Care of the World. Fear, Responsibility and Justice in the Global Age, Springer, Dordrecht     2012

 Introduction. The ambivalence of globalization

  Amor mundi – why is it so difficult to love the world?

Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, March 1955

  1. Global unification and local fragmentation


The definitions and metaphors used to describe that unprecedented and ungraspable process that we call ‘globalization’ at this point number many. What I would like to propose here, while drawing from the lexicon of Marcel Mauss, is to consider globalization as a ‘total social fact’. Thus I not only allude to the fact that it affects the whole social fabric and all spheres of existence (economic, cultural, political and symbolic), but also to the fact that its distinctive characteristic is its creation of an interdependence of events which makes all sectoral and partial viewpoints obsolete.[1] However, this does not mean that globalization is a unitary and uniform phenomenon. On the contrary, it appears characterized by a constitutive ambivalence, namely by the coexistence of contrasting and complementary dimensions creating a scenario that is only apparently paradoxical. In this sense, I totally agree with the well-known thesis of ‘glocalization’ put forward by Robertson,[2] insofar as he effectively stresses the joint presence of ‘global’ processes of unification, homogenization and homologation on one hand, and ‘local’ processes of fragmentation, division and differentiation on the other. A large part of contemporary sociological and philosophical reflection[3] tends to give credit to this thesis, and indeed shows the inseparability of the two poles in the global/local pairing, linked, as recently repeated,[4] not only by an evident coexistence, but by a binding co-belonging.

Therefore, on one hand the ‘global’ asserts itself in all spheres of existence (economic, cultural, political, etc.), profoundly changing the very paradigms of modernity – first of all, the territorial paradigm of the nation-state[5] – and making the traditional categories of interpretation obsolete. Suffice it to think of the deregulation of a planetary market which, indifferent to territorial boundaries, produces unlimited and anarchical ‘flows’ of capitals, goods and persons, free to expand and multiply, only responding to the agenda of priorities dictated by the economic powers. Or, to take the metaphor of the network proposed in particular by Manuel Castells,[6] one may think of the configuration of a reticular society, unified and homogenized by the extension of IT technologies and the mass media; the main factors responsible for that ‘time-space compression’[7] which, by speeding up time and abolishing distance, is shrinking the globe, creating unprecedented sinergies and proximities. Furthermore, at the anthropological and cultural level, one may think of the spreading of conformism and cultural equalization produced by the ‘McDonaldization’ of the world and the standardization of subjective lifestyles.[8]

On the other hand, we are seeing the configuration of what Clifford Geertz has called a ‘world in pieces’.[9] It is a world increasingly crossed by divisions and differences, whose most evident symptom is precisely the emergence of ‘local’ realities in which – within the indifferentiation and global crossing of boundaries – a tendency is forming towards cohesion and re-territorialization, belonging and drawing new boundaries. In short, in parallel to the outlining of a ‘world-society’, traversed by processes of techno-economic and symbolic-cultural unification,[10] the contrasting and complementary dimension is emerging of a multiplicity of ‘local worlds’, proliferating in the planet supported by ideologies, passions and purposes which are different but, as we shall see, can often be traced back to common (ethnic, religious and cultural) sources.

The quintessential challenge of the global age is, therefore, to give rise to a complex and inseparable whole of unity and multiplicity. To do so, not only do we need new diagnostic instruments with respect to the modern scenario of a world organized around the sovereign entities of states, but also, evidently, new normative perspectives. Hence, the challenge is twofold, since the coexistence of unity and multiplicity constitutes the fact of globalization, that is, the inevitable point of departure that requires fresh interpretative hypotheses with respect to classic or ‘early’ modernity; at the same time, this coexistence cannot but become the point of arrival of every normative paradigm  (whether it be ethical, political or juridical) that does not want to evade the complexity of the global age. In this sense, we should welcome positively proposals for a lexical distinction – such as between globalization and mondialisation, globalization and planetarization, internationalization and mondialisation[11] – which indeed aim to distinguish the descriptive dimension from the normatively desirable dimension.

However, the problem – which has not been sufficiently taken up by contemporary debate – lies in the fact that thinking normatively of a whole of unity and differentiation, of global and local, requires a critical stance with respect to its existent configurations, in order to reveal what I would like to define as its intrinsic pathologies.[12] Besides, I would like to underline that this is the primary task of Social Philosophy: namely, not just to come up with a Zeitdiagnose, a diagnosis of the present, configuring itself, as Günther Anders would say, as an ‘occasional philosophy’ which moves in direct contact with the world and each time selects its significant events; but also to bestow a critical gaze upon the present, aimed at eking out its aporias, contradictions and degenerative aspects.

