Towards a Non-Eurocentric Analysis of the World Crisis: Reconsidering Patočka’s Approach

In: Research in Phenomenology
Author: Martin Ritter1
View More View Less
  • 1 Charles University, Prague
Full Access


The paper tackles Patočka’s ideas on the world crisis and on the possibility that it may be overcome. The key flaw in Patočka’s approach, one which also underpins his Eurocentrism, is identified as his drawing a firm line between a free, truly historical way of life, and unfree, earthbound living. In order to sketch a usable conception, the paper reinterprets Patočka’s notion of the three movements of existence, thereby connecting his historical and political reflections with his ontological thought and also with Arendt’s concept of action. The dichotomy between earthiness and freedom, corresponding to the contrast between the first two movements and the third, is refuted by emphasizing not only the inseparability of all the movements of existence but also the historicity of each of them. On the basis of such a reinterpretation, Patočka’s concept can provide a phenomenological framework not only for a non-Eurocentric analysis of human being in the world but also of the world crisis.


The paper tackles Patočka’s ideas on the world crisis and on the possibility that it may be overcome. The key flaw in Patočka’s approach, one which also underpins his Eurocentrism, is identified as his drawing a firm line between a free, truly historical way of life, and unfree, earthbound living. In order to sketch a usable conception, the paper reinterprets Patočka’s notion of the three movements of existence, thereby connecting his historical and political reflections with his ontological thought and also with Arendt’s concept of action. The dichotomy between earthiness and freedom, corresponding to the contrast between the first two movements and the third, is refuted by emphasizing not only the inseparability of all the movements of existence but also the historicity of each of them. On the basis of such a reinterpretation, Patočka’s concept can provide a phenomenological framework not only for a non-Eurocentric analysis of human being in the world but also of the world crisis.


Patočka’s reflections on the current situation of the world are most tangibly presented in The Super-civilisation and Its Inner Conflict from the 1950s, Europe and Post-Europe from the early 1970s and, most notably, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History.1 Naturally, it would be misleading and unproductive to interpret all these texts as developing one and the same concept. In the following, I do not intend to offer a detailed analysis of the aforementioned studies. Instead, I seek to identify the philosophical grounding of Patočka’s approach to (his) contemporary situation and to the history of the world.

Both the notions of world and history are equivocal. First of all, let me narrow down their polysemy. From a phenomenological point of view, the world is to be identified neither with the totality of beings nor with any objective principles determining this totality. Patočka’s phenomenology is interested in the phenomenal world—in the world of appearing, or the world as appearing. If the world appears, there must be someone to whom it appears. Who is this? Is the world identical with the process of God’s (or a Notion’s) self-appearing?

According to Patočka, the world appears to human beings, but not all people relate their lives to the appearing of the world. Such a relation is conditioned by the shaking of life as simply accepted. Without such a shaking, humans live non-historically. And it is in the West where this shaking took place. “The Western spirit and world history are bound together in their origins: it is the spirit of free meaning bestowal, it is the shaking of life as simply accepted with all its certainties.”2 World history is primarily (in) the process of free meaning bestowal; and this free meaning bestowal has its origins in the West.

As one can see, Patočka’s concept of the world appearing is not only anthropocentric but also Western- or Eurocentric.3 However, Patočka’s Eurocentrism is philosophically grounded. It is based on the idea that truly human existence consists in the life of the free bestowal of meaning, overcoming the bonding of life to itself, while this free and historical way of living is the essence of European life. I shall critically examine this dichotomy between a free, truly historical way of life and an unfree, earthbound living on the basis of Patočka’s concept of the three movements of existence.4 In my reading, the strict dichotomy between freedom and earthiness must be refuted by emphasizing not only the inseparability of all the movements of existence but also the historicity of each of them. On the basis of such a reinterpretation, Patočka’s conception can provide a phenomenological framework not only for a non-Eurocentric analysis of human being in the world but also of the world crisis.

The Essence of Europe and the World Crisis

Without scrutinizing Patočka’s idea of the “quasi-simultaneous origin in Western Europe of politics, philosophy, and history,”5 the common ground of all these “activities” must be explicitly identified: freedom.

When speaking about philosophy and politics, Patočka means Western philosophy and politics. He explicitly asserts that “philosophy … as the radical question of meaning based on the shaking of the naïve, directly accepted meaning of life … developed only along western lines.”6 Speaking of politics, as will be explicated in the second part of this paper, he means the Western “life dedicated to the polis.7 It is only in the milieu of Western philosophy and politics where history could emerge. “We can speak of history where life becomes free and whole, where it consciously builds room for an equally free life, … where … humans dare to undertake new attempts at bestowing meaning on themselves in the light of the way the being of the world into which they have been set manifests itself to them.”8 The light of the being of the world refers to what is disclosed and articulated by philosophy, while building room for an equally free life denotes politics in its Greek origins.

