Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 7)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.

Lecture 7: Les États (de nature) entre guerre et paix

face

Caspar David Friedrich

Das Große Gehege bei Dresden, ‘The Great Enclosure’ (1832 painting):

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_The_Grosse_Gehege_near_Dresden_-_Google_Art_Project

  • The receding lines of convergence make it difficult for the spectator to determine the situation of the flooded river in the foreground vis-à-vis the receding horizon of the sky in the background.
  • This parodies the pictorial image of the globe as taken from space, where continents and oceans seem to merge into each other in a general situation of in-distinction.

Thus, the paining makes the point: it is as if nature herself were resisting containment within a framework, let us say the framework of a globe.

And it portrays the impossible task of ‘viewing’ our situation within a globe, as if global vision introduces a confused spatiality in which the human condition cannot be pinpointed in any meaningful way: ‘dans la nature, personne n’a de place’.

Global vision is impossible

The painting therefore reminds us that it is impossible to look down upon nature from a vantage point ‘above’, one that sees what lies below holistically, or as a globe: ‘le génie de ce tableau, c’est d’avoir ainsi marqué l’instabilité de tout point de vue, qu’il s’agisse de voir le monde d’en haut, d’en bas ou du milieu’.

In fact, not even a ‘God’s eye’ view would be assured this kind of global vision: ‘celui qui croit voir le Globe terrestre d’en haut, se prend pour Dieu—et comme Dieu lui-même, bien sûr, ne voit pas la Terre ainsi, la vision globale est à la fois mensongère et impie.

Global vision is state-like

The claim to global vision (or God’s eye vision) is now described as state-like (how ironic given the emancipation promised by the phenomenon of globalization), in that both (A) global vision and (B) the state prescribe boundaries of identity for their inhabitants (we can see that it will be a short step from here to associate global vision with the liberal, juristic state that Schmitt condemns).

Thus, conflating the two, we live in (what might be called) a globe-State, ‘à l’intérieur des frontières d’un quasi-État’.

The globe-State enables only an ‘artificial’ peace

The globe-State does grant a certain amount of stability and peace for those inhabiting it, but only in the way that the liberal, juristic state does, ‘dont les lois universelles pouvaient être invoqués par n’importe quel individu rationnel pour mettre fin aux disputes et amener ses adversaires à résipiscence’.

This is an artificial or superficial stability and peace, however, because it is based on the deferral to a non-spatially orientated metaphysical principle: we all find ourselves ‘sous l’égide d’une autorité […] qu’il faut bien appeler souveraine’. Thus, the ‘globe’ or the globe-State is always given as a negative phenomenon for reasons of spatiality (nomos): ‘le Globe offre une figuration en quelque sorte géométrique de l’arbitre souverain qui règne au dessus de tous les conflits—et qui, par conséquent, les dépolitise aussitôt’.

Latour calls the peace that the globe-State brings an ‘armistice’, in the sense that it is a peace that can never hold because it can not differentiate plural modes: ‘l’Ancien Régime Climatique n’était rien de plus qu’un armistice, en attente d’un traité de paix qui n’est jamais venu, car il aurait obligé à distinguer précisément les vérités contrastées de la religion, de la politique et de la science’.

Globe-vision is a pernicious amalgamation

Globe-vision prematurely unites things that have different regimes of truth: it is a ‘stupéfiant amalgame des pouvoirs religieux, scientifiques et politiques’.

The globe-State is revealed as non-representative

The Anthropocene reveals that the globe-State never did manage to include representation for all its beings, both human and nonhuman: ‘avant l’Anthropocène, on ne se rendait pas aussi clairement compte de l’existence de ce Dôme virtuel, car on limitait l’existence des États aux seuls assemblages humains’.

We need a Gaian politics, not a globe-State politics

The sovereign Gaia must replace the sovereign Nature (as given by the globe-State), with the consequence that it will require us to do a radical rethink of the conditions of political life: ‘c’est parce que Gaïa n’est pas la ‘nature’, ni aucun de ses succédanés, qu’elle oblige à reprendre la question de la politique et à chercher un autre principe de souveraineté’.

Thus, Gaia can be understood as the antonym of this situation of the globe-State or (to put it simply) ‘the global’: it is the *‘anti-Globe’.

Gaia reintroduces conflict

If we deconstruct the previous sovereign (the globe-State), and replace it with Gaia:

  • We move from a position of apparent harmony (albeit we have seen that this is nothing other than an ‘armistice’) to a situation of for the first time possible war and peace.
  • But at least this new situation provides the condition (albeit distant and to-be-achieved) for the possibility of peace; it is therefore a cautiously healthy situation: ‘j’hésite à le souligner, mais c’est en ce sens que la ‘reprise des hostilités’ pourrait nous apparaître comme un bon signe’.

This is summarized in the following statements: ‘à condition d’accepter de passer d’un régime de paix apparente à un régime de paix possible’; ‘dans le premier régime, la Paix est donnée d’avance ; dans le second, il faut l’inventer par la mise en place d’une diplomatie spécifique’.

The Hobbesian interlude

The new situation of Gaia is a return to a pre-Hobbesian situation, in which the war-of-all-against-all prevailed: ‘par une torsion inattendue du célèbre concept de Hobbes, nous sommes rentrés dans cet état de nature qu’il plaçait dans un passé mythique, avant le contrat social, et dont le modèle lui était donné par les mœurs (mal comprises) des Indiens de l’Amérique’. The Hobbesian Leviathan might therefore be seen as an interlude between two iterations of Cosmocolosse (first, the state of war-of-all-against-all; second, the Anthropocene).

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

However, this observation is not advocating an ‘interlude’ model, in which it might be suggested that with the advent of Gaia we are actually merely returning to a state that previously existed.

Instead, it is more that we are brought back to an awareness of the need to construct a common world that Hobbes shared, but which was lost under the shadow of the Leviathan-solution that he proposed (which ultimately was incorrect): ‘l’armistice proposé par Hobbes n’est jamais parvenu à obtenir, par un traité en bonne et due forme, une situation de paix durable entre les exigences contradictoires des différentes formes de contre-religion’.

  • The Leviathan-solution he proposed never held; the arbitration of Nature was only a chimera: ‘la sécurité apportée par l’État de la Nature n’a jamais été obtenue en réalité’.
  • Thus, we are really in the situation of being the ‘contemporary’ of Hobbes, in the sense that we are just as much on the threshold of attempting to construct a new order as he was.
  • The only difference is that whereas Hobbes was battling a religious a priori order, the situation has now shifted for us, insofar as we are now battling a scientific a priori order: ‘dans le nouveau Léviathan, les violentes disputes sur l’exégèse de la littérature scientifiques remplacent les disputes à couteaux tirés sur l’exégèse de la littérature biblique’.

Introducing Schmitt

The situation of (potential) war that we find ourselves in facing Gaia can be explained with reference to Schmitt.

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What does Latour want to use Schmitt for?

  • Latour is not so interested in Schmitt’s concept of the ‘state of exception’. This is because he supposes that, in defining the ‘state of exception’ as that which is brought about by the periodic intervention of a head of state, Schmitt misunderstood that in fact the ‘state of exception’ applies to every banal moment in the life of politics. The ‘state of exception’ is in fact the hiatus across which [POL] always passes for its veridiction. In Latour’s opinion, Schmitt therefore has little light to shed on that.
  • Instead (and even though Schmitt himself was minimally concerned with ecological implications in his own day), Latour is more interested in his concept of ‘nomos of the earth’: this is because that concept gives us a handle on how to think about space in light of the advent of Gaia without the interruptive confusion of ideas about ‘Nature’.

The value of Schmitt to Latour can therefore be summarized as twofold:

  1. He understands his concept of ‘nomos’ as being before the bifurcation, such that it is not subservient to ‘global’ thinking: Schmitt’s quality is always to appreciate the latter as a hegemonic gesture akin to a land-grab (= ‘prise du terre’).
  2. Schmitt appreciates the need for religion, in the form of apocalypticism, in order to understand our contemporary situation: ‘derrière le fatras de sa mythologie, il a parfaitement saisi qu’on ne peut pas penser la politique si l’on cherche à s’évader du temps de la fin’.

Schmitt and space

The concept of ‘nomos’ thus gives a useful way in to thinking about Modern space: ‘Schmitt est probablement le seul penseur politique à ne pas s’être laissé prendre par le cadre spatial’.

For Schmitt, space is not the neutral backdrop in which human action (politics, religion, etc) plays out. Rather, space is what is produced by those actions:

Pour lui, comme pour les historiens des sciences les plus récents, la res extensa n’est pas ce dans quoi se situe la politique—le fond de carte de toute géopolitique—mais ce qui est engendré par l’action politique elle-même et par son instrumentation technique.

Thus, for Schmitt: *‘l’espace est fils de l’histoire’.

 

Schmitt’s work therefore searches for a pre-Modern conception of space: ‘il cherche à creuser avant l’invention du territoire conçu comme un espace transparent qu’un souverain considèrerait depuis la fenêtre de son palais’.

In doing so, he is looking not for one unified space, but for a proliferation of plural spaces defined by relation: *‘des rapports d’espacement particuliers’.

