What does it mean to refer to Latour’s “Political Theology”

Latour has begun to refer to “political theology” in some of his recent writing. He begins his first Gifford lecture, for example, by declaring that “the ideas I will pursue in this lecture series could certainly receive the label of political theology”. But then, in almost the same breath, he goes on to qualify this statement by suggesting that the political theology he has in mind will be “a strange and an unusual one, to be sure”. A similar qualification is offered in other texts. Thus, it seems that there is an idiosyncratic and perhaps even an eccentric dimension to his use of the term. Latour invests the idea of “political theology” with critical significance, but then does not define his understanding of the term relative to a previous writer or critical heritage.

What, then, does it mean to refer to Latour’s “political theology”? In order to shed some light on this question, I wish to bring his work into dialogue with that of German political theorist Carl Schmitt. Readers of Facing Gaia and other recent texts will know that Schmitt is the “shadow line” (to use Conrad’s term) of Latour’s thought. And indeed, at first glance, this seems as good a place as any at which to begin. Schmitt claimed to have introduced the term into contemporary critical discourse, and his name has remained prominently associated with it since that time.[1]

First and foremost, when Schmitt uses the term political theology he is referring to his attempt to describe how theological concepts have been transferred into the social, political and juridical realm. This is what he calls his “sociology of concepts.[2] Schmitt deployed this as a means of critiquing the political situation of his day. Thus, in various texts he attempts to show how contemporary institutions (in particular the nation-state) have been put under stress by non-political forces whose power is legitimised by religion. Schmitt’s understanding of “political theology” as a tool for the critique of modern institutions has been noted and described by many critics.

But an alternative approach to Schmitt’s understanding of “political theology” can also be taken. For although Schmitt does refer to “political theology” as a tool for the critique of modern institutions, he also envisages it as resource that can direct how the political order might be arranged in a different way in the future. This, then, is a positive and constructive understanding of the project of “political theology”. It is based in turn on a reimagining of the phenomenon of religion. Here, religion is conceived not as a negative and neutralizing force, but rather as something that is able to contribute towards the realization of an alternative human society. It should immediately be noted that Schmitt does not have in mind a moralistic or dogmatic definition of religion. To conceive of religion in either of those ways would be to constitute it as a “general norm” that would be supervenient over the political processes of the plural world that Schmitt has previously defined and that he seeks to advocate. Rather, what Schmitt has in mind is the recovery or re-conceptualization of a different mode of religion entirely, one that would be generative of what he calls “political unity and its presence or representation in the world”.[3] That is to say, Schmitt envisages a mode of religion that would legitimise “political”, rather than non-political, forces in the world.

Schmitt’s idea can be illustrated with reference to a short essay he wrote in 1950 entitled ‘Three Possibilities for a Christian Conception of History’. This essay was written in response to a book by the German philosopher Karl Löwith, published the previous year, that had significant influence on debates around modernity and secularization in post-war Germany.[4] Schmitt makes it very clear that he agrees with the main proposals of Löwith’s book. He agrees with Löwith’s definition of modernity as “a mode of secularized Judaism and Christianity” on account of its deployment of eschatological motifs borrowed from religion. He agrees with Löwith’s claim that, in spite of its “positivist belief in progress”, modernity therefore functions with a “philosophy of history” that has already determined the end towards which human society is moving and that this generates a form of “eschatological paralysis” that disables the activity of “politics” in the present moment. But Schmitt then asks a question: “can eschatological faith and historical consciousness coexist?” And, contra Löwith, he answers this question in the affirmative. “There is the possibility of a bridge”, he writes. This is the crucial moment. For Schmitt, what is required for the contemporary political order is not the elimination of religion from the public space. Rather, what is required is the reimagining (or recovery) of “a properly Christian conception of history”. To explain this, Schmitt introduces two figures from Christian theology that he claims are emblematic of what he has in mind: first, Mary, and second, the katechon. These deserve a blog post of their own. But the crucial point to grasp is that, for Schmitt, the “political unity” of human society cannot be conceived apart from religion or, to put it more precisely, apart from the assimilation and creative integration of certain themes from Christian theology.

Although questions about Schmitt’s personal religious background, the status of his religious beliefs during the different phases of his working life, and how the theme of religion functions within his intellectual project as a whole have been frequently addressed, fewer critics have explored his understanding of religion as a constructive force in relation to the political order. And yet, I believe that this represents the very schema that Latour wishes to develop in his own work. Latour has clearly signposted this understanding. In his Gifford Lectures, delivered in 2013, he introduced the terms “Religion One” and “Religion Two”. As he goes on to explain, the first of these, “Religion One”, describes a mode of religion that negates and neutralises the political order of human society. But the second term is quite different. “Religion Two” describes a mode of religion that he claims can support and even guarantee the political order of human society. Just as was the case with Schmitt, then, Latour aims to reimagine (or recover) religion as that which is compatible with the “political”. It is this mode of religion, which Latour goes on to call “religion as a mode of existence” (REL), and its operation within the contemporary public space, that I believe constitutes the “political theology” of Bruno Latour.


[1] Schmitt (2008, 1970), Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology, p.35. See also the claim Schmitt made in a letter to a student that “the coining of the term political theology in fact comes from me”, cited in Meier (2011, 1998), The Lesson of Carl Schmitt: Four Chapters on the Distinction between Political Theology and Political Philosophy, p.202, fn.48.

[2] Schmitt (2005a, 1922), Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, p.22.

[3] Schmitt (2008, 1970), Political Theology II, p.72.

[4] Löwith (2011, 1949), Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Löwith had actually written a pseudonymous scathing critique of Schmitt’s work in the 1930s, for which see Löwith (1930), ‘Der okkasionelle Dezisionismus von Carl Schmitt’. Schmitt makes no reference to that earlier critique in his 1950 essay.

Kierkegaard, Schmitt and Political Theology

Here’s a little article of mine, recently published, on the conception of the human self ‘coram deo’ with reference to the work of Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard’s understanding of the concept of theological “exception”, that moment when the transcendent breaks-in to the habituated patterns of existence of the immanent, presents a fascinating counter-point to Latour’s understanding of religion as a mundane or “mondain” phenomenon. It is no co-incidence that Kierkegaard’s thought was such an influence on Carl Schmitt and his celebration of a mode of existence that can break through the crust of the torpid, mechanised and regulated veneer of globalised modernity (for which, see Hans Sluga’s excellent recent book).

In a strange way, Kierkegaard – that great Lutheran theologian – lies at the heart of the political theologies of both Carl Schmitt and Bruno Latour.

Drop me an Email if you’d like a copy of the article.

Latour and the non-space and non-time of Modernity (part 2 of 3)

See my first post on the topic here.

Latour’s appropriation of the concept of utopia is quite different from what I described in my previous post.

Latour understands utopia to be a representation of a certain spatial conditioning effect that is imposed upon the human subject by the epistemological regime of Modernity. Unlike the social theorists mentioned in my previous post, then, Latour dismisses the possibility of utopia functioning as a resource by which alternative futures might be mapped and by which constructive political forces might be motivated. On the contrary, he shows how the discourse of utopia, wherever it is found in the contemporary West, refers to a territory that has already been mapped out for its inhabitants and thus contains within itself no internal dynamic for change. The idea of utopia does not facilitate a social imaginary in which a different configuration of human existence to the one currently being lived might be thought and through which progressive action to achieve it might be unleashed. Instead, it functions to neutralize all thought of an alternative future, thereby de-animating the associative ‘political’ forces that would be required to bring it about. For Latour, utopia is therefore subservient to the teleology of Modernity, whose end is always to abridge and curtail the generative complexity of the ‘political’ movements of plural actors in favour of an account of the world that is imposed upon it ‘from above.

Latour’s description of utopia in this negative sense develops out of his analysis of globalization, which he interprets as a vehicle for the epistemology of Modernity in general.

