Zoltán Gábor Szűcs's paper (Neither hope nor fear: A Stoic understanding of political freedom) was accepted to the Association for Social and Political Philosophy Annual Conference, 2017, University of Sheffield, June 27-29.
"HOW Godlike is the Man, how truly Great, / Who 'midst contending Factions of the State / In Council cool, in Resolution bold, / Nor brib'd by Hopes, nor by mean Fears controul' d, / And Proof alike against both Foes and Friends, / Ne'er from the Golden Mean of Virtue bends! / But wisely fix'd, nor to Extremes inclin'd, / Maintains the steady Purpose of his Mind."(John Hughes: The Patriot)
"Rebellions are built on hope." But is this really true? In the paper I will argue that there is a time-honored and venerable tradition of political thought that should be taken more seriously by the friends of freedom especially in our time of Caesarist and populist upheavals against the institutions of liberal democracy. This tradition has been built on the exact opposite of hope (or fear) and understood the standards of political conduct in terms of Stoic ethics. Fear and hope figure prominently amongst those passions, said the Stoics, which might cause perturbations in the soul and can turn people into the slaves of their own passions. This ethical concept assumes a political importance since expectations of the subjects can be easily manipulated and, as a consequence, are often used by political leaders to cement their power. In the absence of other - formal institutional - constraints, a normative commitment to the freedom from hope or fear offers an alternative way to seek to limit the power of the political authority. It is rather easy to understand why this Stoic concept of political freedom was so tempting before the rise of modern constitutional institutions. On the other hand, an appeal to a personal freedom from fear or hope might seem somewhat naïve or even counter-productive if seen through the lenses of political realism. The practice of patronage (i. e. a politics of fear and hope) is widely regarded as an important contributing factor to the emergence of modern party government. To counter these possible objections and offer a realist defense of the Stoic concept of freedom from hope or fear I will seek to stress two points in the paper. First, we should not downplay the relevance of freedom from hope or fear just because its primary function is not to help people to be on the winning side of the political game, but serves only as a justification for resistance. In the past it successfully encouraged political actors to resist policies they did not approve and also provided them with resources to fight regimes they judged illegitimate. And I think that it is still relevant to our political existence. Second, we need to carefully examine the normative implications of freedom from hope or fear both for present-day moderate and radical politics. There are many questions to be answered from the possibility that freedom from hope or fear can be used not only sincerely, but strategically in politics to its potential contributions to judging the integrity of political characters.