Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

G. Ellis Sandoz


This study undertakes to examine the political thought of the late Czech philosopher and Charter 77 spokesman, Jan Patocka. It leads to a consideration of the fundamental problem of contemporary and postmodern theory, the question of a metaphysical foundation for our philosophical and political self-understanding. Patocka asserted the common origin of philosophy and politics in ancient Greece and maintained that their animating force was freedom, understood ontologically as our ability to transcend the merely objective and relative in life and to see human being as a being of possibility. He called this insight, embodied in the activity of Socrates, the original spirit of European civilization and the common link between the Greek polis and contemporary democracy. Yet the development of science and philosophy since Plato, Patocka argues, has failed to remain true to the Socratic insight; instead, objectified, or "metaphysical," versions have arisen that not only betray its essence but also contribute to the subordination of politics to ideology. As philosophy became objectively metaphysical, it made itself readily accessible to man and offered him the possibility of a firm foundation upon which to justify a system of politics or ethics---but only at the cost of its spirit of freedom. I develop this problem by examining four aspects of Patocka's thought: his relationship to Husserl and Heidegger, his relationship to Plato and Greek thought, his philosophy of history and understanding of the nature of politics, and his application of this framework to politics in the twentieth century. I conclude that Patocka's work describes a mode of self-understanding, and a mode of politics, that does not rest on a naive, metaphysical foundation; it is, instead, problematic, yet still provides meaning and unity for human beings. Though explicitly anti-foundational, it serves a foundational function---it allows men to construct a community and endow it with a non-relative sense of meaningfulness and ethics. I examine this previously unexplored body of work as an attempt to demonstrate that the postmodern critique of foundationalism and metaphysics need not imply the impossibility of a coherent and consistent politics and ethics.