War in Ukraine, presidential campaign, climate crisis… Edgar Morin’s view of the state of the world

The sociologist and essayist Edgar Morin was not surprised by the Russian attack against Ukraine: in the interview he gave to franceinfo, he recalls that he had warned about the “risk of infection” of the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. He also evokes, to regret them, the intellectual rout of the left and the success of “reactionary France”. And meditates on the future, his own and that of the world.

franceinfo: Twelve years after another call, that of the thinker and resistant Stéphane Hessel Be indignant! you want to get us out of a form of lethargy?

Edgar Morin: Stéphane Hessel said be indignanthe was addressing people who were already awake!

“Me, I have the impression that we undergo events a bit like sleepwalkers.”

Edgar Morin

at franceinfo

What I lived, moreover, in my youth, in the ten years which preceded the war. I ask to try to see and understand what is happening. Otherwise, we will suffer the events as, unfortunately, we suffered the last World War.

You were a resistance fighter, a fighter when France experienced war. And you are one of the rare French intellectuals to have 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 total since in an article that I wrote in The world in 2014, when there was this Ukrainian crisis and already the split of the Russian-speaking provinces in Crimea, I said: be careful, this is a hotbed of infection which risks having disastrous consequences. And for years, we turned a blind eye to this infection. There was a permanent little war in Ukraine and basically, the real problem too is that, in addition to the fate of Ukraine, which wanted to be democratic and integrate into the European Union, it was the stake, a prey for two superpowers: Putin’s Russia, which dreamed of finding the great Russia and of absorbing it, and the Western world, the United States which dreamed of integrating it into the West.

The big difference is that during this very strong conflict, but still remained without war, the President of the United States, at the same time as he gave uncompromising support in words, said: Me, I don’t 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 think that the Ukrainian resistance is right, it is a patriotic war, but at the same time we think that if we enter this conflict, we risk what Villepin called a “world tsunami”: step by step, arriving at the explosion.

“On the one hand, we want to support a country that is resisting and on the other hand, we cannot do it completely, that is to say enter the war. And we are in an in-between: we provides weapons and supplies.”

Edgar Morin

at franceinfo

How do you view these Ukrainians, these Ukrainians, who take up arms to defend their country against the Russians?

For me, they are resistance fighters who, this time, resist with a national army, while we were disarmed resistance fighters. I think it’s very beautiful, but I also think that we cannot let ourselves 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 writers are Russian: Dostoyevsky, 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 authors taught me, very deeply, is this humanism of compassion for suffering. But when Tolstoy writes War and peace and that he makes analyzes of the war of Russian resistance to Napoleon, that brings to mind much more the conquest that Hitler wanted to make of Russia than the absorption by this enormous Russia of the little Ukraine.

Interview with Edgar Morin: Ukraine and Russia

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In two weeks the first round of the presidential election takes place and you write your book in this context. “The campaign for the presidential election of 2022, you write, shows how reactionary France has today taken precedence over humanist France.” And you’re not surprised?

It is a process that I have not ceased to analyze and I have come to see the aggravation. It is the succession of crises that we have been experiencing for quite some time that today explains this great development of reactionary France. You have to think that all over the world there is a crisis of democracies, a crisis of progress. We believed for a long time that progress was certain, a historical 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 anxieties that this creates provoke a retraction, a closing in on oneself, a fear, a desire to defend an identity which, moreover, is mythological. The characteristic of the French identity, which has been built over centuries, is to have integrated very different peoples from each other, Alsatians, Flemings, Bretons, Corsicans, etc.

Mythified French identity, you say, notably by Éric Zemmour, whose ideas you want to combat in your book. It takes up, you say, the worst myth of modern nationalisms: ethnic cleansing.

France is both one and plural. This is something that Zemmour totally denies. I contradict this by recalling what France really is. It has several strains, but at the same time, its true historical strain is that which was created from the Revolution and the Republic.

How do you explain a form of defeat for left-wing intellectuals and politicians who failed to provide answers, failed to make themselves heard?

First of all, it must be said that there was a crisis of socialist ideas. Socialism had for it a very well articulated theory, a conception of man, of the world, of history, formulated by Marx. And today, this theory has huge gaps.

“You have to rethink the world, rethink history, and the left parties have absolutely not done that.”

Edgar Morin

at franceinfo

There is a crisis of political thought in general, and particularly on that side. As for the intellectuals on the left, they have not responded to the mission of the intellectual, which is very important today because we are in a world of experts and specialists who each sees only a small end of the problems, isolated from each other. And there is indeed this deficiency today. And it is today the intellectual spokespersons of reactionary France who hold the upper hand.

We talked about the war in Ukraine, against the backdrop of the nuclear threat. You also dedicate one of the four chapters of your book to global warming. Is it possible, under these conditions, to think about the future with serenity?

We cannot be serene in the face of such worrying prospects. What I wanted to show, even before there was the war in Ukraine, is that since Hiroshima, a sword of Damocles is on the head of all human beings and that it has worsened with the crisis ecological where it is really the biosphere, the living world and our societies that are 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 character of the crisis.

I think we have entered a new period. For the first time in history, humanity risks perhaps not total annihilation, there will be a few survivors, as in Mad Max, but a kind of restart from zero in doubtless appalling sanitary conditions. It is this danger that I had already diagnosed as potential which, suddenly, becomes current with this story of the Russian war.

“We have entered a period of such chaos that we cannot see in which direction the evolution of the world will go. And my problem is that I would like to see how the future is shaping up.”

Edgar Morin

at franceinfo

Some thinkers like to look at the past, others at the present. And you, do we have the impression that what you like the most is thinking 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 cannot think of 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 is urgent to think about the future. Why ? Because until now, we believed that the future was a kind of straight line that was going to continue. You have to imagine different scenarios. It’s necessary to be vigilant. You have to expect the unexpected to know how to navigate uncertainty. There is a whole series of reforms, the way of thinking, of behaving which are necessary today.

Thinking about the future, the future of humanity, does that give you time to think about yours?

I have very little future! I live the present intensely, precisely through all the events and especially this war in Ukraine. I try to reflect on the future, but I would like to see a little more clearly. I would like to live a little longer to see how human history is taking shape. So I live day by day my own future. I live in the vigilance and in the interest for the world and therefore for its future.

Interview with Edgar Morin: the presidential election, the left, the future

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Let’s wake up! by Edgar Morin, published by Denoël

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