Friday, 1 May 2009

The Crisis in Humanism I

In the first of a three part series, Joost van Loon examines the crisis in humanism in the contemporary world.

The crisis in humanism stems from a slow but insidious erosion of the key principle of modern thought – which Foucault referred to as ‘man and his doubles’. I am simply assuming here a notion of modernity that is based on the centrality of human being as both origin and destiny of reason, finding expressions in the ascendance of man over God, nature and history; the displacement of religion by science, the expropriation of laws of nature and natural resources for industrious human productivity and the subjection of contingencies to self-reflective institutionalised forms of governance and regulation.
In the famous last section of The Order of Things, Foucault already predicted the demise of ‘man’:
One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge….It is not around him and his secrets that knowledge prowled for so long in the darkness… As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end. If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared… then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea (Foucault, M., 1970: 386-7).
According to Lyotard (e.g. the Inhuman), the crisis of humanism is brought about by a particular anamnesis – a coming to terms with the significance of Auschwitz. It is perhaps too simplistic to bring this all back to one slogan, uttered by Nietzsche as ‘the Death of God’ which – for Nietzsche at least – heralded the brief but painful spell of the reign of man (which was soon to be ended by the reign of the plebeians – communism - and then the reign of nothing). Nietzsche was of course referring to modernity. Simplistic – no doubt - but very effective. It is perhaps a bit more remarkable that towards a later stage in his life, Heidegger would recognise more fully the demise of modern humanism and uttered that ‘Only a God can save us’.
(Photo credit: drtchock: permissions)

No comments:

Post a Comment