Raphaël Liogier's 'The Religion to Come'

raphael-liogierRaphaël Liogier has written a big book, not of course only from the point of view of length–sociologists and futurologists have long accustomed us to still more doughty blockbusters-but definitely from the point of view of its scope and in-depth perspective.This of course can be partly traced back to Liogier’s self-imposed turbo- charged training curriculum: he simultaneously studied philosophy at the university and political science and sociology at Sciences Po, Aix-en-Provence, before going on to run the gauntlet of transplantation from the ‘continental’ to the ‘analytic, so-called anglo-saxon’ schools of philosophical method, daring to spend one or two fairly embattled years in the philosophy departments of Edinburgh and Oxford. This ‘irregular’ trajectory – or still often considered as such by Europe’s jealously guarded national academic establishments – has enabled him to develop some decidedly original angles of approach to  - and depths of insight into  - a subject which might well have spawned just another exercise in pseudo-scientific extrapolation of current trends and technologies, or even just yet another luddite pamphlet  against the dangers of liberalism and its demon child, individualism.

 Yet Liogier’s book – published a year ago now in one of France’s most prestigious publishing houses, and still untranslated into English (as though metanarrative discourse on contemporary society had now somehow become the monopoly of certain influential American think-tanks and as if the salad days of French Theory were now decidedly a thing of the past, and no other kind of French thinker were to be allowed to exist) – falls into neither of these well-worn categories.

What interests our author-researcher – now holder of the Religious Sociology chair founded by Bruno Etienne at Sciences Po, Aix – is neither technocratic extrapolation, still less market research, but the seeking for meaning behind the surface of phenomena, which definitely places him in a ‘continental’ perspective, that of phenomenology - while applying the latter to an unusual, initially rather ‘Anglo-Saxon’ set of ‘objects’, the new trends in contemporary religiosity, understood in the widest of senses - including such apparent philosophical ‘trivia’, as new life-styles, ‘body cultures’, modes of consumption, evolving cults and new religious movements, trends in care, medicine and psychology – without falling immediately into any negative, dystopian form of dialectics, as formerly might easily have been expected of a budding French theorist.

For Raphaël Liogier, the deep trend, the stellar wind of our time is indeed neither ‘red’, nor ‘brown’, nor even ‘green’, but rather a sort of  deep, amniotic, planetary blue – neutral, almost extraterrestrial, but which simultaneously contains all the shimmering, multiple individual nuances of the rainbow. Accordingly, in this book, Souci de soi, Conscience du Monde, certainly the most important statement or synthesis of his thought to date, he starts out by announcing a certain number of what appear to be good tidings. First and foremost, a very good piece of news, not the least for Religious sociologists and other specialists of the sacred (whether they actually believe or not): Religion (or at least, Religiosity?), despite appearances, and the widely trumpeted announcement of its demise in the arms of secularizing Modernity, is in fact neither agonizing nor even remotely moribund. It has simply migrated and gone elsewhere.

According to Liogier, far from disappearing politely or wasting away in the grip of secular consumption, Religion today is very much alive and kicking. It has simply slewed its skin like the mythical snake of eternity, and slid off somewhere else, there where you might perhaps least expect to find it. All this, under the gradual and insidious, but currently accelerating effect, not exactly of secularization and Modernity, but rather of a deep change,  a sea-change even, in mentalities and… yes, ideology, in the rapidly looming era of what some (among whom Liogier himself) would call  ‘advanced industrial society’, and others, ‘late or post-industrial capitalism’. 

The second piece of good news, again worth taking whether one is a believer or not, is that we are already socio-psychologically in our vast majority hurtling – or at least implicitly, or semi-consciously groping - towards a new type of human being who finally may just qualify for that long-usurped capital letter, i.e. planetary Man. That very universal Man, anthropos, long heralded in vain by philosophers, prophets and poets through the ages and the world over, and come to birth through what bloody meanders, blunders, trials and piteous dead-ends, at the start of  a twenty-first century still astonished at itself for surviving, we are all in a position to ascertain. At least, that is what, page after page, chapter after chapter, we are convincingly shown comes blindingly to light through the author’s minute and highly exhaustive inventory of the subliminal convergences between NRMs (‘New Religious Movements’), new life-styles, new forms of health care, consumerism, work-patterns, new quasi-instinctive postures facing society, the plural other, the universe itself, and all under the intense gravitational pull of a new dominant meta-narrative – i.e. the newly prioritized paradigm or the prism through which contemporary man - human beings, people - increasingly ‘story-tell’, recount themselves to themselves – all of which Liogier isolates, describes and analyses in often minute detail – down to the minute particulars – with  the tireless energy of an entomologist and a seemingly endlessly inventive flair for nomenclature and stylistic high-jinks.

This newly emerging prism or paradigm to which Liogier grants the status and the power of a new Religious dispensation, all the more potent for not yet being institutionalized, but rather transversally disruptive, subversive and transformational to all kinds of existing institutions, and more particularly to the great, already established transnational Religious organizations, he baptizes with a neologism which on first reading might sound like a recondite piece of psycho-sociological jargon: “Individuo-globalism’.  It is in fact only as one reads further that one gradually comes to agree, as the author himself somewhat ruefully admits, that there is  in fact no better way of saying it (he even goes so far as to insinuate that if anyone else can propose a better formulation for his concept, he will consider it).

