POWER AND DECISION by Panagiotis Kondylis - plain English version (see below for the "alternative words and phrases" version including some German text) 

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"The animistic prehistory of the mixing of Is (i.e. Being or To Be) and Ought is discernible here in the angst (or fear) in the face of the magical power of the word and of the curse: whoever expresses something ominous, wishes it as well, and contributes eo ipso to its carrying out. The defence of the close relation between Is (i.e. Being or To Be) and Ought, as sober and epistemologically well-founded as it may sometimes sound, has always stood under the aegis of this primitive thought style. This ascertainment is not here meant disparagingly; rather, one should conclude from it that exactly in this ascertainment the vitality of that defence, namely its perpetual reference to the constants of the human drive of self-preservation, which inside of culture strive for an objective, that is, taking root in life itself, meaning of life, is seen."

"At the human level, a transformation, through the mediation (or agency) of the “intellect(-spirit)” and its symbolic mechanisms, of the biological magnitude “self-preservation” into an ideational magnitude takes place, so that the question of self-preservation and the, understood in the wider sense, question of power, are transubstantiated into a question of identity" [Das Politische und der Mensch, S. 242, referring to Macht und Entscheidung, S. 49ff., 80ff..]

Read the book... 

which explains why a final "peace", "concord", "harmony", "reign of justice" or whatever else one may wish to conceptually concoct, will never be realised...

which explains why people, groups of people and the human race in general must struggle or fight to survive, without of course denying the existence of (even long-term, albeit macro-historically always temporary) cooperation, agreement, stability and peace, whilst acknowledging conflict is just as much as cooperation potentially and or actually existent in human interaction in many of its countless manifestations...

which describes and explains the existence of human culture and the mechanisms of power and domination which permeate all kinds of human action from outright violence, which necessarily quantitatively subsides as culture "increases", to in terms of content diverse, yet in terms of form identical, ideational influence, which signals the "development" of human societies. Even the "best" or most "humane" or "altruistic" of human conduct is thoroughly permeated - albeit to varying degrees and in innumerable guises - by power claims and striving for dominance. [The definition of power is all-encompassing and infinitely variable in degrees and forms thereof: life itself, in so far as it continues, is a form of power and extension or expansion of power; power resides as ideas (symbols) AND (potential) deeds, i.e. culture with roots always in nature (incl. biology), within individuals and groups (tribes, races, nations, institutions, corporations, states, etc.) and pervades all sorts of dynamics and combinations of individuals and groups; the political within the social is the realm within which power manifests itself in various forms through the mediation (or agency) of individual and group actors to bring about some kind of social cohesion and social order]...

which does not tell you what to do or what should be done, the book that does not concern itself with "change" apart from describing and explaining it, the book which explains that normative thought, and of course ideology, are socially necessary (as is the rejection of consistent value-free knowledge), but incapable of adequately describing reality scientifically. Even when the dominant ideology is "settled", read the book which explains the role of interpretation and why there is no "end of history" or "end of conflicts", but which also explains why the promotion of various ideological forms of Utopia (and or mythology) is an inevitable part of relatively "developed" (whether e.g. Aboriginal or advanced-technological) societies and their humans...

which is based entirely on historical fact and not on socially inevitable and indestructible fantasy or illusion, the book which does not try to fool itself and others that replacing one ideology with another ideology (e.g. a "failed traditional grand narrative" with a "micro narrative of harmonious pluralistic co-existence" based on "dialogue" or "universalistic human rights") can possibly constitute any kind of "progress" from a scientific point of view.

Read the book which explains why only strictly descriptive theory (accompanied by a certain perception of human affairs based on (historical) empirical evidence) is capable of explaining human behaviour (action), in all its (historical) variations as well as in its socio-ontological continuity or consistency, to the fullest extent that such behaviour (action) can be explained. The book which exposes why theory is never put into social practice on a mass-scale without being fundamentally altered by the reality of human action and the heterogony of ends...

which draws on the rich history of ideas to illuminate the main theoretical and ideological conflicts in that history with incomparable analytical insight, without of course ever losing sight of the fact that ideas as such do not exist, but only individuals in concrete situations, i.e. only people living in (or in relation to) society exist who make use of ideas in pursuing their own self-preservation and power claims. Normativism will always prevail at all levels of ideational endeavour, which is always connected to concrete human actors, and the fusion of Is and Ought lies at the basis of all thought which seeks to be socially accepted or influential, from "animism" to the most "complicated and sophisticated" philosophical argumentation.

Read a general theory regarding the militant, polemical character, and the corresponding symbolic functions, of the "intellect(-spirit)"; the role(s) of interpretation, taste and power.

Read the "short" book without footnotes (by Kondylis) which touches upon some of the core elements of Kondylis's thought fully referenced in his two grand projects as exemplified by: Die Aufklärung im Rahmen des neuzeitlichen Rationalismus and Die neuzeitliche Metaphysikkritik (history of ideas), and, Das Politische und der Mensch (social ontology or "macro social theory").

