Is the polycrisis a side effect of progress and victorious liberalism? The victory of the liberal world has dramatically transformed life on this planet in a very short space of time. In the process, many of the basic liberal ideas have been distorted beyond recognition. Is the liberal project a victim of its own success and, if so, is it doomed to failure?
Almost exactly a generation ago, the triumphant West proclaimed the victory of the liberal world, of the liberal project. From now on, there would be only one model for societies: liberal democracies in a global market. Things have turned out quite differently. The world is in a polycrisis and today the core ideas of the liberal project - individual freedoms, tolerance, progressive ideals - are fighting for their political survival. How did it come to this?
For this episode, I am delighted to welcome the distinguished philosopher Michael Sandel, whose Harvard course on moral philosophy has been followed by millions of people online. Michael’s book The Tyranny of Merit trenchantly analyses the perversion of meritocracy and what the rule of the credentialed and of technocrats is doing to our democracies. While the social and political elite claims for itself to rule through merit alone, the idea of merit itself has not only been corrupted by mechanisms of exclusion, it is also a fraught concept in itself. In our conversation, we explore the politics of humiliation, the theological dimension of thinking that we get what we deserve, the populist backlash against a sense of entitlement, and how to address these fault lines which threaten to split our societies in two.
The idea that humans can dominate nature and rule over it has popped up quite recently in human history and has come to sweep the planet, and to change and degrade its natural systems. But where does this idea come from, how has it influenced human history and what will come after its collapse amid the climate crisis?
What part do our collective stories play in historical turning points? Can new narratives change a culture, a society, a political structure, or do narratives react to changes to explain them afterwards? What do narratives inspire, and how are they disseminated? Martin Puchner, professor for comparative literature at Harvard University and author of, among others, The Story of Culture, is the person to ask. We speak about the importance of technologies such as writing and print, but also of creative misunderstanding and appropriation, a political minefield, as well as a main mechanism of cultural transmission. What can we learn from this convoluted history, and is it possible to initiate a narrative turn today, away from destruction and domination towards a more symbiotic understanding of culture?
Sometimes the world is reinvented and turned upside down not in a glittering metropolis, but in the provinces. This was the case in Jena, a tiny German town, at the end of the eighteenth century, as a gaggle of young and unconventional poets, scientists and philosophers descended on the university there. The result was the kernel of German Romanticism, Andrea Wulf tells me. She has written a stunning group biography on the German romantics, their ideas and their personal lives. In this episode, we discuss the importance of German Romanticism, its idea of the self and its new ways of relating to nature, a historical turning point that is still colouring our current debates and our thinking about ourselves, and the climate crisis.
Do we need a New Enlightenment to cut through a new obscurantism? Or is the Enlightenment part of a bad past of racism, slavery, and exploitation? In many ways, the ideas of the Enlightenment are tarnished by their historical association with historical injustices, dictatorships and utopian experiments that left a bloody trace throughout history, an inhuman rationalism more akin to capitalist excess than to liberté-égalité-fraternité. But this is only one face of Enlightenment thinking, an invention of later historians. Behind this sanitised facade lies a landscape of hair-raising debates, doubts and discussions that have lost nothing of their power to astonish and to question the status quo and the lies societies like to tell themselves.
Since Icarus flew too close to the sun, the common story of humans and their machines tells of hopes, fears and ambitions. From Leonardo to industrialisation, the First World War and the nuclear threat, this relationship has had many chapters. People have built machines to imitate their faculties and have recognised themselves in them and developed in parallel with them. With the rise of artificial intelligence — machines that can learn by themselves — the traditional balance could be upset. Are human beings merely carbon-based prototypes of a more complex machine intelligence?