Accepting the possibility of free meaning bestowal, human beings accept their historicity as the basis of history. Socrates as “the discoverer of human historicity”9 is an incarnation of this moment. He discovers the human being as an entity that is yet to be completed but able to form itself, to care for itself. By discovering the possibility of care, Socrates discovers, to put it simply, the soul of the human being as that which is cared for. Hereafter, Europe is associated with care for the soul.10 To put it more precisely: “The West and history have ultimately arisen from care for the soul, i.e. of that in the being of humans which transcends the sphere of the preservation of life.”11

After this very brief and schematic sketch of the origins of Europe, let me turn to its present day.12 Patočka creatively adopts Heidegger’s interpretation of the contemporary crisis:13 “technology, organization and accumulation of power into a concentrated force is in accordance with the intentions of the present world conception.”14 More specifically, Patočka perceives the present world as the place where “the power and … the force of life” reigns, the key point being that this is tantamount to the fact that “the history-making element in the history-making continent declares the negation of historicity.”15 The present “history” of Europe, then, is no history at all: the process taking place in Europe is not based on freedom because European people no longer care for their soul, i.e. for that which transcends the sphere of life.

Patočka speaks of the “reign of Force,”16 while this reign is conceived, besides others, as a manifestation of the original conflict in Being, or in appearing as such: to put it quite generally, “the disclosing must increasingly close itself as it discloses more and more universally.”17 Although this conflict is fundamental and ineliminable, there is a chance of its solution, of the “solution of conflict by conflict.”18 Characteristically, this solution is based on freedom: it consists in free sacrifice. Patočka describes this sacrifice, more specifically, thus: “to go through the emptying of life till the end … to the utter limit where human being overcomes this binding [to life].”19 The sacrifice of one’s own life is an overcoming of the bonding of life to itself and, as such, it enables one to “show that what does not exist reigns over all which is.”20 In this sense, it is conceived by Patočka as “sacrifice for nothing”.

Of course, this sacrifice21 is not a victimization of (a part of) humankind,22 but the free self-sacrifice of concrete individuals (Patočka mentions Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov)23 bearing witness to the fact that the reign of Force is breakable.24 The possibility of free sacrifice is substantial because the concept of the all-embracing “force” might serve as an excuse: one cannot influence the present crisis as it is the work of trans-human powers. Patočka criticizes Heidegger exactly for his conceiving of Being as a trans-human “entity”: we must avoid “the irrationalism of that prevenient [B]eing at whose mercy the meaning of being human then is.”25 According to Patočka, it is impossible to distinguish, in Heidegger’s concept, between truthful and untruthful appearing.26 Patočka, on the contrary, stresses the responsibility of human beings: “Being does not disclose itself independently and arbitrarily … but depending on how [the soul] is—whether responsibly, or irresponsibly.”27

In stressing the responsibility of humans with regard to the appearing of Being, Patočka seeks to ensure for human beings the possibility of taking part in the overcoming of the crisis. Thus in Heretical Essays he proposes the solidarity of the shaken as the intersubjective way out of the crisis: “the solidarity of those who are capable of understanding what life and death are all about, and so what history is about.”28 The community of the shaken “can and must create a spiritual authority, become a spiritual power that could drive the warring world to some restraint.”29 We might speak here of a spiritual front as the authority restraining the reign of Force. Against the ongoing degradation of humanity into the mere reproduction of life, Patočka proposes a shaking and a reversal, a µετάνοια30 of those who can understand what history is about.

At the End of the World History

Although the crisis of Europe is simultaneously a world crisis, it is primarily Europe which ought to reflect it: the crisis should be reflected, according to Patočka, “not by those who are entering the historical arena but by the Europeans in the broadest sense.”31

This idea seems to be based on Patočka’s belief that only Europeans understand what history is about because other cultures were not and are not really free, and thus were not and are not really historical. Indeed, Patočka says quite explicitly that all the rest of the world is non-historical: at the end of history, “non-European people can … put aside their present way of pre-historicity … and replace it by post-historical rationality.”32 Taking into account Heretical Essays, we can interpret this idea as saying that non-European civilizations were and are, in common with great early civilizations, only “great households aiming at no more than the preservation of life”:33 “What else has China been up to now than a country devoted to the functioning of biological survival and its cult?”34

