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Malkin, E.E. (1977). Rationality and Politics. Am. J. Psychoanal., 37(1):65-71.

(1977). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37(1):65-71

Other Voices

Rationality and Politics

Edward E. Malkin, Ph.D.

What is it to be rational? Epictetus pondered this question long ago on the Balkan coast and there was reminded of the ebb and flow of market prices where men sell themselves according to the value each assigns to his own capacity for autonomous definition. For one man, the freed slave concluded, it is rational to hold the chamber pot for another, since in doing so he is likely to be fed and to avoid being beaten.1 For another, even the thought of having the pot held for him is irrational. The connection between rationality and one's estimate of oneself was also clear to that eminently pragmatic Stoic Seneca, who knew, and not merely as a verbalizer, what one must often do in this life. Seneca concluded that rationality may turn out in the end to consist of choking oneself to death with a filth-clotted mop used to swab out toilets, if nothing else comes to hand, when the game is no longer worth the candle.2 In our own day, one's estimate of oneself can bring a Catholic into a Protestant saloon in Ulster girdled with gelignite to blow himself up if only he can take four Protestant men and their wives with him into the next world. It was Bertrand Russell's estimate of the value of his existence over his nonexistence that led to the ultimate shrink-wisdom of his apothegm, “better Red than dead,” which recently provoked Solzhenitsyn to respond, “better dead than a scoundrel.” Such conclusions led Bill and Emily Harris to their certainty that any future existence of this global polis as a continuation of the present one is not only irrational but intolerable.

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