Disiplinlerarası Çalışmalar Dergisi Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

The Mechanistic Background of Modern Political Imaginary

The social and political thought that 17th-century philosophers –led by Thomas Hobbes– developed on a secular basis, through a mechanistic approach, with mechanical terms and analytical-geometrical methodology, has set the paradigmatic limits and ultimate framework of the modern political thought, which has been in effect until today. Yet the notion of mechanism, which acts as the root-metaphor of the modern political imaginary, does not anymore make much sense vis-à-vis the dominant contemporary worldview. The deep crisis in contemporary political philosophy and widely felt need for a radical change in the Fundamentals of modern political conception can be attributed, at least partly, to this incongruence between the mechanical root-metaphor and the current perception of reality. Aiming to crystallize the metaphorical link between the Newtonian cosmological perceptions and modern political approach, this article closely examines the mechanical roots of modern political imaginary with a focus on Hobbes’ formative political model. Metaphors and models are to be considered among the ontological elements constructing reality as well as beings aesthetic patterns embellishing expression and facilitating understanding. The construction of a worldview through metaphors is described in related literature with a special form of symbolic thinking called a “root metaphor.” Root metaphors constitute the common and fundamental – and mostly unconscious – assumptions of a certain epoch. The seventeenth century, when the general thought switched from the Aristotelian worldview to the modern one, is one of the most critical periods of European history. Until then the reality had been considered as a hierarchical and moral whole functioning as the source of meaning and value, while for the European mind it turned into a physical extension expressed only in mathematical terms in the seventeenth century. Therefore, this transformation meant an extraordinary transition from an organic to a mechanistic root metaphor for the ‘Western mind’. This mechanistic root metaphor has influenced modern social and political imaginaries in a remarkable way. For, a numerical world devoid of soul and vitality and composed of an infinite number of physical particulars could no longer serve as the source of meaning and value. Accordingly, politics came to be regarded as an autonomous realm divorced from any transcendental set of values in the modern perception of reality. In this context, political meanings and values began to be defined merely in an anthropocentric way. The founding father of the modern political imaginary is Thomas Hobbes, who was the first to construct a model for politics and the state on the basis of the mechanistic root metaphor. This model has continued to be the main paradigm of political conception in the West until today. M. Akif KAYAPINAR
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