Although one might conceive the global era as revealing the non-reducible plurality of historical substances, Patočka does not see non-European societies as really historical. They are not cultures with alternative histories but rather ahistorical cultures, because the non-western world is the “nonproblematic world … in which concealment is not experienced as such.”35 In accordance with such ideas, it is possible to conceive the world as space-time with only one history, i.e. the history of Europe as world history. Even if Patočka speaks about “pluralism … nourished by different historical substances,” one can infer from his other statements that “histories” of the other “historical substances” are only ahistorical “traditions.”36

At the risk of oversimplification, one can put it schematically and provocatively: in the East there is an ahistorical life in “[t]he world in which the bonding of life to itself takes place on the basis of a concealed freedom”;37 in the West there is a historical world in which Being, or (un)concealment is, or rather was, experienced as such.38 Indeed, it rather was experienced as such. In the present post-historical epoch, the world looks like a “highly industrialized China,”39 in which China is tantamount to a non-historical, unfree “entity”.

(Meta)Phenomenological Grounding?

As was indicated above, the solidarity of the shaken should reopen, or reinstate, post-European history. However, on what basis can the shaken create a spiritual authority and become a spiritual power?

Accentuating freedom, Patočka stresses not only the ability of human beings to surpass the given. He also conceives human transcendence as a relation to “something” other than what is given in the world. The fundamental importance of the non-given is expressed, for example, by the idea that history is the “building of the world that is based in an invisible area.”40

Speaking about the invisible area, or about Being,41 Patočka seeks to support human living in the world with a non-worldly grounding. In fact, the above mentioned “sacrifice for nothing” is sacrifice “for” Being or, to put it more precisely, it is a way of presenting appearing: through sacrifice, “appearing shows itself as what is the most forceful and powerful … since it seizes that by which it is otherwise seized i.e. the bond to life.”42

In fact, appearing seems to be the most forceful and powerful only insofar as it is actualized by human beings. Nevertheless, in Patočka’s concept, there must be Being if we are to find the way out of the crisis. “Inspecting its own limits can give the rational civilization an outlook only on possibilities in its own framework, i.e. for ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ that are not true.”43 There is the need for an absolutely new beginning and this new beginning needs to be based in the (or rather a kind of) absolute. In other words, the “invisible” seems to be the condition of possibility of “µετάνοια” of those who can understand what history is about. However, although Patočka assumes the need for this “invisible” grounding, he does not specify this basis and how exactly it might help to overcome the crisis.44

Absolute Freedom vs. Earthiness

One can identify three main problematic dimensions of Patočka’s approach to the world crisis. Firstly, there is the problem of Eurocentrism. Is it justifiable to deprive non-European people of openness to Being? Secondly, although only Europeans “in the broadest sense” can reflect the crisis, the potency of the shaken “to drive the warring world to restraints” seems doubtful. Thirdly and most importantly, it is unclear upon what the activity of the shaken is based. Hence, Patočka’s concept seems not only Eurocentric but also impractical.

At this point, I suggest to turn to Patočka’s concept of the movement(s) of existence. There are at least two reasons for this focus. On the one hand, it is desirable to analyse Patočka’s use of this concept in the context of history to clarify what is, and especially what is not, “included” in the realm of history. On the other hand, it is possible not only to criticize this use, but also to reinterpret the whole concept so that it can serve as a theoretical framework for a non-Eurocentric analysis of the world crisis.

Let me start with a very brief summary of the concept of the movement of existence. Patočka distinguishes three different movements as its “components.” The first movement is the movement of anchoring, by which a human being is immersed in “an all-embracing context of landscapes which address us in a certain wholeness and a priori render it possible for humans to have a world, not only individual entities.”45 Without this elemental harmony, the second movement would be impossible: that is, the movement of self-prolongation or work. Both movements are bounded by life, or by the Earth: they are “movements of finite beings which self-realize fully within their finitude, wholly plunging into it and therein surrendering themselves to the rule of a power—of the Earth.”46

On the contrary, the third movement as “the movement of existence in the true sense” is “an attempt to break through our earthliness.”47 As one can see, Patočka draws a line separating the earthbound from the true existence—a line between the first two and the third movements. The substantial reason should be clear by now: only in the “realm” of the third movement is it possible to speak about freedom. Or, in other words, it is only in or through the third movement that people can “care for the soul, i.e. for that in human being which transcends the sphere of the preservation of life.”48

Accordingly, the exemplary activities of the third movement―philosophy and politics―are separated, in Patočka’s concept, from the earthbound dimension of human existence, since what is at work, and at stake, in/by them is freedom. To practise philosophy is to think freely, to distance oneself not only from given entities and meanings but also from given tasks and aims, whether mythical or pragmatic. Politics, too, is based on freedom and it cares only about freedom: politics is not about preserving “the continuum of life,” its “goal [is] a free life as such, one’s own or that of others.”49

True Politics (Arendt in Action)

Patočka does not specify the free “life unsheltered, life of outreach and initiative without pause nor ease,”50 but his concept is undoubtedly inspired by that of Hannah Arendt.51 Let me scrutinize some of her ideas to clarify what is at stake in Patočka’s concept.

