On Technological Utopianism

HomeArticlesOn Technological Utopianism

I propose an inquiry into what Hans Jonas once called the “built-in, automatic utopianism” of our thought and actions. Jonas suggests that this “utopian drift” inheres in technology itself, or, more precisely, in human life lived in that always strange because always new world of endless technological innovation.[1]  It is this “drift” that I am calling ‘technological utopianism’. My effort will take the form of an “archeology of ideas” (albeit only in stenographic form) with the goal, however, of self-understanding: to bring to the surface the buried and thus forgotten utopianism that lies near the foundation of our political self-understanding, and that we can barely help but adhere to as soon as we open ourselves up to and learn to hope for technological innovation.

Now the first premise of such an archeological expedition is that there is something of importance to be found underneath the presently configured surface complete with all its conspicuous and dazzling edifices.   Indeed, that which we seek must be of some great importance to risk rooting around the foundation—stones of such imposing structures.  But if it is invisible, what clue do we have that it is there?  To come to the point, don’t we all know that as good, sensible, modern liberals we have secured a solid foundation for our politics, and thus for all our other business, precisely by turning down and away from the quest for Utopia?  Whatever else, doesn’t modern liberal individualism pride itself precisely on its realism?  By taking humans as they are, selfish, fearful, vulnerable (or whatever other common denominator one proposes), we avoid the perpetual struggles and instability that come when one takes one’s bearings by loftier and thus rarer and thus more contentious phenomena—by what humans can do and be, by human excellence, or by the true Word.

It is here, at the beginning, that it is useful to remind ourselves of those more recent (or at least not so long forgotten) moments where a latent utopianism broached the surface of liberal modernity. It is here that the name ‘technological utopianism’, in its more usual application, can be of some use. Howard Segal’s Technological Utopianism in American Culture, for example, calls our attention to a surprising and largely neglected moment in American political thought: “Between the appearance of John Macnie’s The Diothas; Or a Far Look Ahead in 1883 and Harold Loeb’s Life in a Technocracy: What it Might be Like in 1933, twenty-five individuals published fundamentally similar visions of the United States as a utopian society—visions that, they were certain, technological progress would eventually make real.”[2]  Of course this moment is generally evoked (and symbolized) with a reference to Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, a work that enjoyed remarkable popular success and apparently exerted considerable political influence.[3]  In reminding us of this flourishing of technological utopias and the fact of their appeal, Segal’s study forces us to confront and acknowledge that even in America—sober, pragmatic America—a latent hopefulness about the politically transformative potential of technological progress can emerge out into the open, and that when it does, it strikes a deeply resonating chord.[4]

So in the first instance, if only then, “technological utopianism” names the envisioning and articulation of a utopia, or best possible community of humans, realized by means of technology.[5]  These visions are of importance, for they offer occasion to approach the phenomenon and to reflect on what is more often taken for granted, but we must be careful not to mistake them for the thing itself. If and when we do, we tend to discount them as momentary flights of fancy, undisciplined lapses from a more sober, sensible position that is the usual. In referring to technological utopianism I wish to point to something deeper and more powerful—an abiding and everpresent influence or temptation we confront and carry with us as a result of our general acceptance and political institutionalization of technological innovation. Briefly, my suggestion is that technological innovation, and the expectant hope that it introduces for more technological innovation to come, will always tend to encourage a particular set of political hopes or beliefs: that politics can be replaced by or perhaps resolved into a technique, that a precise and perfect science of politics is possible, that politics is a problem that can be solved. How this hope is to be fulfilled, that is, the particular technologies invoked and the contours of the imagined administrative apparatus, are, of course, matters that vary. But the basic contours of the thought, and the direction it points, are constant and remain.

Technology in Classical Utopian Thought

To repeat, technological utopianism is a modern phenomenon. It is born from the marriage of a novel understanding of politics and a novel understanding of science, both of which emerged historically at around the same moment. I believe they share a common root, or rather, are rooted in a common argument. These new understandings in turn gave rise to new forms of politics and a new kind of science.  That is to say they were persuasive, or successful. Indeed, I think that together they constitute the essence of modernity as a civilizational, perhaps even global project.  But to say this is not to deny that the dream of the artful conquest of our finitude belongs to man as such. Our embodiment ensures that we will always experience the frustration of a limited grasp, and thus be motivated to work to extend it. Our ability to do so to some indefinite degree, will always invite the dream of a limitless grasp.  Perhaps, then, technological utopianism has always existed as a latent possibility or potentiality for man.

In Genesis we read of fallen man inspired by his development of bricks to work together with his fellows to undo his fallen state, to unite (so as to preclude their ever being scattered) around the project of a city with a tower in the heavens, and so make a name for themselves, and become god-like. That this state was imposed on man by his creator, that the attempt implies a desire to be other than he is, that it thus bespeaks a vain pride, does not suffice to keep him from the attempt. Only another divine curse, the scattering of man into separate and linguistically distinct nations, precludes this pan-human project to become more than human.[6]  Who can read these chapters today and not be reminded of the rhetoric of so-called ‘globalization’: a purported re-unification of mankind often justified or explained on the grounds of our common vulnerability and the need to address it? [7]

Or again, consider Sophocles’ Antigone, and the famous “Ode to man”:

“Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man. This power spans the sea, even when it surges white before the gales of the south-wind, and makes a path under swells that threaten to engulf him. Earth, too, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, he wears away to his own ends, turning the soil with the offspring of horses as the plows weave to and fro year after year. The light-hearted tribe of birds and the clans of wild beasts and the sea-brood of the deep he snares in the meshes of his twisted nets, and he leads them captive, very skilled man. He masters by his arts the beast who dwells in the wilds and roams the hills. He tames the shaggy-maned horse, putting the yoke upon its neck, and tames the tireless mountain bull. Speech and thought fast as the wind and the moods that give order to a city he has taught himself, and how to flee the arrows of the inhospitable frost under clear skies and the arrows of the storming rain. He has resource for everything.  Lacking resource in nothing he strides towards what must come. From Death alone he shall procure no escape, but from baffling diseases he has devised flights. Possessing resourceful skill, a subtlety beyond expectation he moves now to evil, now to good. When he honors (weaves) the laws of the land and the justice of the gods to which he is bound by oath, his city prospers. But banned from his city is he who, thanks to his rashness, couples with disgrace. Never may he share my home, never think my thoughts, who does these things!”[8]

Mortality alone frustrates man’s ingenuity, even as the awareness of it that speaks through his needs provides him powerful impetus for its exercise. And this almost unlimited resourcefulness, which of itself can be used for good or evil and which, as in Genesis, seems already to incline or tempt him to rashness, is checked, and so made useful, by his knowing disgrace and injustice, vouched for by the gods in whose name he swears his oaths. And so he is properly subject to the limits they impose—limits given voice in the laws of the city (polis).

