Politics, Social Reform, and Pathei-Mathos


NASA/ESA/Moaz - NGC 1512

Politics, Society, Social Reform, and Pathei-Mathos


Modern Society and The Individual

Society, in the context of this essay, refers to ‘modern societies’ (especially those of the modern ‘democratic’ West) and means a collection of individuals who dwell, who live, in a particular area and who are subject to the same laws and the same institutions of authority. Modern society is thus a manifestation of The State, and which State is predicated on individuals actively or passively accepting some supra-personal authority [1].

In modern societies, change and reform are often therefore introduced or attempted by The State most usually: (1) on the basis of the manufacture of some law or laws which the individuals, and the established institutions, of the area governed by The State are expected to obey on pain of some type of individual punishment, financial and/or physically punitive (as in prison); or (2) by means of State-sponsored or State-introduced schemes such as, for example, the British National Health Service and which schemes are invariably enshrined in law.

The essence of such change and reform of a society – large-scale, effective, rapid change and reform in society – is therefore, for the majority of people, external, and most often derives from some posited or assumed or promised agenda of the government of the day; that is, derived from some political or social or economic theory, axiom, idea, or principle, posited by others, be these others, for example, politicians, or social/political/economic theorists/reformers (and so on).

There is thus a hierarchy of judgement involved, whatever political ‘flavour’ the government is assigned to, is assumed to represent, or claims it represents; with this hierarchy of necessity requiring the individual in society to either (i) relinquish their own judgement, being accepting of or acquiescing in (from whatever reason or motive such as desire to avoid punishment) the judgement of these others, or (ii) to oppose this ‘judgement of others’ either actively through some group, association, or movement (political, social, religious) or individually, with there being the possibility that some so opposing this ‘judgement of others’ may resort to using violent means against the established order.

Objectively, this process of change and reform by means of a hierarchy of judgement manifest in laws, and of State authority and power sufficient to enforce such laws, has resulted in fairly stable societies which are, for perhaps the majority of people, relatively peaceful, not overtly repressive, and – judged by the criteria of past societies and many non-Western societies – relatively prosperous.

Thus, while many problems – social and economic – remain and exist in such societies, with some such problems getting worse, such societies work reasonably well, contain an abundance of well-intentioned, moral, individuals, and appear to be better than the alternatives both tried in the past and theorized about. Hence it is not surprising that perhaps the majority of people within such societies favour solving such problems as do exist by existing social, political, and economic means; that is, by internal social, political, and economic, reform rather than by violent means and the advocacy of extremist ideologies.

Furthermore, many or most of the flaws, and the problems, within society are recognized and openly discussed, with a multitude of people of good will, of humanity, of fairness, committed to or interested in helping those affected by such flaws and problems, and thus not only trying to improve society but also to finding and implementing solutions in tolerant ways which do not cause conflict or involve the harshness, the violence, the hatred, the intolerance, of extremism.

For, while most large-scale, effective, rapid change and reform in society tends to be by enforceable State laws and State-sponsored schemes, change and reform also and significantly occurs and has occurred within society, albeit often more slowly, through the efforts of individuals and groups and organizations devoted to charitable, religious, or social causes and which individuals and groups and organizations by their very nature are invariably non-violent and often non-political. Furthermore, such non-violent, non-political, individuals and groups and organizations often become the inspiration for reform and change introduced by The State.

Some Problems of Modern Society

Before outlining a possible numinous approach to reform and change, based on the philosophy of pathei-mathos, it would perhaps be useful to outline some of the social problems that still beset modern societies. What therefore constitutes a social problem within a society? How is such a problem defined?

In essence, it is an undesirable circumstance or way of living that affects a number of people and which undesirable circumstance or way of living others in society are or become aware of; with what is undesirable being – according to the ethics of the philosophy of pathei-mathos [2] – that which is, or those who are, unfair; that which deprives or those whom deprive a human being of dignity and honour; and that which is and those who are uncompassionate.

Thus, among the many problems of modern societies are misogyny; ethnic and religious discrimination, hatred, and prejudice; and social/economic inequality.

For example, misogyny – from the Greek μισογύνης – is unfairness toward, and/or prejudice and discrimination against, women. Often, as in the past, this is a consequence of an existing prejudice in a man: for example, that men are somehow better than women, or that women are ‘useful’ only for or suited to certain things; or that the subservience of women, and thus their domination/control by men, is ‘a natural and necessary’ state of human existence.

Misogyny in individual practice often results in men being violent/domineering toward, or selfishly manipulative and controlling of, women; and thus in them treating women in a dishonourable, undignified, unfair, and uncompassionate way.

Similarly, a hatred or dislike of or discrimination against an individual or a group of individuals on the basis of their perceived or assumed ethnicity is treating that individual or group in a dishonourable, undignified, unfair, and uncompassionate way.

Thus such social problems are often the result, the consequence of, a lack of empathy in a person, with this lack of  συμπάθεια with other human beings having often in the past been evident in the treatment of people and individuals by governments, States, and institutions, and often revealed in and through discriminatory, unfair, uncompassionate laws.

A Numinous and Non-Political Approach

Given that the concern of the philosophy of pathei-mathos is the individual and their interior, their spiritual, life, and given that (due to the nature of empathy and pathei-mathos) there is respect for individual judgement, the philosophy of pathei-mathos is apolitical, and thus not concerned with such matters as the theory and practice of governance, nor with changing or reforming society by political means.

