Bruno Latour, translated by Stephen Muecke
I begin with the simple idea that climate change and its denial have been organizing all of contemporary politics at least for the last three decades. Climate change plays the same role that social questions and the class struggle played over the two preceding centuries.
We can understand nothing about the way inequalities have exploded for forty years, and the accompanying movement towards massive deregulation, if we don’t admit that a good part of the globalized elite had perfectly understood what was going on with the bad news about the state of the planet, which, thanks to the work of scientists, began to crystallize at the beginning of the nineties.
Since the threat was real, the elites drew the conclusion that it would be necessary to adopt two opposing courses of action. First, give up the post-war liberal dream of a common world created by the modernization of the planet—so, let’s cut ourselves off as quickly as possible, through deregulation at any price, from the rest of the inhabitants to whom we sold this dream of universality; secondly, systematically organize long-term denial of this ecological change, which nevertheless brings in not just the environment but what is called the Earth-system.
(One can see in the case of Exxon-Mobil, which, at the beginning of the nineties, moved quickly from cutting edge scientific research on climate and the Earth, to the organization of a denial of climatic change, a useful empirical benchmark to situate this transformation of liberal ideals).
Denial—designated euphemistically as climato-scepticism—is crucial to hide any scandalous public admission that one was giving up on the ideal of a universal modern world for all its inhabitants. In theory, nothing had changed: “Globalization, here we come!” In practice, everything had: “We will no longer share anything with the rest of you since the planet will not be big enough for everyone.”
What makes today’s political situation so disconcerting is that this double movement, renunciation and denial, is an open secret.
A good number of people around the world seems to have understood fairly clearly that they have been abandoned by elites who no longer have any intention of sharing the state of the world with them. They are staging a hue and cry for a return to the traditional spaces that could be called premodern (or at least look a bit like that). Hence the stampede, astonishing in its simultaneity, from the Philippines to France, via England, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, towards the idea that safety can only be found by going back to national borders, traditional cultures, ancient soil.
Commentators think this running away is “populism”, but it is just the quite logical reaction of people who feel abandoned in the middle of nowhere, and who have been chillingly betrayed by those who, until now, were leading them towards the enchanting horizon of globalization.
As a result, we are all caught up in the midst of what is looking more and more like the beginning of the panic when a theater catches fire. There are those who continue to flee towards the protections afforded by an unprecedented explosion of inequality (conveniently summed up by the term 1% of 1%), and those who flee backwards towards the completely imaginary protection offered by national and ethnic borders. In the middle are all those who run the risk of getting trampled…
Now, this situation takes a potentially tragic turn where a whole government, the United States, is lead by Donald Trump. Trumpism (if one can use the term) is one of those rare innovations in politics, and it would be wise to take it seriously. Just as fascism also knew how to combine extremes and take politicians and commentators of its era by surprise, Trumpism combines extremes and trumps its world, at least for the time being.