In both the chorus from Antigone and in Genesis, the arts, or Art is portrayed as a rival, a genuine challenge, to what we might call nature, and, consequently, as a threat to law, even divine law. In Genesis, it seems, prior to the linguistic division of mankind, man’s bid at a kind of divinity is not mere folly. In Antigone, by contrast, nature remains binding in the form of our mortality. In both texts, however, Art (techne), or the cleverness or resourcefulness where it finds its origin, together with man’s innate pridefulness, inspires in him the thought of disobedience, of giving law to himself, of being a rival to the gods. Art’s power over nature is a challenge to the law that rightly rules man.

With the emergence of philosophy from out of the discovery of nature as the domain of self-subsisting, self–generating beings and patterns of behavior against which the various (and merely human) laws vainly struggle, it would seem that the Law-Art-Nature hierarchy was simply overturned. Nature rules Art as the stable precondition rules its less permanent product, and Law, now exposed as mere convention vainly struggling to suppress Nature, loses all binding power. But perhaps we should not overlook the appearance of hints of the technological hope in the scientific impulse even at its origin:

“You will learn remedies for ills and help against old age, since for you alone shall I accomplish all these things.  You will check the force of tireless winds, which sweep over the land and destroy fields with their blasts; and again, if you wish, you will restore compensating breezes.  After a black rain you will bring dry weather in season for men, and too after summer dryness you will bring tree-nourishing showers (which live in air), and you will lead from Hades the life-force of a dead man.”[9]

As Xenophon may perhaps be read to intimate in his Memoribilia, it took a Socrates to re-direct science or philosophy away from the pursuit of the artful conquest of nature.[10] As we will see, in so doing, he also prepared, if he did not himself effect, a resuscitation of the claim of Law to rule the arts or Art.

But if these familiar passages suffice to remind us that we moderns are not the first to dream of the artful conquest of natural limits, this dream is not yet technological utopianism. Seeing technological utopianism for what it is will require reminding ourselves of the substantive: the noun stripped of its modifiers.

Consider for a moment the original utopia—Plato’s Republic.  Here we encounter an arresting hostility to technological innovation. At the outset of Book IV, as part of his effort to win back Adeimantis to the cause of the city in logos after it is revealed to him that the guardian class will be altogether deprived of personal property and even privacy, Socrates introduces a series of features of the city that had so far gone undiscussed. First among these is that the city as a whole must guard against both wealth and poverty. One reason being that both wealth and poverty (or humans under conditions of wealth and poverty) bring innovation (422a).[11] Leisure and necessity are the two mothers of invention. But whence this general hostility to innovation?

Innovation, even or especially innovation in the arts cannot be contained to the art in question. Small changes lead to big changes, and change, at least in the context of the well-crafted city, is bound to mean change for the worse. This concern with innovation runs throughout the topics discussed in the early pages of Book IV, and culminates in the repeated insistence that with respect to music and the other arts, there is to be no innovation, even in nursery rhymes and the games children play (424b, c, e, 425a, 377e). Accustoming the young to novelty—to expect it, to delight in it, to hope for it—habituates them to a changeability, a “lawlessness” that is dangerous, corrupting of their souls. We who can scarce resist the allure of the latest gadget even as we recognize it to be almost utterly frivolous, whose music changes daily, whose children fly into rages should they be denied the new toy, should feel keenly Socrates’ point here. But even as we wince, we might notice something more about our own habituation to expect innovation: namely, the extent to which we have come to crave innovations to fill our leisure, rather than, as previously, to create more of it. Perhaps this provides us some further indication as to why both wealth and poverty are to be guarded against.

In the Laws, a work that differs from the Republic in the direction of greater practicality (it presents a plan for a particular and actual community), we see this general closed-ness to innovation every bit as, perhaps even more forcefully stated.

“Change, we shall find, is much the most dangerous thing in everything except what is bad . . . It isn’t the case that change is, so to speak, safe in some things and dangerous in others, except, as I just now said, in bad things . . . Now one must hold that this very same thing applies to the thoughts of human beings and the natures of their souls. If they’re brought up under laws which by some divine good fortune have remained unchanged for a great length of time, if they neither remember nor have heard that things were ever otherwise than they are at present, then the entire soul reverences and fears changing any of the things that are already laid down.  Somehow or other the lawgiver must think up a device by which this situation will prevail in the city.” (797d-798b)[12]

Here again, change or innovation is already a problem, and so the arts are a danger—a danger to law and so to the souls of human beings. Unlike in the Republic, however, where the guiding concern is the discovery of justice, in the Laws, the Athenian is forced to make a crucial qualification to this general, dispositional antipathy to innovation.  The Nocturnal Council, reintroduced in Book XII, is charged with responsibility for safeguarding the laws, which, the Stranger indicates, could lead them so far as to change the laws—laws which had been set down by the Guardians of the Laws as unchangeable. Necessity sometimes imposes upon the good city, and in such circumstances, if only then, the city must accommodate itself.  But this fact itself must be concealed, and the freedom and authority to make such judgments very closely contained. [13]

And yet, it is perhaps not yet quite clear what the character of the danger posed by innovation and thus technical innovation is. In Plato’s account of Atlantis, I suspect, something of an answer is suggested.  Atlantis is the comprehensively engineered nation. Its very geography—much, but not all of it shaped by a god—suggests rational control or planning. What is more, it is the nation of art and luxury.  Now, to be sure, according to Plato, or Critias, or Solon, or the Egyptians, it is ultimately destroyed by a cataclysm attributed to an angry god, but what exposes them to divine wrath is their succumbing to a grasping and insatiable immoderation, manifested in their nearly successful bid at total global conquest. The cause of this ‘fall’ is never explicitly stated, but we note that according to the enobling tale, prior to their obliteration, they are defeated by the austere and virtuous city of old Athens: that city, which of all actual cities most closely resembles the city in logos from the Republic.  We are at least invited to suppose that the decay of their original virtue—a virtue indispensable to the lasting success that can only come from the favor of the gods—results from their living amidst artfully created splendor and plenty.[14]

