Each essay of this journal is reviewed by two anonymous referees and their comments are sent to the authors .
Migrations, human rights and political systems
May 2019 - Year XIV - Number 27
Claudio Giulio Anta
The idea of united Europe has always been the centre of Winston Churchill’s political thought. Since the Thirties of the last century, the great British statesman fixes the line adopted by the governments beyond the Channel in the second postwar period: to support the cause of the unity of the Old Continent leaving the United Kingdom aside to guarantee its imperial mission. Churchill defends this vision most of all starting from 1946, the year of the famous speeches pronounced at Fulton and in Zurich, on the occasion of the birth of the United Europe Movement (UEM) and of the Council of Europe (1949), when he is in opposition. And also after the starting of the community integration process and his return to Downing Street (1951) the English statesman – consistently with the historical British tradition – wishes a continental Europe: on the one hand France and Germany that represent the leader countries, on the other hand Great Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States the supporters.
The article concerns the topic of freedom and ethical nature in Hegel: this philosopher thinks freedom comes true in ethical nature.
Social, political and economic crisis generally facilitate the rise of those leaders who use populist rhetoric and demagogy to catalyze consensus and aggregate masses through the creation of a common enemy. Propaganda exaggerates the effects of this process, sweetening reality, amplifying or exploiting some of its features. That shows us the great power of communication and all its forms. Communication acts in the life of individuals and societies. The mixture of these different elements succeeds in creating a representation of reality. This works as an interpretation unanimously accepted and shared and crystallizes opinions or imposes new views, but always obeys the will of those who hold this hudge power, that is, the communicative one.
“Sociopathologies” of the global age. Reflections about existential and social distortions of a ambivalent period
The essay develops some reflections about the diseases that seem to characterize the existence, the life and the work of the individuals in the context of the global age. Just considering the theories proposed by eminent results of critical sociology, the aim is to understand the ambivalence of various social behaviours present in contemporary culture. We can so read this situation as a “sociopathology” of the global age, strictly connected with the evolutions and extremization of elements, processes, ideas promoved by Modernity.
Avatar, a film by James Cameron, is a "curious" example of contrasting socio-political visions: the military and aggressive “Earth vision” and the “Pandora” vision linked to a peaceful community of equals. The contrast between these two civilizations recalls the American colonization. It emphasizes how universal human rights founded on equality in reality allude to a specific type of human being and which leads to the abuses by those who retain themselves superior. The history repeats itself throughout the film and its images denouncing a reality in which inequality reigns supreme. The Avatar instead makes the acceptance of “the Other” as an equal possible (despite “the Other” being different) and it may lead to a coexistence without discriminations where each person (human being) is seen as an equal.
In his volume Social Myths and Collective Imaginaries (University of Toronto Press, 2017 – original edition: Raison et déraison du mythe: au coeur des imaginaires collectifs, Editions du Boreal, 2015), Gerard Bouchard affirms that in the act of its constitution a social myth requires a “process of mythification” which, through series of proceedings and mechanisms does emerge in the collectivity.
To outline all the characteristics of this process, the author based his research “in part on theory and in part on empirical observation from the results of various studies, mainly in the fields of sociology, history, and communications”.
Inside this process of mythification, the sacred plays a fundamental role: it is that element able to transform representations lying at the core of the collective imaginary up to the rank of authentic myths, in particular social myths. A social myth, for Gerard Bouchard, can be distinguished from founder myths or cosmogonical myths because it builds up a representation of key elements of the collective imaginary, whether regarding ancient times or contemporaneity.
It is important to notice and to remember that nowadays, a myth takes advantage of the sacred as its principal element even if it doesn't possess religious aspects.
One must then wonder why the sacred is positioned higher than the sacredness coming from cults, rituals or religious traditions.
What are the characteristics which confer this substantially incontrovertible power? Gerard Bouchard gives us a series of answers: the sacred deals with a kind of authority, which confers to feelings and social representations such a strong hold that it builds a basin of commonly felt values called super-consciousness, akin to a divine consciousness. Moreover, it deals with something located over the realm of rationality and that requires a cognitive shift. It is about a quid which distinguishes myth from the others social representations. Lastly, it can concern something like taboos and what sociality removes.
Looking at these definitions it is possible to add and compare those proposed by Gregory Bateson in his Angels fear. Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred (Bantam, 1987) written with his daughter Mary Catherine. In that book, released posthumously, Bateson makes an acute recognition about the sense of the sacred and its power inside human life. We believe it might be useful to compare Bateson's thinking to Bouchard's because both authors notice how the power of the sacred would remain unchanged even without religion.
Some of Batesons's proposed definitions about the sacred concern its aspect of “connecting structure” (which is similar to Bouchard's concept of super-consciousness; moreover the sacred is defined like a dimension to be respected (like the untouchability of Bouchard); lastly, for Bateson, the sacred is akin something impossible to comunicate (this can be compared to Bouchard's cognitive shift towards the realm of irrationality).
After focusing on the concept of the sacred itself, this paper aims to encompass all the characteristics making this topic so important inside the process of mythification.
