In What Era Are We Living?
The owl of Minerva, which the ancient Greeks regarded as the bird of knowledge, begins its flight, as we have known at least since Hegel, only at the onset of dusk. That is to say, the mind never grasps the present, but only always the past in the present. From this simple realization follows, for Hegel, that we cannot see into the future. In contrast to Karl Marx, who confidently announced the imminent proletarian revolution and, with this assurance, threw a knowing glance into the future, quite in the tradition of the Enlightenment, which would master nature and render its processes repeatable in experiment.
Industrial society implemented this project with great success. Only the social consequences have proven to be insufficiently controllable. To this extent we must agree with Armin Nassehi that diagnoses of “late” and “post” with respect to modernity and capitalism remain bound up with demands and hopes that have failed to be redeemed to this day. This concerns the power to control the economy and society, and so distributive justice and pluralism. Discourse about post-modernity therefore falsely suggests that we are currently living in a new era.
Loss of a central perspective
This thesis is vehemently contradicted by Hartmut Rosa. He agrees with Thomas Assheuer that late and post diagnoses were wrong from the start and are today celebrating a return because the world financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath have again placed central aspects of modernity in question: capitalism as such, democracy, and hence modern society as a whole, which is incapable of redeeming both its integrative and socio-economic promises. But he also criticizes Nassehi’s problematic of sociological self-descriptions on the grounds that sociology has no interest in the needs of people and gives no answers to questions about the future of modern society.
Above all, sociology for Rosa still possesses a central perspective, namely the logic of economic growth, escalation and acceleration, which is essential to social and economic stability. In this he sees the danger of excessive acceleration. On the other hand, that the promise of prosperity was not first placed into question by the global financial crisis, that the gap between rich and poor has been widening for decades, apparently leaves him unimpressed. Other institutions may have long since served to stabilize modern societies. In this way modern society no longer reproduces itself as a unity. Boris Groys confirms this indirectly when he notes the symptoms of disintegration in traditional institutions.
An end to all self-evident certainties
Discourse about post-democracy also has a different background from that of the Cold War. It became really popular only in the 1990s when the economy came to influence politics more and more strongly. In the days of Eastern European socialism, such a criticism would have simply been dismissed as communist propaganda. It was only in 1989 that the word “post-democracy” received a different sense after the triumph of democracy seemed to be dawning in Eastern Europe, South America and even Africa. After the world financial crisis, then, the discourse of post-democracy as the domination of capital over politics received a new impetus.
In short, we should pay careful attention to the differences among the many circulating concepts of “late” and “post”. In each case, they express different sociological diagnoses of the present. Today it is no longer clear what kind of society we live in – much less that we can attain to a common idea of what kind of society we would like to live in.
is an Essayist and Professor for Political Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and Professor for the philosophy of Science at the Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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