In The Human Condition, Arendt distinguishes labour, work and action as three basic human activities. She puts emphasis on action as non-productive activity by which a human being discloses its uniqueness. Action, necessarily connected with speech, needs a public realm as a space in which people can freely express themselves and encounter one another, in their plurality, as equal. To emphasize the specificity of the public realm, Arendt distinguishes very sharply not only between the public and the private but also between the political and the social. The problem of modern societies lies, according to Arendt, precisely in the fact that their “dividing line is entirely blurred, because we see the body of peoples and political communities in the image of a family whose everyday affairs have to be taken care of by a gigantic, nation-wide administration of housekeeping.”52

Arendt’s attempt to theoretically “restore” action can be interpreted as her contribution to overcoming the present world crisis.53 In Arendt’s concept, only action can transcend the horizon of instrumentality just as the activity of homo faber transcends the “logic” of labour driven by the needs of mere life. Arendt seeks to separate action since she is afraid of “the substitution of making for action and the concomitant degradation of politics into a means to obtain an allegedly ‘higher’ end.”54 On the contrary, political action is to be conceived as a self-sufficient or self-contained activity: its end is (in) its performance.55 Furthermore, action and action alone is an activity that can give meaning to human existence.56 This way, it also makes it possible to overcome nihilism.

Arendt emphasizes the initiatory character of action and connects it with one of the human conditions, that is with natality, also described by her (quasi)theologically: “With the creation of man, the principle of beginning came into the world itself, which, of course, is only another way of saying that the principle of freedom was created when man was created but not before.”57 By acting, people actualize their freedom58 consisting in the ability to initiate something absolutely unpredictable.59 This absolutely unpredictable event is, thanks to its natality, any human being.

Importantly, it is only through action that truly human existence is possible. “Speech and action … are the modes in which humans appear to each other, not indeed as physical objects, but qua men.”60 It is only there, i.e. in the political “space of appearance,” that human beings can be really human. When labouring and working, human beings are not free insofar as they are not freely disclosing themselves. Although one might conceive of both labour and work as initiative activities, for Arendt they are obviously not initiative/free enough. Correspondingly, the human being can be human without labouring and working, but “a life without speech and without action … ceased to be a human life.”61

Freedom Absolved

It is certainly possible to distinguish labour, work and action, and there are good reasons for differentiating an instrumental logic of work from the logic of action: action and politics can be reduced neither to ends-means calculation nor to negotiating (or even ordering) how to organize labour and work. Yet, none of the activities of vita activa could be performed if others were not carried out and cared for. It is impossible to labour without the products of work and any concrete action is always conditioned by both labour and work. Accordingly, although the (political) space of appearance is abstractly distinguishable from the world of work and labour, there is no public space, no πόλις, untouched by them.62

Comparing Patočka’s and Arendt’s concept of action, it might seem pointless to question her deliberate separation of action63 since, in contrast to Arendt, Patočka explicitly conceives the third movement not as separate but rather as necessarily connected with the other two: “The three basic vital movements in their dialectical interrelation make up one movement, the unity of our vital reality. They are linked one to another, presuppose and negate each other … When one becomes dominant, the others are there, albeit in the mode of absence.”64 But, Patočka does not fully appreciate the interrelation of the three movements, but rather emphasizes, similarly to Arendt in the case of action, the possibility of making the first two movements absent. Accordingly, Patočka shares with Arendt the idea of action absolved from the necessity of labour and the utility of work, i.e. from the earthbound dimension of human existence.

I do not mean, of course, that Patočka’s and Arendt’s ideas on action and on the human condition in general are identical. But, sharing the understanding of the Greek πόλις as an exemplary political “entity,” they both put emphasis on (political) action as bringing into existence of something radically new. To assure its novelty and purity, action must not be conditioned by the already given, which means, in the contemporary situation as Arendt conceives it, that it must not be conditioned by “the social.”65 In Patočka, the problem lies not so much in “the social” but rather in “Force,” but it seems to be structurally identical.66 Both in Arendt’s and Patočka’s analyses, the problem consists in, let me say, contamination of what is at stake in action. No social concerns, no given force shall intervene in or “permeate” free initiative.

