On Love: A Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century: Books

By O'Grady, Jane | Times Higher Education, May 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

On Love: A Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century: Books


O'Grady, Jane, Times Higher Education


On Love: A Philosophy for the Twenty-first Century. By Luc Ferry, translated by Andrew Brown. Polity, 200pp, Pounds 16.99. ISBN 9780745670171. Published 12 April 2013

Luc Ferry, the French political philosopher and minister of education under Jacques Chirac, here proclaims "the revolution of love" and "the re- enchantment of the world". This is not a replay of the spirit of '68, of which he is critical. Ferry's project is instead to promote "the dawn of a new era", the fifth of the "principles of the meaning of life" that have, he claims, successively emerged since Homer. The first (cosmological) "principle of meaning" apparently "appears with the Odyssey": to live well you had to journey from chaos towards reconciliation with the cosmos. The second (theological) principle, holding sway from Christ's death until the Renaissance, found harmony in obeying God's laws. Then came the revolution of subjectivity and "the first humanism": "a man was in some way 'saved'... when he laid his own brick in the edifice of human progress".

Unfashionably, Ferry exalts the greatness of European civilisation and its fostering of autonomy, but admits that his beloved Enlightenment had to be sabotaged by the fourth (deconstructionist) principle. Each "principle" supplies what was neglected and repressed in the preceding one, and the fourth admitted life's feral undertow, urged freedom and intensity, and liberated women, gays, sexuality, irrationality and the wild. It revealed that the Cartesian subject, supposedly "transparent to itself" and "transforming the world through its imperious will", is an illusion - really we are in thrall to our unconscious drives interlaced with economic and cultural forces. Also exposed were the Enlightenment's dark assumptions that anything outside its own notions of historicity and permanent innovation was inferior.

Was the deconstruction of "progress", then, itself a form of progress? Not entirely. Universalism, although often the mask for chauvinist racism, offered a miraculous "anti-determinism", freeing us from our biological and cultural identities, Ferry argues. Paradoxically, identity politics, which celebrates difference, comes full circle, "clapping us back in the chains of our natural and social particularisms". Following Nietzsche's "death of God" came Foucault's "death of man", as anti-rationalism dehumanised humanity and bred pessimism. …

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