For, as mentioned in Some Personal Musings On Empathy,

” [the] acceptance of the empathic – of the human, the personal – scale of things and of our limitations as human beings is part of wu-wei. Of not-striving, and of not-interfering, beyond the purveu of our empathy and our pathei-mathos. Of personally and for ourselves discovering the nature, the physis, of beings; of personally working with and not against that physis, and of personally accepting that certain matters or many matters, because of our lack of personal knowledge and lack of personal experience of them, are unknown to us and therefore it is unwise, unbalanced, for us to have and express views or opinions concerning them, and hubris for us to adhere to and strive to implement some ideology which harshly deals with and manifests harsh views and harsh opinions concerning such personally unknown matters.

Thus what and who are beyond the purveu of empathy and beyond pathei-mathos is or should be of no urgent concern, of no passionate relevance, to the individual seeking balance, harmony, and wisdom, and in truth can be detrimental to finding wisdom and living in accord with the knowledge and understanding so discovered. “

This means that there is no desire and no need to use any confrontational means to directly challenge and confront the authority of existing States since numinous reform and change is personal, individual, non-political, and not organized beyond a limited local level of people personally known. That is, it is of and involves individuals who are personally known to each other working together based on the understanding that it is inner, personal, change – in individuals, of their nature, their character – that is is the ethical, the numinous, way to solve such personal and social problems as exist and arise. That such inner change of necessity comes before any striving for outer change by whatever means, whether such means be termed or classified as political, social, economic, religious. That the only effective, long-lasting, change and reform is understood as the one that evolves human beings and thus changes what, in them, predisposes them, or inclines them toward, doing or what urges them to do, what is dishonourable, undignified, unfair, and uncompassionate.

In practice, this evolution means, in the individual, the cultivation and use of the faculty of empathy, and acquiring the personal virtues of compassion, honour, and love. Which means the inner reformation of individuals, as individuals.

Hence the basis for numinous social change and reform is aiding, helping, assisting individuals in a direct and personal manner, and in practical ways, with such help, assistance, and aid arising because we personally know or are personally concerned about or involved with those individuals or the situations those individuals find themselves in. In brief, being compassionate, empathic, understanding, sensitive, kind, and showing by personal example.

An Experience of The Numinous

The change that the philosophy – the way – of pathei-mathos seeks to foster, to encourage, is the natural, slow, interior and personal change within individuals; that is, the change of personal character by the individual developing and using their faculty of empathy and inclining toward being compassionate and honourable by nature. In essence, this is a numinous – a spiritual – change in people, a change of perspective, quite different from the supra-personal social change based on laws desired by modern States and by those who champion or who employ political, economic, and social theories regarding society, government, and the individual.

This interior personal change, by its numinous and ethical nature, is one that does not seek to reform society through politics or by any type of agitation, or through the use of force, or by means of any type of organization, social, political, economic, religious. Instead, such numinous change is the reform of individuals on a personal, individual, and cultural basis; by personal example and by individuals cultivating, in accordance with wu-wei, conditions and circumstances whereby they themselves and others can move toward συμπάθεια with other human beings through a personal knowing and experience of the numinous. Such a knowing and experience of the numinous can be cultivated by a variety of means, for example by harmonious surroundings; through an appreciation of, and a living in balance with, Nature; by love and respect and manners and a desire for peace; by periods of interior and exterior silence; through culture and thus through music, Art, literature, an understanding of history, and through respect for and tolerance of the many religions and spiritual Ways which have arisen over millennia and which may manifest the numinous or something of the numinous.


David Myatt
2012 ce

This essay forms Part Four of the text Recuyle Of The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos



[1] The State is defined as:

The concept of both (1) organizing and controlling – over a particular and large geographical area – land (and resources); and (2) organizing and controlling individuals over that same geographical particular and large geographical area by: (a) the use of physical force or the threat of force and/or by influencing or persuading or manipulating a sufficient number of people to accept some leader/clique/minority/representatives as the legitimate authority; (b) by means of the central administration and centralization of resources (especially fiscal and military); and (c) by the mandatory taxation of personal income.

My personal (fallible) view is that by their nature States often tend to be masculous (hence the desire for wars, invasions, conquest, competition, and the posturing often associated with ‘patriotism’), although in my view they can become balanced, within, by acceptance of certain muliebral qualities, qualities most obviously manifest in certain aspects of culture, in caring professions, in pursuing personal love and the virtue of wu-wei, and in and by the empowerment and equality of, and respect for, women and those whose personal love is for someone of the same gender.

As mentioned elsewhere, I am somewhat idiosyncratic regarding capitalization (and spelling), and capitalize certain words, such as State, and often use terms such as The State to emphasize the philosophical truth of State as entity.

[2] The ethics of the way of pathei-mathos are the ethics of empathy – of συμπάθεια. In practical personal terms, this means dignity, fairness, balance (δίκη), reason, a lack of prejudgement, and the requirement of a personal knowing and of personal experience, of πάθει μάθος.

An ethical person thus reveals, possesses, εὐταξία – the quality, the personal virtue, of self-restraint; of personal orderly (balanced, honourable, well-mannered) conduct, a virtue especially evident under adversity or duress.

Thus, and as mentioned in Enantiodromia and The Reformation of The Individual, the good is considered to be what is fair; what alleviates or does not cause suffering; what is compassionate; what empathy by its revealing inclines us to do, what inclines us to appreciate the numinous and why ὕβρις is an error of unbalance.

Hence the bad – what is wrong, immoral – is what is unfair; what is harsh and unfeeling; what intentionally causes or contributes to suffering, with what is bad often considered to be due to a lack of empathy and of πάθει μάθος in a person, and a consequence of a bad φύσις, of a bad, a rotten, or an undeveloped, unformed, not-mature, individual character/nature. In effect, such a bad person lacks εὐταξία, has little or no appreciation of the numinous, and is often in thrall to their hubriatic and/or their masculous desires.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/Moaz – NGC 1512