Democracy and the evolution of culture
Auteur : Charles Melman 04/10/2006
The current trends (1) in our culture have in depth consequences on our relation to authority and the various fields of knowledge. (2)
Authority, be it political or religious, always founded the stability it required upon a fixed body of knowledge seen as one and as dogma. In contrast, the progress of knowledge as a plurality of fields requires its being systematically put in doubt by a subject who becomes the one and only stable feature in this permanent revision -together with the God of Descartes.
Historically, we can say that it was the conflict of authority between church and government that, in Europe, originated the revision of the fields of knowledge out of which contemporary science was able to grow and develop.
However, the fact that truth is no longer validated by a positive statement but by the enunciation of a doubting subject, whose existence will act as a warrant, is certainly at stake in the very principle and practice of democracy.
The aspiration to Democracy is thus a fortuitous rather than a natural outcome.
The present introduction is meant as an illustration of the current cultural mutation and of the way the changes in our relations to both authority and knowledge might well be of consequence for democracy.
The fall of the Berlin wall (11.9.89), which meant the fall of the last ideology of social transformation, has made us expect our governments to show more pragmatism than respect for an ideal.
On the other hand, the restrictions and constraints inherent to religion are seriously jeopardized by the general encouragement to consume without restriction. Unless new Churches start replacing the traditional "God is love" by "God is all satisfaction"...
In the field of science, technological progress is making obsolete what the day before appeared as a major new asset. This is especially true for biology, where the mastering of the functions of reproduction rids us of the cult of the "Father".
Tomorrow we will be able to create new "human" types.
In such a Maelstrom, not only the rule - the nomos - disappears, but also the figure of authority that guaranteed it.
In command now is the object of satisfaction, recommending that all norms be by-passed.
Such is the power of this object that it can refute at the level of the community any doubt a subject might express as to its validity: you can't object to an advance in technology, or at least not for a long time.
Yet, if systematic doubt about both knowledge and the promised benefits is the necessary condition for the emergence or a subject responsible for himself as well as for his life in society, what future is there for democracy?
(1) Summary of a conference made at the American University of Paris on September 29, 2006, with the invitation of Prof Anne-Marie Picard.
(2) Translation by Cyril Veken.