Here already, a question arises which may indeed be ready to take centre-stage again – as at least in France, it seems that more and more philosophers here are again becoming interested in analyzing society and sociological discourse from scratch – one that is indeed probably inseparable from Liogier’s own intellectual and academic trajectory as cursorily described above – that of the relationship and mutual status of the two disciplines, the sociological and the philosophical, in what is after all the invention of a new ‘concept’. To put it simply: is Raphaël Liogier, despite all his insistence on quantitative evidence and scientific ‘axiological neutrality’, really only using the language of positive scientificity when he launches this hyper-active concept into orbit? Is this the language of Auguste Comte, Max Weber or Emile Durkheim, or are we already in the world of speculative, or even prophetic philosophy – that of a Friedrich Schlegel, of Novalis or even of Hegel? At what point does Liogier make the leap from quantitative to qualitative, from particular to general? At which stage of ‘sufficient rationality’ can a discipline that wishes to figure as “scientific’ actually make that leap? Which might lead us on to a rather more insidious question, consisting in wondering which of the two discourses, the philosophical and the sociological, advances here under the mask of the other? Or to put it more simply: if we are here in the world of ‘feasible or reasonable conjecture’, where what counts is certainly the positive, quantitative array of evidence, is not the creative spark of the concept, breathing form and underlying meaning into the inanimate corpus of ‘facts’, at least just as important?

However that may be, it would certainly be to betray the author’s intention to suggest that he voluntarily errs on either one or the other side of this dilemma. If there is at least one thing that we may have learnt since the time of Deleuze, to name a French Theorist par excellence, it is that perhaps the essential activity of philosophy is what he calls ‘the creation of concepts’. Such concepts, or ‘operative ideas’, should be at least as much in a position to act on and impact the ‘real’ as to merely reflect the latter. And of course in this sense Liogier’s book might be said to fall into the category of a philosophical approach: his big, albeit oxymoric concept, may well turn out to belong to the class of those “mega-concepts” which philosophers throw up from time to time, and which like deep-sea bathyscaphes, help to light up or at least to partly dissipate the ‘abyssal depths’ of our ignorance of ourselves and of the world around us. The fragile construct of “Individuo-globalism”, which the author has the heroic ‘audacity’ to ‘throw into the face’ of the accelerating fractal atomization of the cultural and religious fabric of our time – of our ‘post-industrial, post-material societies’, as he writes, quoting certain trends of contemporary American sociology – in a way represents just such a ‘titanic’ wager. As one French reviewer has noted, in a way what Liogier is doing is to dare to reactivate the conceptual tools of the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ and of the ‘Philosophy of History’ dear to the hearts and minds of Hegel, Schelling and the first German Romantics, in order to apply them to ultra-contemporary, or even clearly ‘post-historical’, objects and developments. In a way, from a philosophical point of view, what we get is Hegel or Schelling applied to the post-historical present or the immediate future, without dialectics:

All these neo- sacred esthetics, in all their stunningly  kaleidoscopic variety, under perpetual renewal according to the vagaries of cultural fashion, of shifting political and social equations, of the economic forces at play, of the rise and fall of identity politics,  are successively set up like many-hued  stage-props, movable and interchangeable, but almost always on the same bare boards, on the same fundamental mythical substratum, which I have designated, for want of better, by the somewhat labored term of Individuo-globalism… On the stage of this new theatre is played out and perpetually replayed according to different themes (comparable to musical motifs), with different characters taking on different roles, one and the same basic script which oscillates between the Quest for the Self and the Opening up onto the great Whole – with both the Self and the Whole of course taking on, as we shall see, a multitude of forms and names according to context[1]

A first quasi-philosophical ‘audacity’ thus consists in asserting that, under the many-hued surface of society, apparently in an advanced stage of atomization and undergoing a state of accelerating decomposition, a single and uniquely positive process is at work. Raphaël Liogier even goes so far as to maintain that, below this apparent erosion of the social sphere and in counter-distinction with the growing number of eruptive cultural fault-lines on the planetary level, a game-changing process of unification is under way.

The Individuo-global scenario imposes its decors onto the totality of discourses, as Michel Foucault might have put it; that is to say on everything that is currently ‘speakable’ (i.e. on whatever may be written, imagined, and expressed in general) even before hitting the level of the individual consciousness of such and such a person who proudly proclaims what he or she believes is uttered unconditionally. All statements or utterances, be  they entrepreneurial, sanitary, or  whether they concern sport, logistics or advertising, are part and parcel of the same ground-swell of (dominant!) discourse,  the unique criterion of what is legitimate and ‘speakable’, the moral mould of all and any allowable semantic content[2].

But this immanent and occult (in the sense of hidden to the locator himself) tidal process which is ongoing under the surface of things, is not any longer, as with Hegel, that of Reason in History, nor as in Marx, that of the collective progress of humanity towards emancipation through labour and the class struggle – and this is where the second and no doubt greatest conceptual audacity on the part of the author takes place – but, counter-intuitively, a sort of Religious ‘ruse de la Raison’ :

There is today neither more nor less Religion in the world, but a religious drive which merely expresses itself differently and on a different scale. There is by no means less religious culture than of old, but a new religious culture which, indeed, does crash the fundamental traditional barriers…[…]… Today, the Global inspires the Individual. The Individual aspires to the Global. To the extent that it is precisely through this tension, which is also a fundamental imbrication, that contemporary Man elaborates his personal narrative: through the imaginary pattern of Individuo-globalism, he today lives out his crises, thinks out his political strategies, expresses his emotions, articulates his logic, and, naturally, above all elaborates his Religiosity[3].

