The present ecological mutation has organized the whole political landscape for the last thirty years. This could explain the deadly cocktail of exploding inequalities, massive deregulation, and conversion of the dream of globalization into a nightmare for most people.
What holds these three phenomena together is the conviction, shared by some powerful people, that the ecological threat is real and that the only way for them to survive is to abandon any pretense at sharing a common future with the rest of the world. Hence their flight offshore and their massive investment in climate change denial.
The Left has been slow to turn its attention to this new situation. It is still organized along an axis that goes from investment in local values to the hope of globalization and just at the time when, everywhere, people dissatisfied with the ideal of modernity are turning back to the protection of national or even ethnic borders.
This is why it is urgent to shift sideways and to define politics as what leads toward the Earth and not toward the global or the national. Belonging to a territory is the phenomenon most in need of rethinking and careful redescription; learning new ways to inhabit the Earth is our biggest challenge. Bringing us down to earth is the task of politics today.
The emergence of modern sciences in the seventeenth century profoundly renewed our understanding of nature. For the last three centuries new ideas of nature have been continually developed by theology, politics, economics, and science, especially the sciences of the material world.
The situation is even more unstable today, now that we have entered an ecological mutation of unprecedented scale. Some call it the Anthropocene, but it is best described as a new climatic regime. And a new regime it certainly is, since the many unexpected connections between human activity and the natural world oblige every one of us to reopen the earlier notions of nature and redistribute what had been packed inside.
So the question now arises: what will replace the old ways of looking at nature?
This book explores a potential candidate proposed by James Lovelock when he chose the name 'Gaia' for the fragile, complex system through which living phenomena modify the Earth. The fact that he was immediately misunderstood proves simply that his readers have tried to fit this new notion into an older frame, transforming Gaia into a single organism, a kind of giant thermostat, some sort of New Age goddess, or even divine Providence.
In this series of lectures on 'natural religion,' Bruno Latour argues that the complex and ambiguous figure of Gaia offers, on the contrary, an ideal way to disentangle the ethical, political, theological, and scientific aspects of the now obsolete notion of nature. He lays the groundwork for a future collaboration among scientists, theologians, activists, and artists as they, and we, begin to adjust to the new climatic regime.
In this book, Bruno Latour pursues his ethnographic inquiries into the different value systems of modern societies. After science, technology, religion, art, it is now law that is being studied by using the same comparative ethnographic methods. The case study is the daily practice of the French supreme courts, the Conseil d'Etat, specialized in administrative law (the equivalent of the Law Lords in Great Britain). Even though the French legal system is vastly different from the Anglo-American tradition and was created by Napoleon Bonaparte at the same time as the Code-based system, this branch of French law is the result of a home-grown tradition constructed on precedents. Thus, even though highly technical, the cases that form the matter of this book, are not so exotic for an English-speaking audience.
What makes this study an important contribution to the social studies of law is that, because of an unprecedented access to the collective discussions of judges, Latour has been able to reconstruct in detail the weaving of legal reasoning: it is clearly not the social that explains the law, but the legal ties that alter what it is to be associated together. It is thus a major contribution to Latour's social theory since it is now possible to compare the ways legal ties build up associations with the other types of connection that he has studied in other fields of activity. His project of an alternative interpretation of the very notion of society has never been made clearer than in this work. To reuse the title of his first book, this book is in effect the 'Laboratory Life of Law'.
Bruno Latour's long term project is to compare the felicity and infelicity conditions of the different values dearest to the heart of those who have `never been modern'. According to him, this is the only way to develop an anthropology of the Moderns. After his work on science, on technology and, more recently, on law, this book explores the truth conditions of religious speech acts.
Even though there is no question that religion is one of the values that has been intensely cherished in the course of history, it's also clear that it has become immensely difficult to tune in to its highly specific mode of enunciation. Every effort to speak in the right key sounds awkward, reactionary, pious or simply empty. Hence the necessity of devising a way of writing that brings to the fore this elusive form of speech to render it audible again. In this highly original book, the author offers a completely different tack on the endless `science and religion' conflict by protecting them both from the confusion with the notion of information. Like The Making of Law, this book is one more attempt at developing this `inquiry on modes of existence' that provides an alternative definition of society.