The fact that we were all celebrating last Sunday when Marine Le Pen only came second in the first round of the French presidential election shows how deep the water has become. Everywhere, nativist and isolationist thinking seems to be on the rise. In Sweden, the xenophobic “Sweden Democrats” is now the second largest party.
In one reading, all this is a reflection not of the failures but the successes of the original Enlightenment vision. Difficult as it may be to distinguish signal from noise, it is still undeniable that the ground has shifted, that the Reaction
is so strong precisely because how far we have come on our “civilizational voyage” to speak with Toynbee. Today, more people than ever demand to be treated as our moral equals and not be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, sexuality or gender. As shown time and again by Our World in Data
and other similar initatives, life for most people on this planet is better, longer and richer than it has ever been.
Still, the loud outer voices of the Reaction, amplified by a gnawing inner post-modern uncertainty of all certainties, have deprived liberals of what was most precious to them, namely the future. While they may still believe in a bright individual future – one in which the kids grow up, the house gets renovated or they finally get to hike up to Machu Picchu – few seem to think that the “Anthropocene” will end well.
In sharp contrast, ecomodernism is offering hope that it will, that the Anthropocene cannot only be made “good
” but even “great”. Yet, for many reasons, ecomodernism has struggled to resonate with contemporary cultural logics. Instead of accepting the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the modern condition, ecomodernism calls for a new era of responsibility, one in which we learn to “love our monsters
”. No monster is more emblematic of modernity than nuclear and it is thus not surprising that we find nuclear technologies at the very heart of the ecomodern project. Unlike any other technology, nuclear has the potential of finally liberating nature from the human dominion. Yet, its safe use requires wisdom and intellectual integrity.
Obviously, we humans prefer to avoid such responsibility or any direct confrontation with our demons. For many people in the OECD, ecomodernism is an answer to a problem that they do not think they have. By most standards, a country like Sweden is already fairly “sustainable”. The problem only arises once we realize that other people, more than 7.5 billion to be exact, also want the things that we take for granted. Only then do we recognize the futility of piecemeal ecological modernization or lifestyle environmentalism. The question however remains, is realizing that futility enough to turn ecomodernism into a defining social and political movement of the 21st century?