The existence of these pathologies appears particularly evident if we analyse the effects and transformations that globalization produces both in the anthropological structure of the individual and identity formation and in the forms of constituting the social bond.  If we want to give priority to this aspect, as it is my intention to do, it is inevitable to note that the coexistence between global unification and local fragmentation appears quite like a divarication, an unrelated split that originates in, and, in a sort of vicious circle, in turn gives rise to the pathologies of the global age. Indeed, on one hand we are seeing a radicalization of (global) individualism and its torsion towards atomism and indifference, homogenization and unlimitedness; and, on the other hand, the radicalization of (local) communitarianism, which – regardless of the different sources underlying it – increasingly results in archaic and fusional, entropic and exclusive aggregations. In this sense, I totally agree with the diagnosis of Edgar Morin:[13] […] both Western individualisms and communitarianisms everywhere, which together are expanding throughout the planet, favour the primordial evil of human incomprehension […]. Western individualism favours self-centredness, personal interest and self-justification more than it does understanding others […]. At the same time, new communitarian closedness [refermetures communautaires] in all civilizations causes incomprehensions between peoples, nations and religions.   

This divarication is nevertheless not the unprecedented product of the global age, as often contemporary reflection seems to assume, but in my opinion is rooted in the very path of modernity. Hence, first of all I propose reconstructing some fundamental junctures along this path that highlight points of continuity and caesuras, so as to distinguish the legitimate and emancipatory aspects of individualism and communitarianism from their pathological configurations. In this connection, I must acknowledge my debt to the deconstructivist approach, meant in the broad sense, which has allowed me to rethink some central concepts of the Western and modern tradition, by removing them from their essentialist (such as the individual, subject, identity) and organicistic acceptation (such as the concept of community), or by freeing them from an altruistic declension (such as care, responsibility).

Nevertheless, as we will see, for me the necessary and inevitable precondition is to first of all assume a critical and deconstructive gaze in order to then be able to think of strategies suited to correcting the pathologies of the global age and to healing the divarication between individualism and communitarianism. Indeed, while it may be true that the global age produces the radicalization of the pathologies of modernity, it is also true that it presents fresh potentialities that may allow us to prefigure their overcoming.

  1. Self- and Us-obsession

 Therefore, my first thesis consists of sustaining that the global age is characterized by a sort of – pathological – polarization which on one side sees the emergence of an unlimited individualism, and on the other the birth of forms of endogamous communitarianism.

I would like to immediately point out that these two pathologies do not correspond to the two contrasting polarities of a presumed ‘clash of civilizations’,[14] but they traverse the various areas of the planet, affecting the West and East, North and South of the world. Instead I would rather agree with Benjamin Barber when, in this connection, he underlines the planetary spread of the collision between two types of fundamentalism: the homogenizing fundamentalism of the market and consumer culture (McWorld) and the tribal fundamentalism of particularisms of every kind, whose most extreme symptom is represented by ethno-religious communitarianism (Jihad). Barber stresses not only their interdependence – namely the fact that these two realities are effects of the same process of development – but the appearance of this collision inside every civilization.[15] It seems increasingly evident that, precisely owing to global interdependence, in the countries of the Second and Third World we are encountering evident signs of consumer and techno-culture, in the same way as in the West we are seeing the constitution of defensive and self-enclosed communities.

But indeed it is a coexistence lacking in relations and integration, one increasingly giving rise to the degenerative effects of both these realities.

In Part 1 of the book, I propose a diagnosis of these pathologies, while, however, singling out their roots in modernity itself. What I define as unlimited individualism is in fact the outcome of both the Promethean model of early modernity, of which – to use Günther Anders’s words – the  global age produces a ‘perversion’,[16] and the outcome of the narcissistic individualism of second modernity (or postmodernity), of which the global age produces a radicalization, highlighting its negative aspects. The loss of limits (which I mean in the twofold sense of the loss of boundaries and uprooting on one hand, and hubris and omnipotence on the other) is what unites the three figures in whom it seems plausible to me to sum up the configuration of the global Self. On one hand, we have the consumer and the spectator individual, outlined in correspondence with economic globalization and the new global challenges and characterized by atomism and indifference, hedonism and conformism, passivity and insecurity; and on the other, the creator individual (homo creator), who, pushed by a compulsion to makefuelled by technological globalization, has lost – together with the Hobbesian projectuality and foresight of homo oeconomicus – the sense and purpose of the action, thus he ends up harming his own interests and endangering the survival of humankind and the world.

In other words, the global Self is configured as an apathetical and at the same time voracious, insecure and omnipotent, parasitic and acquisitive Self. What is more, he is above all characterized by a substantial atomism, which we can recognize in the spectator’s indifference, the consumer’s parasitism and homo creator’s solipsistic omnipotence.

Now, owing precisely to the ambivalence of globalization, I would like to uphold that what today seems to respond to the pathologies of individualism – whose first and macroscopic effect is evidently the erosion of the social bond – is a need for new boundaries and belonging, for new limits and sharing which comes together to form a strong and widespread need for community. Namely, the tendency is to enhance the ‘local’ in specular contrast to the drifts of the ‘global’. In other words, place – meant in both the territorial and geographical and the symbolic sense – becomes what can respond to the deficit of community produced by global society. Unlike what liberal thought tends to uphold in the main, this does not mean in any way that we are facing a regressive and residual phenomenon of a ‘return’ to archaic and premodern forms of social bond. The community that is being reborn today is not the premodern community that, insofar as it is a community, resists the free manifestation of the global dynamic. Instead, it is what, on the contrary, coexists with this dynamic in a bond of reciprocal implication. In this sense, in my view it is misleading even to speak of a ‘return of community’. It is rather a matter of rethinking its structure and functions, freeing it from the aura of suspicion that has always shrouded it, in order to be able to distinguish the legitimate and emancipatory aspects from the regressive and pathological ones.