[For the "half-educated" reader (or today's reader tainted by one or many of the various forms of "political correctness"): Kondylis was never a supporter or advocate of Carl Schmitt's decisionistic theory (in actual fact Power and Decision is, inter alia, a polemic against Schmitt's decisionism in favour of a "descriptive theory of the decision")*. Decisionism, or variations of it, or forms of existentialism that have used the concept of the decision (and or the friend-foe concept) have had various advocates at different historical moments and such thinkers were by no means of the same or similar political persuasions (e.g. as Kondylis himself has pointed out, Karl Jaspers and Karl Barth were not exactly outspoken supporters of national socialism, and it goes without saying that Kierkegaard (and also Nietzsche) lived in times pre-dating 20th century politics post World War I). Labeling thinkers and people in general based on a superficial understanding of their writings and positions is understandable if what is sought is polemical confrontation and ("final") ideological victory - it has, however, absolutely nothing to do with value-free (i.e. non-normative) description and explanation or analysis. Just as Kondylis acknowledged the extent to which slightly significant thinkers like Schmitt (Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck as exponents of the science of history were far greater influences on Kondylis than Schmitt), and extremely significant thinkers like Karl Marx were correct, he did not hesitate to point out their considerable shortcomings as well.

* Essential reading for a fuller understanding of Kondylis's stance in relation to Schmitt and decisionism, including in the context of the law, theology and political rule (sovereignty, domination or power), and also regarding the question of value freedom, with telling references to Kelsen, Bonald, Donoso Cortés, A. l' Houet, is: Kondylis, P. "Jurisprudenz, Ausnahmezustand und Entscheidung. Grundsätzliche Bemerkungen zu Carl Schmitts "Politische Theologie"", esp. pp. 343-344, 350-351, 352ff (pp. 154-156, 166-169, 170ff. in the Greek text: «Επιλεγόμενα» (στην Πολιτική Θεολογία του Carl Schmitt))]

READ "the book"... "the dynamite under the delusions of philosophers and theorists in general hardly anyone wants to touch" (C. F.).

TRANSLATOR'S HINT TO BEMUSED READERS: Whilst whatever I say cannot be a substitute for the hard work needed to read and understand Kondylis, the following may be of assistance: one of the points made in Power and Decision is that every kind of society creates its own ideologies and ruling dogmas, which all have a common conceptual structure, through and behind which concrete individuals and groups exercise power, i.e. influence and or govern others, and thus have differing and opposing thought content. In the Western context, the ruling dogma or ideology once said e.g. that the Son of God was God and born of a mortal Virgin. To openly doubt such absurdity would be punished harshly. Today, in certain sectors of society, "rape has nothing to do with sex", "everyone (i.e. individuals from all over the world as compared to one another, and not individuals of the human race as compared to other non-human species of the animal kingdom or natural world) is the same", "women and men are equal" (even though their hitherto unchangeable biological differences as biology without human intervention are not exactly hidden and unknown - even to laypeople), "x race is inherently "good" compared to y race which has a history of inherent "evil" (even though race, however defined, does not really exist, whereas racism does)", "human rights exist notwithstanding that they are not enforced in respect of all humans everywhere (or are enforced only selectively on the basis of power politics)", "love and open borders will overcome hate and division", "even though humans are natural beings, human culture is totally separable from nature", "Islam is the religion of Peace [and only Peace]", or the once prominent: "people (i.e. humans) of x race are sub-human or not human", "Christianity is the religion of Love [and only Love]", etc., despite being such logically inconsistent (not to say ridiculous and ludicrous) statements or notions with no empirical foundation whatsoever, are nonetheless (blindly) believed and supported with zeal and fanaticism by (both relatively intelligent as well as mentally challenged if not retarted) people. Inevitably, such people, riding the high tide of polemics, emotion and sloganeering, will do everything within their means to sideline any doubters so that certain individuals and groups can wield power over other individuals and groups, i.e. the polemical zeal behind power claims overrides any logical coherence and correspondence with empirical reality. Thus, without supporting any dogma or ideology, i.e. thought content, what Power and Decision does is describe the basic thought forms through which human (social) action takes place, with an emphasis on world images, world views, ideologies, as they pertain to self-preservation, power, the intellect(-spirit), identity, meaning, etc. (The Political and Man (Das Politische und der Mensch) gives readers a more rounded and far deeper view of human (social) action, encompassing: 1) the social relation both as to its (friend-foe) spectrum, and as to its mechanism (understanding, rationality, language), which bring about the endless types of (historical-)sociological content; 2) the political as the interaction of all interactions achieving social coherence and social order (social disciplining); and 3) the anthropological, whereby human nature is culture, with humans always being both natural and cultural beings, no matter how much culture can shape and control, rule or change nature) [neither Hobbes, nor Rousseau are absolutely right about human nature as far as "good" or "evil" is concerned; or, both are only partially right - both their positions are encompassed by empirically observed human action throughout known history].

