War in Ukraine, emergence of reactionary ideas, climate crisis … The philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin publishes let’s wake up, an appeal to the conscience to refrain “review events as sleepwalkers”. It reiterates that it is urgent “thinking the future”, the need to “expect the unexpected to know how to navigate in uncertainty”. Edgar Morin, who celebrated his 100th birthday in July 2021, was not surprised by the Russian attack on Ukraine: in the interview he gave to franceinfo, he remembers that he had warned about “risk of infection” of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. He also evokes, to regret them, the intellectual decline of the left and the success of “reactionary France”. And he meditates on the future, his own and the world’s.
franceinfo: You publish Let’s wake up! as an echo twelve years later to another call, the thinker and opponent Stéphane Hessel, Be indignant! Do you want us out of some kind of lethargy?
Edgar Morin: said Stéphane Hessel be indignant, he addressed people who were already awake! Personally, I have the impression that we experience events a bit like sleepwalkers. By the way, what I lived in my youth, in the ten years that preceded the war. I ask to try to see and understand what is happening. Otherwise, we will suffer the events that we unfortunately suffered during the last world war.
You were a resistance fighter, a fighter when France experienced war. And you are one of the rare French intellectuals who has been elevated to the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor in a military capacity. How do you experience this return to war in Europe?
Of course there is a surprise, but not the total page in an article I wrote in The world in 2014, at the time of the Ukrainian crisis and already the division of the Russian-speaking provinces of Crimea, I said: beware, this is a hotbed of infection, which risks having catastrophic consequences. And for years, we turned a blind eye to this infection. There was a permanent small war in Ukraine, and basically the real problem is that in addition to the fate of Ukraine, which wanted to be democratic and integrated into the EU, it was an exchange for two superpowers: Putin’s Russia. , who dreamed of finding the great Russia and absorbing it, and the Western world, the United States, who dreamed of integrating it into the West.
The big difference is that during this very strong conflict, but still remained without war, said the President of the United States, while giving uncompromising support in words: I do not go to war. From the start, there was an imbalance. And today we are in a kind of contradiction, because on the one hand we believe that the Ukrainian resistance is right – it is a patriotic war – but at the same time we think that if we go into this conflict, we risk it, Dominique de Villepin called a “world tsunami”: step by step, arriving at an explosion.
“On the one hand, we want to support a country that is resisting, and on the other hand, we can not do it completely, that is, go into war. And we are in the middle: we provide weapons and supplies.”Edgar Morin
at france info
How do you look at these Ukrainians, these Ukrainians, who are taking up arms to defend their country against the Russians?
To me, they are resistance fighters who this time are resisting with a national army, whereas we were disarmed resistance fighters. I think it’s very beautiful, but I also think we can not allow ourselves to be drawn into the logic of war and intervene militarily. So I feel this contradiction that we all experience and that we have to accept.
Your three favorite authors are Russian: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov. Do they help you understand today’s war?
No, it helps me above all because they carry within them a Russian humanism which, unlike Western humanism, which is mostly abstract, is concrete. He is full of compassion for human suffering and misery. And what these writers taught me, very deeply, is this humanism of compassion with suffering. But when Tolstoy writes War and peace and that he makes analyzes of the Russian resistance war against Napoleon that are much more reminiscent of the conquest that Hitler wanted to make of Russia than this huge Russia’s takeover of little Ukraine.
Interview with Edgar Morin: Ukraine and Russia
In two weeks, the first round of the presidential election will take place, and you are writing your book in this context. “The 2022 Presidential Election Campaign, are you writing, shows how much reactionary France has today taken precedence over humanistic France. And you’re not surprised?
It is a process that I have not stopped analyzing and I have come to see the deterioration. It is the series of crises we have experienced for some time that today explains this great development in reactionary France. You have to keep in mind that everywhere in the world there is a crisis of democracy, a crisis of progress. We believed for a long time that progress was certain, a historic law, and we realize that the future is more and more uncertain and worrying. There is the crisis of the future, the anxiety, the crises that have happened: economic in 2008, then the pandemic. The worries that this creates evoke a withdrawal, a closure of oneself, a fear, a desire to defend an identity that is, incidentally, mythological. The characteristic of the French identity, which has been built up over the centuries, is to have integrated very different peoples from each other, Alsatians, Flemings, Bretons, Corsicans, etc.
Mythified French identity, you say, especially by Éric Zemmour, whose ideas you want to fight in your book. It captures, you say, the worst myth of modern nationalism: ethnic cleansing.
France is both one and the majority. This is something that Zemmour completely denies. I contradict this by recalling what France really is. It has several tribes, but at the same time its true historical tribe is the one created from the revolution and the republic.
How to explain a kind of defeat for left-wing intellectuals and politicians who failed to give answers, failed to make themselves heard?
First of all, it must be said that there was a crisis for socialist ideas. Socialism had a very well-articulated theory, a conception of man, of the world, of history, formulated by Marx. And today, this theory has big gaps.
“You have to rethink the world, rethink history, and the left parties have absolutely not done that.”Edgar Morin
at france info
There is a political crisis of thought in general, and especially on that side. As for left-wing intellectuals, they have not responded to the intellectual’s mission, which is very important today. Because we are in a world of experts and specialists, each of whom sees only a small part of the problems, isolated from each other. And today there is actually this shortcoming. And today it is the intellectual spokesmen of reactionary France who have taken over.
We talked about the war in Ukraine in the light of the nuclear threat. You also dedicate one of the four chapters of your book to global warming. Under these circumstances, is it possible to think about the future with serenity?
We can not rest assured of such worrying prospects. What I wanted to show, even before the war in Ukraine was, is that since Hiroshima, a sword of Damocles is on the heads of all people, and that it has gotten worse with the ecological crisis, where it really is the biosphere, the living world and our society that is threatened. It’s not just the climate. The climate is an element of this general crisis, and the pandemic has also added to the global nature of the crisis.
I think we have entered a new period. For the first time in history, humanity risks extinction, perhaps not total – there will be a few survivors, as in Mad Max – but a kind of “restart” from scratch under undoubtedly terrible sanitary conditions. . It is this danger that I had already diagnosed as potential that suddenly becomes topical with this story of the Russian war.
“We have entered a period of such chaos that we can not see in which direction the development of the world will go. And my problem is that I would like to see what the future holds.”Edgar Morin
at france info
Some thinkers like to look at the past, others at the present. And you, do we have the impression that what you like best is to think about the future?
But you know, we can only think about the future if we are aware of the past and what is happening in the present. We can not think about the future alone. And today, the future depends on these great currents, which cross humanity, and which are threatening and regressive. So I think it’s urgent to think about the future. Why ? For until now, we believed that the future was a kind of straight line that would continue. You have to imagine different scenarios. It is necessary to be vigilant. You should expect the unexpected to know how to navigate in uncertainty. There are a whole host of reforms, the way of thinking, behaving, that are needed today.
Thinking about the future, the future of humanity, does it give you time to think about yours?
I have very little future! I live now intensely, precisely through all the events and especially this war in Ukraine. I’m trying to reflect on the future, but I want to see a little more clearly. I would like to live a little longer to see how human history takes shape. So I live my own future day by day. I live in vigilance and in the interest of the world and therefore of its future.
Interview with Edgar Morin: the presidential election, the left, the future
Let’s wake up! by Edgar Morin, Denoël editions