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BREXIT: A View from the Philosophy of Liquid Modernity and Ethics of Alterity

En Espanol

Let’s make an attempt to understand the recent events related to the output of the United Kingdom of the European Union from the perspective of contemporary sociology, but not before making a brief review of the paradigm shifts in the social field over the past centuries.

Enlightenment (XVII and XVIII centuries) intended to build a new social order through a sort of substitute “civil religion” for medieval religiosity, which by the time was accused of being dark, authoritarian and cruel.

However, the Enlightenment conception of law was soon shown as equally bloody and cruel, deeming all particularity as evil and evil was fought really hard. Indeed, according to this perspective, the social order is maintained forcing individuals to observe good (law enforcement) and to reject evil (which questions the prevailing social order).

In the modern conception are good men who observe civil law regardless if they do it by tactics, by inertia or government imposition. But the pretense of doing good to others can lead to misery, because when such a claim loses foot in the lives of people and focuses on the efficiency and brightness of the regulatory system, it may be determinative of structures that lose sight of the living. Then it happens that the regulatory system goes away from real life and generates forms of organization of human life that turn those lives into tools at the service of a “necessary” system.

According to the ideas expressed in his controversial book “The Prince”, Machiavelli argues that the ruler is a king disclaimed of any legal or ethical authority above himself. This is an iron ruler legitimized before the people and with his own power eliminates conflict in society. He removes it being a ruler who, in his management, mainly seeks success and effectiveness with all means available, but not for the good of his subjects, but to ensure the attainment, concentration and retention of power. That is “the end that justifies the means”. In this thinking there is an inversion of values, where life to which power is supposed to serve becomes that of which power is served.

According to Machiavelli, then, we do not have to look for the definitive elimination of conflict, because such a thing is impossible. It is impossible because conflict is constitutive of society and it is inevitable and even good for it, because it forces to create institutionalized forms of solving it. Looking to the conflict, then, we must find a way to discipline it effectively subjecting it to technical control by the institutions. Indeed, by them, strictly coercive means are fixed to ensure the smooth functioning of life in society. Many contemporary ideas about democracy retake this republican conception of Machiavelli. However, the ideas expressed in “The Prince” have made Machiavellian a pejorative name for corrupt, interested, cunning and hypocritical, lacking political action in good faith that just undermining the confidence in the institutions of society.[1]

In the midst of the current crisis, the debate and the search for answers continue as Postmodernism is very complex.

As well as against modernity emerged romantic and existentialist thoughts, in Postmodernism voices of resistance also rise to hegemony of public interpretation of reality that has emerged from the epistemic and pragmatic key underpinning the market as new symbolic organizer and key axis to resolving the new relations of “membership”.[2]

According to Bauman, the Shopping / consumption places offer what no “real reality” can offer outside: an almost perfect balance between freedom and security. Within these temples, buyers / consumers can find what they have vainly searched out: the comfort of belonging -the confirmative impression of being part of a community.[3]

The keys of interpretation in tension and conflict set the stage for the crisis of modernity that, like any crisis, in a single act involves risks and possibilities of improving.[4]

As Cantelmi says, the mutation that produced Britain with the unexpected slammed door to the European Union is colossal. While Latin America is just perceiving this, there is a growing sense of catastrophe in Europe and across the Atlantic.[5]

But, even worse, this movement promises an imitation effect across the continent driven by the legion of nationalists who are celebrating today from one point to another map.

It is a mistake to assume, however, that people who voted for the break did it blindly embraced the fanaticisms and the stories of nationalism. Some argue that three elements are key to explain the electorate decision:

  • immigration;
  • the fear of terrorism that also promotes xenophobia and
  • recession.

The latter is indeed the mother of all these evils. Many of the rupturist votes represent a large sector of defrauded workers because their quality of life has been deteriorated at the same rate that States have withdrawn the social agenda. There and throughout Europe. People assume immigration as an additional danger to those calamities.

And this is where we must go back to the origins of Christian philosophy.

Christianity revolutionized the idea of belonging to a community. For Jesus the neighbor (the next, the closest) the one that integrates the community and for whom we must take responsibility, is every man. As exemplified by Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a foreigner behaves like a brother. At the root of the concept of neighbor is the idea of ??universal brotherhood: as children of one Father, all men are brothers and form a single community. Therefore, humanity itself is the fundamental community.

In the Christian worldview, the Samaritan -just for being different- is brother. The universal brotherhood coexists with the presence of different cultural, religious, political communities. As in a family, in which brothers are such despite being different.

However, this premise is not easily accepted today. This vision in crisis is evident in the huge global problems. Governments, in their constitutions, are based on universal principles covering all humanity, although each constitution regulates its implementation at the national level. But these principles are realized fully only if they exceed the limitations imposed by existing conflicts. This is possible only if the universal dimension of fraternity opens, pursuing good without harming others. Only then we can build the “inclusive city”; that is, a human brotherhood in which would be compatible different forms of political friendship expressing distinctions between people, but always twinned.

It is interesting to rescue in this instance the contributions of Levinas, who noted that the basis of violence was interest. He warned that this interest must be converted into dis-interest, that is to say to put ourselves in the place of others without expecting anything in return. Human beings, therefore, must emerge from the Cartesian ego and look beyond ourselves to accept that we, as Aristotle noted in his Politics, are civic animals: “Accept that by me is the Other, by whom I am who I am”.[6]

With this, Levinas emphasizes the idea of alterity, thus rejecting the announced by ontology. Knowledge thus represents a strategy of appropriation, domination. On the contrary, the philosopher of Kaunas, drawing inspiration from the Jewish tradition, looked for another way of thinking this relationship: “The Other is imposed as a limit to my own freedom.”[7]

After this oblivion, Levinas propose to rethink philosophy understanding it not as love of wisdom, but in reverse, as the wisdom born from love. For what defines the human being is not being, nor the interest, but disinterest. Therefore, we have to take distance from the cogito, from the system and logical, as these three terms are those that had characterized Western thought so far, and create a philosophy of difference since what matters is not being, specifically, but the difference .

Otherwise, humanity will advance to an enclosed world, full of borders and walls, but above all full of hostilities as have rarely been seen.


[1] Ianni Octavio; “Enigmas of world modernity ” ; Twenty First Century Publishers ; chapter 6

[2] NGOs and other diverse groups and social practices with poietic mark. With great variety of approaches they are dealing with ecological, educational, religious, family , sports , artistic matters etc.

[3] Bauman Zigmunt; “Liquid Modernity”; Chapter 3 “Space-time”

[4] In the troubled context of this crisis of subjectivity, mediation emerges as revaluation of interiority and retaking very profound aspects of cultural heritage ample precedent . The dynamics of the mediation process represents an opportunity to regain aspects related to the existential and vital dimension of human relations based on dialogue , above the merely epistemic relations sorted external to the discretion of the particular subject objective determinations dimension.

[5] Cantelmi Marcelo; “Brexit: un portazo a Europa que repercute en el mundo”,; available online

[6] Paula Gil Jiménez; “Ethical theory of Lévinas”; subtitle “Saying the unspeakable”

[7] As pointed out by Paula Gil Jimenez, Levinas manages to put on the table that we are not only children of the Greeks but also of the Bible. Western philosophy had looked so far only Greece, forgetting Jerusalem


Maria Eugenia Sole

Maria Eugenia Sole is an attorney mediator. She has a Holborn College Diploma in Law of Tort and Law of Contract. University degree in conflict resolution and mediation. Pre-trial mediator with registration granted by the Provincial Direction of Alternative Means of Conflict Resolution of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina.… MORE >

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