Starting from the assumption that community (together with society) is one of the constitutive forms of the social and that the need for community inevitably (and rightly) reappears every time that the social bond is exposed to the danger of erosion, I have first of all tried to single out the causes underlying this need in the global age. I have deemed that these causes can be traced back to two fundamental matrices: the desire to contrast the pathologies of individualism by regaining forms of alliance and solidarity; and the need to contrast the dynamics of exclusion that traverse the world-society in multiple forms. In both cases – whether it be solidaristic communities, or collective aggregations committed to the ‘struggle for recognition’ and defending their difference – in first instance the need for community appears legitimate.

Instead, the problem arises when this need takes on reactive and hostile forms and the Us is only defended and asserted insofar as it is opposed to a Them, reinvented as the enemy, hence, when the internal solidarity results in external hostility and violence. Whether deriving from insecurity and fear, or constituting the product of violent reactions to exclusion, what I call immunitarian communities are formed. Founded on the absolutization of differences and revitalizing ascribed loyalties, these communities in fact oblige belonging and thus give rise to fundamentalisms of various kinds.

Unlimited individualism and endogamous communitarianism therefore appear as the opposing and specular polarities of a divarication that on one hand I would like to define as Self-obsession, and on the other Us-obsession. It is a divarication that ends up producing what, from Anders to Arendt and Jonas, has been defined as a ‘loss of the world’, [17] meant in the dual sense of losing the planet that hosts life, and losing the common world.

  1. Absence and excess of pathos

Starting from this first diagnosis, my second thesis – which I develop in Part 2 – consists of upholding that these pathologies affect the sphere of feeling and the emotional life, producing a split between an absence of pathos (linked to individualism) and an excess of pathos (connected to communitarianism).

I have taken the role and destiny of fear as the confirmation and exemplary moment of this perspective, for two fundamental reasons: first of all because, starting from the Hobbesian scenario of modernity, fear is the passion that lies at the origin of associative life; in second place because the global age seems characterized, as the most informed sociological analyses do not fail to underline, by an unexpected and massive return of fear that forces us to reflect on the role and metamorphosis of this passion, in spite of all enlightened illusions of ‘freedom from fear’. Nevertheless, it is not sufficient to speak of a return of fear since the passion we are dealing with is ambivalent; namely, in the same way it can produce negative effects, it can also act as an ineliminable source of mobilization against the dangers that threaten associative life. So my reflection on this point originates from an underlying question: which fear essentially characterizes the global age?

In order to respond to this question, to me it seemed fundamental to make a comparison with Hobbesian analysis, in which fear plays – albeit with sacrificial results – a function that has rightly been defined as ‘productive’: namely, capable of promoting the preservation of life and the social and political order. For Hobbes, fear of death, or rather fear of the other as the source of death converts into a source of reasonableness that induces individuals to build civil and political society in order to guarantee security. The certainty and proximity of the danger induce a self-preserving reaction which, despite requiring man to relinquish his rights and passions, frees him from conflicts and, through the construction of an exonerating and protective artifice, ensures a peaceful and ordered life.

Now, in the global age this linear dynamic of the metamorphosis of fear is radically undermined since the sources and characteristics of the danger are undergoing a substantial change. In other words, with respect to the Hobbesian scenario, the danger becomes uncertain and indefinite. This indefiniteness, which authorizes many authors to speak of a shift from danger to risk (and, as we will see, from risk to uncertainty), concerns what it seems to me legitimate to recognize as the two main sources of threat in the global age: technology and the other

In the first case, the characteristic of indefiniteness appears immediately clear. The producer of global risks (environmental risks in particular), technology seems to return men, as Beck says,[18] to that undefined state of fear and impotence in the face of the uncontrollable events produced by nature and the outside world characteristic of the premodern condition. Now though, there is the basic difference – which as we will see has important consequences at the normative level – that the risks are the product of human action and a nature at this point made prevalently artificial. But we are dealing with an indefinite danger in the second case too. Indeed despite preserving spatial proximity, the figure of the other loses the certainty that it has in the Hobbesian paradigm, to instead assume the disturbing and undecipherable outlines of the foreigner, he who is different: or rather, to use Simmel’s words, the ‘stranger within’ who cannot be either expelled or assimilated, and who consequently constitutes a permanent source of anxiety and unease.

