Re-Founding the World: A Western Testament

Re-Founding the World: A Western Testament

Re-Founding the World: A Western Testament

Re-Founding the World: A Western Testament


In all our calculated celebrations and performances, in our acceptance of relativism, in our adulation of the unaffiliated individual, a hard-to-define tone sets off an alarm in our heads. Is this really what the future will be like? Do we have to resign ourselves to the death of holistic thinking, to the volatile rule of "democracy of opinion", to the pressures of the all-embracing market or of techno-science, to a final fading away of utopianism and hope for a better future?

Here, in a book of contemporary philosophy, a prominent French thinker questions today's culture. Behind the facades, he senses new kinds of domination, an inequality that is creeping back, and a breakdown of an entire conception of humanity But, he observes, this time we are defenseless against such perils. We have no idea how to confront them. We find it difficult even to analyze them. The ground is crumbling beneath our feet. Seldom, it seems, have we had a more pressing need to find solid ground.


How have we managed to empty the sea? Who gave us the
sponge to erase the whole horizon?


“Crazed by massacres and dazed by inventions”, as Jürgen Habermas wrote, we leave the 20th century counting our dead — by the millions, by the ten and hundred millions: the dead of Les Éparges, Kolyma, and Ravensbrück, of Guernica and Katyn, the anonymous victims of Hiroshima, of Phnom Penh, Madagascar, Shanghai, Izieu, and so many other places, who have returned one by one in recent years to revive our memories. Night and fog, crimes against humanity, innumerable, “civilized” acts of barbarism. Commemorating them in Black Books and courtroom repentances, we have set out doggedly, all through the 1990s, to enumerate all the crimes, lies, and follies of a century that the poet Osip Mandelstam characterized as “despotic”. Have there been many centuries as bloody, and in which there was such a dearth of reason, as the 20 ? Has there ever been, in all of history, such a sense of waste, such an overwhelming nausea, such a “secret shame” , to use Vladimir Jankélévich’s expression?

No thinking about our contemporary state of confusion, no examination of the nihilism that afflicts our age, would mean anything at all if this dreadful balance sheet weren’t taken into account first. Imbued with an unparalleled historic puzzlement, and driven by an incurable skepticism — not to say an immense metaphysical “hangover” — we have tried to bid the 20 century adieu. But the process has been more painful than . . .

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