To put it into another perspective: when Patočka distinguishes between pre-historical and historical societies, he ascribes also to non-historical peoples a kind of the third movement. They realize this movement, however, only in the form of “ontological metaphor”67 because what is missing here is the disclosure of truth as such68 or, to express the same problem from a different angle, this disclosure is theoretically grasped and practically realized through inadequate, contaminated, “impure” means. But, what would be, in the contemporary situation, pure means?

Participating as Πόλεµος

As was already indicated, it is far from obvious how the µετάνοια of those “who understand what history is about” shall proceed. In Heretical Essays, this µετάνοια is closely connected with πόλεµος, i.e. with the already mentioned conflict. Putting emphasis on πόλεµος, Patočka is inspired not only by Heidegger’s reading of Heraclitus69 but also by Arendt’s incorporation of this motif into her agonistic concept of politics.70 Yet, importantly, whereas Heidegger’s concept has bold ontological claims, Arendt describes conflict primarily in the political context and also her concept of the world, as built by work and illuminated by action, is rather weak from the ontological point of view; it is primarily a political concept of the world. Patočka draws inspiration from both Arendt and Heidegger, which allows for both political and ontological interpretation of πόλεµος. As a matter of fact, it seems easier to interpret πόλεµος politically71 than to clarify its ontological meaning. What does it mean, ontologically or even cosmologically, to participate at πόλεµος as (the “principle” of) the world?

Marion Bernard suggests reading Patočka’s concept as implying that all forms of community, including those of the first two movements, are “responses to the polemical power of the world” and assure “the common” of πόλεµος.72 But, as Bernard herself acknowledges,73 Patočka locates the truly polemical relationship to the world exclusively in the domain of the third movement as opposed to the first two movements. Although Patočka seeks to make the human existence a part of the world (and criticizes Heidegger for conceiving Dasein as being in the world but not of the world),74 he conceives it as an extraordinary part of the world able to relate, in contrast to non-human beings, to the world in its appearing. Yet, to relate to this appearing, one must transcend one’s uprooting in the world (the first movement) and economic concerns (the second movement) to free oneself to the disclosure as such. To put it otherwise, both political activity and philosophy (as two exemplary forms of the third movement) are non-physical processes, processes overcoming nature, i.e. demonstrating that the earth and heaven as the basic referents of the natural world have their “trans” and that they can become a place for “the realm of spirit and freedom.”75 Participating at this kind of appearing, human beings transcend φύσις.

Freedom De-absolutized

Of course, the topics indicated above need further elucidation. But, I intend to analyze here neither the third movement in general nor its desired contemporary form creating a spiritual authority because, in my reading, the concept of the three movements of existence should not be read as answering the question of what the existence is in the true sense. Rather, it should be utilized as a tool for analyzing necessities, and possibilities, of human being in the world. To be able to think, as Patočka proposes, the “dialectical interrelation” and a (possible) unity of the movements, one has to forsake Patočka’s own hints at a more “Hegelian” approach (in which the third movement somehow “incorporates” the other two) and to conceive of all the movements as functioning simultaneously. Only then does it become possible to explore how all the three movements contribute to the whole movement of existence.

Although the movements are separable only in abstracto, it would be counterproductive to deny a relative autonomy to each of the movements. There is even no need to deny the extraordinary character of the third movement. But, it can be identified neither with “the movement of existence in the true sense” nor with the ground of “history in the true sense.” In my reading, both the idea of history in the true sense and the idea of the movement of existence in the true sense need to be called into question by examining in what way all three movements of existence are historical and how they all contribute to the history of humankind. Such an approach is actually in agreement with Patočka’s own statement that “only by starting out from these three fundamental lines [i.e. the movements], from understanding how they presuppose and negate each other mutually, can we, after analysis, achieve a certain insight into the way in which these three strands […] make up the overarching human movement we call history.”76

One must not conceive of the first two movements as being natural and ahistorical, and the third as spiritual and historical. With regard to the second movement, Arendt’s explicit and Patočka’s rather implicit criticism of Marxism should be tested by asking whether self-reproduction, and objectivity-making activity, is not quite as much a history-making element.77 Even in the case of the first movement, it seems quite possible to distinguish different ways of rooting in the world and its contribution to the historical variety of the whole movement of existence.78 To deny the history of Being, then, is not to deny history and historicity as such. On the contrary, it is possible to (re)open and (re)think the possibility that all the movements of existence contribute to the history, or rather histories, of mankind.