In the face of this transformation, it would therefore seem legitimate to speak of anxiety rather than fear, if we are to take the classic Freudian definition of anxiety as fear in the face of ‘an indefinite object’. But the concept of anxiety also proves to be inadequate, since – unlike anxiety which is fear without an object – the fears produced by global risks or by the other do always have an external and real object at the source. Therefore, in order to distinguish it from both modern (Hobbesian) fear and Freudian anxiety, I propose the concept of global fear: whose main characteristic is that, especially with respect to Hobbes’s fear, it loses the capacity for productive metamorphosis, in order to instead act in an unproductive and destructive way. In other words, I put forward the hypothesis that, in the face of danger, global fear triggers defence mechanisms that result in irrational and regressive responses: in the case of global risks, by implementing self-defensive strategies based on denial (in the face of the nuclear challenge) and self-deception (in the face of global warming); and by giving rise, in the case of the threat of the other, to projective and persecutory strategies based on reactivating the dynamic of the ‘scapegoat’.

They are two contrasting but specular responses which, at the purely emotional level, reflect the divarication between (unlimited) individualism and (endogamous) communitarianism. The first, implosive response converts into an absence of fear, attested to above all by the figure of the global spectator; while the second, explosive response converts into an excess of fear (fear of the other, fear of contamination), fuelled by forms of reinventing community. I define these responses as irrational since 1. they inhibit the spectator’s capacity to recognize himself as also a potential victim of the threats, thus preventing his mobilization, and 2. they give rise to dynamics of demonization-dehumanization of the other that result in a spiral of violence.

  1. For a relational subject

 As I hinted above, this diagnosis constitutes the premise for dealing with the problem in terms that I generically define as normative. The risk of the critical approach, and above all of deconstructivism, often all too pleased with its own paradoxical outcomes, is indeed that it does not tackle what, with Georges Bataille, I would like to define as the ‘possibility of openness’: namely the chance to single out the emancipatory potentialities hidden in the recesses of the present, in order to prefigure alternative scenarios. However, I must immediately underline that what I am proposing is a heretical normativism with respect to the mainstream, for two essential reasons. The first reason is that it is attentive to the problem of the motivations, and therefore to the role of the passions, also recognized in their cognitive and communicative function.[19] Second, it proposes some ‘negative’ foundations (vulnerability and contamination), while seeking to understand not so much what we have to do, but what we can count on (on which psychic, emotional and anthropological potentialities) in order to correct the pathologies of the global age and to heal the divarication between individualism and communitarianism.

This is what Part 3 of the book is dedicated to. In this part I start from the assumption that the global age contains the objective premises for this healing and that they reside in those same aspects that produce degenerative effects: namely in the global challenges and multiplication of differences. However, the problem is understanding if the subjective resources exist to grasp this chance; namely, if we have a subject who is able first of all to recognize his own pathologies and as a consequence implement a manner of action that, so to speak, cracks the (individualistic) indifference and breaks off the (communitarian) violence. This equates to posing a problem mainly neglected by contemporary reflection, often closed in what I would like to define a normativism without diagnosis: namely the problem of the motivations that underlie emancipatory action.

In this sense I suggest that the first strategy should consist of implementing a reactivation or a productive and virtuous metamorphosis of fear. Reactivating fear, responding to its absence, means accessing the awareness of that condition of vulnerability obfuscated and repressed both by the Prometheanism of homo creator and by the narcissistic indifference of the spectator (and consumer). But the objective is anything but easy, precisely because of this repression, as Günther Anders and Hans Jonas had already grasped  facing the spectre of the loss of the world. In this sense, both (above all Anders) seem to trust in the capacity of the imagination as the faculty that allows us to prefigure the future and its ‘apocalyptic’ scenarios, reawakening our concern for humankind and the destiny of the world. But while Anders gives us a subjective motivation, alluding to the emergence in the subject of what I define as a nostalgia for vulnerability that makes him sensitive to the fate of the other, Jonas instead restricts himself to hypothesizing that purely altruistic and dutiful torsion of fear that we would then find at the basis of his ethics of responsibility and its aporias.

However, before analysing this aspect and the possible and complex ramifications of the vulnerability-responsibility nexus, I have considered it opportune to spend a moment reflecting on the topic of the possible responses to the excess of fear, meant as fear of the other, and its projective-persecutory torsions. While the response to the absence of fear consists first of all of the subject restoring his own vulnerability, in my opinion the response to the excess of fear implies accepting the end of immunity (modernity) and becoming aware of the fact of contamination. The shift of the notion of other towards that of difference – meant as what can neither be expelled nor eliminated, and that therefore acts as an uncanny factor – in other words opens the possibility for a positive declension of the idea of contamination. Thus one can think of a subject open to the risk of encountering the other, who is therefore capable of that solidaristic recognition (among different people) that requires both the boundaries of one’s identity to be broken down and openness towards mutual transformation.

In short, vulnerability and contamination can appear as the outcomes of a so-to-speak virtuous metamorphosis of fear. By allowing the pathological torsion of unlimited individualism and endogamous communitarianism to be inverted, they respectively become the foundation for a solidaristic subject and a responsible subject.

