Community after the Subject. The Orthodox Intellectual Tradition and the Philosophical Discourse of Political Modernity

Kristina Stoeckl
University of Innsbruck

The political background which raises conceptual challenges for my investigation into the problematic of human subjectivity and community is the post-Cold War and post-totalitarian constellation of Europe. It is especially in Europe that this problematic gains salience at the present point in time both as a philosophical and as a political issue. Philosophical, because the overcoming of totalitarianism has not brought about the scenario foreseen by Francis Fukuyama (we do not observe a universalization of Western liberal democracy and a global triumph of the individualist-liberalist paradigm). Political, because the Huntingtonean scenario of a clash of civilizations along the borderline of Eastern and Western Christianity requires us to scrutinize the differences and commonalities between a variety of approaches to the issue of the human subject and life in common in different European intellectual traditions. What this paper attempts to do is to bring the two issues which emerge from the post-totalitarian and post-Cold War constellation of Europe together, to intertwine the contemporary debate on subjectivity and community with the question of Europe as a space delimited from the East along the borderline of Eastern and Western Christianity.
The aim of this paper is to examine notions of subjectivity and community in Western philosophy and in a philosophy of Eastern Christian background, and to draw from this encounter some elements of a political philosophy of community and of a European philosophical space that can accommodate, beyond alleged borderlines, those different intellectual traditions which make up the richness and ambivalence of Europe’s political, cultural and religious heritage.

The question of the human subject and community in post-totalitarian political philosophy
The historical experience of the totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Stalinism signifies a watershed for European political philosophy. That the dissolution of the individual human being into the body of a postulated Volk or kolektiv, and that the conflation of state and society into a total representation of power were not only possible, but could also, at their onset, exert a considerable persuasiveness, raises questions that require us to scrutinize the very concepts of our political reasoning. What is the human subject? What is community? And, first and foremost, what is the relationship between the two? These are questions of an eminently political nature because they are concerned with the workings of society, with life in common, with the principles that shape society and human co-existence. From Claude Lefort, the philosopher who has put on trial the concept of democracy in the light of the totalitarian experience, we know that the particularity of modern democracy lies in the fact that it designates the place of power as empty. In democracy, Lefort writes, “the legitimacy of power is based on the people, but the image of popular sovereignty is linked to the image of an empty place, impossible to occupy, such that those who exercise public authority can never claim to appropriate it.” Democracy combines two apparently contradictory principles: on the one hand, power emanates from the people; on the other, it is the power of nobody.