Professors Agnes Heller, Roger Scruton, Rory Sutherland and Daniel Pick on Modernity

Agnes Heller Post_2

Nexus Conference ‘How to Change the World?’, moderated by Dr. Rob Riemen

Click here for the video.

In this brief panel discussion hosted by the Nexus-Instituut.nl, Professors Agnes Heller, Roger Scruton, Rory Sutherland and Daniel Pick discuss the broad defining features of our changing world. The discussion in this particular selection focuses on the features we have called modernity — its promises as well as its peculiarities.

The discussion takes issue, and I believe that it is useful to note, as Professor Sutherland does, that while it may seem that we live in a commercial world predominated by commercial values, it is not however the only picture that can be painted, if an accurate one at all. There are contending pictures that can still be made that refer to us more than monetary and commercial value, that will differ as well as depend and vary from one’s geographic and demographic situation.

Professor Agnes Heller builds on this inherent contention in modernity and makes the argument that what we have are modern societies with at least two main distinctive features. The first being that it is a modernity distinguished not only by its distributions through the market but also by its redistribution through the state, a sort of combination between capitalism and socialism. The second is that modern societies can also be characterized as inherently dissatisfied societies. The popular and known “slogan” that every man and women are born free articulated and created, for Professor Heller, an empowering sense of dissatisfaction, since freedom is never an entirely equal possibility and condition for everyone. Professor Heller argues that this built-in sense of dissatisfaction is not necessarily a negative one because it is an inherently built-in feature that unlike previous and traditional societies seems to allow us to recover from our crises. Remaining dissatisfied is a necessity of survival and existence in modernity with far ranging consequences and promises.

There are indeed a number of pictures that can be painted of modernity and both Professor Roger Scruton and Professor Daniel Pick each take note also of its darker side. Professor Scruton contends that, for all of its production and disruptions, modernity has produced a unique and rather interesting art and literature of loneliness which he finds in the literary works of European writers like Feuerbach and Kafka. He argues that while “our need for each other” is one of the most “beautiful things amongst human beings”, it can however be so easily “cut off from fulfillment at a time when it can be so easily fulfilled in so many ways”. While mass modern societies have given us a myriad of promises while simultaneously developed in its core a loneliness.

Professor Pick concludes by suggesting that the dominance of commercial values in our age comes perhaps from a sense of collapse from a previous “seemingly viable model” of post-world war “social democracy” that had emerged from the collapsed of the world into two “systems” and the eventual dominance of a triumphant neoliberal discourse that appealed to perhaps a powerfully gripping sense of growth and illusion. There is however, in citing Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman, an alternative darker side of modernity in how it does not produce a “creative flux, a change, and an emancipation”, as contends Professor Pick, but rather changes that has pulled the world into “camps, extermination and police states”, which should not be understood as “archaic” or “remnant barbarisms” but that have been uniquely reproduced within and with the processes of modernity, as Erich Fromm demonstrates in Escape from Freedom (also previously published as Fear from Freedom).

This event was brought and hosted by the Nexus Instituut, and we will be not only reviewing their past events and lectures series but also their cover their future ones here on Integrating Horizons.

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