Nevertheless, for this responsibility to arise, we need to go through several stages. I have tried to mark these out through the suggestions of two fundamental authors – Hans Jonas and Emmanuel Lévinas – in whom there emerges a fresh concept of responsibility that I propose defining as responsibility for. Namely, they come up with a concept of responsibility no longer meant as answering for (something), but as responding to (someone). While Anders had laid down the premises for this passage, by pinpointing nostalgia for vulnerability as the possibility to think of a subject who fears for the world, as we well know, Jonas deals with this topic systematically and – through the notion of responsibility – proposes an ethics that is equal to the global transformations. Nevertheless, Jonas’s limit lies in his placing the source of responsibility essentially in the other’s vulnerability. Hence he proposes that the ethical action has an altruistic and dutiful torsion, which in fact leaves the problem of the subject’s motivation unresolved.

Indeed, in my opinion, the reference to ‘duty’ seems weak for a series of reasons: the first is its metaphysical foundation; the second is that it does not sufficiently take into account the subject’s pathologies; and the third consists of the fact that, as postmodern reflection underlines (from Lipovetsky to Bauman),[20]in an age that is not only seeing the drift of unlimited individualism, but also the crumbling of universal rules in the face of a pluralism of values and possible options, duty has become an obsolete concept. In other words, it is not possible to entrust the subject’s capacity to respond to the other’s vulnerability to duty.

At this point I thought I could find a way out in the reflection of Lévinas.[21] So to speak, it is an unexpected way out because at first glance in this author the altruistic torsion of responsibility appears even more radical . Indeed, he asserts, responsibility is ‘ethics’ insofar as it is the subject’s response to the other’s call, it is the subscription to an obligation that comes before the Self’s own freedom and that makes him the other’s ‘hostage’. Hence responsibility becomes absolute and unilateral.

In reality, the proposal by Lévinas is much more complex, since it assumes not just an altruistic and selfless subject, but rather what I would like to define as a relational subject, which, together with a fresh definition of the subject, implies a further and different acceptation of the notion of vulnerability. The Self who responds to the other’s plea is a Self who perceives himself as constitutively tied, dependent on the other, but who is at the same time unique and singular; it is a Self who discovers his own freedom at the same time as he assumes responsibility, conscious of his own dependence and irreplaceability.

In short: while Anders stresses the subject’s vulnerability (and nostalgia for limits) and Jonas the other’s vulnerability (and the strength of his plea), Lévinas enables us to fit in the missing piece, by proposing what I define as the subject’s vulnerability to the other.

Only a subject who recognizes himself as constitutively relational is therefore capable of responsibility. The importance of Lévinas’s reflection was grasped recently by Judith Butler in her attempt to rethink the ethical subject, basing it not on the idea of sovereignty, but on the idea of vulnerability.[22] As Butler says, vulnerability is a real and proper ‘ethical resource’ since, contrary to what is upheld in Western thought, it is precisely by being exposed to the other and in the ‘failure’ of his sovereign position that the subject finds the sources of responsible action.

However, even at this point the problem is still not totally resolved. Because, in order to convert an albeit convincing ethical hypothesis into an effective resource equal to the contingency, we have to assume that this vulnerability can be recognized by the subject. Namely, we have to assume that vulnerability can be taken up, actively and consciously, as a motivating force. But, to recall the lexicon that I have proposed, how can we suppose that the spectator-consumer-creator individual is capable of this recognition. In other words, how can we suppose that he is open to this operation of self-destitution that breaks off the Promethean hubris and narcissistic indifference in order to inaugurate him as a relational subject? Here it is Butler herself, in other parts of her reflection more linked to the analysis of the present,[23] who suggests a possible response, pinpointing it in what I define as the strength of the event. An event of symbolic importance at the global level, such as September 11, can have the strength to break the spiral of apathy or persecutory projection through the experience of loss (loss of sovereignty, lives, goods). Furthermore, I would like to underline, this is an above all emotional experience, which leads the way to the awareness of human fragility and the interconnection of each one of us with the destiny and lives of other human beings. Of course we have no guarantee of this, indeed for certain aspects things seem to go in the opposite direction, resulting in a stronger defence of our immunity and projection of the blame for events onto others. Nevertheless, it is the only chance that we have, and, I would like to repeat, it is a chance for which the global age indeed provides us with the objective premises. It does so not just through the power of a single and macroscopic event, but also through the increasingly rapid and visible multiplication of events (environmental catastrophes, lethal viruses, global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, financial crises) and their global interdependence, which ties us together more and more and connects us in a common dimension.

As I said, the idea of the relational subject is new, and only recently seems to have acquired a place in contemporary reflection. We cannot not recognize that its widest and most convincing formulation can be traced back to feminist thought which, albeit from different points of view, proposes it starting from a critique of the modern, sovereign and self-referential subject. Hence, on this aspect I am indebted to ‘gender-oriented’ thought, which with I have shared some important stages in my path of research. In this connection, I have deemed it opportune to recall, in addition to Butler, at least one other of these interpretations, not just since it is directly connected to the topic of responsibility, but since it enlightens an additional aspect that I consider essential. What I am alluding to is the ‘ethics of care’ inaugurated, as is well known, years ago by Carol Gilligan.[24]

If, indeed, as emerges from what has been said thus far, the concept of responsibility above all refers to concern for the other, in its very etymological roots the concept of care (what is more, already present in Jonas) combines the meanings of concern and solicitude. Hence this concept allows us to open up another side of the notion of responsibility that stresses the active, concrete and experiential commitment of taking care of. This means removing the ethics of responsibility from the risk of remaining confined in an abstract ideal that is pure principle. By assuming a relational subject, that is, one founded on the idea of what Gilligan defines a constitutive ‘interdependence of self and other’, the theoretical perspective of care not only upholds the universality of the need for care that makes us all mutually needy of attention from the other, but the necessity to also think of it as a practice: as a concrete and widespread practice that acts every day in the various contexts of life. This is, as Joan Tronto clearly underlines,[25] provided that this notion is removed from its traditional and restrictive identification with the private sphere and a female-only morality, and recognized as a universal principle (and need).