What is globalization? It is a logic of commerce and exchange that promises a large and unambiguous net gain for everyone. Because globalization allows different kinds of producers and consumers to inter-connect across borders, so the celebratory narrative goes, all would ultimately enjoy the benefits of progress and growth that globalized economic and trade networks would facilitate.

For Latour, however, that narrative is idealized, its promise of some kind of integrated wealth distribution being ultimately unrealizable. This is because, far from mobilizing associative forces, globalization has in fact already defined territories within which its various stakeholders must operate, thereby foreclosing the possibility that these same stakeholders will define any other future for themselves than the one they are currently experiencing. For all its expanded borders, globalization imprisons us all within a territory. Globalization thus imposes a utopia upon those who live within its reach, in the negative sense that I defined in my previous post.

In order to illustrate why globalization functions in this way, I will consider some of the expressions of utopia that Latour identifies and describes in our contemporary globalized world.

The 1% of Global Elites

The first is the utopia of the global elites, the 1% who are able to profit from the wealth generated by globalized networks of capital flow. Whilst their rhetoric has warmly embraced the concept of globalization as an opportunity for the material benefit of the whole, this minority section of society was really leveraging globalization for its own end and had no will to see greater wealth and resource distribution to the majority. For these elites, globalization was a utopia that only they would be inhabiting in the end. The self-interested and exclusionary utopic vision of these global elites was exposed by the global recession of 2008–2009 and by the retrenchment of capital flow that followed, when the myth of the progressive spread of wealth to the whole was suddenly and brutally revealed as hollow. Latour makes this point in a recent article on the future of the European project, where he observes that “si la mondialisation était une utopie—elle était réservée à ceux qui avaient abandonné jusqu’à l’idée de faire monde commun avec les masses” (my translation: “if globalization were a utopia—it was one reserved for those who had abandoned the idea of making a common world with the masses”).

The Fragmented Remainder of hte 99%

But there is also a second utopia. This is the utopia of the fragmented remainder. After the recession of 2008–2009, having realised that the project of globalization would not be serving their interests in the way that had been rhetorically mooted, those who were not global elites found themselves regressing to an alternative vision of utopia, which would be a space that this time they themselves would occupy and call their own, and in which they would not be beholden to the global elites as previously. This was the utopia of the nation-state, with the protections that are implied by its clearly-defined and firmly-policed borders. As Latour puts it in that same article, the utopias of the fragmented majority are the various spaces of “ceux qui fuient à rebours vers la protection, elle tout à fait imaginaire, assurée par les frontières nationales ou ethniques” (my translation, “those who flee backwards towards the completely imaginary protection offered by national and ethnic borders”). Latour proposes this second utopia as an explanation for the populism that has surfaced in contemporary British (post-Brexit), European and Trumpian politics, which is characterised by its promise to uphold the identities of those who are threatened by globalizing trends precisely by returning to or re-instating a narrower definition of what constitutes a valid social community, often couched in terms of nationally- or ethnically-based identity markers and anti-immigration policy platforms.

Donald Trump

But in both cases—the minority utopia of the globalizing elites and the populist, border-orientated utopia of the fragmented majority who have been left behind—these utopias symbolize singular, monistic and defensive occupations of a territory, where the impetus to include or to represent the interests of other actors, those who are not yet incorporated into the territory, is diminished and sometimes even halted entirely. In other words, Latour identifies globalization as a generator of utopias that (A) are already fully realized in the present; (B) are premised on a gesture of exclusion of new entrants into the utopian territory that has been established; and therefore (C) cannot be vehicles for the sort of future-orientated, associative politics that is envisaged by the social theorists described above, and that Latour himself encodes in his concept of nonmodernity. In this way, Latour offers a revisionist critique of the contemporary project of globalization.

Latour advances one additional, but very important, point about the utopias that have arisen in the contemporary globalized world: they must actually be understood as non-spaces, in the sense that those who inhabit them find themselves removed and dislocated from the concrete space of this world in which ‘political’ existence can take place. Hence, as Latour puts it in his recent text, to invest in “l’utopie de la Modernization” (whichever version of utopia is in view) means that “l’accès au terrestre sera rendu impossible” (my translation: “access to the earthly has been made impossible”). When he refers to “le terrestre” (or, in other formulations, to “the Earth” or to that which is “Earthbound”), Latour is describing how the utopias of globalized Modernity cause human beings to be dislocated from their attachments to this world as if they were finding themselves dislocated from physical existence on the planet Earth itself and elevated to a realm located somewhere else. Perhaps this accounts for trends in the genre of ‘utopian’ writing itself, whose internal geography, it seems to me, has had to become more and more fantastical over time as it has begun to exhaust or exceed the boundaries of this Earth (think of Hollywood). Whereas for the Renaissance utopias the exoticism of the New World sufficed, the genre has since then found itself increasingly having to explore other or parallel worlds in various modes of avant-garde, symbolic or science-fiction writing.

Utopia must therefore be understood “au sens étymologique de ce qui est nulle part”. Or, as Latour put it in a lecture delivered in 2009:

For me, the whole history of the Moderns offers up a most radical utopia in the etymological sense: the Moderns have no place, no topos, no locus to sit and stay.

The idea of the planet Earth as the literal, physical site (Latour sometimes refers to the “soil” that lies “under our feet” to render the image as clearly as possible) on which human existence must be elementarily grounded is a hugely powerful one in his recent work. Its opposite or negation, namely, human existence as that which has become displaced or dislocated from its situatedness on Earth, is a good description of Modernity and of the gesture of transcendence that lies at its heart and that functions as its operating principle. This idea has already been encountered in this chapter in the idiom of “le point de vue de Sirius”, which is the cosmo-eccentric vantage-point from which Modernity artificially fixes the movements of actors in the space of the ‘down below’.

This same utopic space, and its implications for what might be called ‘Earthbound’ existence, is also explored by Carl Schmitt, with delicate irony, in the foreword to a book he wrote in the context of the post-war political situation in Europe, published in 1950, entitled The Nomos of the Earth.


In this very interesting text, Schmitt provides an idiosyncratic historical analysis of European political order. His argument is that, even though there have evidently been many regional conflicts and wars between European countries, a state of general stability has nevertheless been maintained within the European mainland over many centuries because of a particular spatial configuration that he calls a “nomos”. His argument is that this (relatively) stable order was made possible by the fact that extra-European territory was available in the New World and elsewhere for “discovery, occupation and expansion” by the primary European powers. This provided an ‘outside’ that guaranteed a flow of (relatively) stable political forces ‘inside’ Europe. At the time of writing, however, with evidence of the chaos of post-war disintegration all around him, Schmitt diagnoses this particular spatial ordering as rapidly coming to an end. Pondering the possible shape and form of a new nomos, he ruefully suggests that it would require some “fantastic parallel” to the previous one, such as could only be conceived “if men on their way to the moon discovered a new and hitherto unknown planet that could be exploited freely and utilized effectively to relieve their struggles on Earth”. In other words, Schmitt acknowledges that European political order (and, by implication, the nomos of the entire world) had been premised on a utopic ideology in which a new space, situated somewhere else, always had to be found. Since that new space was no longer available in the twentieth-century (short of rapid progress in technologies by which humans might be able to colonise other planets!), a perpetuation of that same nomos was no longer feasible. Instead, for Schmitt, a process of de-utopianization must take place: “human thinking again must be directed to the elemental orders of its terrestrial being here and now”, he writes in the Foreword, so as to re-conceive “the normative order of the earth”.