For the clearest and most direct articulation of the classical reservations against the political encouragement of technological innovation, however, we must turn to Aristotle’s brief remarks on Hippodamus’ legislation in Book Two of the Politics. In the course of his consideration of the received opinions about or previous attempts to answer the question of the best regime, Aristotle conjures the figure of Hippodamus,[15] whom he identifies as the “inventor of the division of cities” and the first “not engaged in politics to undertake to give an account of the best regime” (1267b27).[16]  Aristotle’s presentation invites the further supposition that Hippodamus’ effort on this matter is born from, at least related to, his “wish to become learned with regard to nature as a whole”. Like Atlantis, Hippodamus’ city is comprehensively and rationally organized: a city of ten thousand divided into three classes, occupying a territory divided into three parts, living under a tri-partite law code.[17]

But it is Hippodamus’ proposal to specially honor “those who discover something useful to the city,” and Aristotle’s critique of it, that are of particular interest. Aristotle grants the appeal of such a proposal, but declares it unsafe, suggesting it could lead to “changes in regime.” No regime, or order of rules, can contain and control innovation. Aristotle, however, refuses to say why. Instead, he directs us to consider “another problem and a different investigation”: whether legal reform, changing established laws, is a good idea. Since it is surely possible that change may sometimes be for the better, as it clearly is in “the other sciences,” why should political expertise not also improve or progress? Since humans seek the good and the traditional only derivatively, it would be strange to stubbornly abide by tradition, be it in law or opinion, when improvement is possible. Furthermore, since a genuinely comprehensive legal code is impossible, the innumerable variety of particulars always confounding the necessary generality of law, Aristotle concludes “some laws must be changed at some times” (1269a13).

But here Aristotle counsels much caution. It is a bad thing to accustom people to legal innovation. It encourages disobedience of the law. Unlike the arts, the authority and power of law depend upon time: the aura of venerability that comes with age,[18] and the habituation to obedience. The deliberate change of even one minor law awakens the law-abiding to the possibility that other laws too could be changed—could be other than they are, and so are not necessary, or the voice of the god or Being. The law-imposed limits to choice, action, even belief, suddenly dissolve. Man is not suited to live in such an open horizon.

Now Aristotle breaks off this distinct but somehow related investigation into the dangers associated with legal innovation without explaining quite how it works as a critique of Hippodamus’ proposal.  Indeed, later in the Politics, in the context of his own consideration of the prayed-for city, he concedes the necessity of sometimes accepting and incorporating technical innovations.[19] The reader is thus left to reconstruct the argument for or basis of Aristotle’s opposition to Hippodamus’ proposal. I suggest that what Aristotle would have us see is, first, that while conceptually and thus potentially even practically distinct from legal innovation, technical innovation invites and encourages legal innovation, and legal innovation is problematic. But the comparison between innovation in the arts and innovation in the law that shows how the law can never be open to innovation on the model of the arts, simultaneously allows us to see how technical innovation encourages a confusion of art and law. The clear fact of the possibility of technical progress, or the manifest reasonableness of innovation in the arts, together with the mystery of law—the necessary obscurity of the reasonableness of law and how law works—means we will always be tempted towards an openness to legal innovation. This, it seems to me, is the ultimate root of technological utopianism: the techne-induced confusion of art and law, or the belief that the law, and so politics, can be configured on the model of the arts, can be made into an art, admitting of progress, precision, and universal application. Aristotle’s manner of presentation, the at first sight obscure and thus jarring movement of his argument, however, leads the reader to experience this confusion as a confusion, rather than, as is typical, a ‘reasonable’ supposition or inference.  And so he teaches.

Bacon’s New Atlantis: Or, Technological Utopianism as a Self-conscious Project

Now, having reminded ourselves of some reasons or bases for regarding technological innovation with skepticism, of the possibility of a utopianism that is not technological, indeed that discourages technological innovation (at least to the extent possible), we are prepared to take up, as if with ancient or innocent eyes, the founding document of technological utopianism: Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis.

On a number of occasions, throughout his corpus, Bacon advances versions of Hippodamus’ proposal to reward inventors with honors.[20] Indeed, we know that during his own remarkable parliamentary carreer he advanced the cause of granting patent monopolies as a primary means of encouraging and directing certain kinds of “development.” [21]  And while this marked disagreement with his ancient predecessors, indeed, with virtually the whole of the prior tradition of political thought is provocative, what makes Bacon’s thought on this question so interesting is his clear acknowledgment, even elaboration of the strength of the classical argument.

This can be seen most clearly in Bacon’s rendition of the ancient fable of “Daedalus, or the Mechanic” in his Wisdom of the Ancients.[22]  Daedalus is an “ingenious but execrable” character. He fashions the means for Pasiphae to satisfy her perverse lust, and when this results in the Minotaur, he must be called upon to devise the labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. And when the labyrinth, in turn, needs a solution, it is Daedalus again who provides the clue. While making possible instruments of lust and violence, which, once devised will be used, Daedalus makes himself indispensable, for he alone can provide the remedy. Thus in the fable Minos, or “Law,” becomes dependent on Daedalus, and yet Daedalus remains free to ply his trade to whomever will pay. While there is much to be gleaned from Bacon’s retelling of the tale, the merest of glances suffices to establish that Bacon himself was under no illusions about the dangers that follow from the introduction of Daedalus and Minos, or technical innovation and rule or law.

Nowhere is this surprising complexity in Bacon’s teaching so fully on display as in his posthumously published New Atlantis. In 1612, in the midst of a voyage to the Far East via the New World, a European ship departs Peru with a twelvemonth supply of provisions. The voyage brings the Europeans to the very brink of oblivion; lost in uncharted waters, frustrated by unfavorable winds, and having exhausted their supplies, the crew prays to God that he discover land to them. The next day they are saved by the appearance of the island nation of Bensalem.  Bensalem appears as the prayed for land (37-38).[23] Upon arrival, the Europeans are greeted with a mixture of warmth and wariness, but are extended remarkable and delightful hospitality. The seventeen sailors who are sick, some of them “in very ill case,” are nursed back to health in a manner they themselves characterize as miraculous or quasi-miraculous, while the rest of the crew enjoys foods and drinks more refreshing and pleasant than any they had ever tasted (39, 44, 43).

