The Decadence of Industrial Democracies by Bernard Stiegler. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011. 194pp., £16.99, ISBN 9780745648101
Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2014 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 12, Issue 1, pages 109–110, January 2014
How to Cite
Ertuna-Howison, I. (2014), The Decadence of Industrial Democracies by Bernard Stiegler. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011. 194pp., £16.99, ISBN 9780745648101 . Political Studies Review, 12: 109–110. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12041_34
- Issue published online: 8 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
The first translated book of Bernard Stiegler's three-volume work, Disbelief and Discredit, studies the cultural impasses of Western society. Following the ideas developed in his monumental Technics and Time, Stiegler focuses on the particular relationship individuals form with their technological environment in contemporary capitalist society. For the French philosopher, technics is at the heart of human individuation. In other words, our species becomes human by virtue of exteriorising our psychic capacities such as memory and through the use of tools such as writing. These tools, in turn, affect the ways in which humans function in the world. Stiegler perceives a fatal flaw in the way that individuation occurs under the current conditions of the capitalist epoch: the process of individuation is halted by the destructive mechanism of consumerism that employs current technologies. He illustrates this problem precisely by the state of leisure (or lack thereof) in capitalist society, where it has become synonymous with consumption.
Like many before him, Stiegler also pinpoints what he observes as the contradiction in capitalism through this lengthy analysis of the effects of the culture industry on the human psyche. In Stiegler's account, Western societies are facing a critical challenge which revolves around the difficulty of maintaining the life-affirming, individual desire despite the existence of a homogenising, self-effacing consumerist culture. New media technologies reduce libidinal energy into calculable and regulated units and hence hinder the articulation of desire. In other words, capitalism digs its own grave by expunging individual desire which is its effective driving force.
The question of whether this is a significant intervention in the long history of the culture industry debates remains to be seen. The alienating effects of culture within capitalism have always been a central discussion in Marxism, and it is likely that this study will lead to further comparisons of Stiegler's thought with those of contemporary Marxists. Certain concepts (grammatisation, mnemo-technics, protention, etc.) might seem convoluted for readers unacquainted with Stiegler's thought. However, the study of actual transformations taking place in society through these concepts could also facilitate an engagement with his philosophy. Stiegler's counsel with regard to the cultural policies of the European Union, which is undergoing a turbulent existential crisis, endows the present study with practical and timely value. It is a moral responsibility for the intellectual to transform lofty ideas into tools that could overcome misery. As such, it is enthralling to see one of the most innovative of contemporary philosophers discussing earthly matters.