A note on terminology

“Power” („Macht“) is (human) life and (human) life’s continuation (self-preservation) in human culture (society), i.e. (restricted by and) relative to other (individual and collective) crystallisations of (forms of) power, as well as, in its broadest sense, encompassing all forms of the (in part overlapping in meaning) terms: dominance, predominance, domination, rule, ruling (over others), authority, sovereignty, dominion, control, influence, etc.. Power and all its aforementioned manifestations can be physical and or (more often) ideational (ideological), and ultimately always refers to (human) society (and its culture, and the multifarious manifestations of identity, of individuals and groups) as the (a) political (collective) with some form of social order and social cohesion (as well as social disciplining)°.

There is usually no necessarily strict and absolute distinction made between the terms (with the notable exception of „Gewalt“ as "violence"):

„Herrschaft“, which is usually translated as “dominance” and far less commonly as “domination” or “rule” (“ruling (over others)”) [Talcott Parsons's translation is mainly "authority", though "domination" is also used not infrequently, and Parsons observed that whilst there was no satisfactory English equivalent for the term „Herrschaft“, "imperative control" as used by N. S. Timasheff was nonetheless closest to Weber's meaning (see Weber Max, Economy and Society, Vol. 1., pp. 61-62, note 31, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968, 1978; see also: pp. 217ff. („legale Herrschaft“ = "legal authority"), 226ff. („traditionale Herrschaft“ = "traditional authority"), 241ff. („charismatische Herrschaft“ = "charismatic authority"), 262ff. („Herrschaft“ = "authority"), etc. - elsewhere in the same edition of Economy and Society, as already noted, „Herrschaft“ is translated as "domination" (pp. 53ff., 212ff.) or as "legitimate domination" (p. 212ff.); "legitimer Herrschaft" is translated as "authority" (p. 215ff.), etc. Kondylis's own Greek rendering of „Herrschaft“ as «ἐξουσία» suggests the English word "authority" (or even "power", "control", "dominion", "governance") rather than "dominance" or "domination". The translator's view is that "authority" in English does not adequately convey a sense of the relatively high degree of "power" or "imperative control" contained within „Herrschaft“ and «ἐξουσία» (keeping in mind as well the diminution and or dispersal in the force of actual (top-down) "authority" in the West in the decades since Parsons was intellectually active), and therefore has opted for "dominance" ("domination" or "rule"/"ruling (over others)"). This is not to say that "authority" is not a valid, or even the better, choice.]; 

„Beherrschung“ as “domination” or “control(ling)”;

„Vorherrschaft“ as “predominance”;

„Gewalt“ as "violence";

„Kraft“ as "force" or "strength", and less often "power";

„Autorität“, „Instanz“ as “authority”;

„Durchsetzung“ as “imposition” or “predominance” or “prevailing”;

„Souveränität“ as “sovereignty”;

„Gebiet“ can be defined as “dominion”, though more often as “field”, “area”, “sector”;

„gebietend“ as “commanding”;

„Einfluß“, and less often „Wirkung“ (primarily “effect”), as “influence”;

and so on, and so forth...

The translator is not in principle opposed to the making of strict(er) definitional distinctions between the above-mentioned terms, however, due to the degree in the overlapping of such terms' meaning, neither Kondylis nor the translator has engaged in such an endeavour. Definitional distinctions are important. They cannot or should not however constrain the relative elasticity of meaning when exactly such flexibility is epistemologically appropriate. The fact that some non-human animals can and do exercise some forms of power over other animals not necessarily through direct physical contact or violence, and can control their impulses or instincts to some degree in certain circumstances, does not alter the fact that the non-human animals as social animals which display such self-control, do not behave („verhalten“) in a way which could encompass human-like action (acting, act(s)) („Handeln“, "Handlung", „Akt(e)“)°° accompanied by a symbolic network or "system" of meaning (language etc.) created by humans beyond what pre-existed, or exists without human intervention, in the natural world. Furthermore, terms such as:

„Weltbild“ ("world image"),

„Weltanschauung“, „Weltansicht“ ("world view") or „weltanschaulich“ ("world-theoretical"),

„Weltauffassung“ ("perception of the world" or "world view"),

„Ideologie“ ("ideology"),

„falsches Bewußtsein“ ("false consciousness"),

„Religion“ ("religion"),


„Interaktion“ ("interaction"),

„Wechselwirkung“ ("interaction (or mutual influence)")

have more or less overlapping but also context-specific meanings e.g. when defined strictly or more broadly, etc.; by no means are they always meant totally mutually exclusively.


° Unfortunately for English-language readers there is no English translation yet of the following compelling article discussing "power" and "dominance/domination/rule/ruling (over others)" (or "authority") (Petrides Raymond, ""Power" and "Authority" in the late work of P. Kondylis" in Νέος Ερμής ο Λόγιος (Neos Hermes ho Logios), Έτος (Year) 4, Τεύχος (Issue) 10, Καλοκαίρι (Summer) 2014, Αθήνα (Athens), Εταιρεία Μελέτης Ελληνικού Πολιτισμού (www.emep.gr), pp. 118-162):

  °° The distinction between animal behaviour and human action (acting, act(s)) is useful when making certain
  comparisons, but the terms are also interchangeable, depending on the context.

POWER AND DECISION (MACHT UND ENTSCHEIDUNG) by Panajotis Kondylis - alternative words and phrases version with some German text


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