Thus, behind the apparent anomia and the disaffection with Religion in ‘advanced industrial society’, there is another story running, that is to say the emergence of a new ‘Individuo-global’ religiosity, which is well on the way to upsetting and/or metamorphosing  all the former Traditions, practices and structures, including those which it may originally claim to represent, and which is also on the way to becoming the new hegemonic doxa – or hegemonic set of doctrines and opinions – for the totality of our human societies. It is here that, at first sight at least, the unifying intuition of the sociologist, born of minutely painstaking research and observation, may indeed an instant seem to converge, in a sort of prodigious retrospective leap, with the ‘prophetic’ vision of the genial founders of philosophical and poetical Modernity, that is to say the Iena group of German Romantics, and first and foremost, Friedrich Schlegel himself:

Religion is the most frequently only a supplement or an ersatz of culture, and nothing is religious in the strict sense of the word which is not a product of freedom. It may thus be asserted – the more one is free, the more one is religious, and the more culture there is, the less Religion there will be.[4]

Let there be no mistake: Schlegel’s implicit opposition between Religion with a capital R and the religious, which is rooted in German Pietism, in that ultimate convergence between Protestant individualism and moralism, already seminally contains the very idea of the separation between established, institutional Religion and the ‘true devotion’ of the bearers of a new religiosity (Devotio Moderna[5], Spirituality) which, at the end of the eighteenth century, was to give rise to the idea that true religiosity can only finally be ethical, artistic and cultural, an intuition which was to provide the first Romantics with the theoretical bed-rock for the whole movement towards critical emancipation in modern art. This is already what is meant here by the idea of what is ‘religious in the strict sense’, and which can only be ‘a product of freedom’, i.e. simultaneously oriented towards the infinite and Man’s knowledge of himself:

Liberate Religion, and a New Humanity will be born.[6]

Or again:

Any relationship between Man and the infinite is religion, that is to say [that] of Man in all the plenitude of his humanity.[7]

However that may be – a return to the prophetism of Iena or to the Stift (seminary) at Tübingen where Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin studied theology together, or just a brilliant young sociologist’s lucky intuition – Liogier’s conceptual ‘audacity’ definitely consists in winding down the whole constantly changing kaleidoscope of contemporary religiosity, which often does not speak its own name – the new health care techniques, contemporary life styles and patterns of consumption – or at least those of the ‘advanced industrial societies’, which the author himself admits only account demographically for a small fraction of the seven billion human inhabitants of today’s planet – into the idea of a rapidly emerging subjacent religious unity of a new stamp. He notably manages this considerable exploit thanks to another ready-made concept, which at first sight it would be difficult to fit into any conventional nomenclature of the religious, that is to say what he names in the last chapter of his book ‘’la religion transconfessionnelle’ (The trans-confessional Religion). Of course, it would be easy to take bets on the fact that most of the devotees of the latter’s highly differentiated components – crisis-ridden millenary organized Religions, NRM’s, gurus, New-Age shamans, professional practitioners of alternative medicine, the henceforth ubiquitous ‘coaches’, Tai-chi and Yoga teachers, adepts of Wicca and neo-Voodoo etc. – would have some difficulty in recognizing their common affiliation to this new religion. Thus at first sight again, it would be easier to think of Liogier’s concept in terms of an inductive ‘phenomenon of the Spirit’, a subtle observation and/or anticipation of the Zeitgeist of our times, or more exactly a sort of ‘hyper-religion’, to use the author’s own language, which transversally subtends our age, and occasionally almost unintentionally, subconsciously perturbs and subverts existing institutions, rather than as the triumphant advance of a new conquering Religion on the classical model:

In the same way, it is hopefully not to overestimate the role of the religious phenomenon to describe its contagious spreading – following ‘the omnipresence of the religious instinct’ to use Ernst Junger’s words – to the atheist himself, once and once only religion has been defined as the mythical dimension (meta-narrative) which empowers each and every one to morally ‘story-tell’ him or herself to themselves over and beyond the destiny of their drab and perishable physical envelope. In such a way that the religious, on a par with work or leisure, without actually being everything, insinuates itself into all human activities and sentiments, be they individual or collective, with variable degrees of intensity.[8]

It definitely follows from this, that the Religion to come will according to Raphaël Liogier be less embodied by the imposition of a new centralizing institutional structure, with its set of compulsory ‘articles of faith’ (on the model, for instance, of Catholicism as it was incarnate historically), than by a sort of gradual transversal ‘spiritualisation’ of all the fields of the religious and beyond. In fact, one might almost say, by a sort of rampant victory, already almost posthumous, of free ‘spirituality’, so long persecuted, repressed and suppressed under all regimes as heterodox, in the name of institutionalized ‘Religion’.

But this parallel between the ideas of the genial author of the Fragments of the Athenaum and those of our ebullient religious sociologist, while not being entirely a bolt from the blue – Raphaël Liogier does indeed devote a brilliant, but somewhat awkwardly placed (at the beginning of a trailing second part) chapter to the Genealogy of Modernity, in which he himself explores with some surprise this vital intersection – is fated to remain implicit and even from time to time muted, denied or contradicted when it comes to declarations of authorial intention. As was said above, Liogier firmly intends to maintain no mere semblance of the ‘objective’, neutral posture of the professional religious sociologist, even at times coming close to a form of critical irony, traditional in France when dealing with non-mainstream religious phenomena, or in Gallic anti-liberal critique. He definitely firmly intends to make of his newly created concept, Individuo-globalism, a practical tool of descriptive and analytical utility, with the purpose of exploring the amplitude of the changes already, according to him, under way, and more particularly the apparently increasingly massive (so-called) ‘Return of the Religious’, under the ‘coat of many colours’ of today’s array of increasingly heterogeneous and neo-archaic religious movements - which continues to dumbfound many would-be rational observers of our Modern world. Indeed, for the researcher in the ‘Human Sciences’, a concept, however genially intuitive and inspirational it may be, must remain just that: a locally applicable tool, limited to the needs of the analysis, definitely not meant to aspire to wider circles of generalization.

