2021.12.14 - English

This is the sixth lecture of the series. In his sixth and final essay, Patočka asks, what was “that awesome will which for years drove millions of humans into a fiery furnace”? He is referring to the First World War, a “monumental auto-da-fé” which led, nightmarishly, to a Second World War – and ultimately, to what he calls “the definitive collapse of Europe.” His basic conclusion is that Europe has failed to grasp “the will to war,” because it is not a phenomenon of what he calls the “day.” European philosophy must face the reality of the human “night.” It is rational to honour the limits of the rational in human life, and Patočka is unconvinced that postwar Europeans had so honoured them – or could, since they held a progressive philosophy of history that his Heretical Essays seek to correct.

2021.12.07 - English

This is the fifth lecture of the series. Contemporary humanity is “simply no longer capable of physically surviving but for a mode of production that rests increasingly on technology,” claims Patočka. And yet, he adds in a text of the 1970s, that mode of production “increasingly devastates the planetary store of energy.” In his fifth essay, Patočka reflects on this – and other – dilemmas of what he calls our “technological civilization.” He refuses to call our civilization “decadent,” yet he is critical of modern Europe’s “deification of force,” and its concomitant “cult of the mechanical.” He believes that our ever-deepening reliance on machine systems endangers the earth – and ourselves. For at our core lies a mystery, and the acute danger of modernity is that, in it, “humans, like all else, are stripped of all mystery.”

2021.11.23 - English

This is the fourth lecture of the series. Nineteenth-century philosophers “did not for a moment doubt the spiritual origins of European unity,” writes Patočka, “and their conception is surely correct.” Thus, in his fourth essay, he tries to show that European culture is rooted in Christianity. This was and still is a “heretical” view, yet Patočka firmly holds it. He insists that “care for the soul is what gave rise to Europe.” What Christianity brought to Europe was a centuries-long “deepening” of Platonism’s concern with the human soul. It is only in the sixteenth century that Europeans began, en masse, to reject this Platonic–Christian legacy. The threat of European “nihilism,” faced by writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche, stems from that rejection.

2021.11.10 - English

Is Thatcherism Conservative? Hannes H. Gissurarson a professor of politics will answer this question at his second lecture, based on his recent article on The Guardian’s “Distorted Image of Thatcherism”.

2021.11.09 - English

This is the third lecture of the series. In Patočka’s third essay, his question is whether history has a meaning. It is of course possible to reply, dogmatically, in the negative (“History is chaos”) or in the affirmative (“History is governed by intelligible laws”). Modern nihilism denies that history has any meaning, whereas Marxism offers a positive doctrine of history’s meaning. Drawing on a now-forgotten German philosopher, Wilhelm Weischedel, Patočka argues that nihilism is literally deadly. “Humans cannot live,” he writes, “in the certitude of meaninglessness.” But he also knows that the Marxist “science” of history led to countless deaths in the twentieth century. Patočka therefore defends a form of Platonic politics that is shaped by “the old Christian meaning” of history – that of mystery.

2021.11.08 - English

Hannes Holmsteinn Gissurarson will be talking about the conservative-liberal tradition which stretches back to the medieval writers Snorri Sturluson and St. Thomas Aquinas, but which was developed mainly in the eighteenth century by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, whereas its most distinguished modern representatives are Friedrich von Hayek, Wilhelm Röpke, Michael Oakeshott, and Bertrand de Jouvenel.

2021.10.25 - English

This is the second lecture of the series. “History is not intelligible without free responsibility.” This is one of Patočka’s many “heretical” convictions. It is in stark contrast to materialist theories of history (notably, the Marxist) that he asserts “the primacy of freedom” in history. And what is freedom for? “Freedom,” we read in his second essay, “is freedom for truth.” This is a startling conclusion. Yet it is because of this conclusion that Patočka links the origins of “history” to the origins of European philosophy – by which he means, in the first place, the thought of Socrates and his protégé Plato. On Patočka’s telling, history and philosophy are both quests for truth.

2021.10.12 - English

This is the first lecture of the series. What is the world? This may seem like a strange question, but it is the one that opens Jan Patočka’s Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, which he wrote in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s and originally circulated as samizdat (underground literature). In Patočka’s first essay, he suggests that the prehistoric “world” is rich in meaning, but that it is defined by a radical form of human bondage – “the bondage of life to itself.” (The lecture will clarify what that means.) For Patočka, history begins, not when writing-cultures emerge, but rather when humans first begin to question their picture of the world. It is this question – What is the world? – which both incurs great risks and signals the appearance of human freedom.