Their hosts, in particular the Christian priest acting as governor of the “Strangers’ House,” show them such amazing kindness that they are moved to characterize the island as a “land of angels.” The happy state of Bensalem appears to them as that “worldly thing on earth [most] worthy to be known” (46). Upon learning some details about the political and religious history of the island, and being informed that they would be offered the opportunity to remain in Bensalem “we had work enough to get any of our men to look to our ship, and to keep them from going presently to the governor to crave conditions”. After a further period of time visiting the city and its inhabitants, “at whose hands we found such humanity, and such a freedom and desire to take strangers as it were into their bosom” the narrator informs us that the Europeans “forgot all that was dear to [them] in [their] own countries” (60). By this, the mid-point of their month long sojourn on the island (indeed, the mid-point of the tale itself), the European crew, with perhaps one exception, believe themselves to have found their true home. Bensalem, we are to see, is the answer to the needs and to the longings of European man.

And yet the work goes on. While we hear almost nothing more of the crew, we are allowed to follow the narrator, who alone seems yet unsatisfied, first to a public feast in honor of a particularly prolific father, and then to a private conversation about this feast and Bensalem’s marriage laws with the one living character said to be “wise” and of “great policy,” and finally to an historically unprecedented interview with a “Father of Salomon’s House,” one of the priestly-scientists of Bensalem, who discloses the organization and operation of the island’s semi-secretive scientific research institute. At the conclusion of this interview, the narrator is personally charged with publishing the account of Salomon’s House “for the good of other nations” (83). And so the tale ends.

Now it goes without saying that an adequate interpretation of this curious tale called New Atlantis is not possible on this occasion, but this brief sketch of the work will suffice to make our first point. The discovery of Bensalem saves European man, who would otherwise be lost, or at sea.[24] Moreover, what wins him over, or “converts” him (to borrow Robert Faulkner’s insightful formulation[25]) to Bensalem, are the fruits: its powerful medicine and tasty foods and the extraordinary hospitality or charity of the people, perhaps together with its wondrous history. These suffice to persuade him that Bensalem is his true home.  And insofar as these fruits and so Bensalem’s charm are understood to be the product of the semi-independent institution for the scientific study of nature, we are invited to draw the conclusion that the institutionalization of a “Baconian” or technologically-oriented science is the necessary and sufficient condition for the realization of Bensalem, or a Bensalem-like happiness.

But New Atlantis is more than this. In the course of the tale, we learn that there are other less attractive, or at any rate less unproblematic causes of Bensalem’s preternatural happiness. Bensalem has not dispensed with the necessity of force or coercion, nor is crime unknown.  However invisible, the state has not ‘withered away’. But to call attention simply to the two most important points: Bensalem’s unparalleled happiness still requires religious belief—indeed Bacon clearly indicates that a certain theological or metaphysical view is a precondition for the institutionalized and technologically-oriented science; and, perhaps even more crucially for our purposes, Bensalem’s happiness requires its total isolation, its condition of knowing the world, while being itself unknown to the world.  That this is explicitly said to be so, greatly complicates interpreting the teaching of the work. For it implies that the ‘Bensalemization’ of Europe is impossible. Moreover, inasmuch as Bensalem’s own status as unknown to the outside world is undone at the conclusion of the work, even Bensalem as Bensalem is no longer possible. And as Bacon himself reminds us, “First therefore . . .in all things which are practical, we ought to cast up our account, what is in our power, and what is not.”[26]

What then are we to make of this curious tale?  I propose the following: in New Atlantis (which I am calling the founding document of technological utopianism), we see Bacon showing his reader the political potential of the institutionalization of technological innovation at work.  In the conversion of the European sailors to Bensalem we are to see the possibility of satisfying the souls of the vast majority of humankind by means of scientific technology. For many, not to say most human beings, the plentiful provision of the needs and wants of the body suffices, if not to satisfy, at least to induce a forgetting of their former loves. A political community empowered by a technologically fruitful science, and organized to provide the material needs of the body and an ever proliferating variety of delights, would thus seem to have widespread, near universal appeal. Crafting the work as he has, knowing that it will inspire in most of its readers a desire to work for the “Bensalemization” of Europe, understood as the institutionalization of Baconian science, Bacon encourages the belief that utopia is realizable by means of technological science. And yet, at the same time, he is careful to show those with eyes to see that Bensalem, that is, the closed or self-sufficient political community concerned primarily with internal happiness, is no longer a viable possibility. We are forced to conclude that he is thus deliberately encouraging in his readers a hope he knows to be false or misplaced.  Put another way, Bacon is inviting precisely the confusion of art and law that Aristotle was concerned to make his readers aware and so wary of.

But to what end?  What goal or aim could explain and make intelligible such a ruse? Here we have very few clues.  One, I believe, is the title: New Atlantis. A curious title which is explained nowhere in the work itself. Indeed, Bensalem (literally son or offspring of peace), which keeps almost completely to itself, is remarkably un-Atlantan in character.  So how then is the travel story that tells of the discovery of Bensalem by otherwise lost and doomed European man properly called New Atlantis—and now let us add what follows—A Work Unfinished?  Perhaps the title announces the project made possible by the discovery of Bensalem: a new Atlantis, a new technologically-empowered empire.[27]  We recall that the old Atlantis was destroyed after a failed, but nearly successful bid at total global conquest. Lastly, note that Bensalem’s happiness was conditional upon its isolation, its being hidden from other nations, its being all alone. If such a happiness could ever be realized, it could only be if it were again alone—if there were no other nations.[28]

Enlightenment as Forgetfulness: Or, Technological Utopianism Come of Age:

So we come to see that in its original form technological utopianism is brought forward together with an understanding of its limitations. To be sure, it always tended to encourage oblivion of these limitations, but its authors acted en pleine connaissance de cause.  And so, like any great work of legislation, by the time technological utopianism begins to emerge as force in the world, it does so under a cloud of forgetfulness—forgetfulness of what was known at the origins.  Rarely does this general tendency show itself as clearly as when one compares Condorcet’s Fragment on New Atlantis in the light of the Baconian original.[29]

Cataloguing a full list of Condorcet’s departures from Bacon’s model would be tiring and unnecessary. Suffice it to observe that from its outset, the Fragment is characterized by astonishing imprecision in its restatement of Bacon’s tale, and proceeds from this greatly simplified, often inaccurate sketch to an enumeration of Condorcet’s own amendments. But some errors can be revealing, particularly when they are in the service of a clear end.

