To this day the thoroughly Catholic Uncle Franz and the thoroughly National Socialist Grünkranz have remained for me the perfect examples of these two human types, and as long as I live they will typify the two universal attitudes of mind which have given the world more cause for suffering than for rejoicing. Uncle Franz was the quintessence of Catholicism, just as Grünkranz had been of Nationalism Socialism; in every Catholic I see Uncle Franz, and in every National Socialist I see Grünkranz. And in many of the citizens of Salzburg I see the prefect, who for me was a Catholic and a National Socialist rolled into one, representing a type and a mentality more common in Salzburg than any other and still predominant there today. Even those who call themselves socialists – which is a concept quite incompatible with the Alpine terrain, especially in the Salzburg region – display a mixture of National Socialist and Catholic traits. This human amalgam can be recognized by any visitor to the city (Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence, p. 123).
One feature of Thomas Bernhard’s writing comes out with ever greater force upon delving further into his oeuvre: his sharp sense of observation with regards to character portraits. In what way might character portraits of such acuity be of use in political philosophy?
If we admit that there can be no (deep) understanding (of) the other’s deliberations, justifications and otherwise without recourse to her cognitive context and conceptual economy, then it will prove necessary to provide an idea, in one form or another, of both context and economy. Yet there is no a priori reason to think that a philosopher is better placed than another in calling attention to such context and economy. Well placed though they may be for parsing concepts, implications and so on, philosophers may have neither the training nor the patience to approach the other on her own terms or, rather, to allow the other to draw near in her own terms.
Wherefore the importance of allowing both everyday and literary depictions of character their place within the public realm of discourse and discussion. For, either as a lay member engaged in the day-to-day life of a given discursive community or as a practiced observer thereof, these persons find themselves positioned to give insight into these formations which a philosopher may not, under normal circumstances, be able to provide. Moreover, this allowance would have the effect of dispersing still further discursive authority into the community in question and leaving a voice to those who do not fall within the academic ranks of “expert”. Likewise, such an allowance would prove more realistic on one count, namely, that it recognizes the weight already given to voices of this kind within everyday discourse and discussion.
From there, the task falls to everyone to piece together, as best they can, the human amalgams that we are, such that we might come to understand better both how the other arrives at a given discursive position and what rational issue remains for us when confronted with difficulty.