When the Roman empire was at its zenith it was the largest empire ever seen, an unchallengeable power with mighty legions, an efficient administration, unparalleled economic power and a glittering metropolis at its centre. The fact that it took just a few generations to unravel was intimately connected not only to corruption and decadence, but also to climate change and imported epidemics sweeping the empire, argues Kyle Harper, author of the bestselling: The Fall of Rome. I am excited to speak to Kyle about the many reasons of the Fall of Rome, and the lessons its epic collapse might hold for our future.
Around 1450, the greatest empires and the greatest markets of the world were China, India and the Ottoman empire, while also cultures like the Khmer in Cambodia and the Aztecs in Mesoamerica projected great power and achievements. Europe was a collection of small countries in a constant state of war, a great step back from the civilisation of the Roman empire. 300 years later Europe ruled the world. How was that possible, and how important were viruses and gunpowder, religion and geography?
The war on Ukraine is catastrophic for both parties. Ukraine has to bear widespread destruction of infrastructure and a terrible loss of life. The morale within the society is high, and if the country can prevail on the battlefield, the future appears dynamic. For Russia the situation is radically different, says political scientist Nina Khrushcheva, the first guest of the Dialogues for Tomorrow. Having divided her time between Moscow and the US during the past year, she has observed the changes in Russian society from within.
Long before the bible, humans imagined that they could subjugate nature, and even death itself. With Christianity, this interesting illusion was spread throughout the globe. But where did it come from, and what does it mean combined with the 21st-century technologies?
History has always been the story of the human past. With the advent of climate science and historical research into climate patterns, a new kind of history has become possible looking at societies as part of a dymanic natural environment. This opens new perspectives on the rise and fall of cultures, from the first cities and the Fall or Rome to the climate catastrophe of today.
Enlightened utopias tried to create turning points in history, but the republics of virtue they imagined never materialised. What is it with Enlightened utopias that condemns them to fail?
As nature changed during the Little Ice Age, so did the societies depending on it. Trial and error created successful adaptations as societies learned to cope with colder climates, leading to societies that resemble our own: urbanised, relying on international markets, and increasingly on science and professionals. This is the rise of the middle class, of the Enlightenment, of liberalism, and of imperialism. It also raises the question: can our response to the climate crisis learn from what happened 400 years ago?
With its long, bitter winters, rainy summers and ruined harvests, the Little Ice Age put European societies under severe pressure during the 16th and 17th centuries. Successful strategies of coping with climate change emerged slowly, but with great effects. Two different responses, from rigidity to transformation, are exemplified by the historical fates of Madrid and Amsterdam.
Between ca. 1570 and 1680, temperatures plummeted by two degrees Celsius on average, creating a vast agricultural crisis, famine, and social unrest.Why was the world plunged into winter, what happened in nature and how did societies react — and what do witch trials have to do with it all?
LAND Magazine - 28.03.2022 According to an analysis published in “Nature” magazine (Dec. 2020), the mass of man-made things exceeds the mass of natural things (biomass). Are we suffocating ourselves? What effect does this have on the relationship between man and nature? Are we now imprinting our under- standing of nature on the landscape? Can nature become an antidote to a digitally alienated world? These questions are presented in a conversation with the historian and essayist Philipp Blom.
SustainablePublicAffairs We are living through a time of systemic change and many say that we might need a new way to interpret the world.
Virtual World Biodiversity Forum - 27.05.2021 - Online How can we change the narrative and imagine a world where the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are prioritized, and where the well-being of generations to come is ensured?
YouTube – 12.11.2020 – Forum of Culture YouTube Dialogue between Jean Martin Fortier (farmer, writer, educator and defender of ecological sustainable agriculture) and Philipp Blom (historian, novelist and translator). Moderated by: Rosalía Santaolalla (journalist).
IST HEUTE SCHON MORGEN? Wie die Pandemie Europa verändert Wie wird die Welt nach Corona aussehen? Ivan Krastev, bulgarischer Politologe und einer der wichtigsten Intellektuellen der Gegenwart, gibt Orientierung in Zeiten der Ungewissheit.