What is the concept of life

Good life concept

No more lighthouse: in Latin America the urge to utopia has been lost.

For regional studies, people who grow up bicultural are a stroke of luck. Constantin von Barloewen provides the corresponding evidence for Latin America: raised with German parents in Buenos Aires, socialized and trained at international universities, he established himself in Germany as an expert whose familiarity with Latin America predestined him for the debate on development.

As a comparative cultural scientist with multilingual competence, he was successful at international organizations, Unesco and Goethe Institutes, and most recently ended up as chief intellectual at the financially best-placed Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, where Klaus Töpfer after his time as German minister and then as executive director of the UN environmental program Holding court.

His assignment to Barloewen: bring me the most creative minds in Latin America to philosophize about development. Their lecture manuscripts, supplemented by a Barloewen introduction (probably richly orchestrated in an authoritative way) result in the kind of thick volume that collects dust as a gift copy in libraries because the price is prohibitive.

This is a shame because not all, but the majority of the texts provide information about Latin America's intellectual state of mind. German-speaking readers, for example, can familiarize themselves with Francisco Sagasti, a Peruvian engineer and sociologist whom I consider one of the master thinkers of today's Latin America. Anyone who wants to research the origin of buen vivir, the concept of the “good life” - which is in inflationary use today - can discover the origin of cosmic harmony with the two Andean indigenous peoples Simón Yampara and Yuri Guandinango with “sumak kawsay”.

Workshop of ways of life

Constantin von Barloewen understands Latin America “as a workshop of ways of life and forms on a highly creative scale”. Since we live today in an unmistakably ruinous modernity, I want to cast doubts on this thesis. In fact, for us Europeans in particular, Latin America has been a kind of lighthouse for utopian designs in the past few decades: revolution in Mexico and Cuba, guerrilla liberation struggle, socialism in Chile, military modernization in Peru, liberation theology in Nicaragua, a left-wing Peronism in Argentina - all of this upset us in Europe.

And today? Fortunately, Latin America has consolidated itself economically, has tried to be successful, but has also become well-behaved and boring. Somehow the urge to utopia was lost. Even in societies where - as in Nicaragua or El Salvador - former guerrilla comandantes make the president, dull practice prevails. Wasn't Brazil's president originally a Marxist city guerrilla?

The most exciting is the "plurinational Bolivia" with an indigenous head of state (President Evo Morales), who succeeds in a remarkable inclusion of the Indian majority. It just doesn't help us any further. I understand Barloewen's passion for “his” Latin America. But the designs for a future compatible modernity no longer come from there. ■

Constantin von Barloewen, Manuel Rivera, Klaus Töpfer (Eds.)

Sustainable development in one
plural modernity

Latin American Perspectives. 568 pp., Hardcover, € 50.50 (Matthes & Seitz Verlag, Berlin)

("Die Presse", print edition, May 16, 2015)