The Myth of Modernity

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By ANTONINO INFRANCA*

The critique of modernity and Eurocentrism in Henry Dussel

As is typical of his way of thinking, Enrique Dussel's critique of Eurocentrism starts from the very origin of the phenomenon or the problem he wants to analyze. Enrique Dussel provokes those who – largely racist – consider Europe a typically Western phenomenon. Contrary to these, Enrique Dussel maintains, with philological exactness, that Europe was born Semitic, that is, oriental, at least the founding myth of Europe should be located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean basin.

Enrique Dussel's analysis is done especially on the cultural roots – I would say with a term that has fallen into disuse, but, in my view, still full of meaning, spiritual – of Europe, demonstrating the fact that medieval Europe was peripheral in relation to the Muslim world that stretched from North Africa to India and was in contact with China; it occupied, then, an enormous geographical space, but it also played the role of center of the world. Only the conquest of America will allow Europe to become the center of the world, exploiting the enormous mineral riches of Latin America, at the expense of the annihilation of entire cultures on that continent, in addition to pushing Arab culture to the periphery, which was losing its role link between Indian and Chinese cultures, that is, from the Far East, and European culture.

Only by acknowledging this “outside of oneself” in Europe can one understand that first globalization, that foundation of Modernity. Enrique Dussel, as a Latin American, is particularly sensitive to this rewriting of world history. The seven points in which he unfolds his conception of the birth and structure of Modernity continually recall the use of violence, in all its forms, from the physical to the spiritual, to change the underdeveloped reality of medieval Europe, radically erasing cultures underdeveloped from a technological point of view, but in perfect balance and harmony with the nature in which they lived. Modernity was born with the destruction of other cultures, with their apocalypse, with the production of victims, that is, with the annihilation of the foundations of the religion of the conquerors themselves, Christianity, a religion that preaches love and peace.

Enrique Dussel argues that it is necessary to overcome this Modernity, born of violence and creator of victims. One must start from the recognition of the innocence of the victims, from the acceptance of their Otherness, who are still victims, but this is only possible from the exteriority of the dominant system, that is, from an emancipation action from the Periphery towards the Center. This overcoming is a subsumption, which he intends to take to another level and, in fact, defines it as Trans-modern, that is, going beyond Modernity, abandoning it, denying the myth of innocent Modernity, thus claiming the dignity of past and present victims.

Enrique Dussel is perfectly aware of what Marx says: dignity comes from dignified, I mean, value. Trans-modernity is the devolution of value to the Other, to the victim. Enrique Dussel uses the Hegelian dialectic of assumption and inversion, as in the Marxist tradition, but adding an improvement to the original situation, precisely because of its inversion/overcoming, therefore, it is an act of subsumption, of taking to a higher level, because subsumption is the passage from the particular to the general, then, a passage from the low to the high. Dussel literally translates from German repeal with the term subsumption (in Italian sussunzione),[I] because Aufheben, from which it derives repeal, means "to raise", including, however, the subsumption as a supra assumption, which in Italian is sovrassunzione,[ii] that is, an “assumption” to a higher level.

With the term “Trans-modernity”, Dussel defines a new epoch in world history, as, finally, the vertical relationships between center and periphery should be overcome and the horizontal relationships between cultures should be established. Precisely because Modernity is a historical-cultural phenomenon, but also a spiritual one, the philosopher's spirituality is at stake, then, Enrique Dussel starts from the analysis of his own cultural and spiritual identity, in the manner of Descartes in his Method Discourse, in which the French philosopher describes to the reader the discovery of his own subjectivity. Thus, we discover that Enrique Dussel was formed as a European, until he lived in Argentina, during his university studies, and discovered that he was Latin American when he landed in Europe as a graduate scholar. This situation was the consequence of the imposition of European culture and philosophy outside Europe, but in Europe he was considered a “peripheral”, a stranger who came knocking on the doors of the true and great European culture. He really remembers a scene, he seems to almost see it and it is a clearly Eurocentric scene.