It must be said that the coruscating analysis of this ‘progressive slippage’ towards what the author himself calls the ‘Bobo-isation of the world’ – i.e. the emergence of the new free-wheeling trans-frontier coached and groomed über-class of techno-nomads with no other sense of belonging, political loyalty or ethical compunction than towards themselves, their transnational employers, their off-shore clients and the members of their own ephemerally coopted peer-to-peer networks – is snappily conducted, both systematic and well-written, including a talent for lexical and semantic inventiveness. The descriptive apparatus Liogier sets up is exhilarating, exhaustive and convincing, a nursery bed for formulaic ‘zingers’ (‘Well-being has surreptitiously become a moral imperative’; ‘That so highly prized competence to be yourself’’…). This valuable contribution to our contemporary awareness also includes a close analysis of the  ‘three circles of contagion of Individuo-globalism’s narrative themes’, a thorough description of the gradual process by means of which the ‘Hypermodern subject’ journeys on through the outer circles of ‘holistic’ well-being and personal improvement techniques, before going on to initiation into one of the ‘three fundamental stage-sets, Hypernature, Hypertradition, Hyperscience,  those only apparently diversified access routes to the ‘gnosic heart’ (Coeur gnosique) of the new spirituality. Such is the apparent variety of choice henceforth on special offer for the ‘sovereign subjects’ (or ‘sovereign clients’?) which we all are from now on, or are all summoned to become. But, as Liogier continually stresses, all three of these gateways to the privileged frequent-flyer ‘good life’ issue onto the same fundamental ‘common mythical bed-rock’ – which means that, in reality, behind the many-hued stage sets, we are always up against one and the same common phenomenon, the new world ‘Religion to come’… so, almost unknown to its bearers, the concept rules.

One might in a way hazard a comparison  between Raphaël Liogier’s book and another published more than twenty years earlier, which caused quite a stir in its time, to the point of ending up by escaping the narrow walls of Academia and reaching a far wider public and even causing hot debate among politicians and decision-makers (in this sense, it was the first of a whole slew of  ‘big books’ on political theory, international relations and strategy latterly to be spawned by mostly conservative think-tanks after the end of the Cold War): I am of course referring to the famous, highly controversial and, in French intellectual circles, much vilified The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama. The only thing the two books could possibly have in common is, of course, by no means the intellectual background or the ideological intentions of their authors, still less their respective subjects, which are about as different as they could possibly be. What brings them together to some small, but non-negligible extent, is the pragmatic and somewhat ‘opportunist’ use of philosophical concepts. In the case of Fukuyama, it was the Hegelian concept of ‘the End of History’, later recycled by Marx in his vision of class struggle and materialist dialectics, which Fukuyama indeed somewhat baldly ‘hijacked’ – or some might say re-situated (or ‘restored’), by making it the keystone in the liberal perspective of his much commented ‘objective correlation’ between liberal democracy, advanced industrialism and free market economics. The latter was to definitely bring the competition between ideologies to a happy end, with just one of them, liberal democracy, left standing supreme . This represented a ‘right-wing’ or rather liberal use of Hegel’s historical dialectic, which though slightly caricatural, was in fact probably at least as legitimate as the Marxist version - closer, at any rate, to the original idea of the great philosopher (who, in his ‘Philosophy of Law’, saw the ‘End of History’ as being ushered in by the triumph of constitutional monarchy). Reactivated by Fukuyama, for strictly geopolitical purposes, it was however to cause a considerable ‘hubbub’ among the ‘Guardians of the Temple’ of the left-wing Parisian intellectual elite of the day. In the case of Raphaël Liogier, however, what we see is rather the accumulation of a mass of essentially empirical observations by the religious sociologist and his teams of young researchers, the collection of a respectably vast number of documentary samples and surveys, and their progressive deciphering as a newly emerging pattern of  spontaneous ‘religious’ behavior (i.e. a more classical research procedure), only gradually – and perhaps, semi-consciously - converging with the ground-shaking Hegelian idea of the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’.

What these two authors – utterly non-assimilable in every other way – have the most in common, is the retreading of such pre-Marxist, Hegelian concepts – to which must be added in Raphaël Liogier’s case, those of German Romanticism and American Transcendentalism – within a liberal prospective, with a resolutely optimistic tone.  Indeed, as the ‘Post-historical’ world of  Fukuyama’s objective correlation, after the collapse of ‘real socialism’ and the Berlin Wall, seemingly encountered no viable ideology adversary, so no obstacle or serious challenge (until the boomerang-like ‘Return of History’ with the second Gulf War), he seized this short ‘window of opportunity’ to proclaim a sort of ideological Parousia or Second Coming, (still strictly reserved, of course, to the ‘Industrially Advanced Countries’, but the others were bound to follow...),ushering in the advent of ‘Post-History’. Rather in the same way, Raphaël Liogier’s concepts, ‘Indiduo-globalism’ and ‘Hypermodernity’, at times leave the reader with the impression that their progression is irresistibly able to roll back all potential material or ideological obstacles, all the contradictions, divisions, ‘heavy blockages’ or regressive and reactionary hang-ups they may come up against, with a single flourish of the ‘Invisible Hand’. However that may be, in both cases we are certainly in the presence of an optimistic, non-dialectical vision of sociological phenomena and indeed of contemporary History itself:

The new fault-line in human History follows rather the pattern of differentials in ratios of intensity in the ways of living one and the same culture, the latter being more or less accessible, or more or less totally endorsed, than by any so-called ‘Clash of Civilizations’.[9]

Which may well seem rashly optimistic on many levels, had not Liogier, himself, earlier on in the book, in a particularly enlightening passage – including for an updated left-wing posture of thought - taken the precaution to outline what he aptly sees as ‘the new division of labour’, resulting from the rapid rise of a ‘new social class’, which he encapsulates in the formula ‘The planetary rule of the Bobo’ ?

If one were to speak of the ‘Class Struggle’ today, the latter would henceforth have to be somewhat less apparent on the level of the individual Nation-state, but far more so at the global level of world society; it would no longer reflect the opposition between capitalism and proletariat, but rather the antagonism between the mobile transnational class of rich and creative neo-bohemians (who possess the financial, intellectual and relational means necessary to their geographical, cultural and economic mobility), and the traditional ‘national’ classes firmly tethered to their jobs, mortgages  or unemployment benefits, be they manual workers, tradespeople, middle management, or even small entrepreneurs, bending under the yoke, paying for, the freedom of movement of the others by the growing precariousness of their socio-professional status. In other words, mobility conveys to those who can aspire to belong to this new elite the message of a highly positive life-style and world-view, whereas in the world of the indentured sedentary – those who are demographically the majority, but economically, politically and culturally the underdogs – it is increasingly synonymous with a growing fragility, one of job redundancy euphemized, for instance, by the managerial feel-good jargon of flexibility.[10]

And thus definitely blips onto our social radar the distinct suspicion that this new class of ‘mobile, hyper-qualified, creative, super-rich’ individuals who are precisely the enthusiastic harbingers of the message of ‘the new common mythological ground’ of our time, that is to say of ‘Individuo-globalism’, are not only turning to their personal profit and advantage a situation where the vast majority of the population of the world (‘demographically in majority, but economically, political and culturally the underdogs’) are trapped in destinies characterized by increasing factors of non-choice, but are actually day by day contributing to actively worsen their collective and individual fates, - the forced sedentarity and precariousness (aka ‘flexibility’) of the latter being practically a condition sine qua non for the freedom of movement and professional, technological and cultural nomadics of the former, whose life-style practically dictates today’s national policies. The lift-off towards an ultra-hip interconnected planetary ‘noosphere’ for this new class actually turns out to be inversely proportionate  to the sedentarity and above all precariousness of the ‘underdogs’, through the simple equation of the increased precariousness of lowly qualified work-forces correlated with the astronomic perks and dividends, not to speak of the salaries, of the transnational managerial (and now increasingly, thanks to generous stock-options, renter) class and other ‘creative’ operatives who are in a position to benefit from the socially disruptive mechanisms of outsourcing and relocation. Such an analysis, once highlighted, would tend to enshrine a less unilaterally optimistic image, not only of the process of Globalisation itself (which might turn out to be not yet the long-awaited ‘Planetarisation’ we were hoping for), but also of ‘Individuo-globalism’, which might then be portrayed as a sort of new ‘Gospel of Egotism’, mechanically leveraging an increase in infra-national entombment and identity closure among a vast majority of the inhabitants of today’s planet. In other words, as definitely a rather predatory ‘Boboisation of the planet’ (with state-of-the art natural health care, humanitarian self-righteousness, and the New-Age ‘commodities of salvation’ thrown in as privileged increments…).

Whatever reading then we may choose to make of this book, we are brought face to face with an important and timely set of ground-breaking observations, which definitely deserve to be seriously and widely debated, on a par with the major questions their analysis constantly raises (and which one cannot avoid raising if one wishes to continue to think anthropologically and politically today!).

For one, is it so sure that the irresistible ‘groundswell’ phenomenon encapsulated by Liogier’s ‘Individuo-globalism’ – which confronted with the quantitative evidence presented by the author, but also by our own every day observations and perceptions, we would be hard put to factually refute – is really first and foremost a religious phenomenon, only accidentally co-extensive with the rise of post-historical globalized capitalism? And what if in fact it really represented the ideological mask for the planetary extension of neo-liberalism, its new ‘cool’ post-fordist  avatar, which has only borrowed the ‘Emperor’s clothes’ of Religion, of the rise of a new religiosity, the more easily to spread and insinuate itself into every cultural environment with the energy of a retro-virus, until it can triumphantly assert itself as the dominant ideology of the world, in a position to subvert and hijack all other ideologies and supersede all the earlier discourses of Humanity?