The analysis, and critique, of utopic space as being, literally, a space of ‘no-where’, is a unifying feature of all Schmitt’s post-war writing. For example, in a 1955 radio broadcast entitled ‘Dialogue on New Space’, Schmitt contrasts two modes of understanding of space that correspond exactly with what I have described above. The first is embodied in dramatic terms by the character of ‘MacFuture’, whose understands the maintenance of post-war global order in terms of American cultural and economic exceptionalism, and the possibility of forms of technological progress that would enable advanced nation-states to move beyond the restrictions imposed upon them by their own boundaries. This character is therefore an advocate for the utopia of globalization. The second understanding of space is voiced in dramatic terms by Schmitt’s own mouthpiece, a character called ‘Altmann’, who advocates instead for an associative mode of politics that takes place in the concrete space of this world, and not in a utopia that abridges or curtails this activity by situating actors in a ‘nowhere’ of transcendence: “the new spaces, out of which this new call comes, must therefore be found upon our Earth, and not outside in the cosmos”, as this character prophetically announces.


Latour and Voegelin’s Political Religion, part 2

See the previous post here.

For Voegelin, all human experience, including the ‘sacred symbols’ through which that experience is mediated for any given generation, is structured as an ‘ordering-towards’. For most political collectives in history, this has taken the form of ordering-towards a transcendent being. The profile of such societies has thus been hierarchical, with their internal relations of power—whether social, cultural, racial or economic—being taken as emanating from a transcendent source and cascading downwards. Human societies have thus functioned according to the principle of ‘the divinization of the worldly order of dominion’ (The Political Religions, p.44). For Voegelin, the nature of the supreme being is less significant than the basic fact of the orientation towards transcendence; hence, the mystery cults of the Greek world and the corpus mysticum of Christianity are equivalent symbols in this regard.


Voegelin’s argument, however, is that in the modern period this ordering-towards transcendence has found itself re-conditioned as an ‘inner-worldly’ phenomenon, with the consequence that internal relations of power, aping what they have replaced, now take the form of a hierarchy emanating from a non-transcendent being—one whose surrogate authority can easily be usurped by a human individual, party or credo. ‘There is no longer any sacral permeation from the highest source’, Voegelin writes, and in its place the immanent political order ‘[…] has itself become an original sacral substance’ (The Political Religions, p.59). This transposition is the essence of what he calls ‘political religion’. It is instantiated above all in the form of the modern state, which imports from religion ‘the world-transcendent God as the ultimate condition and origin of its own existence’(The Political Religions, p.28). For Voegelin, then, contemporary political collectives derive their authority from ‘a realm of religious order’: their existence and persistence can only be understood by ‘taking into account the religious forces inherent in its society and the symbols through which these are expressed’ (The Political Religions, p.31).

In his 1938 work, Voegelin employs his concept of political religion primarily for a diagnosis of the fascist mass movements that were contemporary to that time, the common feature of which consists in the ability of their political leaderships to leverage religio-ecstatic obligations over the people in the guise of a ‘unio mystica’ between the two. Elsewhere he extends his diagnosis to ideological regimes of different kinds, including Marxist ones. However, the concept is highly consonant with Latour’s description of the ‘crossed-out God’ as an instrument of political sovereignty, for at least two reasons.

The first reason derives from an analysis of the genealogy of political religions. For Voegelin, these regimes emerge following shifts in the definition of what constitutes the rational, shifts that are associated in turn with the development of the modern scientific method. Wherever science promises an understanding of the world in positivistic terms, that is, ‘as an inventory of existential facts about all stages and as knowledge of its essential and causal contexts’ (The Political Religions, pp.59–60), then the ordering principle of human existence is shifted away from symbols of transcendent religiosity and towards an inner-worldly, immanent definition: ‘the methods of science as the sole forms to study the contents of the world’ become ‘the sole generally obligatory basis of man’s attitude towards the world’(The Political Religions, p.60). It is no surprise, then, that Voegelin identifies the seventeenth-century – and Hobbes in particular – as a turning point in this regard, since this was the period in which the modern scientific method become the ruling paradigm for man’s understanding of the world and his relation to it. Voegelin understands this moment as representing a lapse and a misdirection in the trajectory of human existence: from this point onwards, politics becomes vulnerable to annexation by those declaring themselves to be gate-keepers of the scientific method and thus guardians of the (putative) apodictic certainty that method promises to supply to those who wield it. Through its appropriation of ‘scientism’, then, political religion declares itself to be sole mediator of access to the ‘realissimum’. For Voegelin, the genealogy of political religions thus turns on a shift in the definition of what constitutes the rational: first, political religion forecloses the space of the polis in which rational meaning might be defined through collective human experience, and then, second, it establishes itself as demiurgic fashioner of an order that alone constitutes the real and that, as a consequence, is sacrosanct. As Voegelin puts it:

It [political religion] disregards the rules for examining experiences reasonably, it refuses rational discourse; and the spirit that adopts this assertion will change from being a discussion partner to being an adherent of another order. (The Political Religions, p.29)

In short, for Voegelin, political religion maintains its hegemony over the polis to the extent that it is able to appropriate a discourse of rationality for its own ends. This is precisely what Latour understands is taking place in Religion according to Modernity (not, religion as a mode of existence). In both cases this is a quasi-religious gesture, since it consists of the instrumentalization of transcendent authority claims and their subsequent imposition over the collective space of the polis.

But Voegelin’s work is useful for a second reason also: its description of the effect of political religion upon its subjects. For Voegelin, the potential for the individualization and personalization of the human subject, including one’s ability to act freely, is progressively lost under regimes of political religion. The argument is easy to trace: if, as we have seen, the claim of political religion is to represent ‘the only true reality, from which a stream of reality is allowed to flow back to the people’, then it follows that its subjects will be invited to do nothing more than ‘blend into a suprapersonal realissimum’ (The Political Religions, p.15) As Voegelin puts it, faced with the reality of the modern state, the requirement leveraged upon individuals is ‘to sink down into the impersonal nothingness of their instrumentality’. His focus in the 1938 text is on the ‘technical’ means by which this integration takes place: this of course was indicative of the highly technologized propaganda machine that was being developed at that time under the aegis of National Socialism. But Voegelin’s analysis is consonant with Latour’s depiction of the human subject under the regime of Modernity. For in the same way, the ‘crossed-out God’ enables the Modern regime to instrumentalize its human subjects, not as free actors able to engage in trials with other actors, but in the guise of ‘poor wretches’ who are ‘dominated’ from above (An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, p.421) – a hegemonic politics.

In his most recent work, Latour has explicitly taken up some of the concepts and terminology of Voegelin’s political theory in order to describe the quasi-religious procedure by which the transcendent is immanentized within the Modern regime as an instrument of political sovereignty. His point is to draw attention to this procedure as the imposition of a transcendent meta-logic, resulting in a form of religion that has lost touch with its own rational definition, which he thinks instead must always be a function of an immanent, processual, contingent and dynamic logistics.

Tout le paradoxe de la modernisation, c’est qu’elle a perdu de vue, chaque fois davantage, tout contact avec le mondain, la matérialité: elle ne voit plus dans ce bas monde que l’autre monde simplement immanentisé’ (Latour, Face a Gaia, 2015).

My translation, ‘the whole paradox of modernization is that it has lost sight, more and more every time, of contact with the mundane, with the material: it no longer sees in the here-below anything other than another world that has been merely immanentized’.

The Religion that is promoted by the Moderns thus lends itself to be wielded as a tool of instrumentalization and hegemony. For Latour, this is precisely what is instantiated in the form of the ‘crossed-out God’.

Voegelin’s concept of ‘political religion’ is thus much more useful for an analysis of religion within Modernity than, for example, Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘political theology’. From the later, Latour would do better to focus on ‘political romanticism’.


Complete series of notes on Latour’s ‘Face à Gaïa’

Here is a list of the various chapters of Face à Gaïa (2015) that I have covered in note-form over recent weeks. Please remember, these are only notes – the rest is up to you! Whilst we wait for the English translation by Catherine Porter, I hope these will prove helpful.

Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 8)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa.


Lecture 8: Comment gouverner des territoires (naturels) en lutte ?


The value of simulations:

  • Embodied, practical simulations are useful because they are able to represent and re-enact the compositional processes of science, art and politics: ‘compliquer les modèles du monde et y impliquer ceux qu’ils concernent pour ensuite composer, voilà qui me semble une définition commune aux sciences, aux arts et à la politique’.
  • Within a simulation each actor represents something, but the important thing is that this has to be made explicit (in the same way as Assmann’s translation tables).

In other words, simulations enact the ‘figuration’ of as broad an array of agencies as possible.

The MakeItWork simulation


  • This simulation focused and tried to represent non-conventional ways of occupying space: ‘les diverses manières d’occuper des territoires’.
  • This allowed the simulation to bring into the negotiating room (the ‘interior’) unconventional actors: ‘aux Amandiers, les organisateurs ont décidé de placer toutes les parties à l’intérieur pour qu’il n’y ait plus d’extérieur, et pour qu’on voie les parties prenantes exercer leurs pressions toutes ensemble. Que chacun se batte sous ses propres couleurs’.
  • Once in the room, all these actors were required to work together by ‘showing their hand’ and being ‘explicit’ (cf. Sloterdjik, expliciter) about how they were working: ‘s’opposer aux autres en explicitant sur quel territoire elles se trouvent’.
  • Emergence could certainly take place, but only by explicit (not en douce) operations within the room: ‘elle [une partie] n’aura pas à agir en douce, elle devra se présenter et dire quels sont ses intérêts, quels sont ses buts de guerre, qui sont ses amis et ses ennemis, bref où elle se trouve, qu’est-ce qui permet de l’espacer des autres’.
  • Thus, the negotiation had a conflictual character: ‘alors que Hobbes devait inventer une politique après des décennies d’affreuses guerres civiles, le paradoxe des négociations sur le climat, c’est qu’il faut faire comprendre aux protagonistes qu’ils sont bel et bien en guerre, alors qu’ils se croient en situation de paix’.

Rejection of totality

The delegates gathered under the banner: ‘ni Dieu, ni Nature—et donc pas de Maître’. The ‘Maîtres’ (metaphysical principles) they were rejecting included the following:

  • The nation-state.
  • A ‘world government’ that could decide for all.
  • A single, unified concept of ‘Nature’ that could decide all the debates.
  • The unifying power of capitalism in the guise of the ‘Economy’.
  • Indeed, this also meant that they had to reject ‘Gaia’ (at least, Gaia understood as an overarching actor): ‘de ne pas prendre Gaïa pour un Système unifié’.

Another way of saying this is that the simulation was premised on the redundancy of the figure of the ‘Globe’ (as demonstrated in earlier chapters): ‘nous retrouvons ici la figure du Globe dont nous avons appris, conférence après conférence, à quel point elle était non seulement impossible, mais moralement, religieusement, scientifiquement et politiquement délétère’.

Thus, the task was to find an alternative way of representing the actors of this world than that of Totality (the globe): ‘pour retrouver le monde commun—et peut-être aussi le sens (du) commun—, la solution n’est pas de faire appel à la Totalité, qui de toutes façons n’existe pas, mais d’apprendre à représenter différemment le territoire auquel on appartient’.

Politics from above/ politics from below

The simulation allowed two types of politics to come to light:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’: politics defers upwards to an operation of scale, ‘en faisant appel à un principe supérieur commun, à l’État de la Nature’; however, this serves only to ‘dépolitise toute la négociation devenue simple application de règles de distribution’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’: this enacts the opposite movement, ‘en traitant toutes les parties prenantes à égale niveau de souveraineté’, granting to all entities the right to ‘prendre parti’; this is what alone provides a true and proper politics.

Defintions of space as ‘utopia’ and ‘topos’

In terms of the two forms of politics above:

  1. To defer ‘upwards’ is to defer to a utopia; its movement is ‘utopique, au sens étymologique de ce qui est nulle part’.
  2. To defer ‘downwards’ is to reterritorialise oneself; its movement ‘consiste à se donner un sol’.


The sort of politics that defers ‘upwards’ is a politics of ‘externalisation’, which refers to the bracketing out of agencies, and thus is ‘synonyme exacte’ of ‘la negligence calculée’ that has already been defined (via Serres) as the essence of irreligion.

The utopia/ achronia of the Modern understanding of the natural world

By understanding the things of the natural world according to ‘the laws of nature’, the Moderns assume that these things will work always and forever in the same way.

In doing so, they denude them of the right to act in space and time:

Le problème des questions écologiques, pour employer un terme désuet, c’est qu’elles semblent parler d’objets qui ont été téléchargés dans l’utopie aussi bien que dans l’uchronie. Ni l’eau, ni le sol, ni l’air, ni les vivants, ne sont dans le temps et dans l’espace de ceux qui en font le cadre de leur action.

And, in addition, they impose upon them an operation of scale that comes from the ‘exterior’:

Elles ne peuvent être dictées de l’extérieur simplement parce qu’elles auraient été
‘déterminées objectivement par les Lois de la Nature’.

Planetary boundaries and critical zones

These two terms indicate the sense that we should not be trying to escape to another planet as a means of understanding this one.


The disciplines that Latour suggests instead are ‘geo’ ones, starting with the ‘géo-traçante’; these are ‘cette activité de pistage de l’espace, de parcours des lopins et de traçage de lignes’.


By contrast, 2D maps are the opposite: they limit our ability to visualize new configurations of human and nonhuman agencies, compelling us instead to stick with old forms of representation that (in fact) are not very representative at all, and over which wars are too easily fought:

C’est aussi parce que nous sommes limités à l’imaginaire de ces cartes en deux dimensions, aux frontières délimitées, qui sont bien utiles, comme on le sait, pour ‘faire la guerre’[1] mais fort insuffisantes si l’on veut s’y retrouver dans la géopolitique des territoires en lutte.

So the way of representing the world would be via a ‘geo’-map of some sort, ‘une chose comme une carte géologique avec sa vision en trois dimensions, ses couches multiples encastrées les unes dans les autres, ses dislocations, ses ruptures, ses reptations, toute cette complexité que les géologues ont su maîtriser pour l’histoire longue des sols et des roches, mais dont l’infortunée géopolitique reste dépourvue’.

The future of the nation-state

In reorganizing the distribution of powers the simulation showed what a true politics (in the sense of a nomos) would look like vis-à-vis the nation-state:

  • The nation-state no longer has the political privilege of violence.
  • Politics must now shift to new configurations, including those incorporating Gaia: ‘comment conserver ‘le monopole de la violence physique légitime’ quand il s’agit de la violence géohistorique du climat?

Quelle avancée si l’on pouvait enfin passer des États régnant sans contre-pouvoir sur un sol délimité par des frontières, à un ordre constitutionnel enfin doté du système complexe de contre-pouvoirs exercé par les autres délégations—ces fameux ‘checks and balances’ tant célébrés par les Humains, mais que les Terrestres en sont encore à rechercher?.

Gaian politics

This new form of politics coalesces around Gaia (it is here that differences with the Schmittian politics become most apparent):

  • Gaia does not mimic the old function of the nation-state: ‘contrairement à la Nature, Gaïa ne fait pas irruption pour régner à la place de tous les États forcés de se soumettre à ses lois, mais comme ce qui exige que la souveraineté soit partagée’.
  • Gaia forces us into new political configurations that need defending and justifying: ‘comme Gaïa ne sont ni extérieures, ni indiscutables, elles ne peuvent pas rester indifférente à la politique’.

Nature as religion

The construct ‘Nature’ acted as a religion, insofar as it demanded allegiance as a ‘cult’: ‘tandis que la Nature pouvait régner sur les humains comme un pouvoir religieux auquel il fallait rendre un culte paradoxal, civique et séculier […]’.