But integrating the notion of care is not the last step in order to think of the notion of responsibility (meant as responsibility for) in all its complexity. If indeed responsibility means above all becoming liable for the future, as we have seen especially through Jonas, this signifies that we cannot forgo an image of the future. This is not a matter of bringing back the obsolete idea of a world image, but of mobilizing the imagination: not just to prefigure, as Anders would have it, negative scenarios of catastrophe, but also to think positively, as proposed by Jean-Luc Nancy, of a form of the world.[26] In this way, from the plurality of possible options, here and now we can choose the ones that enable us not only to avert the loss of the world, but also to put down the necessary conditions for a ‘successful life’ provided with meaning. If recognizing vulnerability is the indispensable precondition for orienting the subject towards taking care of the world, nevertheless this does not just mean defending survival. It also requires us to ask a qualitative question: what world do we want to build as responsible subjects? Therefore, care of the world, as Anders suggests, in first place means preserving life and guaranteeing survival. But it also means, as we will see, creating a world; namely, to use Nancy’s words, transforming what is just a ‘market totality’ into a ‘totality of meaning’.

Here, once again, globalization lays down the objective premises to enable this transformation. Globalization itself reveals to us an ontological truth which had been disregarded: the meaning of the world lies in the interconnection of every person in a single humankind, in coexistence, in ‘cum’.  Therefore, for the subject, it is a matter of grasping the chance inherent in the global age to break off the pathological drift of unlimited individualism and retrieve the dimension of being-in-common. It is a matter of favouring, through widespread commitment to a praxis, what Hannah Arendt defines as a ‘new beginning’, in order to restart a virtuous process and inaugurate a new form of the world. In short, care of the world requires us to contrast the meaningless creation of homo creator with a creation provided with meaning, which can recognize being-in-common as the distinctive trait of the human.

However, this does not mean, as at this point should be clear, reinstating a thought of community; or rather, not of the community as an organic and totalizing structure that cancels out multiplicity and differences. As Furio Cerutti suggests, to think of ourselves as a single humankind  is to once again propose a thought of totality in such a way as to regain a holistic gaze on the world.[27] Nevertheless, this should be done without denying ‘the fact’ of multiplicity that characterizes the being-with. In other words, the meaning of the world lies not only in coexistence, but in the plurality of coexistence. And it is precisely the concept of world, which I assume in the acceptation of both Nancy and Arendt, that enables us to think of totality and plurality together. Indeed, the world is coexistence in distance. It is, as Arendt says, the ‘inbetween’ that unites men in action,[28] breaking the atomism of homo faber (especially in his configuration as homo creator), but also keepingthe necessary distance to prevent falling into communitarian endogamy. The world, Nancy says, is a plural set of singular beings.[29] Hence, it enables us to overcome the pathological dichotomy between individualism and communitarianism.

Nevertheless, at this point there still remains a problem not automatically resolved by an ontology of plurality, which brings us back to the topic of contamination. Today we need to rethink plurality. We need to rethink it starting from the other’s irruption as different and from the challenge inherent in his contaminating presence that demands comparison with difference. It is a comparison that, as I have already said, is dense in pathos and assumes the individual’s capacity to expose himself to the risk of encountering the other, bearing the uneasiness of recognition and accepting the transformation of his own identity.

Therefore, care of the world assumes a subject who, by enhancing the ‘negative’ foundations of vulnerability and contamination, is configured as a relational subject, a responsible and solidaristic subject, who appears as an alternative both to the atomism of Promethean and narcissistic individualism and to the undifferentiated fusionality of endogamous communitarianism.


Addition to the English edition

 A book that intends to propose concepts to interpret the present day can never shirk from making verifications and comparisons with such a complex and ever-changing situation as contemporary reality. Therefore, a couple of years on from the Italian edition, I have deemed it opportune to add a reflection on the topic of social justice (see Part Four) in the light of events that have produced very significant changes in the global scenario (from the ‘Arab Spring’ to the movement of the indignados). Besides, a moment of attention to this topic is also necessary due to the fact that, as already hinted, reflection on care itself indeed started from a comparison with the justice theories, and in particular with the model put forward by John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice:[30] a model that has been at the centre of political and social debate for decades. In this regard, the ethics of care approach is essentially critical since it contests the liberal theories of justice not only for their undisputed and presumed hegemony, but also for their abstract and unilateral nature which has ended up obfuscating other possible ethical (and political) perspectives. I have thought it promising to start afresh from this critical approach – which I wholly agree with – in order to reflect on the ways in which care and justice could integrate each other.