It is clear that the first steps towards an emancipation from this Eurocentric view of world history were taken from the Eurocentric background itself, listening to Paul Ricoeur's classes, but having already sought the roots of Eurocentric culture itself in Israel, where Enrique Dussel discovers a world different: a coexistence, at the time peaceful, between Arabs and Jews and the great Arab culture, which had assimilated the Judeo-Christian culture of Palestine. When Enrique Dussel began to attend Paul Ricoeur's classes, a thinker open to stimuli and requests even outside the Eurocentric culture, some patterns of the original Eurocentrism began to crumble.

A network of relationships between cultures also began to be built, in which the horizontality of these relationships prevailed and no longer the verticality of the Center-Periphery. Cultural roots manifested more similarities than differences. Upon returning to Latin America, after ten years spent between Europe and Israel, Enrique Dussel was able to bring his emancipatory contribution to the matrix. The response from interlocutors, readers and listeners was enthusiastic and stimulating: Latin Americans yearned to see their own culture recognized, even if in a peripheral position, but with its own identity and not as a secondary appendix of European culture.

This new vision of world history found opponents both in the center and, above all, in the periphery. The intellectual elites of the periphery who, with difficulty, had acquired and assimilated the theories and theoretical models of the center, now saw themselves questioned by a theory that, although born in Europe, was of authentic Latin American origin and that criticized those theories and those models, at the same time that he appropriated his critical methods. Enrique Dussel overthrew the Eurocentric value system, but explored the critical method of European culture. It was a very shameless and dangerous provocation, so much so that Enrique Dussel was resisted by those elites, combined with a real military persecution: his house was hit by a bomb in the months before the 1976 military coup and his students were exterminated by the Argentine military. , once the scam was implemented. This is a story that, fortunately, none of the contemporary European philosophers had to live through, but on the periphery it can happen.

The objective of “liberation philosophy” is the formation and development of an alternative popular culture to the dominant one, emancipatory in relation to the globalized capitalist system. A first task was to differentiate popular from populism, increasingly widespread in Latin America and especially in Argentina, in the form of Peronism. When the horizon of liberation philosophy expanded to the entire world, then another adversary presented itself: fundamentalism, not only Islamic, but also Christian, in the form of American evangelicalism. Populism is substantially a way of integrating the people into the dominant system, the popular is the block of the oppressed, of those who are outside and only its workforce is an integral part of the dominant capitalist system.

From this point of view, the popular is the category that can be extended to all excluded and oppressed peoples, which is why the philosophy of liberation is the first philosophy that can establish a South-South dialogue without going through the North of the world, an inter-national dialogue. -peripheral. It is a comparison based on cultures themselves, their own ways of living, working, their own subjectivities that are released in this dialogue, because no culture wants to impose models on others, it is a perfectly symmetrical dialogue. It is a dialogue that arises on the borders of the dominant center, starting precisely from being a border, from being outside the dominant system.

It is the same situation in which Marx found himself in London in the second half of the XNUMXth century. He lived in the center of the world, but he was mentally out of this world, he was next to the victims of the industrialized capitalist system, that is, the workers of English industry. Marx was a critic of this dominant system, because he could contemplate it in its entirety and in its functioning. Dussel finds himself in a position analogous to that of Marx, he lives on the periphery of the dominant system, that is, Mexico City, but he is, at the same time, on the border of the center of the world, that is, the United States. In general, all of Latin America is on the periphery/frontier of the center of the world, having also been the first geographic reality, whose exploration once allowed Europe to become the center, and now it is one of the points of the hegemonizing force of the U.S. Without the dominance of Latin America, the United States would not be able to exercise its hegemony over the entire planet and, therefore, the control of Latin America is particularly closed and tough.

Precisely following the periphery-periphery dialogue, Enrique Dussel analyzes the archaeological operation of Mohamed Abed al-Yabri, a Moroccan philosopher who wrote fundamental works for the reassessment of Arab philosophy. Yabri, as a Moroccan, is deeply familiar with both the classic texts of Arabic philosophy and French hermeneutics, that is, one of the most advanced trends in Eurocentric philosophy. Naturally, this reconstruction must be done with a critical spirit, that is, knowing how to value one's own culture with the critical tools that Eurocentric culture offers; critical tools, not theoretical, or ethical, or aesthetic values; this distinction must always be present in order not to fall into the erroneous situation that one wants to overcome, that is, cultural dependence on the culture of the Centre, and to maintain and reproduce the cultural and spiritual differences of each peripheral culture.