In this context, both Patočka’s and Arendt’s emphasis on freedom and equality should be critically examined. Although it is necessary, in many cases, to fight against inequality and a lack of freedom, it would be short-sighted to think that inequality and boundedness are only negative in human life. On the contrary, our boundedness is to be seen as a condition for the possibility of the meaningfulness of (positively limited) freedom. Furthermore, inequality is likewise an essential element of the positive meaning of human existence: there are many human relationships in which we are not equal (e.g. the relationship between child and parent)—and, likewise, being in these asymmetrical relationships we become human.

It is probably the most precarious but also arguably the most promising feature of Patočka’s concept of the movement of existence that it not only connects different ontological conceptions, namely those of Heidegger and Aristotle,79 but also captures different kinds of phenomena through one and the same concept. Conceiving the movement of existence, Patočka does not describe (only) the individual human entity and its activities. Basing his concept on Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein as the place of (the understanding of) being, Patočka conceives the movements of existence rather as “mediums” of being in the world. It is possible to conceive them not only as three “transcendental” structures embodied by a concrete human body but also as historically and socially variable and rather “objective” frameworks of human existence. And it is here, i.e. in these frameworks, where (possible) crises “implied” in the human being can be phenomenologically analyzed to find out, theoretically, the tools for their solution or, at least, for the alleviation of the burden of existence.

Conclusion: Overcoming Crisis

There is no need to take care of Being in order to find a definitive solution to the world crisis or the only right way out of it. A temporary solution and negotiable way out would be quite enough. Looking for such a solution we should overlook neither European values appearing in the present nor those that appeared in the past. These values might be shaken, and Europeans probably need to be shaken, but we should not conceive of this shaking, this worldly shaking, as the ultimate termination of Europe and an opening of something absolutely new. We do not need an absolute reflection but rather a (historically) conditioned, finite reflection.

However, the reflection need not, and must not, be reduced to looking only for European possibilities. The shaking we experience is essentially connected with the fact that Europe is confronted with the non-European sphere without being able, due to diminished economic and geopolitical power, to simply impose its own values and way(s) of life. In this context, it is necessary to abandon the prejudice, or the conceptualized preconception, that non-Europe has nothing to say and nothing to offer regarding the present crisis. This idea is justifiable neither historically nor philosophically. Philosophically, we should analyze the difference between East and West as the difference between various forms of life in the world. Patočka’s concept of the three movements of existence can serve as a methodological tool for such analysis.

Indeed, Patočka himself occasionally speaks about “plurality of historical substances that present something totally positive, carried out of the depth of existence” and imagines their “mutual understanding” where such understanding shall be based not on “sceptical tolerance” but rather on “understanding that all our keys are not enough for the treasure disclosing itself to us.”80 Yet, this intention to positively evaluate other cultures can hardly be realized, I think, if it is just and only their spiritual dimension which is to be understood. To the contrary, such an approach is a part, and not an unimportant part, of the problem of the present situation of the world. Not only might the identification of the elements of other cultures as spiritual be implicitly Eurocentric,81 but the variations in the first and second movements also importantly contribute to the specificity of other cultures’ being in the world, and as such they should be understood and respected.

The reinterpreted concept of the movement of existence enables one to approach the present and future of Europe, and of all humankind, otherwise than by looking for “a metanoesis of historic proportions.”82 Let us remember that this metanoesis should be made by “that part of humanity … capable of understanding what was and is the point of history,” while the fundamental question is whether these people are “also capable of the discipline and self-denial demanded by a stance of uprootedness in which alone a meaningfulness … might be realized.”83 On the basis of the concept of the movement of existence, seeing the positive meaning of rooting and of work as movements disclosing the world, we can evade the abyss of such a formulation of the problem. There is no need to go through nihil, through the “experience of utter meaninglessness of what-is.”84 On the contrary, it is possible to articulate the meaningfulness, or disclosing, of all of the three movements of existence, to articulate their contribution to the meaning of individual human existence and of history. In this way, Patočka’s phenomenology, solidly rooted in Europe, might contribute to an analysis of the world crisis—a crisis that also essentially concerns the meaning of humanity.


There are many other texts of interest regarding this issue, especially Patočka’s lectures Plato and Europe from the early 1970s.


Jan Patočka, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), 41 (hereafter cited as Heretical Essays).


The problem of Patočka’s Eurocentrism has already been addressed by Karel Novotný, “Europa und Nacheuropa in der philosophischen Reflexion Jan Patočkas,” Phainomena xvi (2007).


For a short and concise presentation of this concept see Pavel Kouba, “Le problème du troisième mouvement. En marge de la conception patočkienne de l’existence,” in Jan Patočka: Phénoménologie asubjective et existence, ed. R. Barbaras (Paris/Milan: Mimesis, 2007), 183–204.