Gaia is not religion

By contrast, the state of Gaia is not religious:

  • For example, here is a basic statement: ‘Gaïa ordonnent seulement de partager le pouvoir comme des pouvoirs profanes et non pas religieux’.
  • Thus, we are not moving (in Comptean fashion) from ‘metaphysical God’ to ‘Nature’ to ‘Gaia’: ‘Il est inutile d’espérer une nouvelle translatio imperii qui irait de Dieu à la Nature, puis de la Nature à Gaïa. Aucune ‘loi des trois états’ n’est ici à l’œuvre’.
  • Gaia is strictly limited by this earth: ‘Gaïa se contentent de rappeler les traditions plus modestes d’un corps politique qui reconnaît enfin dans la Terre ce par quoi ce corps assemblé accepte solennellement d’être définitivement borné’.
  • To reintroduce the old ‘God’ of metaphyiscs is to forestall Gaian politics: ‘si vous en faites une divinité totale, vous suranimez et vous dépolitisez tout aussi sûrement’; ‘nous réalisons que nous sommes convoqués par un pouvoir qui est pleinement politique

Whatever [REL] is, then, it must not be religious where Gaia is not.

However, Gaian politics will depend on religion

Having said that, the extent to which we might embrace Gaian politics depends very much on the way in which we inherit religion and which religion it is that we inherit: ‘l’issue de ce combat dépend forcément de la façon dont nous nous rendrons capables d’hériter de la religion’. To put it in more general terms: ‘autour de ces questions passablement obscures de la fin, des buts, de la finitude, de l’infini, du sens, de l’absurde, et ainsi de suite, il y a toujours la question religieuse’.

  1. Secularisation is counter-religious

As we’ve seen before, Latour thinks that ‘secularisation’ is actually a counter-religious function: ‘ce qu’on appelle ‘sécularisation’ n’a fait que reprendre le trait principal des contre-religions—vivre dans la fin des temps—, mais en décalant cette fin des temps dans l’utopie de la modernisation, on comprend que l’accès au terrestre sera rendu impossible’.

  • It lives in ‘the end times’.
  • Thus it functions as a utopia.

Thus it has no immanence/ earth-boundedness

2. The overthrow of the secular cannot come via politics or science alone

The overthrow of the secular cannot be a function of politics or science alone: it must tackle this issue of the counter-religious origin: ‘même si nous parvenions à redonner une place aux sciences et à dynamiser de nouveau la politique, il n’en resterait pas moins que ceux qui ont hérité du modernisme—c’est-à-dire, aujourd’hui, la planète entière dans ce qu’elle a de globalisé ou de mondialisé—se situent dans un temps impossible, celui qui les a pour toujours arraché au passé et lancé dans un futur sans avenir’.

3. Religion must be an element in the new world

This is because religion is also a key component in the progressive composition of the common world, just like politics and science. Thus, the new world will come: ‘en acceptant la finitude : celle de la politique, celle des sciences, mais aussi celle des religions’.

  • This subverts the usual sociological comment that we must ‘leave religions behind us’ in order to make progress.
  • Religion is thus a ‘poison’ (in the guise of ‘counter-religion’), but also and crucially it is the ‘counter-poison’ also.

4. Religion must engage with the other modes to engage this new world

Another way of putting this is that religion is one of the three ingredients in the new common world that must be composed: ‘autrement dit, pouvons nous enchaîner trois humiliations en cascade, celle des sciences, de la politique et de la religion, au lieu de cet amalgame mortifère qui en a mélangé les vertus, mais n’a réussi qu’à nous empoisonner’.

Thus, ‘la religion en se limitant, apprenne à conspirer avec les sciences et la politique, pour redonner un sens à la notion de limite’.

End times

The final appeal of the book is to inhabit apocalypse, not utopia, which means switching from the ‘end of time’ to the ‘time of the end’:

Pouvons-nous réapprendre à vivre dans le temps de la fin, sans pour autant basculer dans l’utopie, celle qui nous a téléchargé dans l’au-delà, aussi bien que celle qui nous a fait manquer l’ici-bas?

The new world

The new world, the common world, that Latour wishes to invoke, then, is a rupture within space-time, not a rupture in space-time (this world seized differently, not another world):

Avant d’être enflée dans de grandioses scènes cosmiques à grand budget, la rupture radicale de l’eschatologie doit être d’abord reconnue dans une tonalité plus légère, plus humble et plus économe. La fin du temps n’est pas le Globe Final qui encercle tous les autres globes, la réponse finale au sens de l’existence; c’est plutôt une nouvelle différence, une nouvelle ligne, tracée à l’intérieur de toutes les autres lignes, qui les traverse partout, et qui donne un autre sens à tous les événements, c’est-à-dire un but, une présence finale et radicale, un achèvement. Non pas un autre monde, mais ce même monde saisi d’une façon radicalement nouvelle.

The wrong way to grasp the apocalypse

What Latour is seeking to avoid, then, is an understanding of these great theological themes as a flight into transcendence and out of this world. In other words, these themes as given by the old ST:

  • Eschaton: as ‘echappée hors du temps, en saut dans l’éternité, dans ce qui ne connaît pas de temps’.
  • Incarnation: as ‘altérée en fuite loin de toute chair vers le royaume désincarné du domaine spirituel du lointain’.
  • Salvation: as ‘tout ce que pour quoi, selon leur propre récit, leur propre Dieu avait fait mourir son propre Fils, à savoir la Terre de Sa Création’.

The Holy Spirit

It is difficult to know exactly what this means, but the (metaphorical?) appeal is finally made to the Holy Spirit as that which can renew the world, but only if it is working in the framework of a Gaian politics, not in the old politics of Nature: ‘le Saint Esprit peut ‘renouveler la surface de la Terre’, mais Il est impuissant quand on le confronte à la Nature sans visage’.

Bad theology

Theology goes wrong not when it addresses its theological themes (God, etc), but when it addresses them according to ‘Nature’, that is, in the guise of ‘Religion One’:

Comme il est étrange que les théologiens qui combattent le matérialisme, aient mis si longtemps à comprendre que ce sont eux qui ont construit, à travers les siècles, un véritable Culte de la Nature, c’est- à-dire la recherche d’une entité extérieure, immuable, universelle et indiscutable, par contraste avec le récit changeant, local, intriqué et discutable que nous autres Terriens habitons. Pour sauver le trésor de la Foi, ils l’avaient abandonné à l’Éternité.

Laudato Si


Latour was nearly in despair in seeing an understanding of religion in this way until he came across the encyclical:

  • It re-unites politics, science, religion (cf. chapter 6, where Toulmin had argued that 1610 saw their separation): ‘en rattachant enfin l’écologie avec la politique et sans mépriser pour autant les sciences’.
  • It enacts the new mode of conversion, which is not towards separation but rather towards composition: ‘serait-ce possible, me disais-je en lisant l’appel du Pape François à la conversion, que l’intrusion du Gaïa puisse nous rendre proches de tous les dieux?’.

The future

All is open, everything to play for.

New world

The new world that is to be found will not be via ‘expansion’ (Columbus, etc), but by ‘intensity’ (understanding better the earth we live on, not finding a new one): ‘il s’agit toujours de l’espace, de la terre, de découverte, mais c’est la découverte d’une Terre nouvelle considérée, si je peux dire, dans son intensité et non plus dans son extension’.












[1]   This is an allusion to the celebrated essay: Yves Lacoste, ‘La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre’, 1982 (fn. 283).

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


Caspar David Friedrich

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


  • 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).


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.


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:


  • 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’.


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’.


Europe as a Theological Project

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.


Notes on Face à Gaïa (Lecture 5)

Continuing my posts on Latour’s Face à Gaïa. Remember, these are nothing but notes: they don’t contain any of my own interpretation, so it’s really the case that they’re just a record of some of the themes and content of the book.

