Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 21 Summary

The Pathology of Political Disengagement

“… Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy:
Yet with a pleasing sorcery, could … excite
Fallacious hope, or arm the obdured breast
With stubborn patience …”

When power is centralized and unresponsive, the citizen retreats into himself as a refuge against feelings of powerlessness. He makes himself his own private property, to possess, separately and apart from the community, the polis. To live without a context, to live outside of rather than within the community, is to live in a state of exstasis, to be out of place, to be without a place. To be without a context, to be out of place, without genuine connections to the life of the polis is, as Aristotle put it, either to be a beast or a God.

In Greek, the word stasis refers both to the stability of balanced forces, or equilibrium and the presence of such forces, or factionalism. Ekstasis is the condition of being beyond, without or separate from factionalism or civic strife. It is also the condition of “withdrawal of the soul into a mythic or prophetic trance” which leads to insanity and bewilderment.  In medieval times ekstasis became alienatio mentis which is the basis for the English word alienation.  Lien is the French word tie. The insane person is known as an aliené, “he who is without ties.” Thus insanity and separation from political process have a common origin.

The person who is a polis unto himself feels isolated from the processes that control the outcome of human events. He feels trapped in his body, with little or no means for release, based on freedom and mutuality. He withdraws further into himself and ends up believing that this is where he belongs. Feeling small and powerless, the citizen is like a child dependent on the all powerful government which he idealizes the way a child idealizes its parent.

Recovery from a state of exstasis entails a transformation of political consciousness from that of a child to that of an adult. The liberated adult is able to think critically about political realities and the nature of state power. For the first time he understands and is in a position to live out the true meaning of his adult identity. He no longer sees himself as an island unto himself. He recognizes that he is part of the main.