We begin with the most obvious. Condorcet’s Fragment includes nothing of the voyage to Bensalem, indeed no mention of Bensalem at all. The particular, geographic, cultural-religious, and political has almost utterly disappeared. What can this mean? In its stead one finds an elaborate articulation of an institution for the scientific study of nature that bears some passing resemblance to Salomon’s House. Condorcet’s Fragment thus testifies to the success of Bacon’s rhetorical effort in the New Atlantis: it imagines the simple transplantation of Salomon’s House into a European Nation.[30] Condorcet himself all but says that the question of which nation is irrelevant. Political differences are of no consequence… so long, that is, that we are considering a “free” nation: free in the sense of oriented by and towards securing the rights of man.

Now already Condorcet’s liberalism indicates a significant departure from Bacon’s own political thought; spelling this out, however, would take us too far a-field. But even in his presentation of the dynamics and organization of the scientific research institute he envisions, he shows a marked failure to appreciate the nuance of the Baconian original. On Condorcet’s telling, for example, the scientists of Salomon’s House are “devoted solely to the pursuit of truth”,[31] whereas in the Baconian original, “The end of [the] foundation is the knowledge of causes and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.” More tellingly still, Bacon’s scientists are granted extraordinary honors, cloaked in all the finest finery, and, at least in public, comport themselves with priestly compassion. Again, in Condorcet’s vision, the enemy of science is “superstitious ignorance”, whereas in the Baconian original, the scientists have their own set of religious rituals and prayers, and the names of their very institution suggest a pious orientation.

As we saw in considering the New Atlantis itself, while Bacon invites the conclusion that the scientific research institution is the sufficient condition of Bensalem’s happiness, he is careful to show that it is not in fact sufficient, indicating that its role is merely the preservation of a happiness that finds its source elsewhere (indeed, in those features of Bensalem that its founder did not create, but was given). In Condorcet, we see but the pale reflection of this Baconian sobriety—so long as the nation is “free”, the tension between the scientist and the political community can be overcome institutionally, and the community can thus benefit from the humane products of methodical, organized and experimental science. That is, so long as the community does not pretend to have authority over the research.  Condorcet is adamant that the political should have no power to influence or direct science (even by limiting or allocating funding).  Again, while the Baconian original tempts one in a similar direction, in fact we see something quite different. The fathers’ of Salomon’s House are self-regulating, but they are also self-censoring, and their guiding criteria is not some a-political or trans-political ideal, but is inseparable from, if it is not simply, the good of the political community (from which they receive their recompense). On the Baconian model there is a recognition of the political as a distinct realm, with a genuine claim to priority and thus rule over the technological science. The scientists can be relied upon to act responsibly precisely because they recognize political health to be the precondition of their own activities, or because they are ruled by their love those things they can only get from the political community.[32]

To summarize the findings of this comparison, in Condorcet’s Fragment, the institutionalization of a technologically-oriented science is imagined in the context of a nameless and faceless but “free” community. This abstracting from every accidental or particular and thus distinguishing feature of actual political entities suggests that such features are rendered irrelevant by this new science. Meanwhile, the political as a distinct and authoritative because end-providing realm, has almost utterly disappeared. Condorcet’s version of Salomon’s House—which, of course, is not called Salomon’s House—bears a stronger resemblance to our own institutionalized scientific research establishment: constantly demanding more funding and less oversight, utterly confident of the justice of its claims, because utterly oblivious to the intractable necessity of politics. Such oblivion is already utopian.

But to see more clearly the direction of Condorcet’s thinking regarding the relation of a useful science and the political state of man, to see technological utopianism come of age as it were, we must briefly turn our attention to Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, and his vision of the 10th and final stage of human history.

Again, we must start with what is clearest. Unlike Bacon’s Bensalem, which howsoever “advanced,” exists in the then contemporary world, Condorcet’s “‘utopia’ is presented as the as yet unrealized result of an historical process. This deceptively simple point—so easily taken for granted by those for whom the very term “utopia” already implies a future state—contains a number of crucial implications. First, it implies that political life admits of progress just as do the arts and sciences. This in turn entails or expresses a negative orientation to the past and a receptive hopefulness about the future, even as it removes history from the realm of chance or providence and places responsibility for it into the hands of men.[33] And what is the source of this new hopefulness, this belief in the possibility of a future fundamentally different from the past?

Insofar as an answer can be discerned from the Sketch, it would seem to be the powers granted to man by art, or rather, by the new, methodical and practically-oriented science, which opens up the possibility of overcoming, to the extent possible: (1) inequality among nations, (2) inequality within nations, and (3) human imperfection.  Condorcet sounds astonishingly like some of our contemporaries (if you’ll forgive my speaking “out of time”) when he speaks of the necessary progress that must be made towards these goals. What is it that has consigned much of the world to poverty and desperation? Bad (that is, incompetent) government, superstition, exploitative trade practices, and a lack of what we would call “development.” For each of these, Condorcet tells us, the solution is at hand: free trade, free government, and, human ingenuity or artfulness. This is all but the utter denial of accident. The “social art”, by which Condorcet means scientific technology and scientific political economy, will triumph over geography, climate, resource distribution, religious tradition and history. And here we glimpse what so often remains concealed in contemporary apologies for globalization; the fulfillment of the vision entails a total politics, or expert-rule over everything.

It is this intransigence in envisioning and spelling out the basic hope of the modern project that makes Condorcet’s Sketch so illuminating. Let us consider for a moment his articulation of the grounds for hope for a triumph over human imperfection, which he characterizes as “almost a certainty.” He begins from the phenomena of scientific progress, and our apparent capacity to become both collectively as well as individually ‘wiser’ by means of generalization and scientific formulae. We can “understand” more and more because our science succeeds in subsuming the particular under the more general. That this is so means that even if our native capacities don’t expand our understanding of and thus authority over the world of things does.

