Ref. :  000001078
Date :  2001-06-11
Language :  English
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Memory and globalisation


Author :  Reyes Mate

Some political theoreticians, amongst them Ulrich Beck, qualify globalisation as the ‘second modernity’, the conditions being, today, collected together for the old dream of universality at last to become reality. From their analyses arose the idea that we are confronted with a spatial, but not temporal universality, as if the secrete conviction existed that the past and the memory of the past were dangerous.

What might ‘taking time seriously’ mean? What does the memory of what this world has been add or subtract from globalisation? Generally, there is cause to think that taking time seriously means giving experience a theoretical value. Let us take, for example, the theoretical case of justice. It is not the same thing to develop a theory of justice from the experience of injustice as to seek, in abstraction, the essence of what is just from outside human experience. Noting that all theoreticians accept that the experience of injustice is the point of departure for a theory of justice, but that this remains limited to the context of discovery and not comprehension. Hence, the abounding injustices in the world justify that justice be the most urgent political task, but also that, as soon as the theory begins to develop, we start declaring that it is necessary to abstract from real-life experience. This is why Rawls conjured up the image ‘of the veil of ignorance’ and Habermas ‘the ideal speech situation’. To claim a theoretical value for experience means understanding that all theory is a response to an already given situation. The example of the theory of justice is valid in every language. We can understand speech as a creative act, which gives, in itself, meaning to the world, or as a response to the voices of things or events. Walter Benjamin explains the myth of the fall as linguistic abuse. Man wanted to be the image of God, instead of limiting himself to naming things, whilst taking into account their linguistic essence: he wanted to invent a name. The result is that he lost his ability to name. Recuperating this linguistic function would mean understanding that reason is, as Heidegger said, Gedacht, which means memory (Gedachtnis) and welcome (Danken). To think of taking into account time is to recognize this second or reactive character of reason. Things and men have a linguistic history. This is how reason is born “compromised” with a heritage that comes before it.

How does this presence of time affect globalisation? From its waterline upwards. Globalisation is presented to us, as notes Jacques Poulain in his article Public and Private, under the veil of liberal morality, which means, from equality radical to all men. The fierce game of free competition thus remains doubly legitimate: a tergo, through affirmation of an equality or a radical symmetry between all men, founded on a paradoxical coming and going which comes from the biologism (we are all born equal) to the categorical imperative of deontological morality (all men are ends and not means); and a fronte, through the conviction that free competition between equals will be welcomed by all.

We can only speak of liberal morality from a depreciation of time. When Rousseau underlines that the origin of inequality is not natural, but historical because it is produced by human freedom, he qualifies existing inequalities in moral terms: these are injustices. Let us pause here for a moment (something that Rousseau does not do) on this crucial discovery: if existing inequalities are produced by man, men not only generate inequalities, but they ‘take place’ or form as unequally different. When Hermann Cohen or Unamuno say that suffering is the principle individuation, what they are indicating is that throughout history man singles himself out through the injustice that the Other causes to him. What we call ‘moral’ ‘ is not born, says Levinas, from equality, but from the fact that infinite demands, those to serve the poor, the stranger, the widow and orphan, converge at a point in the universe’. All men are unequal because there is, behind each one of them, a historia passionis which individualises them. All egalitarian discourse has to make abstraction of this history.

What brings memory back into political theory is the moral qualification of reality. If liberalism can build moral legitimacy from its economic policy, it is, as we have already said, solely on the basis of equality. But, what makes it possible to discover behind the veil of equality a reality of inequalities, is memory. It is, indeed, from this that existing inequalities are explained politically as the work of human action. And if these are historical and not the effects of nature of destiny, then each new generation which takes its place in this world receives a heritage. It inherits an unequal world, the fruit of the injustices of its elders, with which it is born responsible, if it accepts to identify itself with the milieu or heritage in which it is born.

Where does that take us? To the necessity to posit not only a special but also a temporal universality. If the political dynamic of economic globalisation is near to a spatial universalisation, as I mentioned, only the temporal consideration of this phenomenon can lead us to a universalisation of morality. Unfortunately, we observe that the political suggestions which are made, inspired by well-intentioned moral-democracy, refer themselves to the universalisation of the citizen or as Habermas says the passage from Staatsburger to Weltburger. As if the morally correct political response consisted in universalizing the image of the citizen in such as it is in the Western states of ‘well-being’. What we are trying to depict is that the citizen or Staatsburger does not enjoy good moral health because he is a different, inheritor of past inequalities, confronted, ever since his birth, with other differents, inheritors of past injustices. There is a relationship between these two inheritances: the fact that they were brought about by man, our predecessor. A conceivable morally acceptable universality cannot be the universalisation of an innocent chemically correct model, the citizen that we knew in the West. The memory of globalisation showed us that this citizen’s figure was only made possible thanks to philosophies of history that confused man with European. The price of its success has been the failure of this other man that today we want to promote to the level of our social status. Globalisation tells us that the indigenous Chiapas or the employed Singaporian would not be citizens without the solidarity of the rich West. But this citizenship will only be morally acceptable if the supposed Western citizen lends his solidarity, not as a generous and benevolent gift, but as the response to a historical demand.

M. Foucault Cours de l’année 1983, in Magazine Littéraire, nb.207, may 1984, 35-39
A. McIntyre (1984) After virtue, University of Notre Dame Press. N.Y.
J. Rawls (1971) A Theory of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
W. Benjamin “Uber Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen”, in Gesammelte Schriften II, 140-157
U. Beck, ed. (1998) Politik der Globalisierung, Suhrkamp, Franckfurt
Reyes Mate (1998) Heidegger y el judaísmo, Anthropos, Barcelona

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