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MAGNIFICANT MISDIRECTED EFFORT,
This review is from: An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (Hardcover)
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch
Many will express admirations for this book and its interactive website, in part because not really understanding its Baroque refinements but unwilling to say so. There is indeed much to admire in the originality of this work and its wealth of observations, concepts and ideas. But my assessment is that this magnificent edifice lacks foundations and is misdirected.
Thus, the whole range of existential challenges posed by science and technology, with all their deep uncertainties and inconceivability, to the future existence and very nature of the human species, as discussed in my recent book, are in the main ignored. To add a concrete example, the critical importance of the quality of senior political leaders in impacting on the future, for better or worse, is not realized - leading to neglect of the crucial need for radical upgrading the minds of high level decision makers.
This is not the place for a detailed critique of the book. But let me further illustrate some of the weaknesses by mentioning a category error and a misunderstanding, and then return to what I regard as the critical failure of the book and the project on which it is based, as hinted at above.
The book discussed "modernity" and the moderns. But the image of modernity and moderns discussed in the book is at best one "pure type" out of a variety of equally plausible ones. For sure it is not reliable anthropological mapping of the multiple and divergent attributes of societies usually regarded as "modern." Thus, a central category of the book is not clarified nor justified, adding up to a kind of category error.
The book completely misunderstands "politics." The differences and relations between "politics" and "policy" are not recognized nor discussed, probably because in French (and many other languages) there are no different words for politics and policy. The distinction made by the author between talking politics and talking on politics does nothing to overcome neglect of the realities of the real "corridors of power." Thus, the Agora is regarded as a model of politics, ignoring that fact that in Western democracies too most of politics (and even more so of policy) takes place in closed spaces not accessible to the public - largely necessarily so because of the low levels of public understanding of complex issues. Similarly, the critical roles of myths and imaginaries in politics are not considered.
In addition, the realities of relations between the Occident and "others," which are central to the future of humanity, are grossly oversimplified. Trust in a novel type of "diplomacy" is unrealistic, ignoring the crucial roles of strongly held beliefs -- "fundamentalism" and "fanaticism" are neither understood nor and confronted in the book, nor are the nature of power and the strength of material interests.
Most serious of all, the necessity for a strong global regime, up to a circumscribed "Global Levilathan," for imposing measures essential for assuring the future of humanity, is completely ignored. Instead trust seems to be put on arriving at consensus with the help of a kind of "diplomacy," which is completely misplaced in view of the lessons of history and whatever we understand of the nature of humans and tribal feelings.
To be added as a main failure in its instauration thrust, to use a term from the text, is its concentrating on the interface between Gaia and Anthropocene and the necessity to radically adjust human activities and modes of existence to limits imposed by the Earth. True, this is an important issue. And many do regard it as the most fateful one. But from such an outstanding author more can be expected. Not only are the potentials of geoengineering not taken into account, but - much worse - the fatal dangers posed by synthetic biology and human enhancement, among others, are not taken into account, though they frame the required new civilizations and modes of existence.
The author rejects the "to be or not to be" question (p. 178). He may be right in the specific context in which he does so, but the real issues facing humanity are indeed "to be, what to be, or not to be." Ecology is only one of the crucial facets of this existential mega-quandary. The whole raison d'etre of this book is undermined by not relating to this question as a whole, which realistically considered leads to understandings and conclusions radically different and also contrarian to those proposed in the book and the project on which it is based.
I give this book four stars because of its high intellectual level and the wealth of novel though partial understandings providing by it. But, as a whole, I regret to reach the conclusion that it is misleading concerning the problematic facing humanity and the ways for seeking measures and modes of existence coping with it.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem