In the midst of our shock, anguish and grief at last week’s Brexit verdict, it behooves all followers of Latour to check that we are not mourning a progressive vision of the future that was after all Modern.
This article on Europe as a ‘theological project’ is therefore timely.
As we know, Latour has much to say about ‘forward progress’ as the chimerical medicine that is administered to itself by the Moderns. Forward progress is the movement of those who have been equipped with certainty about the direction of history, precisely because they believe themselves to be heirs to an event of historical rupture that has already uncovered the normative law of the unfolding of history. As Latour puts it in Face à Gaïa, the Moderns are those who accept:
[…] ce thème étrange que l’histoire serait déjà finie, qu’il existerait une rupture totale et radicale qui aurait définitivement brûlé nos vaisseaux derrière nous. C’est le cliché bien connu de l’irrésistible ‘fuite en avant’ .
[…] this strange idea that history should be already finished, that a total and radical rupture should have taken place that definitively burnt the bridges with what was behind us. This is the well-known cliché of the irresistible ‘headlong rush’ (my translation)
(On a point of detail, the phrase ‘fuite en avant’ comes from Danowski, Deborah, & Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, (2014), ‘L’arrêt de monde’ in Hache, Émilie, (ed.), De l’univers clos au monde infini: textes réunis et presents).
Thus, for Latour, the concept of forward progress is artificial, precisely because its transcendental grounding in the event of a rupture forecloses the logistical movement of ontological pluralism that is continually at play in the material and historical situation of the present. In place of this idea of forward progress, then, Latour will advocate the need to ‘revenir sur l’idée de progrès, à rétrogresser’ (my trans. ‘to come back to the idea of progress, to retrogress’).
The article makes a correct diagnosis of the danger for people (like myself) who are mourning the loss of an apparently progressive ideal. In doing so, are we in fact elevating a utopia over and above the nuture of the local, the secular and the immanent, which are our real responsibilities of care? Are we secretly Hegelian? In doing so, are we compromising the very mechanism by which politics can take place and flourish?
The progressive future will even result in the end of politics itself — at least if politics is understood as encompassing more than the jostling of interest groups, bureaucratic administration, and the management of government benefits. Politics in that narrow sense will remain. But politics in Aristotle’s sense — this particular community in thisplace with this history and heritage, determining its own character for itself, deciding who is and who is not a citizen, who will rule, and in the name of which vision of the good life — that existential form of politics will cease to exist in the progressive future.
This is the Schmittian fear of the global and the universal as that which forecloses the possibility of politics, and thus loses that which is essential to human society and subjectification: ‘a world state that embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist’ (The Concept of the Political, p.53). It is the basis of Schmitt’s critique of democracy, via Rudolph Smend, in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.
And yet, all followers of political theology can rest assured. Political theology is the safeguarding of both politics and theology, precisely because it refuses the Modern idea of ‘progress’ and brings us back to the fully rational logistical mechanism by which the common world can be composed. That is the sort of progressive I want to be. And it is the progressive Europe that I wish we could still be a part of, warts and all.
For more detail, see Bruno’s article here.