And with every step towards universal equality (of rights), more and more humans are in a position to contribute to mankind’s store of knowledge.  Moreover, since the arts and industry follow the sciences, we can anticipate with every bit as much certainty, the increase in our actual power over circumstance. Scarcity, of time and resource alike, will be overcome. Condorcet pauses to consider the possibility of our population increasing to the point of exhausting our supplies. His reply: birth control and the hope for more and further technological and scientific progress. As for politics, as we have seen already, it admits of progress every bit as sure as that in the other arts and sciences, because, it would seem, it is fundamentally akin to the other arts and sciences. And again, observe the totalitarian trajectory here: “All the causes that contribute to the perfection of the human race, all the means that ensure it must by their very nature exercise a perpetual influence and always increase their sphere of action.”

We cannot fail to note that this vision of social or “civilizational” progress relies upon a spurious analogy to the genuine phenomenon of the individual’s intellectual progress. Here too is evidence of the dangerous confusions that come from a failure to adequately reflect on the fact of our embodiment. For why should the individual sacrifice present goods for a future happy state he won’t himself enjoy, or even work to contribute to a ‘wisdom’ to be enjoyed only by later generations? And if the future happy state can be known as “almost a certainty”, as a destiny, is it not folly to die waiting for it? Why should we not deploy this “knowledge,” together with our ever more powerful arsenal of means, to hurry its arrival? And so we conclude in basic agreement with Reinhart Koselleck’s observation that, “The Enlightenment succumbed to a utopian image which, while deceptively propelling it, helped to produce contradictions which could not be resolved in practice and prepared the way for the Terror and for dictatorship.”[34]

But we today cannot afford to ignore Condorcet’s final move:

“We may conclude then that the perfectibility of man is indefinite.  Meanwhile we have considered him as possessing the natural faculties and organization that he has at present. How much greater would be the certainty, how much vaster the scheme of our hopes if we could believe that these natural faculties themselves and this organization could also be improved?”

The dream of the technological remaking of man himself.  Condorcet imagines the indefinite extension of our lifespan, the total conquest of disease, the eugenic improvement of our senses and faculties, including our moral and intellectual faculties. He imagines unleashing the spirit of Daedalus on the human being, and sees there possibilities beyond even those already announced, possibilities which once imagined, will tempt until they are attempted. “It is the contemplation of this prospect that rewards [the philosopher] for all his efforts to assist the progress of reason and the defense of liberty!” Again, perhaps this contemplation suffices for the “philosopher,” but what of the more numerous and less patient many who demand these expanded faculties and longer lifespans for themselves? The recent and ongoing political controversy over human embryonic stem cell research would seem to indicate that in our mass democracies, such demands can only be temporarily stymied, and that concerns over the morality of availing ourselves of certain means to the end of longer, healthier lives, will be regarded by enthusiasts as a nuisance, or as acts of cruelty to the would-be beneficiaries of the promised powers.

The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century[35]

It is, of course, a foolhardy thing to speak of the lessons of a century, learned or unlearned. Epochs themselves are mute—it is the humans who lived through them, who witnessed what they wrought, that speak to us, and so have something to teach. Indeed, as we have just seen, it is the marriage of this belief that there is a logos to be discerned or heard by attending to the passage of time with technological utopianism that prepares the advent of the great totalitarianisms and thus the struggles against them that are the defining feature of the twentieth century. So let me not be mistaken as claiming a meaning in history itself, but merely that this notion of technological utopianism facilitates our understanding of events so horrible that they all but beggar belief.

I begin by repeating the provocative because both obvious and yet questionable assertion of Leo Strauss that totalitarianism differs from tyranny in its incorporation of modern technological science. The achievements, including the horrors of the great 20th century totalitarianisms are unthinkable apart from the stupefying technological powers man found at his disposal—Total Mobilization, Rapid Industrialization, International Revolution, the camps. But beyond or before these, there is the encounter between radical ideas and technology.

Both European Fascism and Marxism emerge as responses to the perceived failure of the Enlightenment to realize its object or end—which, as we have seen, is (mis)taken to be eutopia. For Marx, capitalism and industry must develop, for they bring into being the productive powers necessary for the realization of the classless society, as well as exacerbating the class conflict so as to necessitate revolution.[36] If there is a critique of technology in Marx, it is surely not that moment of his thought that became effectual in Soviet Communism. And Nazism, as Jeffrey Herf has shown,[37] is by no means anti-modern or nostalgic through and through. At or near the core of the complex of ideas that made up European Fascism is an attempted union of modern technology with an anti-modern vision of culture—this new/old culture must take command of technology, and bring it to bear on ends other than those of bourgeois liberalism. Thus it is surely not the devices or means deployed by these regimes that accounts for their essential horror, or makes them what they are. Rather, as the French political thinker Pierre Manent has observed, whatever totalitarian regimes may have in common with dictatorships and despotism, what distinguishes them is the union of the tyrannical with the utopian impulse; “It is in this utopian kernel that the explanation is to be found of the strange, yet absolutely central role of terror in these regimes”.[38] But whence this “utopian kernel”? If our analysis has not led us astray, it is sown more or less ‘automatically’ and together with the political institutionalization of a technological science.

Let us attempt us to expose the psycho-logic at work here, once again, with the help of an ancient source. In the pages of Herodotus we find a memorable account of the encounter between the Persian tyrant Xerxes and the Hellespont.