For instance, can it really be asserted, as the author tends to do, that a linear, non-dialectic continuity exists between the drop-out phenomenon of  the first bohemian beatniks of the nineteen forties and fifties, with their artistic, literary and breakaway philosophico-metaphysical concerns, through to the still antinomian hippies of the nineteen sixties and seventies, to the already business-acclimatized New Agers of the nineteen eighties, and so on to the ‘creative managers’ and other ‘nomadic business operatives’ and rich and multi-connected ‘neo-bohemians’ of today? Has there really been continuity, or in fact capture and détournement of something which, owing to its considerable initial impact and contagion, actually really represented a damaging challenge to the life-style and self-image of the elites? Has this almost imperceptible permutation from ‘Baba-cool’ to ‘Bobo-cool’, which has indeed occupied much of the last three or four decades of our western societies, really occurred without conflict, crisis and a confrontation of mainly unnoticed (or unreported), but fairly epic proportions? Even within the framework of these movements themselves, was the fascination for extra-European cultures, the attraction to alien, alternative traditions, theologies and cosmologies, to Oriental Gnosticism with its non-dual body-soul practices, mainly dictated by a ‘Souci de soi’ (‘Self-involvement, Self-care’), conveying the idea of an essentially narcissistic and individualistic obsession with ‘personal development’ and the ‘competence for happiness’? Did it not rather reflect the fall-out from a major crisis in western civilization, after two literally apocalyptic world wars, a civilization now locked into the contradictions of the age of mass consumerism and nuclear dissuasion? Was it not to be embodied in an often violent, desperate and self-destructive quest for an issue to these same dead-ends of western civilization? One only has to recall the first line of Alan Ginsberg’s great, but long outlawed and reviled poem ‘Howl’, (a spectacular public reading of which, in the mid-fifties, actually first drew public attention to what was to soon be called the ‘Beat Generation’):

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,                                                                                  

                                            starving ,hysterical, naked…[11]

To realize the epic proportions of this violent, critical secession from contemporary American society which was to give birth over the following decade to the phenomenon of  an ‘alternative society’, many years before it finally descended into being touted by publicity and fashion as merely a ‘look’, an ‘alternative life-style’… Is it not the forgetfulness (or rather the deliberate occultation and distortion) of this reality presiding over the rise of these ‘alternative’ movements, of their aspiration to fundamental rupture with and radical dissension from a self-complacent and moralistic ‘WASP’ life-style which they considered to be suicidal - with the ‘Moral Majority’ and the individualistic and productivist ideology of the western society of their time - which explains why all the contemporary attempts to ‘remake’ the phenomenon, even and more particularly cinematographically (Milos Forman’s lush and kinky version of Hair immediately comes to mind, but also more recent attempts, including several films inspired by Jack Kerouac’s too often caricatured and misrepresented ‘On the Road’..), remain insipid and beside the point. But this hedonistic, salacious ‘Poodle-grooming’ by Hollywood has precisely been rendered necessary, one might interject, to placate the ‘Market’ and create a ‘niche’, i.e. to turn this untidy, ecstatic, tragic epoch-making rupture into a marketable, consumable proposition, precisely ‘individuo-globally’ speaking…

In this sense, the picaresque destiny over hardly half a century of the much sought-after ‘iron-washed’ blue jeans, from the status of a ‘Beat’ symbol of revolt, of voluntary poverty and alternative culture to that of a status symbol of conspicuous consumption, affluent exterior well-being,  privileged ‘cool’ and superior connectedness; from cheap farm worker’s garment associated with poverty and bad taste to ‘must-have’ sexy upmarket chic, can stand in as a perfect metaphor of the whole story, entailing a dual process of double capture and symbolic inversion (the same thing could mutatis mutandis be said of the pop-rock music of revolt and protest of the nineteen sixties and seventies: where does one stand the best chance today of hearing some of that period’s great ‘standards’ than dutifully wheeling one’s overladen ‘caddy’ along the seemingly endlessly hypnotic shelves of today's hypermarkets?).

The question which fatally ensues consists in wondering how one can speak of the ‘Modern (or ‘Hyper-Modern’) Subject or Self, without taking into serious account the latter’s relationship to Literature and Art, most notably because, according to the first Romantics of Iena (Schlegel, Novalis etc.), it is precisely there, in this relationship, that this ‘absolutely Modern’ subjectivity is primarily to be elaborated? Anyway, the fact is the ‘Hyper-modern’ individuo-global subject amply documented by Raphaël Liogier, is neither, to use Schlegel’s terms, ‘ironical’, nor ‘self-limited’… Might not one go so far as to say that the latter is in fact far closer to Walter Benjamin’s ‘Man of the crowds’, naïve and malleable consumer alienated by the fake infinitude of neo-liberal merchandise, who has not yet even truly encountered himself in the critical mirrors of  Modernity? Isn’t this what may serve to explain that our ‘Market-oriented’ contemporary world is every day less capable, or less inclined, to distinguish ‘creative graphics, dress designing or hairdressing’ from artistic ‘creation’, between an advertiser’s ‘concept’ and that of a Plato or a Hegel, between ‘New Age’ and ‘Counter-culture’, between ‘Beat Generation’ and ‘self-employed salvation entrepreneur’, between ‘Transcendental Idealism’ and ‘personal development phase’, between ‘coaching in promotional self-interest’ and ‘self-knowledge’, in the philosophical sense?