Lecture Five: Comment convoquer les différents peuples (de la nature)?

Hobbes and Nature

The difference between the two images (Leviathan frontispiece, Nature cover):



  1. The first proposes unity.
  2. The second proposes and enacts division; it is less clear how to act when faced by it.

Thus: ‘face au Léviathan, vous savez qui vous êtes et devant quelle autorité vous devez plier le genou; mais comment se comporter devant cet autre Cosmocolosse’.

The second image, corresponding to the Anthropocene, therefore marks a radical new situation in the world with which we must take account: ‘on peut douter que l’Anthropocène marque une époque géologique, mais pas qu’il désigne une transition qui oblige à tout reprendre’.

Religion in the Anthropocene

One of the things the Anthropocene (as represented by the Nature-image) shakes up is religion.

  • Where the Leviathan-image sought to situate religion in a clear and controlled way.
  • The Anthropocene has thrown it into doubt and unsettled it.

This is particularly the case for religions that claim some kind of global or all-encompassing authority: ‘la survenue de Gaïa oblige à douter de toutes les religions englobantes’.

Religion One

To be more precise, what is shaken up in the Anthropocene is the form of Religion One (as defined in the Gifford Lectures), that is, ‘l’étrange idée qui faisait de la Nature connue par la Science ce qui devait s’opposer à la Religion’. We might call this ‘natural religion’ in a specified sense to indicate this is religion under the aegis of the Modern Constitution (the ‘MC’), the Religion of the Moderns.

Religion One and land appropriation

Religion One, like all expressions of the MC, is always a function of a land appropriation:

C’est à toutes les cosmologies [in which religion is included as one] que la même question se pose: que veut dire, pour un peuple, de mesurer, représenter et composer la forme de la Terre à laquelle il se trouve attaché?

  • Religion One thus seeks to control, measure, represent, figure, etc that which is immanent and secular.
  • However, it does so from a position ‘above’ the immanent and secular, and thus is guilty of being transcendent and dogmatic.

An opportunity to corrode Religion One

The opportunity posed by the Anthropocene is to dissolve Religion One and to recast it instead as fully rational and veridicted: ‘c’est l’une des forces de Gaïa, cet acide si puissant, qu’elle corrode l’amalgame de toute religion naturelle’.

Religion Two and land appropriation

The recalibration of this debate will come via an act of remapping: ‘ce que je voudrais dessiner, c’est une carte grossière des territoires occupés par des peuples en lutte les uns contre les autres’. This would replace the artificial land appropriation given by Religion One above.

What is proposed, then, is a new spatial-temporal configuration of religion, which would be a land appropriation, or a *‘design’:

Pour esquisser un tel dessein, il nous faut apprendre à repérer, pour les collectifs jusque là mal assemblés par le format nature/ culture, comment ils pourraient s’entre définir, s’articuler l’un par l’autre, en procédant à des opérations que l’on pourrait dire de guerre ou de paix, autrement dit de diplomatie risqué.

Note from this quotation:

  • This procedure will entail operations of ‘war and peace’ (Schmitt).
  • This procedure will ultimately lead to ‘diplomacy’.

Five questions

If an institution (such as Religion Two) is to be mapped more appropriately, five questions will have to be posed, each of which concerns how the collective is to be composed:

  1. What is the supreme authority that collects it?
  2. What is the extent of the people gathered?
  3. What space do they occupy? (‘sur quel territoire se sentent-ils habités?’)
  4. What time do they believe they inhabit?
  5. What is the organizing principle (‘le principe d’organisation’) that distributes their agencies? = which is also called their ‘cosmogram’? This fifth question is the one that allows the value judgment (PRE) to arise.

This fivefold method will allow questions to be asked of religion that evade the Nature/ Culture schema.


To ask these questions is to arrange a collective on the ground. It is thus a land appropriation that seeks to displace the land appropriation previously in place. It is bound to entail jostling, repositioning, self-defence, etc against those who are trying to assimilate us to a different configuration:

La violence que doivent apprendre à regarder en face ceux qui prétendent assembler des peuples pour se défendre contre ceux qui prétendent détruire leur sol. Comment s’en étonner, puisque c’est bien dans une guerre des mondes que nous nous trouvons désormais engagés?

The (new) land appropriation will therefore follow the pattern: (A) violence first; (B) afterwards, a hope of diplomacy.


At this point, Latour picks up Serres’ definition of religion as the antonym of ‘neglect’.[1]

  • Religion is understood as a broad definition of whatever it is we take care of/ build together/ assemble. In fact, religion occurs wherever there is composition: ‘en ce sens, on le comprend volontiers, il n’existe pas de collectif irréligieux’.
  • Religion will only be lacking, then, where neglect of this principle of composition exists.

Religion and diplomacy

In adapting its compositional role, religion represents something like a radar able to detect compositional processes in general (and where they may or may not be present in other collectives). Thus, to be religious is ‘devenir attentif au choc, au scandale, que peut représenter pour un collectif le manque de soin d’un autre collectif. Autrement dit, être religieux, c’est d’abord se rendre attentif à ce à quoi d’autres tiennent’.

To be religious is therefore to be the highest form of diplomat: ‘c’est donc, pour partie, apprendre à se comporter en diplomate’.

What renders religion so diplomatic? It is because it is able to be sensitive to the fivefold questions posed above.

Q1. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a supreme authority that collects

For Latour, religion is equipped to enquire and respect the Durkheimian observation that all collectives have a supreme authority of one sort or another, whether that be a God or something else, and that the most important thing is that we at least come to see what that is. Thus: ‘nous le savons depuis que l’anthropologie existe: pas de collectif sans un rituel au cours duquel on découvre que le seul moyen de se rassembler réellement comme groupe consiste à être convoqué par cette autorité et à l’invoquer en retour’.

This is what Latour means when he says there is no secular, because however ‘secular’ a collective claims to be, it is still operating under the aegis of a supreme authority of some sort. To put it another way, for Latour there has to be a ‘god’ function in any collective.[2] Cf. John Milbank in Theology and Social Theory.


Q2. Religion is sensitive to the fact of a collective that sustains their supreme authority

The life of a collective is not secured only in a top-down way, however, but also by a reciprocal process of definition: people are assembled by a god; god is invoked by the people. This is a ‘mouvement d’aller-retour qui relie un peuple rassemblé par ses divinités à des divinités rassembleuses invoquées par leur peuple’. To put it another way: ‘pas de culte sans culture vivante; pas de culture sans culte vivant’.

Translation tables

A (religious) diplomat sensitive to Q1 and Q2 would be adapting a methodology akin to that of Assmann: it is to look underneath ‘names’ and towards ‘performances’: ‘tant que l’on s’en tient aux noms, on se bat sans cesse et en vain’.

The Mosaic division

Latour agrees with Assmann that the function of translation was systematically lost at a punctuated point of history: the Mosaic distinction.

With the MD, Latour seems to be agreeing that there was a particular moment in history (Moses) in which the possibility of being religious was lost and in which the phenomenon of Religion (using Assmann’s terms: ‘counter-religion’ or ‘secondary religion’) became a majority player on the stage.

Features of the MD include:

  • From that time on, we became non-attentive/ neglectful of that to which other collectives hold, thereby indicating that our own belief system was not being progressively composed in the common world (but rather that it was held to as a fundamental belief): ‘l’ancien sens du mot religion n’est plus compréhensible: bien au contraire, négliger ce à quoi les autres tiennent, telle est la nouvelle injonction’.
  • From that time on, the idea that we should be prepared to defend our own fundamental belief in the common world (by means of translation tables, for example) induces horror: ‘À partir de ce point de rupture dans l’histoire, on va pouvoir repérer l’irruption de la religion par les réactions d’horreur devant le relativisme modéré qu’autorisaient les tables de noms de dieux, et par la multiplication des gestes iconoclasts’.

