Among the Enlightenment’s legacy there is an idea that spanned the centuries and penetrated deeply into the mentality of people in the West. It is the idea of progress, the idea of moving toward our cultural, moral and material best, especially thanks to the successes of science and technology. This idea shaped much of modern European history; it nourished hope and political ideologies; it spread trust in the future.
Then came the 20th century and that “magnificent fate and progress” was destabilized by two world wars, the absolute evil of the concentration camps, the Cold War, and the third technological revolution. All this undermined the belief that science and technology would inevitably improve humanity and that the future would gradually become better than the past.
What about today? The whole world is going through worrying years. The economic recession in the capitalist system shows no sign of abating. The emerging economic powers in Asia – China, India, Indonesia – which have been among the driving forces of the world economy, are already revealing problems similar to those that triggered the 2008 financial crisis in the United States. They too are governed by the neoliberalism that, after the collapse of real socialism, works to impose itself as the sole system and philosophy, despite the serious damage it causes in the less developed parts of the world.
Planet Earth, if one focuses on the climate and the environment, raises serious concerns. We see wide-ranging pollution: water, air, land, melting glaciers, shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea levels, the disappearance of many animal species compromising the food chain. These phenomena are in varying degrees connected with the increase of certain types of diseases, with particular economic repercussions such as those affecting agriculture and fishing, with the scarcity of raw materials, with the rising cost of energy, with the problems of finding and distributing food for a population that is now approaching seven billion.