Building on that basic tenet, some questions may still be raised concerning the important final chapter of a book already rich in crucial queries concerning our contemporary reality. Thus, one may easily be tempted to share the author’s enthusiasm for Internet, that proliferating technical support for planetary interconnection which might still qualify for the precocious fulfillment of some of Teilhard de Chardin’s predictions in the nineteen fifties concerning the Noosphere. Raphaël Liogier well understands and brilliantly evokes the game-changing novelty and the revolutionary potential of this ‘non-finite set of  channels without predetermined directional tubes'[12], and also the considerable irony of it at least partly owing its birth to a military system set up in order to shield the United states against the unprecedented threats to human survival of thermonuclear war. One of the world’s most highly centralized military-industrial states was to give birth mostly despite itself to a decentralized defensive system endowed with almost endless rhizomatic and anarchistic (in the etymological sense of the word) potential, the which in no more than two or three decades was to invade the planet as no other major technological invention has done since the spread of the railways. But here too – while personally sharing much of the author’s enthusiasm  - the same queries concerning the naivety of a certain optimism facing what might conceivably turn out to be just a final twist in neo-liberal ruse remain – or are more than ever - valid:

Internet is indeed a product of practical, concrete globalization, shrinking space, technologically abolishing geographical distance, but paradoxically it is also a psychic window opening onto infinite possibility, helping palliate the claustrophobia resulting from the contradictions of globalization. Without quitting one’s armchair, one may breathe in an air from over and beyond the limitations of a geographically chequered world on a web of practically infinite interaction[13].

Yes, one cannot hush the fact that the World Wide Web, Internet, the network of networks, this first virtual space of world public interest, comprising what are no doubt the first forerunning signs of a global civil society, is now the property of an American private enterprise, which, no doubt progressively, may well end up by submitting to the ‘Iron law’ of Market logic, sub-contracting  domain names and restricting  right of access to the highest bidder? That the Web is in reality only apparently the muffled scene - virtual, but with what an impact in the real world, in our lives and notoriously on the lives of our children! – of a colossal battle-field between interests, nations, ideologies and transnational enterprises, conveying clashing, or at least strongly divergent, conceptions of the common good - and indeed of the stated finality of the Web itself? Of course, for the moment pluralism and transversal ‘horizontalisation’ of an increasing number of institutional forms seem to be carrying the day, but to what end, and for how long? Is the aim really to spread anti-authoritarian protest and overthrow dictators by viral communication and direct democracy the world over? Is the Web not potentially the most powerful tool of all time for penetrating and creating new markets, and irresistibly, new market segments (children, sub-15 teenagers, ethnic, religious, sexual minorities etc. to quote only some) within existing markets? Is it not potentially (if not already really), through its fractal powers of replication and relocation, its ever-faster evolving media supports (the tablet, smartphones), in political, social, cultural and commercial terms, i.e. in terms of ‘Soft Power', the equivalent of a WMD  (‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’, or rather of ‘Mass Distraction’)  on a global scale? Hailing from a very different set of political traditions,Toni Negri and Michael Hardt[14] are no doubt close to the mark when they insist on the implicit, underlying sub-text of the Internet, which is to have been – and no doubt still be - constitutionally incapable of full development without a certain degree of sharing, not only the pooling of files and material supports , but above all of constantly evolving knowledge, which it would be impossible to monopolize and so finance world-wide. In other words, without a certain revaluation of the gratuitous and the common, which they perhaps too hastily have hailed as representing the advent of a new planetary ‘Commonwealth' (in the seventeenth century,‘Cromwellian’, or eighteenth century American Republican sense of the term) . But it is also legitimate to ponder just how far, and just how long, and within what limits, ‘the Market’ will allow these trends to go on developing, with time perhaps potentially threatening for its increasingly polarizing pattern of interests. Indeed the much labored problem of how to generate profit from the Internet still remains in the forefront, while apparently paradoxically – but certainly significantly – the stock market values of the biggest access providers, search engines and social networks remain incredibly high. What remains undeniable for the moment  is the fact that the development of the liberal, liberating, anarchistic – or, perhaps better put, libertarian  - potentialities of this lightning-speed progression may above all target the transformation of all the world’s individuals and households into the subsidiaries,  annexes and employees of the  «greatest hypermarket in the world, a de-territorialised global shopping-mall where one can buy and sell everything and anything'.[15] And what if all those democratic,horizontal, libertarian, social aspects which appear to us to be so ‘user-friendly’, turned out to be merely the cleverest way of ‘sweetening the pill’, and facilitating the ever-accelerating, ever more ubiquitous ‘Market's’ penetration into the last unexploited crooks and crannies of our lives?

Finally, it is difficult to beg the question of whether Raphaël Liogier’s ‘le sol mythique individuo-global' [‘Idividuo-global mythical ground or bedrock’] is indeed really, and not only conceptually or metaphorically, a new religious phenomenon. Might not ‘Individuo-global' Hypermodernity turn out in fact to be no more than derivative ersatz, a sort of neo-liberal placebo for Modernity,insofar as it is not only neither dialectical, nor critical, but seems largely to ignore or neglect , in the process of ‘Modern’ subjectivisation, not only the domain of the creative commons, dear to Negri and Hardt, but also the vital role played by Literature and Art. Thus, too literally construed, might not this ‘new religion' turn out to be in fact a sort of trap, forever confining its ‘believers' into the false infinitude of philistine consumerism, with no other common future on the horizon but one of pitiless individualistic (and, of course, narcissistic) competitiveness? Is this not already  the direction things have
in fact taken, if one considers how the roller-coaster of the  ‘Free Market' and the growing ‘Individuo-globalism' of a minority  of ‘Advanced Industrial Countries' - along a gaping, albeit almost invisible ‘north-south’ seismic fault-line,which is no doubt also an anthropological tipping-point, albeit narrowly correlated with the international geopolitical order, and with the corresponding economic and social infrastructure - is almost symetrically building up an increasingly incompressible undertow of  particularistic ethno-nationalist popularisms and/or religious identity-based fundamentalisms (hypermodern or anti-modern included), the generally retrogressive extremisms of today’s self-professed « Lovers of Death» ? If ‘Individuo-globalism' is clearly the first major religion since Antiquity to globally celebrate the positive joyance of life and the unfolding of infinite encosmic horizons, is it not unwittingly arousing a proportionately confrontational global counter-wave of « Religions of death », underpinned by a real or counterfeited discourse on the After-life? ? Is that not what we are really witnessing? Rather than any gradual, ‘cool’ makeover, the rise of two growingly antagonistic, and yet mutually interdependent neo-religious phenomena? Indeed, two opposing titanic forces locked into a dynamic and dialectical interdependence which liberal optimism- while remaining one of the major versions of Enlightenment progressivism – frequently finds it hard to take on board.

