All cultures dehumanize their enemies

Guest contribution: Philosophy professor: "We live in a world that dehumanizes us"

What is the most important lesson you learned from Covid?

Corine Pelluchon:We are all vulnerable and we all have a common destiny. Many people have realized that they cannot control everything and that connecting with other people is the most important thing. Hopefully this will drive us to change our lifestyle and our production methods, because our way of life is unsustainable.

So are you confident?

Pelluchon: I work a lot with animal and environmental issues and I know that people need time to change. There is a lot of resistance. The biggest challenge is to bridge the gap between theory and practice and show that it is possible to change. That is very demanding.

Can you explain your concept of vulnerability?

Pelluchon: Our vulnerability is linked to our physicality - the fact that we eat, depend on air, on water, and so on. We cannot understand people in the light of freedom. Freedom is important - but our dependence on nature and all other beings puts a spotlight on the human condition. And that has far-reaching consequences, because the foundation of political liberalism is defined by the idea of ​​the human being as a free moral agent, which is of course very important and which drives us to build society on human rights.

Professor Pelluchon: There is another crisis in the context of Corona


Pelluchon: But we have forgotten the relational dimension of the subject and the fact that ecology, justice to future generations and justice to animals are very important. You belong to us. The subject is not only defined by the fact that he or she has the will to make decisions and to change them - the subject is never alone. Ecology cannot be separated from existence and existence cannot be separated from ecology.

What are the consequences of this?

Pelluchon: This insight provides us with the foundation for a new social contract and a new humanism - which is not based on an anthropocentric view of the world, but takes into account the diversity of living beings. In the context of the ecological and health crisis of Corona, this means that there is no less freedom, but a different freedom that has been reconfigured in the light of our responsibility to others, including animals and future generations.

"We have to overcome the dualism between nature and culture, reason and feeling, people and animals."

How does this change the concept of freedom?

Pelluchon: The key idea behind this understanding of vulnerability is our responsibility: being open to others and being able to care about their fate. This focus on responsibility changes our concept of freedom from within. The question is how do we find a way to defend and spread the Enlightenment and the pillars of autonomy, democracy and humanity - and at the same time overcome the basis of the outdated Enlightenment, the dualism between nature and culture, reason and feeling, people and animals .

That is the main aim of your forthcoming book on A New Enlightenment.

Pelluchon: I believe we need a profound criticism that explains why the outdated Enlightenment did not help us avoid disasters and led to the destruction of the conditions of life, nature and biodiversity. We have to build a society based on the recognition of equality and unity among people and not based on the theological order. But to do that we have to eradicate the vice of civilization related to keeping civilization away from nature. I believe that we can build a universalism that is not based on unrealistic conceptions of people, but makes room for other living beings.


How does that translate into political theory?

Pelluchon: The fact that we insist on earthly conditions, the fact that there is inter-subjectivity and creativity from the moment we are born, the fact that to live means to reform - all of this enlarges the self and gives us the basis for a new political theory.

What would be different from the previous liberalism?

Pelluchon: That could be another form of liberalism. I don't think the market is an enemy. The problem today is that the state does not set any limits on the market. Of course, capitalism is not only an economic system, but also a model of life, a way of thinking, a way of being with others. The project I am pursuing with my new book is the project of promoting emancipation, individual and collective emancipation, whatever has always been associated with enlightenment. But we cannot do that with the old tools, we have to critically examine why reason turns into irrationality.

"Ecology also has social dimensions"

Does this irrationality also include the destruction of the very natural basis of our existence?

Pelluchon: If we think carefully about the ecological challenges, ecology cannot be reduced to environmental problems such as resource depletion or climate change. These are very important, but ecology also has social, spiritual and moral dimensions, it is linked to a way of being creative with others and examining the place of people in nature. The contribution of philosophy is a deep understanding of what ecology is.

What role does the imagination play in this?

Pelluchon: In order to fight climate change, reduce your ecological footprint and stop eating animals, you have to change inside. The contribution of philosophy is to build another imagination that explains how we can reconnect reason and science with our lifeworld. How can we tell a story of individual emancipation that is not just a way of fighting each other, but a way of building to stamp out wars, the war against animals or the war against nature or work or the war against us . Animal suffering is a kind of mirror that highlights the fact that our evolutionary model is insane.

When you talk about changing the fundamental concepts of individual freedom and autonomy - is the consequence of changing the structures of democracy as well?

Pelluchon: Naturally! Democracy is a social project. And many people feel that they have lost their freedom, that we cannot master everything, that the market and other complicated things determine their lives. But we need to understand that we have the power to put the common good at the center and to change the deep representation that gives power to a political and economic order. Democracy is an ideal, as the philosopher John Dewey said, but it is also a method. But we have to rethink our relationship with the public because the concept of the public does not refer to an idea of ​​people as if they were united.


What do you mean exactly?

Pelluchon: John Dewey did not understand the exercise of democracy in a top-down approach, but neither in a bottom-up approach in the naive sense. Democracy requires individuals who are able to organize themselves and who have critical skills. We live in a world where many say the future is already written and that all we have to do is adapt to the capitalist order, which is the end of history. We can change things - which is of course very demanding. I insist on the individual so that social and structural changes can be achieved in a democratic way, rather than due to fear or compulsion.

One last question. Can you complete this sentence: For me this is personal because -

Pelluchon: - One of the causes of this crisis is our interactions with animals, which highlights the fact that we live in a world that is dehumanizing us.

To person: Corine Pelluchon is Professor of Philosophy in Paris and a future Fellow of THE NEW INSTITUTE.


The New Institute is a start-up in Hamburg whose aim is to shape social change. From autumn 2021 on, up to 35 fellows from science, activism, art, business, politics and the media will live here together and work on concrete solutions to the pressing problems in the areas of ecology, economy and democracy. Founding director is Wilhelm Krull, academic director for the area of ​​economic transformation is Maja Göpel. The New Institute is an initiative of the Hamburg entrepreneur and philanthropist Erck Rickmers.

All previously published parts of the series can be found on our overview page.