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HOW TO BRING THE NATURAL-POLITICAL COLLECTIVE TOGETHER?
THE MEANING OF RES PUBLICA TODAY
What kind of constitution, specifically then, will allow us to achieve a common world? The venerable word "Republic", in fact, is admirably suited for such a task. As has been frequently noted, it is as if political ecology is found again in Res Publica. Literally meaning, in Greek, the "public thing", the ancient etymology has linked the word for thing and the word for judicial assembly since the dawn of time. So we have to become capable of convoking the collective that will be charged from now on, as its name suggests, with “collecting" the multiplicity of associations of humans and non-humans. What would that specifically mean?
In the fall of 1997 for example, in Kyoto, there was just one conclave to welcome the great figures of the world, princes, lobbyists, heads of state, captains of industry, scientists and researchers from every discipline. Such a single conclave decide how the planet was faring and how we could all behave toward it from now on. Yet the Kyoto conference did not bring together the two ancient assemblies, one for politicians and one for scientists, in a third house that would be bigger, broader, more organic, more synthetic, more holistic, and more complex.
How, then, are we going to manage to convoke the collective on new grounds?
HOW POUTICS CAN INTERNALIZE THE ENVIRONMENT
Why not conceive of the convocation quite simply as the reunification of things and people, objects and subjects? Political ecology would then be defined as the conjunction of ecology and politics, things and people, nature and society. Unfortunately for Latour, the "collective" cannot be achieved by a simple adding together of nature and society.
For if it were enough to bring "man and nature" together in order to resolve ecological crises, the constitutional crisis that ecological crises have unleashed would have been resolved long ago, whereas it is just beginning. The procedure for bringing them together has in fact to be redesigned from top to bottom. For the time being, there is nothing in political philosophy, in the conception of the social world devised by the human sciences, that allows us to incorporate nature, which is why Herman came up with his emergent Primal Future. That said, "a natural contract" will not easily intervene, institutionally and systemically that is, to replace the social one. No matter how long the digestive process then takes, the boa constrictor of politics cannot swallow the elephant of nature. A body produced to be foreign to the social body will never be socialized.
The historical importance of ecological crises, then, stems not from a new concern with nature, but on the contrary, from the impossibility of continuing to imagine politics on one side and, on the other, a nature that would serve politics as a standard, a reserve, a resource and a dumping ground. Political philosophy abruptly finds itself in a position where it needs to internalize the environment that it had viewed up to now as another world. What would that mean?
LEARNING TO CONSIDER THE OTHER AS A SPOKESPERSON
In, for example, the Kyoto forum, each of the interested parties would, at a minimum, agree to consider the other as a spokesperson, without finding it relevant to decide whether the other represents humans, landscapes, chemical-industry lobbies, South Sea plankton, Indonesian forests, the U.S. economy or NGOs. "Discussion", a key term of political philosophy that has been mistakenly understood as a well-informed notion, available off the shelf as it were, has now to be quite profoundly modified. Speech is no longer a specifically human property, or at least humans are no longer its sole masters. Latour does not claim that things "speak on their own", since no beings, not even humans, speak on their own, but always through someone or someone else. The right to speak then, in the new assembly, is for humans and nonhumans alike.
Democracy therefore can only be conceived if it can freely traverse the now dismantled border between science and politics, in order to add a series of new voices to the discussion, voices that have been inaudible until now, the voices of nonhumans. To limit the discussion to humans, their interests, their subjectivities and their rights, will appear as strange a few years from now as having denied the right to vote to slaves, poor people and women. At this stage of the learning process, Latour emphasizes, he does not have the solution to the problem of spokesperson; he simply asserts that there are two problems, one on the side of scientific representation and the other on the side of political representation, but there is one problem: How we can go about getting those in whose name we speak, to speak for themselves?
By refusing to collaborate, political philosophy and the philosophy of the sciences has deprived us of any opportunity to understand this question. Political ecology is determining clearly for the first time the problem that we are going to have to solve. It belongs neither to politics nor to epistemology nor to a blend of the two: it is situated elsewhere.
ASSOCIATIONS OF HUMANS AND NONHUMANS
If a maxim had to be stitched onto the flag of political ecology, it would not be, as some of its militants still believe, "let us protect nature". It would be a different formula, for Latour, one much better suited to the surprises of its practice "No one knows what an environment can do ...".
Let there be no misunderstanding, he goes on to say, political ecology is not going to be simpler, nicer, more rustic, than the old bicameral natural-social or indeed left-right politics. It will be both simpler and more complicated: simpler because it will no longer live under the constant threat of a double short-circuit, by Science and by Force, but also much more complicated, for the same reason. For want of short-circuits it is going to have to start all over and compose the common world bit by bit. Indeed, it will have to engage in integral politics.
So where do we go from there?
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