We should no doubt be grateful to Raphaël Liogier for re-focusing our attention on the inescapable importance of the role of ‘the religious’, or religiosity, in our rapidly evolving societies. Individuo-globalism is perhaps not quite ‘the Religion to come' prophetically announced by the Iena group of Romantics, by American Transcendantalists[16] like Thoreau and Whitman and then the whole critical movement of Modern literature and Art. Anyway, it would be easy game for Liogier to retort that the book was never intended to be that, or anything other than an evidence-based set of conjectures, based on observation, cautiously and objectively extrapolated to enrich the field of contemporary Religious sociological theory, and that his critical stance is implicit in the description itself.

Ce Pop qui vientHowever, one thing is sure: one cannot read this book, and already still less so a year after its first publication, without recognizing a portrait, highly plausible in its premonitory likeness, of the age we are sleepwalking into, and so finally of ourselves, both in our higher aspirations and in our worst shortcomings  On the one hand, we know that in most of the nineteenth century, the great novelists – Dickens, Balzac, Jane Austen,Flaubert - were our first concrete sociologists. Today it seems that, apart from a few rare exceptions, only a sociologist like Raphaël Liogier can summon up the dreadful courage to confront us implacably with what we are well on the way to becoming, and how this is already affecting the world. In this sense, one might well read this prolific treatise like a great futurological novel. But the book, perhaps despite itself, is also prophetic  in a deeper, more visionary way. Indeed, there no doubt exists a growing, long-term trend, a stellar wind driving humanity, the human species, on towards a very singular, often countered and criticized, conjunction between the individual and the planetary. Therein lies perhaps the ultimate, quintessential liberal creed, not often brought into focus and anathema to most moralists, particularly here in France: the more we are individual, individualized, individuated, the more global, the more universal we will become. We thus owe a lot of thanks to Raphaël Liogier and to his concept of 'Individuo-globalism' for also having the audacity to usher this apparently paradoxical, oxymoric notion, particularly disliked by dogmatists of every feather, back into the limelight. In this sense, his theme may after all well be to some degree a foreshadowing of the ‘Religion to come’, if only in default mode, temporarily shorn by neo-liberalism of its original critical components. But this deep trend is also increasingly again coming up against a redoubtable, age-old adversary, the 'anthropological' - material, historical, cultural, educational - divide. This divide is increasingly, on the world level, today's equivalent of class division (with the probable difference that today's 'damned of the earth' no longer envision any sort of progressive issue to their struggle, but only a series of regressive backlashes to particularistic, primary identities).Globalization is already proclaimed by some to be coming to an end - as in the first, fatal decades of the twentieth century. The author well knows all this, as his two subsequent books, the latest of which has just reached the shelves and will soon be reviewed on WRW, clearly show. Both take as their subject-matter contemporary dystopian trends which can be considered to be increasingly adverse and dangerously confrontational aspects of our crisis-ridden societies: the rise of Islamophobia in France, and the rising contagion of obscurantist Populism over the whole face of today’s Europe.

 >See original French-language version (October 2012) which this article develops



[1] Raphaël Liogier, Souci de soi, Conscience du Monde, Paris, Armand Colin, 2012 pp. 9-10.

[2] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, p. 11.

[3] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, P. 11

[4] Friedrich Schlegel, Fragments, 233, Athenäum Vol 1, fascicule 2, Berlin, 1798.

[5] Devotio Moderna arose at the same time as Christian Humanism, a meshing of Renaissance Humanism and Christianity, and is related to German mysticism and other movements which promoted an intense personal relationship with God. Practitioners of the Devotio Moderna emphasized the inner life of the individual and promoted meditation according to certain strictures. With the ideals of Christian Humanism, Devotio Moderna recommended a more individual attitude towards belief and religion. It is regarded sometimes as a contributing factor for Lutheranism and Calvinism. It was also a major influence upon Erasmus, who was brought up in this tradition.

[6] Friedrich Schlegel, Idées, 7, Athenäum Vol 1II, fascicule 1, Berlin, H. Frölich, 1800.

[7] Friedrich Schlegel, Ibid, 81.

[8] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, p. 16 (Je surligne).

[9] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, p. 239.

[10] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, p. 60 (Je surligne).

[11] Allen Ginsberg, Howl, City Lights, San Francisco, 1955-1956.

[12] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, p. 232.

[13] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, pp. 193-194.

[14] Toni Negri et Michael Hardt, Commonwealth, Paris, Stock, 2012.

[15] Raphaël Liogier, Ibid, pp. 225.

[16] See http://bit.ly/15EyWMP on this site.