Paul Ricoeur, “Introduction,” in Heretical Essays, viii.


Heretical Essays, 143.


Heretical Essays, 63.


Heretical Essays, 40–41.


Jan Patočka, Eternité et historicité (Paris: Verdier, 2011), 32 (my translation).


It is not the aim of this paper to examine the much-discussed concept of caring for the soul. Cf. e.g. E.F. Findlay, Caring for the Soul in a Postmodern Age. Politics and Phenomenology in the Thought of Jan Patočka (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), or Martin Cajthaml, Europe and the Care of the Soul. Jan Patočka’s Conception of the Spiritual Foundations of Europe (Nordhausen: Traugott Bautz, 2014).


Jan Patočka, “Die Epochen der Geschichte (Skizze),” in Ketzerische Essais zur Philosophie der Geschichte und ergänzende Schriften (Vienna: Klett-Cotta, 1988), 194–195 (my translation; hereafter cited as Die Epochen).


A concise but fitting summary of “principles” conditioning the history of Europe is offered by James Dodd, “Polemos in Jan Patočka’s Political Thought,” in Thinking after Europe, ed. D. Meacham and F. Tava (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), 89–90 (hereafter cited as “Polemos in Jan Patočka’s Political Thought”).


I cannot discuss this topic in detail. See, at very least, Jan Patočka, “The Dangers of Technicization in Science according to E. Husserl and the Essence of Technology as Danger according to M. Heidegger,” in Philosophy and Selected Writings (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989), 327–339; and Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper, 1977).


Die Epochen, 200.


Die Epochen, 201–202.


Heretical Essays, 116–117.


Jan Patočka, “Séminaire sur l’ère technique,” in Liberté et sacrifice. Ecrits politiques (Grenoble: Jerome Millon, 1990), 297 (my translation, hereafter cited as Séminaire). Speaking of conflict, Patočka evokes several meanings and contexts. Apart from the, let me say, sociological meaning of conflict (conflict in the sense of “the Twentieth Century as War” indicated by the title of the sixth Heretical Essay or by the title of The Super-civilisation and its Inner Conflict), there is also an existential meaning: each human being is in a conflict between authentic and declining life. However, at the deepest level, there is an ontological or phenomenological meaning of conflict―conflict in Being.


Séminaire, 284.




Ibid., 298.


For a more detailed and contextualized articulation of Patočka’s idea of sacrifice see especially M.S.C. Schuback, “Sacrifice and Salvation: Patočka’s Reading of Heidegger on the Question of Technology,” in Jan Patočka and the Heritage of Phenomenology, ed. E. Abrams and I. Chvatík (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011).


Cf. Heidegger’s vision of “the ultimate fulfilment of enframing,” i.e. “the destruction of Earth and the vanishing of contemporary human being” as “the first cleansing of Being from the deepest deformation caused by the dominance of being.” M. Heidegger, Überlegungen III, Schwarze Hefte (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2014), 238 (my translation).


Séminaire, 314.


In Heretical Essays, one can find the motif of the sacrifice of the sacrificed (Heretical Essays, 130), but in speaking of “understanding for the positive task of suffering and for the positivity of this negativity” (Séminaire, 298) Patočka does not mean that the sacrifice of other people should be seen as positive.


Jan Patočka, “The ‘Natural’ World and Phenomenology,” in Philosophy and Selected Writings (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989), 271.


Jan Patočka, Plato and Europe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 174–175.


Jan Patočka, “O duši u Platóna,” in Péče o duši II (Prague: Oikúmené, 1999), 79 (my translation).


Heretical Essays, 134.


Ibid., 135.


Cf. e.g. Ivan Chvatík, “The Responsibility of the ‘Shaken,’ ” in Jan Patočka and the Heritage of Phenomenology, ed. E. Abrams and I. Chvatík (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011), 275–276.


Die Epochen, 203.


Ibid., 202.


Heretical Essays, 13, 24.


Die Epochen, 202.


Heretical Essays, 12.


Cf. Jan Patočka, “Les fondements spirituels de la vie contemporaine,” in Liberté et sacrifice. Ecrits politiques (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 1993), 223.


Heretical Essays, 15.


Symptomatic, in this context, is how Patočka differentiates western Christianity from eastern Buddhism: whereas Buddhism proposes the overcoming of life by its denial, in Christianity one overcomes the self-enclosure of one’s life, but “life remains unbroken, the world as world retains its validity.” Jan Patočka, Body, Community, Language, World (Chicago: Open Court, 1998), 160 (hereafter cited as bclw).