When Xerxes had made ready his forces to invade Europe, he ordered two bridges be built across the narrow Hellespont.  Just as the bridge was completed, a storm arose and destroyed both bridges. Xerxes fell into a fury and ordered his men deliver three hundred lashes on the Hellespont and to lower into the water a yoke of fetters. I have heard he also sent branders to brand the Hellespont. And he ordered those who laid on the lashes to say these words, of violent arrogance, worthy of a barbarian: “You bitter water, our master lays this punishment upon you because you have wronged him, though he never did you any wrong. King Xerxes will cross you, whether you will or not; it is with justice that no one sacrifices to you, who are a muddy and a briny river”.[39]

Herodotus proffers this vignette as part of a series that discloses the scope of Xerxes’ immoderation. Accustomed from birth to encounter no limit, no want that cannot be supplied, Xerxes becomes prone to fall into furies at the slightest provocations, any time even his grandest and most hubristic projects are frustrated.[40] The childishness of his tantrums is made the more repulsive by the severity of their consequences. But what is of particular interest to us is his claim of authority, of just rule over even the natural world. Already Xerxes demands that the non-human whole (which for Xerxes does not have the character of nature, as it could be otherwise) acknowledge his claim. Perhaps we might suppose his rage is made intelligible by the fact that he treats the Hellespont as a god,  but his insolence indicates that he does not really believe it to be divine, or, perhaps, that he no longer recognizes the divine as having authority over him, because he regards himself the equal of the gods. So on the one hand, Xerxes’ conviction that he deserves success rests upon his power to effect his will, but when his power encounters a limit, his sense of deserving or justice takes on a life of its own, so to speak, and precludes his acknowledging the limit as a limit, that is, as disclosing his dependence.

So now let us imagine Xerxes empowered with technological science, or rather, a Xerxean imagination reared within a technologically-opened horizon. The range of possible action is suddenly massively expanded, indeed it is suddenly indefinite, and readily mistaken to be infinite. Control over the whole of nature, and, with the re-integration of history and nature implied in the acceptance of evolution, control over even the future seems to be at hand.`[41] With politics as a distinct and sovereign realm gone because understood to be simply another instrument, every remaining limit to the free exercise of one’s will is encountered as a merely temporary and thus accidental or meaningless obstacle to be dealt with or gotten around as one can. There is no longer any question of right or wrong, there is only puzzle-solving, or administration, that is, the deployment of the requisite means to achieve the desired outcome. With a shudder, we are led to recall Arendt’s formulation: “Everything is possible.”

Conclusion

The price of the institutionalization of a technological science, of bringing it into the service of the polity, is that we live thereafter always in the midst of a “utopian drift,” at risk of succumbing to its current. We will always be inclined to mistake politics for an art or techne, thereby effecting the dissolution of the political as the realm that sets or voices the guiding limits to man’s willful action and thus to the other arts. And as the sphere of human action is massively and continually expanding, as man finds himself able to order and thus responsible for ordering more and more of the whole, even the unfolding of the whole or the future, we are tempted to a mistaken belief that we can do anything. Together these confusions invite the conclusion that we are on the verge of a complete solution to the problem of politics, that we can find (or make) our wholeness together, that our deep-seated longing for justice can be satisfied here on earth. But precisely in their impatient and resolute efforts to act on this conclusion, the totalitarianisms of the last century disclosed to us our true predicament, the crisis of our situation: with both nature and politics gone as limits to our willing, and with the parallel and not unrelated disappearance of religious orthodoxy, our will encounters no limits to give its exercise meaning. It encounters nothing. Our technological utopianism is in fact technological nihilism.

But haven’t we learned this lesson? Haven’t we heard over and over again that the twentieth century has cured us of our unfulfillable demands, our utopianism, including our belief in the omnipotence of human art or technique? Here, we must be cautious. There is no clearer indication of the power of the modern hope than that its only real or thoroughgoing critiques—those of Rousseau and Nietzsche—were accepted and internalized as critiques of social and economic inequality or alienation or bourgeois egalitarianism, and so brought into the service of ever more radical efforts to realize utopia. Today, I submit, we see all around us the signs of a forgetting of what we supposedly learned as a consequence of the horrors of the twentieth century. This should not come as a surprise. For the present analysis has suggested that our collective pursuit of technological mastery over nature, while almost universally conceived of and described as simply a quest for ever greater power, is in fact thoroughly infused with a utopian—that is, justice-seeking—concern. Technological utopianism is thus the form which the universal longing (and thus theoretical imperative) for a guiding image or idea of the best possible community of men resurfaces and exerts its influence within modernity. And part of what makes technological utopianism so difficult to address and thus discipline is what makes it so difficult of access: our proudly asserted belief that we are free of utopianism, that we are the realists, that we have given up such childish dreams. And so we deny that we still long for the old god, mocking those who do not, even as we secretly and often unbeknownst to ourselves keep the sacrificial flame burning in our inmost hearts.

 

Notes

[1] Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 21.

[2] Howard P. Segal, Technological Utopianism in American Culture (Syracuse: Syracuse, 2005), 1.

[3] Elizabeth Sadler, “One Book’s Influence: Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward,New England Quarterly 17 (1944): 530-555.

[4] To be precise, Segal’s study seems to indicate that only Bellamy enjoyed much success and influence.  But this said, the tradition of technological utopias (and thus of technological utopianism) in America is also less momentary than Segal allows.  Consider J. A. Etzler’s 1833 manifesto Paradise Within Reach of All Men, and, above all, Tocqueville’s remarks on American enthusiasm for a literature “of the ideal” directed towards the future, and focused on man’s conquest of his natural surroundings: “Democratic peoples scarcely worry about what has been, but they willingly dream of what will be, and in this direction their imagination has no limits; here it stretches and enlarges itself beyond measure . . . Europe is much occupied with the wilderness of America, but the Americans themselves scarcely think of it.  The marvels of inanimate nature find them insensible, and they so to speak perceive the admirable forests that surround them only at the moment at which they fall by their strokes.  Their eyes are filled with another spectacle.  The American people sees itself advance across this wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature.  This magnificent image of themselves is not offered only now and then to the imagination of the Americans; one can say that it follows each of them in the least of his actions as in his principal ones, and that it is always there, dangling before his intellect.” Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America, trans. Mansfield and Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), II. 1.17.

[5] Segal’s definition is, “a mode of thought and activity that vaunts technology as the means of bringing about utopia” (10).

[6] I have been helped in my understanding of the meaning of this fable by Leon Kass’ commentary in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis.  Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 217-243.

[7] For some further remarks on the relevance of this mythos to contemporary man, see the opening paragraphs of Michael Oakeshott’s essay “Tower of Babel” in Rationalism in Politics. Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics (New York: Methuen, 1981), 59-61.