 But while the strength of care theorists may lie in stressing the necessity of this integration, in my opinion their weakness consists in their reproposing an idea of justice that ends up corresponding with the idea underlying the liberal theories of Rawlsian inspiration. In other words, according to Gilligan, Tronto, Held and Kittay,[31] to name but a few, it is a matter of integrating the paradigm of justice, based on parameters of an abstract individualism, rationality, and subjects’ independence and equality, with the paradigm of care, based on values of concreteness, affection, interdependence and relationality. In my view, to propose the relationship between care and justice in these terms is to stress a purely formal image of the latter and neglect the problem of the motivations that preside over the demand for justice: motivations which, as we will see, are above all affective, namely they originate in passions and sentiments which, therefore, are not – and this is my basic thesis – exclusive to the perspective of care.

 This is the direction that Martha Nussbaum’s reflection seems to take when she gives the moral sentiments and, in particular, compassion on the part of onlookers of unjust situations an important role in filling in the shortcomings of the contractualist model of justice, based on the sole criterion of mutual advantage.[32]

But to take the passions of justice seriously is also to change, more radically still, the viewpoint from which one tackles the problem; it is to renounce, as Amartya Sen proposes, an ideal and perfect model of justice, such as that which inspires the Rawlsian paradigm, and instead start from the concrete complaints of individuals and groups, prompted by their perception of injustice.[33] In other words, we need to start from injustice and our desire to fight it, by mobilizing the sentiments, such as humanity and generosity, justness and indignation, which characterize us in our very being human.

And if this is true for those who are witness to injustice, it is even more so, I would like to add, for those who are actually subject to it; because this is where the demand for justice prevalently draws its impulse. The ‘experience of injustice’, as Emmanuel Renault effectively defines it,[34] is indeed what – through victims sharing a ‘sentiment of injustice’ – gives rise to the various social movements’ complaints and fights, in which we can recognize an alternative normative model of society to the existent one. As I hinted above, today just think of the revolt movements that have unexpectedly struck the Arab world with legitimate claims to democracy, enabling us to speak of an “Arab Spring”, or the global movement of the indignados which, from Spain, has extended to the whole of the West, becoming the bearer of new aspirations of emancipation.

But we must not undervalue the fact that, today as always, there exist movements and forms of rebellion that are instead the bearers of regressive complaints and destructive objectives (suffice it to think of the various fundamentalisms). So if we can recognize the different nature of the affective motivations at the basis of the social movements, we can distinguish between legitimate complaints and illegitimate claims, as I will try to show, through a significant example, by dwelling on the nexus between two passions that are not always easy to distinguish: indignation and envy.

By focussing the attention on the emotional aspect, therefore, we can think of a different idea of justice. Furthermore, it enables us to have a better understanding of the motivations behind care, often defined through too generic an identification with the affective dimension. In other words, it is opportune to take a deeper look into the nature of the passions and the sentiments that lie at the origin of the ethics of care, for two fundamental reasons: first of all in order to take it further from a purely altruistic and selfless vision; second to enhance those aspects that distinguish it from the ethics of justice, so that the two may be integrated in a more fertile manner. If the motivations and objectives of justice remain within what, with Paul Ricoeur, we can define as a ‘logic of equivalence’, by mobilizing sentiments such as attention, generosity and love, care inaugurates a ‘logic of superabundance’,[35] whose roots lie in individuals’ vulnerability, in the awareness of the reciprocity of debt and the circularity of the gift. Therefore, one can speak of a sort of division of labour between the two ethical perspectives: that of justice which each time aims to re-establish equivalence and symmetry through the impartial defence of rights and equity, and that of care which aims to assert what I would like to define as the value of the bond with an outlook that is essentially giving and heedless of symmetry. Evidently, care of the world needs both of them. 


 Elena Pulcini



[1] This concept of ‘interdependence’ is repeatedly underlined by current reflection. Out of all the literature, see David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton, Transformations. Politics, Economics and Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999).

[2] See Roland Robertson, Globalization, Social Theory and Global Culture (London: Sage, 1992).

[3] Nevertheless, it needs underlining that, as yet, philosophy does not seem to devote sufficient attention to this topic.

[4] See Giacomo Marramao, Passaggio a Occidente. Filosofia e globalizzazione (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2003); see also Mike Featherstone, ed. Global Culture. Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity (London: Sage, 1990).

[5] See Kenichi Ohmae, The End of Nation State. The Rise of Regional Economies (New York: The Free Press, 1995); Bertrand Badie, La fin des territoires. Essai sur le désordre international et sur l’utilité sociale du respect (Paris: Fayard, 1995); Andrew Gamble, Politics and Fate (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000).

[6] See Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

[7] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity. An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 240.

[8] See George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society. An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life (Thousand Oaks (CA): Pine Forge Press, 1993). On the centrality of the concept of ‘space’ see, from the ‘scapes’ of Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1996), to Carlo Galli, Political Spaces and Global War, ed. Adam Sitze, trans. Elisabeth Fay (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010); originally published as Spazi politici. L’età moderna e l’età globale (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2001). See also Chiara Giaccardi and Mauro Magatti, L’io globale. Dinamiche della socialità contemporanea (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2003), which speaks of ‘a-spatiality’, 52-53 and 63 ff.