Schmitt’s proposed terms of peace

Latour considers the foreword of The Nomos of the Earth as a way-in:

nomos

  • In that foreword Schmitt reveals himself as being sceptical about a solution that is premised on accession to some other space, the idea being that we might resolve our differences simply by finding some new place to go; not least because (in a literal sense, now that the era of colonization is ended) there really is no new place to go in the world.
  • Instead, the positive solution comes through a new appropriation of the space that we have according to the principle of Sinnreich der Erde (‘le règne du sens de la terre’, in English translated as ‘the normative order of the earth’, but probably weakly) (241). Those who can achieve this will be the new ‘artisans of peace’.
  • Latour’s interpretation of this space-ordering, which is precisely the nomos in question, is that Schmitt intends it to be a pre-bifurcation sentiment: ‘avant l’invention de la distinction entre nature et politique’.
  • Nomos thus equates to Latour’s own term of ‘redistribution des puissances d’agir’ or ‘cosmograme’.

However, for Schmitt, in order for there to peace there first has to be war

Avant de nous intéresser à ce qui va permettre aux territoires d’expliciter leurs lignes de front, essayons de comprendre pourquoi l’accès aux négociations de paix exige la reconnaissance préalable d’un état de guerre’.

From Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political:

  • If the police-state rules, there is always a ‘third’ arbitrator who can prevent true politics from taking place.
  • A state of war can accede when there is no ‘third’ arbitrator, such that situations of genuine conflict can ensue: ‘la guerre commence quand il n’y a pas d’arbitre souverain, quand il n’existe pas de ‘normes générales’ qui puissent être appliquées pour rendre un jugement’.

In the Anthropocene, we have an enlarged Schmittian war

In the Anthropocene:

  • The former policing has disappeared: ‘le Dôme de la Nature, sous lequel tous les anciens conflits avaient lieu, a disparu’.
  • Gaia rejects the role of being a policeman. Thus, the only possible consequence is that Schmittian war of some sort will ensue.

Tel [the Anthropocene] est le point de bascule [tipping point, pivot point] entre la ‘nature’ unifiée, indifférente, impartiale, globale, dont les lois sont déterminées à l’avance par le principe de causalité; et Gaïa qui n’est pas unifiée, dont les boucles de rétroaction doivent être découvertes une à une, et dont on ne peut plus dire qu’elle soit indifférente à nos actions, depuis que nous sommes obligés de définir l’Anthropocène comme la réaction multiforme de la Terre à nos entreprises.

But a Schmittian war expanded in scale

This ‘war’, however, as prompted by the Anthropocene, is cast in terms not of human-to-human (which naturally is the only thing that Schmitt could conceive of), but in terms of human-nonhuman.

What will this Schmittian war achieve?

The effect is not mutual destruction, but a grappling between all entities in order to define how we can live: ‘il faut se battre point à point, pour découvrir—et non plus appliquer—les réactions des puissances d’agir les unes sur les autres’. The Schmittian war in view, then, is a (potentially) positive one if it induces this reaction.

In the time of the Anthropocene, however, this does have a life-or-death zero-sum feel: ‘la ‘nature’, du moins la Terre sublunaire, a été placée dans une situation qui oblige tout un chacun à prendre des décisions au sujet des ‘extrêmes’ de la vie et de la mort face à des étrangers qui prétendent nier leur condition existentielle’. This is an important point: for what Gaia is really doing us reminding us of our existential limits, our finitude, the necessity of co-operating and knowing our place, etc: * ‘ce qui vient, Gaïa, doit apparaître comme une menace, parce que c’est le seul moyen de nous rendre sensible à la mortalité, à la finitude, à la « négation existentielle », à la simple difficulté d’être de cette Terre’.

Utopia

Schmitt was correct in foreseeing that a world in which there was no possibility of war as just defined would be a worse world, precisely because it would enable the unchecked growth of MPs, that is, aggressors who were free, essentially, to destroy (not just battle) the other: ‘un monde d’où l’éventualité de cette lutte aurait été entièrement écartée et bannie, une planète définitivement pacifiée serait un monde sans discrimination de l’ami et de l’ennemi et par conséquent un monde sans politique’ (from The Concept of the Political).

This is the position of the eco-modernists: the seek to create a ‘utopie’ and in doing so bypass entirely ‘politics’ (as defined by Schmitt). Thus, *utopia = the opposite of politics, the state induced by metaphysics.

Schmittian war vs ecomodernist utopia

The choice is difficult, but clear: ‘la périlleuse vertu de penseurs réactionnaires comme Schmitt, c’est de nous forcer à faire un choix plus radical que celui de tant d’écologistes, toujours animés par l’espoir de s’en sortir sans jamais politiser les questions de nature’

What can Schmitt teach us in practice?

In order to survive in the time of the Anthropocene, then, we will need to act in a Schmittian way, that is, to define who we are vis-à-vis a (potential) enemy.