Indeed, a critique must be made, in other words, a negation of negation, as Hegel taught, but towards an affirmation, not a mere act, an end in itself, of negation. Thus, before the reconstruction, Yabri carries out a de-construction, in the style of Foucault, and from this deconstruction recovers the rationalist and enlightened roots of Arab culture, refusing to question whether Arab culture can/should pass from the phase of a philosophical liberalism. Parallel to the analysis of Yabri's works, Enrique Dussel has in mind the same work of deconstruction and reconstruction of one's own culture operated by Rigoberta Menchú in relation to Mayan culture itself. Rigoberta Menchù also recovers the most advanced and libertarian roots of Mayan culture along with all its symbolic tradition.

Enrique Dussel reconstructs the birth of Modernity from a paradigm different from the dominant one in Eurocentric culture. For the Latin American philosopher, only with the Conquest of America did Europe leave its peripheral position in relation to the Muslim world, the true center of the world and, at the same time, an element of the relationship between China, India and Europe. In fact, Marco Polo began his journey precisely to bypass the Arab mercantile intermediation and arrive directly at the origins of silk production. The Portuguese did the same, trying to circumnavigate Africa, to land directly in India.

Islamic culture profoundly influenced European culture, starting with Spain, where it continued to influence Spanish culture. The North European vulgate intends to impose that Spanish culture was peripheral to European modernity, contrary to Suarez's influence on Descartes and, through him, on all European culture, it shows that Iberian culture was fundamental in the construction of European culture modern and, later, absolutely decisive to make this European culture the foundation of Modernity. In the pre-modern era there was a true Arab cultural hegemony over Europe, until the Turks put an end to its proliferation and marked its crisis, which lasts until today.

European modernity was born, for Enrique Dussel, before Europe became the center of the world. Europe will reach the centrality of the world only when its goods are sold in every corner of the planet, that is, after the Industrial Revolution, first in England and then in the rest of the continent. The Industrial Revolution will produce the cultural revolution of the Enlightenment, therefore, concludes Enrique Dussel, the effective European domination of the planet is only two centuries old and is closely linked to the economic, technological and military domination of other nations.

Of these peripheral nations, the western culture of the center despised the cultures, but it was unable to annihilate them, because they were very deep-rooted and very widespread. Impossible to eradicate, for example, Hindu or Chinese or Japanese culture, as was done to a large extent, but not completely, with Mesoamerican or Inca cultures. Enrique Dussel argues that these cultures were excluded, hidden and, now, they are ready to reappear in the paradoxical condition of being stronger in relation to the original moment of their concealment, because they were able to resist Western culture, they know it and can compare themselves to it. her in positions of parity, while Eurocentric culture remained locked in her supposed superiority. This situation is confirmed precisely by the arrogance and presumption with which the Eurocentric culture claims to seek dialogue, when, in reality, it seeks a further, but increasingly atrophied, confirmation of its superiority. The very fortune of liberation philosophy in Italian academic circles, for example, reflects this feeling of supposed superiority over a philosophy that comes from the periphery.

The reconstruction of world history is an invitation that Enrique Dussel addresses to philosophers from the periphery to break down the subordination relationships with regard to philosophers from the Center, who are convinced of the superiority of their academic culture over any other philosophy that comes from the periphery. Enrique Dussel, on the contrary, first attended Zubiri's philosophy classes in Madrid, then Ratzinger's theology classes in Münster, finally Levinas and Ricoeur's philosophy classes in Paris, began to weave a dialogue with Apel, Taylor, Rorty, Vattimo and Heller who spoke with him, who defended the value of his own cultural identity, inviting his interlocutors to accept a horizontal and symmetrical relationship.

Mainly Apel accepted this dialogue, starting from Eurocentric positions, but which slowly opened up to the understanding of the culture of the periphery. Enrique Dussel warns, however, that certain philosophies of the center, which practice the so-called multiculturalism, such as that of Rawls, accept dialogue, but impose rules to the confrontation, substantially Western rules, that is, deep down, the relationship remains univectoral, so it is an assumption of the other in itself, and not a subsumption, that is, bringing the Other to an equal level with one's own, not effectively opening oneself up to the Other, but subordinating it in subtly Western and Eurocentric ways, which are the negation of horizontal dialogue .

