conflict. One example is Hobbes with his famous expression “Homo homini lupus”, Locke’s much milder idea of the right for person to protect his suum (including his properties) against others. Or Rousseau’s mentioned reading for the state of nature disarrayed by the idea of property. It seems pretty clear that any property needs protection against others, which in turn feeds the dynamics of the social conflict. 

The next question to be asked what can be accepted as our property, become us as an attachment to our suum, which becomes something to be protected and to be fought for in the end. Followed by another question what is the connection with the concept of property and our original question about the reasons that drives “major” thinkers to focus and produce on “major political thought”. A thought defined and confined with conflict and competition. 

Here I’m going to speculate that all the identities that we believe to define us, are also a part of that property list. Although it is generally accepted that the definitive feeling that ties us to those identities are “belonging”, I am going to assert that it is the feeling of “owning” that relates us to those identities. While when we talk of properties it is the tangible things, objects etc. what comes to our minds. But those intangible things, notions, ethnic identities, ideologies and/or religious beliefs are also accepted by us as our properties that we own. We tend to create, establish and define our personalities over those tangible and intangible properties including those social constructs such as race, nationality, ideology, religion  and alike.

Our personal connection to those intangible properties can not only be described with belonging. Rather we relate our selves to those identities as if we do own and carry them, since they are merely a social construct and not an existential part of us written in our ontological existence. This is easier to understand when we think about the fact that you can drop any of those identities -regardless to be hard or easy- at any time in your life time. Each person is able to reject his/her pre-given or later acquired identities. In the end no identity, as a social construct, would exist if no one “owned” them. 

Therefore those intangible properties, the identities that we relate our selves, are the outer shell of our suum, the tentative, vague and ever shapeshifting layer which makes us a distinct individual. But as we show that something tangible is our property by possession, it is harder for our intangible properties. Therefore our relation to those intangible identities is build upon our beliefs.In reality we believe to possess those intangible properties and we keep to own them as we keep to believe so. 

The problem begins here with this belief web that we build around us. Since it is like a property that we own in the tangible world, we are inclined to protect them also, even if it needs a conflict with others. 

As Jurgen Habermas has said “The competition between world views and religious doctrines that claim to explain human beings position in the world as a whole can not be resolved at the cognitive level.” (Habermas & Cronin, 2015). As Habermas asserts it is almost impossible to reconcile those “major” ideas which also asserts that conflict is inevitable. 

I am going to state that all “major” political thinkers carried their identities to which they were connected by beliefs there fore it was inevitable for them to escape from seeing the world and especially the political as a mere conflict zone. What Hobbes was believing that the society was at a state of nature in permanent conflict as it was during his lifetime in his own British society, where Schmidt  as a member of a disgraced nation sought to reconcile what it lost building upon the idea of the conflict between friend and foe, while Ranciere sought the world a with conflict between the dominant and the dominated and Mouffe sought means to reconcile the inevitable conflict since relating themselves to the idea that what drives human society is the class conflict. 

Within those “major” identities they carried, it was almost impossible that they would have an eye on the ordinary, the “minor” and the inner daily workings of the politics that shape a society on a daily basis. 

These sort of bias that those great thinkers carry, as the rest of us, can also be observed on their work. In that regard on the one hand they utilize important analytical tools and methods to understand the man and its environment, like utilizing tools such as he concept of “state of nature” on the other hand at a certain point when they began talking about their idealized view of what a society should become, they tend to produce those “conflictual” views which might be discussed later. 

NOTE : Written as a reflection paper for ADM 5112 – Minor Politics Phd class of Onur Kara in METU – Public Administration and Political Science Department


  1. Evren, M. (2015). Locke ve Rousseau’nun Doğa Durumu ve Mülkiyet Anlayışlarının Karşılaştırılması, Iğdır, Journal of Divinity Faculty, Volume: 6, p.31-44
  2. Habermas, J., & Cronin, C. (2015). Between naturalism and religion: Philosophical essays. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

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