It is as if we need a new nomos (the one that no longer pertains, according to Schmitt, in the twentieth century): ‘les Terrestres seront-ils capables d’inventer un successeur à ce jus publicum, en vue de limiter les guerres à venir pour la désappropriation du monde.

This brings us back to the three key principles of composition, that is, the cosmogramme mentioned earlier: ‘il faut qu’ils acceptent de préciser l’époque où ils se situent, le nom qu’ils donnent à leur peuple, et, surtout, qu’ils parviennent à tracer l’espace qui est le leur pour que les autres comprennent quel est le territoire qu’ils sont prêts à défendre’.

  1. Time/ history

Where are the Moderns in history?

  • The are engaged in the movement of the dancer, that is, failing to look in front of them: ‘contrairement à ce qu’ils disent souvent à leur sujet, les Modernes ne sont pas des créatures qui regardent vers l’avant, mais presque exclusivement vers l’arrière et, curieusement, en l’air’.
  • Thus, they are failing to under ‘passing time’ and the challenges that it presents to their present. Rather, they are operating in a kind of freeze-frame present that fails to respect the future that is to come: ‘le futur des Modernes n’est pas devant eux, confié à une vision réaliste, hésitante, du temps qui passe, mais il est fait de cette transcendance inaccessible qu’ils cherchent néanmoins à situer dans le temps pour remplacer le cours de celui-ci’.
  • Thus, for the Moderns, the future (l’avenir) cannot in an important sense take place (devenir): rather, it is pre-ordained. They cannot face the future as agents (250).
  • What they need to be facing is ‘apocalypse’, which is a state of affairs of flux, becoming, change, responsibility, etc. Instead, the find themselves placed in a kind of post-apocalyptic world: ‘les Modernes ne sont jamais de leur temps, mais toujours de l’autre côté de l’Apocalypse’.

Conclusion: ‘en bref, le temps des Modernes est étrangement intemporel’.

It is precisely the non-temporality of Modernity that Péguy’s Clio diagnoses and provides the antidote for: ‘rentre aux Modernes un temps’.

  1. Space

Corresponding to the attitude towards time/ the present, the Moderns also are those who are always looking to find a new space, but have no means of actually inhabiting the space that is given to them (this planet). In this way they are like astronauts with no idea how to get back to earth.

  • Whereas space used to be that which the Moderns were seeking to quit, now that same space (the Earth) is coming back at them with new demands: ‘les choses se renversent, et la terre qui était auparavant ce que l’on devait quitter pour profiter de la modernisation, devient la nouvelle Terre qui vient à vous’.
  • Whereas the Moderns think that Modernity has prepared them well to really understand and inhabit the world as it is, and thus to be the masters of realism and materialism, in fact the opposite is the case: ‘comme il est étrange qu’après avoir entendu tant d’appels en faveur du matérialisme, nous nous trouvions totalement démunis pour aborder les conditions matérielles de notre existence atmosphérique’.
  • The Religion of the Moderns was in cahoots with this attitude, in that it sent people away from this world to another: ‘la terre qui était auparavant ce que l’on devait quitter pour profiter de la modernisation’.

 

What Gaia, and in particular REL (that is, the apocalyptic element of REL), gives us then, is proper adherence to the planet Earth: *‘une conduite mondaine, terrestre, incarnée’. One of the values instituted by REL = time of the end, that is, it prepares us now to find out position in relation to what is to come. This is the purpose of apocalypse as Latour understands it: ‘les feux d’artifice de l’Apocalypse ne sont pas là pour nous préparer à une élévation extatique vers le Ciel, mais au contraire pour nous éviter d’être chassés de la Terre réagissant à nos efforts de domination’.

  1. Collective

All this prevents a premature identification of who the anthropos of the Anthropocene actually is.

Instead, it requires that a collective is named according to its agency: what is causing you to act (as a group). *Crucially this includes as a sub-element the nature of the deity that is causing you to act: ‘et, en plus, s’il vous plait, dites-nous enfin clairement par quelle déité vous vous sentez convoqués et protégés’. Thus, Latour is clearly not denying that there are metaphysical principles of collection out there: he is just asking us to be explicit about which one is causing us to act.

The Earthbound

The collective that Latour is interested in being a part of is the one that is most explicit about its cosmogram: the Earthbound (les Terrestres in French).

War of humans vs the earthbound

Je sais qu’il est périlleux d’énoncer le problème aussi brutalement, mais je suis obligé de dire qu’à l’époque de l’Anthropocène les Humains et les Terrestres devraient accepter d’entrer en guerre. Pour dire les choses dans le style d’une fiction géohistorique, les Humains qui vivent à l’époque de l’Holocène sont en conflit avec les Terrestres de l’Anthropocène’.

 

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