Hannah Arendt (pictured) blamed Plato for setting politics and philosophy in opposition. For although Plato advocated a "Philosopher King", this meant solely that the person in charge would have sufficient respect for philosophy to ensure that the philosophers could be left undisturbed in their deliberations. Plato did not, Arendt claims, envision philosophy as an active force in the common world of people and it was her belief that this was a deadly "blow dealt by philosophy to politics, the conviction that political activity is a necessary evil..."
She was troubled by the "inherent degradation" of the political realm, but even more so by "the radical separation" of the political realm, where people live and act together, from the concerns of people living in "singularity and solitude". This probably played into her decision to reject the title of philosopher for herself (despite it now being de rigeur to call her a philosopher), on the grounds that philosophy was concerned with "man in the singular".
She writes, in The Promise of Politics, a book edited by Jerome Kohn from her notes:
What matters is the unbridgeable abyss that opened and has never been closed, not between the so-called individual and the so-called community (which is a late and phony way of stating an authentic and ancient problem), but between being in solitude and living together... Neither the radical separation between politics and contemplation, between living together and living in solitude as two distinct modes of life, nor their hierarchical structure, was ever doubted after Plato had established both.
I find it particularly interesting that Arendt rejects the modern view of individual versus community as "phony" - since this is often how the liberal versus conservative political divide is couched. But Arendt saw this as a gloss over the division between solitude and living together. By focussing solely upon the self, the liberal mantra of individualism perhaps supports the right to live in solitude too fervently, and in so doing effectively deprecates working together politically. But the conservative focus on the family and duty towards community may equally undermine our capacity to work together by restricting in rigid ways just who constitutes a part of any acknowledged community.
Too many of us have managed to inherit this disdain for politics that Arendt claims was handed down from Plato. The failure of modern philosophy to connect successfully with politics and reanimate political discussion (by which I do not mean the debates of politicians) may lie precisely with its liberal bias - it's commitment to the rights of the self and thus of solitude, and the denial of duties to those around us. Frankly, too many people - both liberal and conservative - are preoccupied by attempts to dictate how people in other communities must live. Against such a background, it is small wonder that local communities have become so gravely stunted in so many places - we would rather force our beliefs upon the world at large than have to talk to our neighbours.