Contemporary secularity as ‘religious’

  • The Mosaic Distinction (and the Religion of the Moderns that it sets in motion) seems to be a far cry from (what appears to be) our contemporary society, which is highly pluralistic and apparently tolerant.
  • And yet the dynamic that lies behind the Mosaic Distinction is everywhere apparent in our contemporary society, in the way it ‘invokes’ the ‘god’ Nature.
  • This is in spite of the fact that our contemporary society may well assume that it is secular, and perhaps even irreligious: ‘il ne suffisait pas pour être irréligieux de se croire irréligieux’.

True religion (which for Latour = REL, composition, secular) is rare in the contemporary world, then, because there is always a metaphysical over-determination waiting in ambush around every corner: ‘il y a toujours une déité en embuscade qui exige de n’être rendue commensurable avec aucune autre’.

Contemporary secularity, then, in spite of its pluralistic claims, refuses to enter into composition and thus acts as the worst kind of fundamentalist religion of the past. In fact, contemporary secularity has really just replaced the God of former times for the God as given by Nature: ‘du vrai Dieu fulminant contre toutes les idoles, on est passé à la vraie Nature fulminant contre tous les faux dieux’.

The Moderns are religious

Thus it can be said that the Moderns are the most religious people of all, by dint of the fact that they will have some concept of ‘truth’ that preys on the metaphysical status of a ‘supreme authority’:

Quoiqu’on pense des Modernes, aussi incroyants qu’ils s’estiment, aussi délivrés de toute divinité qu’ils s’imaginent, ils sont bien les héritiers directs de cette ‘division mosaïque’ puisqu’ils continuent à lier autorité suprême et vérité, à cette nuance près que la division passe désormais entre, d’un côté, croire en une religion quelconque et, de l’autre connaître la vérité de la nature.

Whatever one thinks of the Moderns, as unbelieving as they consider themselves to be, as free of all gods as they imagine themselves to be, they are all the same the direct inheritors of the ‘Mosaic Division’, insofar as they continue to associate truth with a supreme authority, if we nuance the division by understanding it nowadays as passing, on the one hand, between belief in some religion and, on the other hand, knowledge of the truth of nature. (my loose translation)

And this is the case however vehemently ‘secular’ the Modern in question might conceive himself as being, and indeed however anti-monotheistic he might conceive himself as being: ‘même ceux qui vomissent les religions monothéistes, leur ont emprunté cette façon si particulière de vomir l’idolâtrie’.

Nature is revealed as ‘Religion One’ by dint of translation tables

  • The cry of indignation quickly rises: Nature is not a ‘god’ that is invoked like Jesus or Buddha; it is simply how things are.
  • But be patient, and apply the category of ‘Nature’ to the translation exercise outlined above.
  • This will soon show that Nature ‘n’est pas un domaine mais un concept’.

Cenosotone as deity

Thus follows the thought-exercise around the collective: ‘ce-dont-nous-sommes-tous-nés’, the equivalent of OWWABB in the Giffords. Here, cenosotone can be taken as the ‘deity’ that convokes a people. The question is, what kind of deity is this?

Cenosotone is of course the deity: Nature One.

There follows lengthy descriptions of the contrast between theory (what the Moderns think cenosotone is) and practice (how cenosotone actually functions):

  1. Externality.
  2. Universality (in the sense that all agents obey its law).
  3. Inanimate (in the sense that individual agents don’t have their own wills).
  4. Indiscutable (in the sense that it presents itself as a closed matter of fact, not as a matter of concern).

Of course, these functions are contradicted by practice: ‘les attributs sur lesquels insistent ses adeptes révèlent également que la Nature est à l’intérieur, qu’elle est multiple, qu’elle accepte de se trouver aux prises avec des êtres animés et fortement controversés, qu’elle a une histoire confuse et que son extension est aussi limitée que variable’.

In summary, cenosotone is a ‘deity’ that should be understood as compositional (cheiropoeite), but which is all to often taken as non-compositional (acheiropoeite): ‘tout se passe comme si ces gens devaient faire tourner leur cosmologie autour de deux foyers en même temps: l’une où tout est extérieur, où rien n’est fait par l’homme; l’autre où tout est intérieur et fait par l’homme’.

It is clear why the people of cenostone are so unstable (as Latour would say in WNM, they are unstable between theory and practice): ‘on comprend pourquoi ce peuple divisé contre lui-même est tellement inquiet, tellement instable’.

Cenosotone and space-time

Importantly, when cenosotone is entered into a translation table under the ‘deity’ column, the collective that results is revealed as being spatially-temporally awry:

  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not defend a spatial territory, that is, that one’s feet are literally not implanted in this ground (thus, that this person has become airily transcendent): *it indicates ‘la plus étrange façon d’être et de ne pas être de ce monde. Ils refusent d’être un peuple et d’être limité à un territoire. Ils sont à la fois partout et nulle part, absents et présents, envahissants et d’une négligence ahurissante’.
  • To be convoked by the deity cenostone means that one does not occupy a temporal moment, that is, that one’s feet are literally not situated in a particular historical moment (thus, that this person has become airily non-temporal): *one has become ‘universel, et l’époque où il se situe de tous les temps’.

The convocation of the deity cenosotone does not ground one in space-time, then: ‘ce peuple est décidemment inassignable, d’autant qu’il est aussi impossible à situer dans le temps que dans l’espace. À quelle époque appartient-il? À aucune, puisqu’il est indifférent à l’histoire et qu’il accède à des vérités universelles qui existeraient de toute éternité’.

  • The people of cenosotone do have an account of their own historicity, however, but it is one that is grounded in revolution and rupture: ‘en même temps, bien sûr, ce peuple a une histoire et il se reconnaît comme l’héritier d’une rupture radicale, arrivée récemment, et qui lui a permis d’échapper à un passé archaïque, obscur et confus, pour entrer dans une époque plus lumineuse qui permet de distinguer radicalement le passé du présent et du futur radieux : quelque chose comme une Révolution scientifique’.
  • When the people of cenosotone encounter how history really is, its twists and turns, they simply don’t know what to do with it: ‘ce peuple sans histoire a bel et bien une histoire dont il ne sait pas quoi faire et qu’il considère comme quelque chose d’aussi honteux que d’appartenir à un sol’.

We should not be surprised at their groundlessness, which is due to the impossibility of them understanding their own composition: ‘comment s’étonner qu’il se sente incapable d’occuper la Terre en sachant où il se trouve et ce qu’il peut y faire, alors même qu’il prétend la saisir ‘dans sa globalité’’.

Cenosotone in the time of the Anthropocene

The significance of the Anthropocene is that it disrupts the assumptions made by those convoked by cenosotone and serves as a means of re-uniting the artificial division made between theory and practice:

Et l’on ne s’étonnera pas qu’il prenne si mal aussi bien l’irruption de Gaïa que l’hypothèse de l’Anthropocène qui l’obligeraient à s’ancrer, à se situer, à expliciter enfin ce qu’il veut, ce qu’il est, à désigner enfin quels sont ses amis et ses ennemis.

Note that Gaia (as given in the Anthropocene hypothesis) is that which challenges the Moderns to enter themselves into a translation table and to define themselves according to a Schmittian politics.

What kind of a composition does Cenosotone create?

To be convoked under the name of Cenosotone is to be torn between the list of traits given above:

  • son statut d’extraterritorialité l’empêche de définir son territoire
  • son universalité lui interdit de comprendre les relations qu’il doit établir
  • sa quête d’objectivité le paralyse devant les controverses dont il ne sait plus sortir
  • sa prétention à embrasser tout le monde le laisse déconcerté devant le petit nombre de ceux qui lui appartiennent vraiment
  • quand à son histoire, il ne sait jamais s’il doit sortir du temps présent par une nouvelle révolution ou sortir de l’idée même de révolution radicale

In other words, Cenosotone is not a collective entity at all; it is one that has been imposed undiplomatically: ‘il n’accepte jamais de se présenter comme un collectif, justement, et surtout comme un collectif au milieu des autres en précisant son mode de collecte, son cosmogramme’.

