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Ontheessenceoftheideaofgrowth

Howdoweaspeopledealwithourfinality?Andwhathasthatgottodowithgrowthcriticism?AninterviewwithphilosopherProfessorLudgerHeidbrink.

Woodcut showing 4 riders and some people
gemeinfrei

Peoplehavehadvisionsoftheendoftheworldoratleastofcivilisationformanycenturies.AlbrechtDrersFourHorsemenoftheApocalypse,woodcut,1498

unizeit:YourresearchprojectiscalledFiniteworldandopenfuture.Finalityandgrowthcriticismincontemporarypoliticalthought.Itbeganintheautumnandissettorunforthreeyears.Whatistheideabehindit?

ProfessorLudgerHeidbrink:Tobecorrect,Iamnotworkingonthisalone,butincooperationwithmycolleague,politicalscientistTineStein,whorecentlytransferredtotheUniversityofGttingen.Initially,whatinterestedusherewasthisonequestion:whatistheoriginofthepersistenceoftheideaofgrowth,whichnotonlyshapestheeconomybutalsothewholeofsocietyandalmosteveryindividual?Foratleast50yearsIwillonlynametheClubofRomereportLimitstoGrowthof1972herewehavetalkedaboutthelimitsofgrowth.Butstill,wecannotgetawayfromprogressandaugmentationofwealth.Thisalmostbearsthetraitsofanobsession.

Howdoyouaimtoapproachthesubject?

Weareinterestednotintheeconomic,butinthementalsideofgrowth.Wewanttoknowwhyitissoingrainedinourmindsandwhetherthatpossiblyhassomethingtodowiththeoriginallyreligiouslymotivatedideaoftheendofhistory,whichleadstotheLastJudgement.Itiscleartoseethat,withsecularisationfromthe18thcenturyonwards,theChristiannotionofsalvationwasreplacedbytheideaofprogressandtheideaofagrowthofhumanity.

Ludger Heidbrink in his office
MartinGeist

LudgerHeidbrinkconsiderstheconnectionbetweenbeliefingrowthandfinality.

Whatexactlydoesthatmean?

Ourapproachisbasedon,amongotherthings,thecoincidenceoflife-timeandworld-timedescribedbyphilosopherHansBlumenberg.Giventheimmeasurablespatialandalsotemporaldimensionsoftheuniverse,ourownlife-timeissosmallthatitactuallyhasnothingtodowithworld-time.Thischangeswiththestartofthemodernage:world-timeoverlapslife-timetoacertainextentandmergeswithit.Hitler,forexample,nolongermadeanydistinctionatall,inprinciple,betweenhislife-timeandworld-time.

Hebelievedthatinhisownlife-timehehadtobringtheThirdReichasacomprehensiveactofsalvationacrossthewholeglobe.Thankfully,becausepeopledonotnormallythinkinthisway,theyhavetoapproachthematterinadifferentway.SalvationisnolongerbroughtbytheLastJudgementbutbyprogress,theeternalpursuitofaugmentationandimprovement.Carpediemaspostulateofgrowth.Makethemostoutofthedayasyoudonothaveanendlesssupplyofthem.

ThisnotionaltransformationhasitsoriginsintheChristianreligionanditssecularisation.InhisworkTheProtestantEthic(DieprotestantischeEthik),MaxWeberdescribeshowthepursuitofmaterialwealthcombinedwithmodestlivingwasregardedasproofofgodlinessandcontributedtotheemergenceofcapitalism.Thisisthecaseineverydaylife,too:wegenerallywanttomakethebestoutofourlivesandno-onevoluntarilygoeswithoutormakestheirsituationworse.Interestingly,evengoingwithoutisdoneinordertohaveabetterlife,asinthemottolessismore.

Nevertheless,therearemanypeoplewhocriticisethefetishformoreandmore.

ThisiswhatmycolleagueTineSteinisfocusingoninthesecondpartoftheproject.SheislookingatauthorslikeHansJonas,RudolfBahro,HoimarvonDitfurthorCarlAmery,i.e.peoplewhohaveinsistentlywarnedagainsttheconsequencesofendlessgrowthfordecades.Theapocalypticdimensioninherentinthesewarningsisstriking.Inprinciple,themessageis:ifhumanitydoesnotmakearadicalreversal,earthisdoomed.Andfollowingtheselinesofthought,too,wewouldagainhituponthesecularisedversionoftheLastJudgement.

Itseemstheseend-of-timevisionsarealltherageagainrightnow.

Theclimatemovementhasapocalypticelementsthatassumedangerousdimensionsattimes.Talkingabouttheclimateemergencyisahistorical.ItmasksthefactthatemergencyregulationscontributedtothefalloftheWeimarRepublicandthattheycanbeusedtointerferewiththeparliamentaryconstitutionwiththejustificationofwantingtopreventadisaster.Withgrowthcriticismsincethe1970s,arhetorichasbeenusedthathasthepowertoquestionourdemocraticfoundations.

Soisitalljustscaremongeringaboutclimatematters?

No,ofcoursenot,thedangerisrealandcannotbedenied.Iamsimplyaskingforalessextremeperspective.Wehavetofindasolutiontothegrowthprobleminaliberalanddemocraticmanner.

ThisinterviewwasconductedbyMartinGeist.

GermanResearchFoundation(DFG)projectsonPoliticsandEthicsofFinality

TheprojectFiniteworldandopenfuture.FinalityandgrowthcriticismincontemporarypoliticalthoughtbyProfessorLudgerHeidbrinkandpoliticalscientistProfessorTineSteinoftheUniversityofGttingenispartofatriplepackageofsupportprovidedtoKielUniversitybytheGermanResearchFoundation(DFG)forresearchonthesubjectoffinalityandgrowthcriticismuptoautumn2022.ThisalsoincludesaprojectbyKiel-basedenvironmentalethicistProfessorKonradOttonEthicalLifeandSustainabilityinaPost-GrowthSociety.Finally,inthethirdpartoftheproject,ProfessorSteinisconsideringthepossibilitiesofanecologicaltransformationofsociety.

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