The behaviour of the sacred is, first of all, a kind of non material authority, a drape that covers instances, objects, physical or metaphorical places and so on, and that confers them the peculiar power of untouchability. Untouchability is the most powerful extrinsic characteristic of the sacred, because it allows it to go through all the steps which, from the basin of the collective imaginary, reaches the forge of the authentic social myth. For an object, a place, an istance, an ideology, becoming mataphorically untouchable, means that it will no longer have obstacles on its way to modifying the social and the political order of a community (whether local communities or planetary ones).
If we admit this eventuality, we can understand how on one side, myth could be acting as social incentive towards processes of unpredictable size and flow; on the other side, how the sacred contains in itself an extraordinary disruptive power.
Strictly speaking, sacralizing something means allowing it to play a role, inside a social myth, capable of changing the political order and the connotations of an entire society, bringing it both towards its potential improvement and (like past history, the recent one and contemporaneity remind us) towards serious disruption of the whole planet balance. This paper will focus on these aspects to show how even inside the most secularized society - e.g. the western world - the sacred plays a fundamental role and determines the coming into being, the consolidation, the transformation and the decline of all the social myths capable of displacing human communities towards previously unthought directions.
The paper will also examine the decisive role of power in its definition/redefinition of worldwide political assets, as well as it becomes interwoven with the dimension of the sacred. The social structures are thus modified in a way never seen before. We can consider, for example, how in peculiar time periods political leaders, in front of an impending social disruptor, position themselves as saviours, as if they were “men of light, mortal deities that, time after time, protect their people from demons which threaten them and question their economical welfare and way of life”, as Paolo Bellini writes in L'immaginario politico del salvatore. Biopotere, sapere e ordine sociale (Mimesis, 2012).
Doing so leaders espouse an extremely ancient myth (the symbolism of light and the Manichean display light-darkness) which, from the birth of the western civilization, reappears everytime a societal political asset is about to endure a drastic change.
The symbolism of light is a clear example of a myth becoming untouchable by virtue of its sacred nature, while concurrently capable of surviving secularization.
Therefore, the ultimate purpose of this paper is to show the dynamics of power within the political assets of the current world and as they relate to the sacred component imbuing them.
The death of the Sacred King: an alternative historical perspective on the role of the sacred in collective imaginaries
The study of “Collective Imaginaries” connected to the birth of modern social myths pervades the literature of the Canadian sociologist, Gerard Bouchard. However, this research entails a specific notion of culture which introduces a multidisciplinary dimension, where several branches of the humanities can collaborate.
More specifically, the field of study of the history of religions, anthropology, and the history of ideas can interconnect themselves in showing how the genesis and possible interpretations of myth reveal storytelling linked to the essence of “power”. An episode of this story in particular, which represents the prehistory of this kratophonic tale, is the manifestation of the Sacred in premodern social contexts.
The paper aims, through a case study borrowed from the work of the Scottish anthropologist, James George Frazer (1854-1941), to show the crucial role of the Sacred, both in a premodern social context and in the birth of modern social myths, and thereby draw upon a critical review of the theories put forth by the historians of religion Bruce Lincoln and Mircea Eliade to provide a critical perspective on Bouchard’s conceptualization of culture and collective imaginaries.
Raffaella Sabra Palmisano
In current language, the word “myth” is often used to indicate a primitive narrative construction that lacks realism and has no connection with the construction of social reality. There are numerous historical and sociological analyses that show how much the myth is instead a universal sociological mechanism active in all societies, from the so-called "primitive" societies to the post-modern ones. In order to better understand the link between social actors and myth and therefore between myth and social construction, or rather between myth and legitimation of power, it seems necessary to keep in mind, precisely because of the inseparability of myth from the social actor who creates and performs it, the specific anthropological context of myths. Detached from their performative context, myths would in fact be reduced to mere narratives. We believe that myth lives in the society that creates it and performs it and cannot be analyzed and detached from it, because we understand myth as a social construction but also as a constructor of society. It is therefore necessary to have an approach that also includes a more dialogical and dialectical analysis with the social actors of myth ( intended as those who create and perform the myth and those who are influenced by it). Otherwise, there would be a risk of mutilating the myth of its reality. Myths in their social, political and economic contextualization prove to have precise meanings that should make any misunderstanding of interpretation improbable. This does not mean, however, that it is not possible to hermeneutically manipulate the behavioural and cognitive indications contained in the myth, manipulation that acts on social and therefore political action: the myth and its interpretation determine the political action of the narrators and listeners, being the myth an essential part of the constitutive process of social reality, and therefore of the legitimation of power.
The role of languages of politics and of power in the building of collective imaginary. From the concept of “social myth” according to G. Bouchard to the italian debate.From the concept of “social myth” according to G. Bouchard to the italian debate.