[8] I have borrowed this, Sir Richard Jebb’s translation from the appendix to David Tabachnick’s “Techne, Technology and Tragedy, ” Techne, 7.3 (2004).  For an alternative translation and extraordinarily provocative commentary, see Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale, 2000), 158-176.

[9] Empedocles, Fragment 111. Translation by M. R. Wright in Empedocles: The Extant Fragments (New Haven: Yale, 1981), 261.

[10] Xenophon, Memorabilia, I. 1, 15, with 12.

[11] It is worth noting that for Plato’s Socrates, inequality of wealth is of concern because innovation is of concern.  Technological utopianism in its full blown form (in the writings of Condorcet, Saint-Simon, and Fourier, among others) will justify itself in part, by promising an end to economic inequality.

[12] Thomas Pangle’s translation.  Plato, The Laws of Plato, trans. Thomas Pangle (New York: Basic Books, 1980).

[13] If such power finds a place in the city of the Republic, it could only be in the hands of the philosopher king, who alone is free to lie and deceive.  See Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 298-9.

[14] Diskin Clay and Andrea Purvis (Four Island Utopias, 90) translate the relevant passage from the Critias: “But when the divine portion in them began to grow faint as it was often blended with great draughts of mortality and as their human nature gained ascendancy at the moment in their inability to bear their great good fortune, they become disordered.”  Diskin Clay and Andrea Purvis, Four Island Utopias (Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 1999), 121a-b.  See also Laws, 697b-c.

[15] What little is known about Hippodamus is helpfully reviewed in John C. Hogan’s “Hippodamus on the Best Form of Government and Law.” The Western Political Quarterly, 12 (1958), 763-783.

[16] Quotations from Carnes Lord’s translation. Aristotle, The Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

[17] On Hippodamus’s proclivity to three-fold divisions, see Aristotle’s De Caelo (268a10-20) and Hogan’s essay, especially regarding Hippodamus’ connections to the Pythagoreans (767). Later in the Politics, we learn that Hippodamus was also a proponent of rational order in town planning, a fashion Aristotle singles out for particular criticism (1330b20-31).  Politics resists mathematical precision, even that which reflects the truth about nature.

[18] Federalist 49.

[19] For example, Politics 1330b31-1331a6

[20] E.g., Novum Organum, I. 129.

[21] Benjamin Farrington, Francis Bacon: Philosopher of Industrial Science (New York, 1949), 48.  Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart cite the same speech, but with a view to a separate point in Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon 1561-1628 (London, 1999), 256-7.

[22] My quotation is from an unpublished translation by Heidi Studer.  For a helpful interpretation of the fable that gets to the heart of the matter, see her “Francis Bacon on the Political Dangers of Scientific Progress,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 31 1998, 219-234.

[23] Citations to New Atlantis and Great Instauration will be page numbers from New Atlantis and The Great Instauration, ed. Jerry Weinberger (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1989).  Cf. Aristotle’s Politics, 1260b29, 1265a17, 1288b23, 1325b23-39, 1327a4, 1331b21, Plato, Laws, 688c.

[24] As the Instauratio makes clear (not least in its frontispiece), Bacon uses seafaring as a metaphor for science, and likens his new science to the discovery of the compass making possible open-sea navigation “beyond the pillars of fate”, as opposed to the mere “coastal voyages” to which the ancients were confined (7, 13, 20, 21).  See also my unpublished dissertation, “Anti-Utopia: A Reading of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis” 16-23.

[25] Robert K. Faulkner, Francis Bacon and the Project of Progress (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993), 233, 236-9, 249.

[26] Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. Jerry Weinberger (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2001), II, xxii, 3.

[27] Faulkner, 233-6, together with Craig, chapters 1, 2, and 5.

[28] On the contrast of ancient and modern “utopianism,” see Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, eds. Gourevitch and Roth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 210-11. On the possibility of a falsehood that points to the truth, see the same author’s Socrates and Aristophanes, 312, together with Bacon’s remarks on the purposes of ‘poesy’ in The Advancement, II. iv.

[29] I know of only one other attempt at such a comparison:  David Lachterman, “The Conquest of Nature and the Ambivalence of Man in the French Enlightenment: Reflections on Condorcet’s Fragment sur L’Atlantide,Man God and Nature in the Enlightenment, eds. Donald C. Mell Jr., Theodore E.D. Braun and Lucia M. Palmer (East Lansing: Colleagues, 1988).

[30] On the influence of New Atlantis, particularly on the founding of the Royal Society and so ‘institutionalized science’, see Richard Foster Jones’ Ancients and Moderns, and William Lynch, Solomon’s Child: Method in the Early Royal Society of London.

[31] For Condorcet’s Fragment and Sketch, I will quote from Keith Michael Baker’s  Condorcet: Selected Writings (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976).

[32] Studer, especially 228-231.

[33] As Koselleck (among many others) has observed, “the divine, heretofore impervious plan of salvation was itself transformed . . . into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988) 10.  But this observation requires the supplemental one that the major alternative pre-modern conceptions of so-called history—the visible whole is of finite duration, and the eternal recurrence of the cycle of progress and decay punctuated by civilization-ending cataclysms—have been silently dispensed with.  Belief in the possibility of indefinite progress requires a faith in a indefinite length of future time, a faith that can only have a biblical basis.  On this point, see Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return?”, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 19997) 95-97.

[34] Critique and Crisis, 2

[35] I borrow this title from the book by Chantel Delsol, The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century: An Essay on Late Modernity (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books: 2006).

[36] For a brief, but clear and direct presentation of Marx’s attitude towards the Baconian project to master nature, see William Leiss’ The Domination of Nature (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974), especially chapter 4.

[37] Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1984).

[38] Pierre Manent, Modern Liberty and its Discontents, Eds. Mahoney and Seaton, (New York: Roman and Littlefield, 1998), 139.

[39] Paraphrase based on David Grene’s translation.

[40] Laws, 695c-696a.

[41] Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 597.

 

This was originally published with the same title in Technology, Science, and Democracy, Lee Trepanier, ed. (Southern Utah University Press, 2008).

Tobin Craig

Written by

Tobin Craig is a Professor of Political Science at the James Madison College at Michigan State University. His studies focus on the intersection between modern political philosophy and modern science and technology and is currently at work on a book length study of the unity of Francis Bacon's scientific and political thought as well as a study of the place of technology in American political thought.