In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Tuukka Brunila started working as a PhD student in EuroStorie’s subproject 2, Discovering the Limits of Reason – Europe and the Crisis of Universalism, in the beginning of April. Tuukka has a background in continental philosophy and history of philosophy. He has been especially intrigued by the relationship between reason and politics. Spending an exchange year in Germany also made him more and more interested in questions relating to Europe, its essence and the EU, which has only deepened due to the current political circumstances. Tuukka graduated from the University of Helsinki earlier this year, philosophy as his main subject.

Tuukka became interested in philosophy as a teenager after reading lots of poetry – for example poems by Pablo Neruda and those of Pentti Saarikoski, which triggered his interest in politics. After reading some writings of Karl Marx, he found himself very enthusiastic about the idea that philosophy ought to change the world. Thus, he started studying theoretical philosophy in 2012, as he figured that in order to understand political philosophy, one needs to first understand the larger theoretical questions behind them. Tuukka was especially interested in the historical aspects of reason – in contrast to Plato and Hegel, both of whom seemed to argue that reason would be something universal.

In his bachelor’s thesis, Tuukka examined how Hegel strove to defend reason and rationalism against empiricists before him. To Hegel, however, all theoretical questions about for example reason, dialectics or historical progress were such that had certain political consequences. According to Tuukka, this very feature in philosophy makes it important and significant. “Philosophically interesting theoretical questions are important only when they have political relevance.”

Tuukka’s master’s thesis on the other hand dealt with Plato and his notion of knowledge presented in the Meno dialogue.  Even despite being such an epistemological research topic, this too had political implications. Plato bound the question of attaining knowledge with learning. If it is possible to transfer knowledge from human to human, democratic system can function, as people’s wisdom can be increased by education. However, in case, this is not possible – and Plato argued it was not – democratic system loses its justification, and power needs to be centralized to the few people who possess true knowledge. When it comes to questions about education, knowledge or reason, there are many significant political implications. The Enlightenment and its idea of progress are good examples of this, according to Tuukka. “If we accept the idea that history is leading teleogically towards the liberation of humankind, then we are also most likely to justify certain institutions as tools to this greater cause.”

In EuroStorie, Tuukka is examining the crisis of reason with a special focus on the crisis of history and universalism – the idea that Europe is no longer a teleological end. According to Tuukka, unlike what is usually suggested, the crisis of history occurred already hand in hand with the First World War – long before Nazis or Auschwitz. The terrors of war made the idea of progress seem more and more questionable and implausible and it became relatively clear that history doesn’t always go forward and progress, but it can degenerate too. Even though this wasn’t a completely new theme – for example Nietzsche had spoken of it – the First World War was an event that made it seem all the more convincing.

Tuukka is interested to examine, what different kinds of consequences the First World War had when it comes to political philosophy. His research will focus especially on the political thought of Carl Schmitt, who for his part contributed to the Nazis’ rise to power. “A certain type of crisis of reason and historical progress can at its worst lead into horrible political consequences”, says Tuukka.

Tuukka wants to investigate, if the crisis of the idea of teleology and historical progress can lead into a situation, where we can no longer solve collisions of interests. “If we question the universality of history and political power and start thinking that all political actions are historically determined, what kinds of consequences does it have when it comes to normative questions?” What Schmitt saw as the most problematic issue concerning politics that had been dismantled into collisions of interests was that it threatened to make conflict something interior to state sovereignty.

Schmitt saw parliamentary democracy as a severe threat to state sovereignty, because it dismantles it into spheres of interests. Also, if sovereignty is divided into parts, it can no longer react to states of emergency that threaten certain order, and it is in danger of drifting into civil war and the division of the society. Thus, he argued that parliamentary democracy is too weak to defend itself. Schmitt’s critique of parliamentary democracy is rather interesting when compared to the present. Democracies and democratic institutions all over the world are threatened by antidemocratic factors that seek to justify and advance their aims by democratic means. According to him, democracies will always contain factors that seek to destroy them.  

What makes Schmitt still so popular among scholars is his idea that the things that are presented as politically neutral or rational are no more neutral nor rational than any alternatives. This is also quite topical when we look at politics today: it has become more and more popular among politicians to claim that the politics advanced by them would be something neutral and only for the common good.  Tuukka will look at the question of special interest politics in his research and hopes to clarify how the political nature of certain political aims is being faded out and concealed. 

Many new politico-philosophical ideas sprang up the interwar Weimar Republic, of which Carl Schmitt’s are one example. By understanding the roots of European politics and the ideas affecting behind them, we can obtain more knowledge and understanding about the problems we are facing today, according to Tuukka.

 

 

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