Religion One

Nature One, cenosotone, is matched by an equivalent deity: Religion One. This is the deity of ‘Dieu ordonnateur’. And the people this deity convokes are: ‘le peuple qui se déclare Enfants du Grand Dessein ou encore Peuple de la Création’.

Comparisons of Religion One and Nature One

General observations:

  • In general, Religion One is just as non-compositional as Nature One: ‘on fait appel à une autre autorité suprême qui n’est pas si différente de la première colonne du tableau ci-dessus’.
  • It shares three features in particular: its truth is given as exterior, universal and incontestable.
  • Just as the people of Nature One are rigorously selected according to what they believe and housed in a particular institution (Science), so the people convoked by this deity are ‘selected’ (‘ils sont recrutés par une procédure explicite — une forme de conversion’) and housed in a particular institution (Church).

Two more interesting comparisons:

  • Both propose a temporal ‘rupture’ in their own pasts. This is the moment in which the ‘deity’ intervenes from outside of this world: […] ces deux peuples partagent cette idée qu’une rupture radicale a eu lieu dans un passé plus ou moins proche. Rupture qui les a propulsé dans une histoire totalement nouvelle que les uns l’appellent celle de la Lumière, les autres, au pluriel, celle des Lumières. L’important, c’est qu’ils se situent tous les deux dans le temps qui succède à une rupture radicale—Révélation ou Révolution.
  • Neither therefore have a rationality that comes from this world: ‘quant à l’appartenance au sol, elle leur manque à tous deux également, le premier parce qu’il est de toutes façons hors sol, le second parce qu’il appartient à un autre monde, celui, apparemment, du sens et des buts, d’un grand Dessein, d’une Providence vers laquelle ils aspirent à se télécharger.

Difference between Religion One and Nature One

The key difference, and what causes the Science vs Religion conflict, is that Religion One results in the over-animation, rather than the de-animation (cause-and-effect), of its agents: ‘elle a en effet les mêmes caractères, à ceci près qu’elle s’obstine à suranimer ce que l’autre s’obstine à désanimer’.

This difference is exhibited in design-type arguments (eg. the intricacy of the human eye). For one, the intricacy signals nothing more than a creator God; to the other, the intricacy signals nothing more than evolutionary contingency. For one, there is a Watchmaker, for the other, a Blind Watchmaker. Both, however, are reductionist, in that in both there is ‘une perte de puissance d’agir, de narration, d’histoire, de géohistoire qui transforme Gaïa en un Système autorégulé’.

Thus, those who explain the intricacy of the eye by means of evolutionary contingency are positing a MP every bit as much as those who explain it be means of a creator God: ‘ce qu’il y a de particulièrement déconcertant pour ceux qui, comme moi, estiment ceux qui chantent la gloire de Dieu aussi bien que ceux qui célèbrent l’objectivité des sciences, c’est que le deuxième récit, en gommant toutes les surprises que l’on trouve à foison dès que l’on suit l’histoire de la structure de l’œil, s’efforce d’être aussi pauvre que le précédent’.

Both, therefore, have problems with emergence.


Neither Nature One nor Religion One have an account of agency that will enable the Moderns to handle the temporal connotations of the phenomenon of emergence:

  • By positing a metaphysical principle of determination, and thus a model of cause-and-effect, they presuppose that the future is entirely contained in the presenting situation. There is thus a ‘net gain’ of zero in any actantial situation: ‘en termes de rôles actantiels—horribles mots pour une si belle chose—le résultat net est zéro puisque la quantité d’animation n’a pas augmenté d’un iota.
  • Thus, nothing new happens, and there is literally no history: ‘tout est dans la cause, rien dans l’effet. Autrement dit, littéralement, rien ne se passe. Le passage du temps ne fait rien au monde. Il n’y a pas d’histoire.

Emergence as Creation

Latour uses the term ‘creation’ (without connotation of the ‘Creator’ or ‘creationism’ of Religion One) in order to describe the model of agency that can handle emergence:

  • Cause-and-effect is not sufficient to explain emergence: ‘la création—qui est l’inverse du créationnisme—suppose que le rapport cause-conséquence soit modifié de telle sorte que la conséquence déborde quelque peu sur la cause’.
  • Emergence-as-creation therefore describes time as moving from the future to the present: ‘ce qui revient à dire que le temps coule de l’avenir vers le présent, et non pas du passé vers le présent. Ou, pour le dire encore autrement, que les conséquences, d’une certaine façon, ‘choisissent’ toujours quelles seront leurs causes’.

Science vs Religion

The debate between ‘materialists’ and ‘spiritualists’ is thereby revealed to be in error:

Et pourtant que de salive on a dépensé pour distinguer
’spiritualistes’ et ‘matérialistes’! Au bout de quelque temps, on ne comprend plus où est la dispute : un dessin et un Ingénieur contre un dessein et un Créateur, quel beau combat en effet, bien digne qu’on s’étripe.

There is no need to continue to fight, nor to reconcile them in their current forms, because neither of them have a correct understanding of the nature of the agency that determines them: ‘on comprend pourquoi il ne sert à rien d’accuser la Science d’être un substitut de religion, ni de chercher dans une religion naturelle ce qui pourrait convaincre les incroyants de l’existence de la Providence. On ne peut ni opposer, ni réconcilier les visions scientifiques et religieuses du monde’.

Instead, it would be better to redefine both nature and religion from scratch: ‘il vaut mieux tenter de faire tout le contraire et de dissoudre l’amalgame entre les deux’.

Natural religions

Religion One should not be known as ‘natural religion’, then. Both Religion One and Nature One are ‘natural religions’:


Radical Rupture

The diagramme above shows the Moderns (Nature One, Religion One) living in a particular époque: this is given by a rupture radicale:

  • This rupture radicale in the past determines the cause-and-effect progress of the future. Another way of saying this is: the Moderns believe ‘le monde a une fin’, but only in the sense that this fin will be the inevitable outcome of their own progress: ‘les buts qu’il poursuit seraient définitivement atteints’.
  • For Religion One, this rupture radicale might be understood in a variety of ways, for example: ‘être ‘sauvés’, être ‘enfants d’un Dieu qui prend soin de nous’, être ‘le peuple choisi par Dieu’,
’avoir été créé’, ‘se trouver dans la Présence’’ .

Religion One thus exhibits an eschatological tension: ‘les temps sont accomplis, mais qu’ils durent’.


[1]   Serres, (1992), Le Contrat Naturel, p.81.

[2]   Cf. Latour’s comments in the sixth Gifford, where he attempts to define what diplomatic value his diagnosis has brought about: he has sought to provide ‘a diplomatic reach wide enough to engage in parleys with potential allies; and, who are summoned by an entity—a divinity, a God, a set of gods, a god function—through specific rituals that would make such a people conscious of their existence’ (Gifford Lectures, p.124).

Schmitt on Modernity

Carl Schmitt’s diagnosis of the calcified utopia of Modernity is exactly what Latour would agree with: for both, the solution is political theology as that which guarantees the progressive composition of this world.

They wanted heaven on earth, heaven as the result of trade and industry, a heaven that is really supposed to be here on earth […] they did not want a God of love and grace; they had ‘made’ so much that was astonishing; why should they not ‘make’ the tower of an earthly heaven? After all, the most important and last things had already been secularised’ in Schmitt, Carl, Theodor Däublers ‘Nordlicht’ – Drei Studien über die Elemente, den Geist und die Aktualität des Werkes. München 1916, pp.64-65