Erasmo Silvio Storace
The recent volume by Gerard Bouchard, Social Myths e Collective Imaginaries (University of Toronto Press, 2017; original edition: Raison et déraison du mythe: coeur des imaginaires collectifs, Editions du Boreal, 2015), starts with the assumption that the study of myths does not play anymore a central role in the contemporary political and philosophical-political investigation. Myths, symbols, utopian narratives, etc., constitute, nevertheless, from the dawn of human history, not only the instruments of social cohesion, but constitute the means through which the various civilizations determine their institutions. The myths, far from being simple stories, often embody the trigger of political action, producing, in the collective imaginary, those feelings (from identity to hope, from fear to hatred) that move and direct the choices of the people. In this sense, the mythological narration keeps pace with the rhetoric, as an instrument for building consent.
Therefore, it is necessary, along with the study of social myths, a research on the languages of politics and on the mechanisms of power intimately connected and intertwined with them. In this perspective, Bouchard's text represents a fruitful reflection. After having clarified the value of the myth and its social role (Chapters 1 and 2), the author faces the “mythification process”, in the Chapter that is perhaps the most original one (Chapter 3), followed by others two Chapters, respectively on “the conditions for the effectiveness of the myth” and on the hypothesis of construction of a pyramidal structure of social myths.
Therefore, the third Chapter of Bouchard's book investigates the mechanisms through which social myths emerge in a community, are preserved, are reproduced or decline. These pages deal with topics such as the construction of the subject, the anchors, the imprints, the ethos, the sacralization, the history, the techniques of persuasion and the social actors.
To understand the mechanisms of production of those social myths, that are able to create and modify the collective imaginary, it is necessary to analyze the means used to shape the message as an instrument of power. The languages of politics, and in particular rhetoric, are not only instruments of power, but also the conditions that enable those mythological narratives, which concretely affect political action. Hence, therefore, we need a real phenomenology of the various mechanisms of production of social myths – like the one elaborated by Bouchard.
He writes: “My approach focuses mainly on the social aspect of myth, that of the actors, contexts, power relations, and change, as opposed to the psychological or archetypical aspect, that of constants and universalizing forms”: from the beginning he tries to make clear the connection between “social myths” and “power relations”.
If the process of constructing social myths is articulated in various phases (Bouchard identifies eight of them), those most related to the languages of politics are those of "narration" and "techniques of persuasion" (respectively, Paragraphs F and G of Chapter 2). If, according to the author, the narratives often have a commemorative value and are mainly directed to a past dimension, such as the historical memory of a people, in the techniques of persuasion, instead, the languages of politics become a performative tool, exploited to change the brainframe (forma mentis) of political subjects, and therefore their political action: in this sense, it is strongly highlighted the link between languages of politics and power, id est the relationship between “knowledge” and “power”, on which a thinker as Foucault has long focused.
Bouchard continues with an interesting phenomenology of the various persuasion techniques; in any case, the heart of the question consists in the dynamics of power connected to it, which can be examined through an equally various range of themes. Just as the languages of politics evolve in the history of humanity, in the same way power assumes different forms within the various political set-ups. If the ancient and modern world is organized according to a “pyramidal” model of power, the contemporary or post-modern world must use new strategies of power. Paolo Bellini, for example, in the footsteps of Foucault's studies, has been able to propose, in his works, a “reticular” structure of power, which fits well to describe many of the dynamics of contemporary politics. In the same way, in order to outline the new face of the languages of politics, its narratives and techniques of persuasion, we can use the image of the “grid”. This will be one of the objectives of this article, which aims not only to reconstruct the debate on social myths and the collective imaginary as presented by Bouchard, but also to examine in depth the “perfomatory” value of myth as an instrument of power, precisely in the inseparable relationship, as old as man, between “power” and “knowledge”, a relationship that presents itself with faces always new, through which the different aspects of collective identity are redrawn, from time to time.
Mara Magda Maftei ed Emmanuel Picavet
While transhumanism refers to the alteration of human beings through technology, posthumanism is more difficult to define. We may think that posthumanism amounts either to a continuation or a break with humanism. No matter how this is settled, posthumanism today is influenced by the contentment or lack of contentment with respect to human life as it is. Insofar as posthumanism has an important critical dimension – and this is the dimension we’ll emphasize here – it is partly fostered by reflections about transhumanist aspirations. As it turns out, some features of transhumanism call for criticism. Transhumanist aspirations have a potential for radicalizing the differences between human beings, and for creating discontinuities between the current experience of human life and what it could become (for some people at least). This evolution is not without risk for freedom because human freedom cannot be abstracted from the relational features of social life.
Beyond the physiological transformation of the individual human being - a privileged theme in fiction -, we will insist on the transformations which could be desired, concerning the status of the individual in society. In particular, we think of the transformations induced by the generalization of systems of standards aiming to frame behaviors. We might also consider the routinization of activities which results from their increasing standardization and normative determination. Isn’t it the case that this amounts to a kind of purportedly modified humanity – a supposedly improved humanity with respect to the human being’s activity, action and creation? Concerning the critical potential of posthumanism –insofar as the latter pays attention to the desired transformations of human life -, we’ll inquire whether its development now requires an investigation about the evolving reality of norms (beyond the accompanying reflections about fiction and prospects of the future).
Each essay of this journal is reviewed by two anonymous referees and their comments are sent to the authors .