This article shows that Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is traversed by a tension between an interpretation of history and existence in terms of crisis and the recognition of an insurmountable vertigo, the Heraclitean model of an eternal return of the singular and the partial, without possible synthesis. Our thesis is that the model of the crisis is marked by a classical positivism which makes it the secret ally of a conservative and anti-democratic politics. It is also an impasse in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy since it supposes a reference to an overlooking point of view that the whole of Merleau-Pontian reflection has shown to be impossible. The phenomenology of perception and ontology of the perceived world show that we have access only to a mystified consciousness and that even the world itself is undecided. The Heraclitean path must win against the interpretation in terms of crisis, but the persistence of the second path in Merleau-Ponty’s work is also explained by the extremely difficult character of the first path. The theory of chronic vertigo takes us closer to nihilism, and this is an aspect of Merleau-Pontian philosophy whose radical and highly problematic – perhaps even aporetic – character must not be underestimated. How to decide on practice and politics without absolute reference, without being able to guarantee anything? The use Merleau-Ponty makes of crucial references to Machiavelli and Marx at the heart of his political philosophy is very revealing this regard: in the first movement, this is a matter of “disarming” these philosophies, making them instruments for the disruption of action. But Merleau-Ponty’s final goal is not to return to the philosophy of contemplation, abstract ontology, but to build a new practical model: that of symbolic action, which integrates vertigo rather than surpassing it and constitutes a praxis inseparable from the enterprise of knowledge and artistic creation. We could say that it is saved by its openness to sense, but this means that it cannot rely on any positive established meaning and must find its wellspring in a ‘wild’ ability to be unceasingly decentered, to take nothing for granted, to approach our values and beliefs as foreign. This raises the question of the possibility of the incarnation of such a model in an effective political institution.

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