The dialogue with the Eurocentric culture is difficult, because it is trapped in Modernity, at most in Postmodernity, but, in fact, the cultures of the periphery were never modern, therefore, they cannot be postmodern. Enrique Dussel defines the condition of these cultures as Transmodernity, in the sense of being beyond modernity in a condition of improvement in relation to modernity, because an inversion and a subsumption of it were made, that is, an overcoming at a higher level. The first step towards overcoming the Eurocentric culture comes from outside the Center, in other words, from the Periphery. Internal recognition is complementary to this external movement, or rather, the revaluation of the cultural foundations themselves.

In fact, these cultures were able to discreetly continue their own development, continue to evolve their own values, their own categories, their own conception of the world, and now they can establish a dialogue with the culture of the center, providing important answers to the dramatic questions of today's world, such as , for example, the question of the ecological destruction of the Earth. Indeed, these periphery cultures internally maintained that balanced and harmonious relationship with nature, which is a characteristic feature of their conception of the world, while the center has lost its former relationship of balance and harmony with the natural environment and is exporting its forms of environmental destruction also for the periphery, such as, for example, the exportation, to the periphery, of waste from the technology itself, already used and worn out.

One of the forms of cultural domination is the immediate one, which develops in everyday life: the dominant system imposes its conception of the world through the imposition of its customs, be they food, art – especially cinematographic and musical –, fashion, together with the goods it sells. are complementary to this form of domination. Cultural hegemony sustains mercantile conquest, and it is not necessary to go through the Periphery to see how hegemony and domination go hand in hand. We can see that these forms of domination are also present inside the Center: we wear jeans, we listen to music in English, we watch American movies, we eat hamburgers. In this way, we are also the reproducers of forms of hegemony and domination.

It is therefore necessary to overcome colonial culture, post-colonialism is the very essence of Transmodernity. But postcolonialism is also present in geographic areas, it is not just a cultural and spiritual fact. Colonialism was born in Europe, it is intrinsic to Eurocentric culture. I remember that the great non-European empires were formed by European nations that were already empires in Europe, so England dominated Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and, in turn, the Île de France dominated Normandy, Brittany , Occitania, the Loire, Franche-Comté, Provence, Auvergne, Aquitaine, etc., as well as Castile, together with Catalonia and Aragon, dominated Andalusia, the Basque Country, Extremadura, Navarra, Galicia, etc., in addition to all of southern Italy.

The same Italian national unification was, in fact, an achievement of the Kingdom of Sardinia from the other Italian regions, with the consent of a very small portion of civil society in those regions. The Italian model was followed by Prussia in Germany. Not to mention the expansion process of the twelve North American colonies that, after the birth of the United States, expanded to territories considered “free”, since they were not inhabited by Europeans, but, in fact, by indigenous people who were massacred in the same way. as the Indians of Latin America.

This history of the formation of European nations goes through the birth of Modernity, but, in reality, it is the history of the extension of the dominion of a part over the whole, of a region over the whole nation. Complementary to this process of domination, a process of cultural hegemony developed, through the imposition of a central language on regional languages. It is now an irreversible process, denying it and asking for the re-establishment of the situation prior to Modernity would be to go back to a historical stage, in which the improvements that, in any case and in a dramatic way, this process of unification brought about would be lost. . Being aware of this, however, allows for a better and deeper understanding of the historical process.

This rereading of the history of Modernity is possible if we try to place ourselves in the situation of the victims of the system of domination, the same position that Enrique Dussel assumed when he recognized himself in the situation of the Latin American who momentarily lives in the center. It is, therefore, a matter of deconstruction and reconstruction of one's own culture, which can also be carried out in the center of the world, on condition that the Eurocentric mentality, which is, after all, a mentality of domination, is removed.

*Antonino Infranca He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author, among other books, of Work, individual, history – the concept of work in Lukács (Boitempo).

Translation: Juliana Hass.

Translator's notes


[I] In Portuguese subsumption

[ii] In Portuguese supersession


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