Who’s who in philosophy on Wikipedia? Who gets dragged out of the comfortable or more ascetic ivory towers? Is it Immanuel Kant or Karl Marx? Friedrich Nietzsche or Niccolo Machiavelli? Slavoj Zizek, Noam Chomsky or Judith Butler? Socrates, Plato or Aristotle? Simone De Beauvoir, Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre? Have a guess and then check out how the battle has turned out.
Apparently, we look up philosophers in the cold months of autumn and winter, perhaps when we're more likely to get existential angst and melancholy from little sun and vitamin D deficiency. Since it’s cold outside now, enjoy your snapshot of philosophy in the (digital) polis. A glimpse into the stats may not tell you about the darkest corners of your soul (may you want to get there) but it may reveal how narratives and digital trends get created, and how philosophy can get out there, to wider audiences. In the spirit of the internet, we also brought you a quote from each of the philosophers in the top that might seem particularly relevant at the end of 2017.
1. Karl Marx vs Immanuel Kant?
In the 2017 Wiki battle of Idealism versus Materialism, the absolute winner is… Marx, with over 2.75 million views. With the considerable fewer yet solid 1.23 million views, Kant’s transcendental idealism has perhaps been less relevant in a world gone mad.
Every year, the spikes come on Marx’s birthday on 5th May, as well as on the day he died, 14th March. The next spike in 2017 came on the centenary of the Russian Revolution on 7th November. Pretty basic stuff so far.
But 2017 is not the first year in which Marx asserts his dictatorship of the proletariat over Wikipedia’s philosophers. In 2016 his page got over 2.6 million views, and in 2015 - over 2.8 million views, July to June (there is no view history before July 2015 on Wiki). Initially, we thought Marx’s popularity is due to Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign. But it looks like the spikes of 2015 and 2016 were caused by online sensations such as the release of an episode of the video game Assasin’s Creed on Marx, and a piece gone viral on how ironic it is that one has to pay $6 to see Marx’s grave in North London.
Since 2017 has been marked by a surge of feminism in mainstream debates, we’ll have two quotes on women which might also explain why Marx feels more relevant than Kant today.
Marx: “Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex.” vs
Kant: “The desire of a man for a woman is not directed at her as a human being, on the contrary, the woman’s humanity is of no concern to him; and the only object of his desire is her sex.”
2. Friedrich Nietzsche vs Niccolo Machiavelli?
In the fight of the bad boys of philosophy, Nietzsche wins with 2.38 million views in 2017 (quite a lot more than in 2016, when his page got just under 2 million views), while Machiavelli got 1.34 million views (a similar number to the previous year).
Nietzsche had a spike in November both in 2017 and 2016, which confirms the general pattern that philosophers tend to become popular on Wikipedia when the cold and grey outside might make us contemplate the meaninglessness of life.
Machiavelli’s massive spike on 29th July, on the other hand, has a clear link to the Youtube vlog Game of Thrones Academy, who released an episode titled ‘What Would Machiavelli Think of Jon and Daenerys?’ One of the things the vlog hosts focused on was how Olenna’s words ‘It is better to be feared than loved’ echo Machiavelli’s quote below.
Machiavelli’s take on power doesn’t just reflect Game of Thrones realpolitik but also the dictators of 2017 – Erdogan, Putin - in his thought that: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because ...love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken whenever [people] see a chance to benefit themselves. But fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that is always effective.”
And here's a touch of post-truth from Nietzsche: “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”
3. Slavoj Zizek vs Noam Chomsky vs Judith Butler?
It’s not Zizek and it’s not Butler. The most popular living philosopher and the only one who makes it into Top 10 on Wikipedia this year is Chomsky, with an honourable just under 2.2 million views, and spikes in January, March and February, largely determined by the interviews he gave and his outspoken criticism of Donald Trump, the Republican Party and America’s international interventions. At 89, Chomsky makes one headline after another saying that “the Russian interference in U.S. elections has half the world cracking up in laughter” and “as was made very clear in the reaction to Trump’s electoral victory, the US has the enthusiastic support of the xenophobic ultra-right in Europe, including its neo-fascist elements”. Chomsky was even more popular in 2016 and 2015, with about 2.4 million views and spikes in November, again coinciding with an interview on Trump, in which he warned about the latest climate changes and called the Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in world history”.
Over the past year, Zizek reached more than 536,600 views, with a spike on 17th January, as he said in a BBC interview that had he been American, he would have voted Trump out of protest. In 2017, the enfant terrible of philosophy got about 130,000 fewer views than in 2016.
Judith Butler got over 330,000, with a spike on 3rd May, when the satire paper The Onion released the video “Trump Voter Feels Betrayed By President After Reading 800 Pages of Queer Feminist Theory”. At least this way more people found out about Butler.
Zizek: “When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: "Don't think, don't politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!”
Chomsky: “Everybody’s worries about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
Butler: “Sexual harassment law is very important. But I think it would be a mistake if the sexual harassment law movement is the only way in which feminism is known in the media.”
4. Socrates vs Plato vs Aristotle?
Following Marx, Kant, Nietzsche and Chomsky, Wiki users go back to basics: the ancient Greeks, but in reverse chronological order, showing that, at least in 2017, the students surpassed their teachers – Aristotle tops Plato and Socrates respectively. Over the past year, Aristotle has accumulated more than 2.07 million views, about 200,000 fewer views compared to 2016.
Plato has had 1.8 million views, only slightly less than in the previous year. The January and October spikes might coincide with the zealous desire of students starting off university terms in many countries of the world, or just with the autumn and winter blues that wakes up the philosopher nerve in us.
Plato’s teacher Socrates - the man who brought philosophy from the abstract realm of the pre-Socratics to people’s everyday lives, without ever writing a word – comes sixth on Wikipedia philosopher searches, with over 1.7 million views.
For those of you looking for New Year inspiration, take this from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
And Plato: “The measure of a man is what he does with power.”
And may Socrates inspire you to never stop questioning.
5. Albert Camus vs Jean-Paul Sartre vs Simone de Beauvoir
And the winner of the existentialists’ popularity contest is won by… an absurdist. Camus, whose Wiki page got 904,450 views in 2017, surpasses Sartre by about 62,000 reads and wins over Beauvoir by 385,000 views. Perhaps the fact that Camus is known as an author rather than philosopher gives him a head start. After all, the parish of literature fits more than the one of philosophy. As the New Year is almost here, we’ll end on a hopeful note.
Sartre: “You can always make something out of what you've been made into.”
Camus: “When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Beauvoir: “One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”
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