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Bernard Stiegler and Western modernity: tracing the theological in Stiegler’s philosophy and politics
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posted on 17.05.2017by Rossouw, Johannes Hieronymus
Bernard Stiegler (1952–) pursues a singular hermeneutical line in his engagement with a long list of classical, modern and contemporary thinkers, namely to read them in the light of his single-handed attempt to restore technics (one of the possible English translations of the Greek tekhnè, apart from ‘art’ or ‘skill’) to what he sees as its rightful place in the Western philosophical tradition. Herein lies both the greatest strength and weakness of Stiegler’s work: while he does often produce important new insights about the role and position of contemporary technics, he also often over-stretches the concept of technics in two ways.
The first is to develop what we argue to be a quasi-theology of technics, notably by linking technics to a number of traditional (Christian) theological motifs, including a paradisiac “pre-fall” period, a “fall”, an account of the human origin, destiny, salvation, the apocalypse, the spirit, faith, trust, credit, hope, and love.
The second way in which Stiegler tends to over-stretch the concept of technics is by reducing history to interaction between humans and technics. Thus, as we argue, by overestimating the role of technics in history, as well as by overestimating the role of one type of technics at a given time, Stiegler ends up reading the current industrial epoch in apocalyptic tones.
We base our critical approach to Stiegler on our contention that a social order distinguished by a constructive dialogue between religious traditions, philosophy and politics is needed today. We base this contention on two arguments that we endeavour to prove in dialogue with the theological and the historical in Stiegler’s work.
The first argument is that theological motifs are always present in any Western philosophical body of thought or conception of the social order.
The second argument, which dovetails with the first, is that Western modernity does not begin with the Industrial Revolution, but is accelerated by it. On our account the main characteristics of Western modernity include the emergence of the modern territorial state from the fifteenth century onwards; the progressive adoption of a neutral, linear conception of time and space from the fifteenth century onwards; and the appearance of the modern understanding of, and separation between, “religion” and “the secular” between 1500 and 1700.
By taking these historical processes into account it becomes possible to make a more measured appraisal of the role and position of technics in the contemporary social order. Such an appraisal notably allows one to maintain the important critical and political contribution of Stiegler’s thought on technics, while at the same time stripping away the quasi-theological aura of Stieglerian technics and opening up a dialogue with religious and classical philosophical traditions concerning the more responsible adoption of technics that he wants to see in the “new otium of the people”, which we call the liturgically attentive community. It finds its source in religious and classical philosophical traditions, such as, but not restricted to, Greek theoria, Stoic and Christian contemplation, and Buddhist meditation.