Rethinking the polis: Implications of Heidegger's questioning the political

Stuart Elden

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Heidegger's thought has, in recent years, been relentlessly examined for glimpses of the political. This paper approaches that debate by looking at one of themes of Heidegger's lectures during the Nazi years: one which explicitly questions the notion of the political itself. This questioning, through a rethinking of the Greek word [polis], is a result of Heidegger's retreat from his own political involvement. Heidegger's active political career was theoretically underpinned by his interpretation of Plato's call for philosopher-kings: his rethinking is important in understanding his turn away from Nazism. In his rethinking Heidegger suggests that looking at the polis with our modern, political, eyes does not give us fundamental insights into the meaning of this word. Heidegger looks to the choral ode in Sophocles' Antigone, and focuses on a line which begins 'hypsipolis apolis'. Through a detailed reading, Heidegger suggests that polis should be understood not as 'city' or 'state' but as 'site', the historical site of being. We cannot use our modern understanding of politics to understand the polis, but we can use our understanding of polis to rethink the notion of the political. The political, means relating to the site of abode of human history, and is therefore primarily spatial, or better, platial. Such an understanding allows us to understand Heidegger's work on technology from a better position; to distance ourselves from the modern, Schmittian notion of the political; and to rethink the principle concepts of politics with due attendance to the role of space, or place. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-422
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Heidegger
  • Place
  • Polis
  • Political
  • Schmitt
  • Space

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