Friday 26 June 2015

Reply to Steve Fuller on Latour and ecomodernism

In response to my last post, Steve Fuller comments:
Has no one considered that perhaps Latour has never been an ecomodernist and that it was simply a misunderstanding that led him to be incorporated into the first Breakthrough Institute statement? As someone who has followed (increasingly critically) Latour's work for the last 30+ years, the man is a 'conservative' at heart, and it's only his rhetoric that makes him appear 'progressive' in the sense that ecomodernists are striving for. It seems to me that you either buy Latour's view of things or you buy ecomodernism, but the two are not compatible in terms of fundamental assumptions about the world.
I don't think I suggested that Latour was an 'ecomodernist,' did I? He's highly sympathetic to the idea of a post-natural environmentalism, which is precisely what the BTI has been advancing but with all sorts of other things attached. I'd hazard a guess that the feeling is more or less mutual. Sympathies without allegiances—straightforward enough.

As for his politics in general, I'm not sure that I really care. He's certainly no radical, nor has he ever really pretended to be (quite unlike a certain Warwick VC, for example). I think he's ambiguous enough to be read any number of ways, including progressively (for want of a better word—I'll admit that labelling someone a progressive who rejects 'progress' per se is an awkward formulation!). His use of Schmittian political theory in the last decade or so chimes very much with the likes of Mouffe, as I mentioned, although clearly they differ in a whole number of ways otherwise.

Going by his writings (no idea how you've managed to separate the 'rhetoric' from the 'substance'—that's an old and rather weak rhetorical move itself), I think he's a Deweyan liberal and a Hobbesian republican of sorts. He's the first to admit that he's bourgeois. Everything else he pretty much keeps to himself (maybe that tells you something, maybe it doesn't).

I don't 'buy' either option (both of which are, incidentally, full of coyness, contradiction and ambiguity) but with regard to political theory, agonism and the difference between politics and governance, I'm firmly in Latour's camp. In other respects, not so.

I'm intrigued by many of the ecomodernists' scientific arguments but I'm not knowledgeable enough on the technicalities to have any particular opinion. I think their political ideas, insofar as they even have any, leave a lot to be desired, to say the least. Frequently, they're downright objectionable.

If I had to choose, I presume it's clear by now which way I'd go. Fortunately, though, thinking doesn't work like that.