Die Epochen, 202.


Die Epochen, 186.




Ibid., 298.


Ibid., 202–203.


Of course, one can argue for a more radically non-metaphysical interpretation in which “the invisible” would be even more strictly co-relative to the activity of the shaken, to their metanoiein. In this reading, however, the shaken lose the support for their activity, which makes it susceptible of arbitrariness.


bclw, 149.


Ibid., 151.




Die Epochen, 194–195.


Heretical Essays, 39.


Heretical Essays, 39.


See, e.g., Ibid., 37–39.


Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 28 (hereafter cited as The Human Condition).


Cf. Ibid., 5.


Ibid., 229.


Cf. e.g. Dana R. Villa, Arendt and Heidegger. The Fate of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 17–25, 42–49, 52–59.


Cf. The Human Condition, 204.


Ibid., 177.


Indeed, Arendt identifies freedom with action: “to be free and to act are the same” (Ibid., 153).


“It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected” (Ibid., 177).


Arendt continues: “This appearance … rests on initiative … from which no human can refrain and still be human” (Ibid., 176).




When Arendt quotes the watchword of Greek colonization (“Wherever you go, you will be a πόλις”; The Human Condition, 198), one can add that the colonizers, by bringing the πόλις with themselves, also brought along its economic interests and habits.


See, for example, R. Bernstein, “Rethinking the Social and the Political,” in Philosophical Profiles (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 220–232.


bclw, 163.


Cf. Arendt’s thesis that “the best ‘social conditions’ are those under which it is possible to lose one’s identity. This unitedness of many into one is basically antipolitical” (The Human Condition, 214).


Moreover, Paparusso rightly suggests that “we could understand Patočka’s analysis of technology as the result of the integration of Heidegger’s idea of Gestell with the Arendtian conception of contemporary, secularized human life as a one whose only contents are ‘the desires, the appetite and the unconscious needs of its body’ ” (Ricardo Paparusso, “The End of History and After,” in Thinking after Europe, 209).


Heretical Essays, 32.


Cf. Heretical Essays, 33. “Amid the world of beings there manifests itself a presence of Being which is understood as higher, incommensurate, superior, but which is not yet clear as such.”


Cf. “Polemos in Jan Patočka’s Political Thought,” esp. 86–88.


Regarding this incorporation, see esp. Dana R. Villa, Arendt and Heidegger, passim.


See, e.g., an inspiring reading of Patočka in the framework of current political philosophy by Tamara Caraus, “Patočka’s Radical and Agonistic Politics,” in Thinking after Europe, 237–257. Regarding Patočka’s political thought in the context of central Europe dissidence movements and the revolutions of the 1980s, see e.g. Aviezer Tucker, The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patočka to Havel (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000). I fully agree with James Dodd’s emphasis on the difference between Patočka’s (inspirational) role as a dissident and his philosophical “grounding” of politics (“Polemos in Jan Patočka’s Political Thought,” 77–80).


Cf. Marion Bernard, “Patočka’s Figures of Political Community,” in Thinking after Europe, 260 (hereafter cited as “Patočka’s Figures of Political Community”).


See especially “Patočka’s Figures of Political Community,” 270.


See, e.g., bclw, 155.


J. Patočka, “On the Prehistory of the Science of Movement. World, Earth, Heaven and the Movement of Human Life,” in M.S.C. Schuback and T. Lane (eds.), Dis-Orientations: Philosophy, Literature and the Lost Ground of Modernity (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), 71 and 72.


bclw, 161.


Possibilities of such a comparison are indicated by Francesco Tava, “The Heresy of History. Patočka’s Reflections on Marx and Marxism,” in Thinking after Europe, 183–200.


Regarding the first movement, I agree with Marion Bernard, “Patočka’s Figures of Political Community,” 262: “Dependence is not only biological, but also phenomenological, since the phenomenon itself is first opened via others. The phenomenon is not only historicized through epochs, but also socialized, through the different social opportunities of those who introduce us to the world.”


Cf. bclw, 145.


Jan Patočka, “Duchovní základy života v naší době,” in Péče o duši (Prague: Oikúmené, 1999), 28.


The most elaborated analysis of these issues, and a defence of Patočka regarding his Eurocentrism, is offered by Karel Novotný, “Europe, Post-Europe, and Eurocentrism,” in Thinking after Europe, 301–314. See also “Patočka’s Figures of Political Community,” 272–273.


Heretical Essays, 75.


Ibid., 76.


Ibid., 77.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 122 0 0
Full Text Views 370 69 4
PDF Views & Downloads 129 76 12