Cosmopolitan Sophistry: Grounding Politics in Disorder and Uncertainty

Jon Marshall


Conceptions of the State, Nation and politics, which are actually in play in ‘the West’, usually descend from totalitarian models which are primarily Platonic and monotheistic in origin. They aim for unity, harmony, wholeness, legitimate authority and the rejection of conflict, however much they claim to represent multiplicity. By expressing a vision of order, such models drive an idea of planning by prophecy as opposed to divination, as if the future was certain within limits and the trajectory was smooth. Chaos theory and evolutionary ecology shows us that this conception of both society and the future is inaccurate. I will argue that it is useful to look at the pre-socratic philosophers, in particular the so-called sophists Gorgias and Protagoras and Heraclitus with their sense of ongoing flux, the truth of the moment, and the necessary power of rhetoric in the leading forth of temporary functional consensus within the flux. This ongoing oscillation of conflict provides social movement and life rather than social death.

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