[9] Clifford Geertz, Available Light. Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2000), xiii.

[10] See Marramao, Passaggio a Occidente; Edgar Morin, ‘Au-delà de la globalisation et du développement, société-monde ou empire-monde?’, Revue du Mauss, no. 20 (2002): 43-53.

[11] See respectively Jean-Luc Nancy, The Creation of the World or Globalization, trans. François Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 2007), originally published as La création du monde ou la mondialisation (Paris: Galilée, 2002); Marc Augé, Journal de guerre (Paris: Galilée, 2002); Alain Caillé and Ahmet Insel, ‘Quelle autre mondialisation?’, Revue du Mauss, no. 20 (2002), 148.

[12] Here I am assuming Axel Honneth’s definition of ‘pathologies of the social’, meant as ‘processes of social development that can be viewed as misdevelopments (Fehlentwicklungen), disorders’, namely such as to jeopardise what is the quintessential promise of modernity: individuals’ self-realization. Axel Honneth, ‘Pathologies of the Social: The Past and Present of Social Philosophy’ in Disrespect. The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 4. Originally published as Patologien des Sozialen. Die Aufgabe der Sozialphilosophie (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1994).

[13] Morin, ‘Au-delà de la globalisation et du développement, société-monde ou empire-monde?’, 51-52, own translation.

[14] See Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[15] ‘It is the argument of this study that what we face is not a war between civilizations but a war within civilization, a struggle that expresses the ambivalence within each culture as it faces a global, networked, material future and wonders whether cultural and national autonomy can be retained, and the ambivalence within each individual juggling the obvious benefits of modernity with its equally obvious costs.’ (Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld. How Globalism and Tribalism are Re-shaping the World (Westminster: Ballantine, 1996), 15).

On this point see also Marramao, Passaggio a Occidente. Against the thesis of the clash of civilizations, see also Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) and Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers: an essay on the geography of anger (Durham: Duke Univ. Press: 2006). On the ‘clash of civilizations’ as a ‘myth’, see Chiara Bottici and Benoit Challand, ‘Rethinking Political Myth: The Clash of Civilisations as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’, European Journal of Social Theory 9, no. 3 (2006): 315-36.

[16] See Günther Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, I: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution (Munich: Beck, 1956), 39.

[17] This concept, which I take from Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), recurs in various formulations in Anders and Jonas as well. See Günther Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, II: Über die Zerstörung des Lebens im Zeitalter der dritten industriellen Revolution (Munich: Beck, 1980); Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: in search of an ethics for the technological age, trans. Hans Jonas with the collaboration of David Herr (Chicago & London: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), originally published as Das Prinzip Verantwortung: Versuch einer Ethik für die technologische Zivilisation (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1979).

[18] Ulrich Beck, Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk, trans. Amos Weisz (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995). Originally published as Gegengifte. Die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988).

[19] I would like to underline that contributions from contemporary reflection relating to the normative value of the passions at the social level are still quite rare. Among these, Jon Elster, Political Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993); Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought. The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001). Furthermore, allow me to make reference to my The Individual without Passions, trans. Karen Whittle (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, forthcoming); originally published as L’individuo senza passioni. Individualismo moderno e perdita del legame sociale (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2001).

[20] See Gilles Lipovetsky, Le crépuscule du devoir. L’éthique indolore des nouveaux temps démocratiques (Paris: Gallimard, 2002); Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodern Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993).

[21] See Emmanuel Lévinas, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1981). Originally published as Autrement qu’être, ou Au-delà de l’essence (1974) (Paris: LGF, 1990).

[22] See Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Routledge, 2004).

[23] See Judith Butler, Precarious Life: the power of mourning and violence (London: Verso, 2004).

[24] See Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Harvard, Harvard Univ. Press, 1982).

[25] See Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care (London: Routledge, 1995).

[26] See Nancy, Creation of the World.

[27] See Furio Cerutti, Global Challenges for Leviathan. A Political Philosophy of Nuclear Weapons and Global Warming (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007).

[28] Arendt, Human Condition, 52.

[29] See Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2000). Originally published as Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Galilée, 1996).

[30] Rawls, A Theory of Justice (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973).

[31] Gilligan, In a Different Voice; Tronto, Moral Boundaries; Virginia Held, The Ethics of Care: personal, political and global (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006) and Eva Kittay, Love’s Labor. Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency (London: Routledge, 1998).

[32] Martha Nussabum, Frontiers of Justice: disability, nationality, species membership (Cambridge (MA): Harvard Univ. Press, 2006)

[33] Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (London: Allen Lane, 2009).

[34] Emmanuel Renault, L’expérience de l’injustice (Paris: La Découverte, 2004).

[35] Paul Ricoeur, ‘Love and Justice’ in Werner Jeanrond and Jennifer Rike, Radical Pluralism and Truth: David Tracy and the hermeneutics of religion (New York: Crossroad, 1991).

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