Is Sloterdijk Conservative?

Continuing the discussion from [1/11] Globes, by Peter Sloterdijk – Conversation 2:

Here is an interesting perspective on Sloterdijk’s political ideas, and how they might be supported by his philosophy.

Granted, a “more affirmative theory of General Immunology (by way of a Nietzschean-Deleuzian sense of affirmation)” does not strike me as a winning political program—but if you read on and see how the ideas might be unpacked, it gets better. Sloterdijk contrasts what he calls the “Iron Age,” the “Gold Age,” and a “Silver Age” at the end of human history. From You Must Change Your Life…

“The end of history is a metaphor for the disablement of the dominant reality principle of the Iron Age following non-heroic measures against the five needs. These include the industrial-political switch from scarcity to oversupply; the division of labour between the topic achievers and the moderately working in business and sport; the general deregulation of sexuality; the transition to a mass culture without masters and a politics of co-operation without enemies; and attempts toward a post-heroic thanatology. (424)

Which strikes me as a reasonable (if not exciting, but deliberately so) way of thinking about a state of human civilization, post-singularity. The thought, as well, that we’re in effect turning the planet into a ‘human zoo’ strikes me as metaphorically apt and theoretically realistic. It is a case of the animals running the asylum. We have still not bred the zookeepers we can trust. Unless we see clearly the situation, where the ‘anthropotechnic’ trends are going, I am afraid we will continue to butt our heads against glass walls and mistake our cages for freedom.


I read the Mickey article and found it very interesting. However, I’m not entirely convinced that Sloterdijk is constructing a “Silver Age” as claimed. I find that an overly simplistic analysis of what is, at least to me, a highly complex as well as dense program that is not easily summarized. I also found myself reflecting on the “other” associations of the word “conservative”, that is, the “conservationist” associations. We use the word “conservative” in a political context often quite thoughtlessly, forgetting that the word also covers a kind of “eco-thinking” which makes an odd bedfellow for political “conservatives”. Perhaps there is a need to reclaim the other sense of “conservative” and give it new life, separate from the political arena where it means something different (just as I am sometimes reminded that the US “Republican party” had its roots in A. Lincoln and a repudiation of slavery, which is so at odds with its modern manifestation). What I am trying to say is that we tend to fool ourselves into thinking that the world of ideas is relatively simple (right/left, apollonian/dyonesian, mind/body, rational/empiricist… I could go on) and we suppress the complexity that is really there. Sloterdijk, on the other hand, even if I still have some uneasiness with regard to his writing, embraces the complexity. So while Mickey says in his comments at the bottom that so-and-so have misunderstood Sloterdijk (which I don’t dispute), I find Mickey’s own comments to some extent misrepresent Sloterdijk at the very least…


So I just started watching the recording of Session 2 and realize that @hfester addressed this question directly in her first intervention, and this crosscuts also with my comments on the Aurobindo seminar that @johnnydavis54 posted, which addresses the questions of the Integral directly. Perhaps the fact that I wrote this before seeing the recording is an example of how much we have started to “train” each other in our diverse modes of thought and how we are developing a kind of “meta discourse” or perhaps even a “meta thought space” that we all inhibit independently and yet now speak and think in common ways…


(After I posted, I saw that I had repeated Marco’s link and the quote too apparently posted above… I hadn’t scrolled up far enough, I see.)

It’s true about “training” each other (the third mind, group mind that William Burroughs described, or Metapsychosis too maybe :slight_smile: ). I started researching Sloterdijk’s conservatism myself tonight too–just about 20 minutes ago. I found a great blog that Jeremy Johnson has decorated with a few comments. Here’s an explanation of “the end of history” (quote at end of chapter 1 uses this term):

The end of history is a metaphor for the disablement of the dominant reality principle of the Iron Age following non-heroic measures against the five needs. These include the industrial-political switch from scarcity to oversupply; the division of labour between the topic achievers and the moderately working in business and sport; the general deregulation of sexuality; the transition to a mass culture without masters and a politics of co-operation without enemies; and attempts toward a post-heroic thanatology. (424)

Here’s the full post link:

… from the blog Becoming Integral (which initially alarmed me because integral is used to describe political movements in some countries)…

More on other comments above soon. Catching up!


I picked out from the recorded conversation : The importance of unconscious processes in and of the group - e.g. the gorgeous sharing by both of @johnnydavis54 and @Douggins of poems. Loved that intimacy, the intimacy of bones, somehow in both of the poems, the bones of the old woman (your friend Beatrice) and the bones of the hearth. So the way @madrush was talking about the need for intimacy and for something outside the rational arguments, and @johnnydavis54’s reading of Sloterdijk in terms of pre-grieving the dark sides of our time and the deaths that are arising from this… more bones?. These all come together, and shiver through the story of Gilgamesh and Sloterdijk’s writing as well. Something is emerging, this « rough beast… slouching towards Bethlehem » to quote Yeats.

Not sure my intervention was well timed, I missed the earlier intimate discussion, and my intervention was somewhat tangential. I wish I’d heard the earlier exchanges, which gave a depth that I missed - but I know it works out in the wash. I only got the first part of the argument out, also, the idea that goes with the plateau in population in a finite world is that we are no longer in a divergent world, but a convergent world. In a convergent world, the « caged sphere », we are « in the foam », we are also forced to operate outside the rational, like Sloterdijk himself does. I feel Sloterdijk is, uh, leading us into the finitudes of the spheres, which is a state in which the rational will not serve us (because the rational is an approach grounded in the finite and the nameable). Maybe he’s not intentionally leading us there, but that’s what I get from reading it. We need the poetic, and the apoetic, and to step outside the nameable, if we are to make sense of the world that is coming into being.

I also like @jamieandhisego’s remarks about the historical contingencies of Sloterdijk’s program vis-a-vis Germany. They also allow me to identify what I sometimes find objectional about his writing. But like Jamie, I think something else is going on here that is worth investigating (along with the slowness @Douggins spoke about!}… in this way that defies our easy categories. Spheres as conserving the inside, and keeping the outside out, and membranes between these, to take up @madrush’s remarks - balance and dynamism. I have problems with fascism and its courting, but I have almost as much difficulty with political correctness, that refuses to engage with Sloterdijk because of his associations or comments.

Regarding the post-dialectic, I don’t know the literature on this, I grew up with Marxism and dialectics, but have moved in my own thinking in recent years to a reasoning/thinking approach based on paradox, which I would suggest is post-dialectic since it looks for “impossible thirds”. I’d love to hear more from @hfester about that.

I actually believe this was one of the strongest conversations the group has had - I gained a great deal of insight from listening to it, and progressed in my own understandings about broader issues, at least in part because of the non-discursive elements of the discussion, which gave shape and depth to the rest. I’m not sure if the reason for this is the maturation of the group or the progression in the subject matter addressed, though.


I believe you are providing the perfect coda to our complex choral arrangement! There was a moment in the video, where the Angel of Silence passed over us. It was not an awkward silence, but felt like a pause, that allowed the different voices to rest and listen to what has just transpired. We were all sleepy but we didnt want to go to bed yet. We waited. And then you have come through with a blessing that uplifts all of our efforts. I do sense the future in the instant.


I think this is the heart of the question for me—a lifelong “progressive” or “liberal,” though not “neo-liberal” in the U.S. context. Just bracketing out any current political connotations, there are obviously certain aspects of society I would wish to make progress on, or move toward freedom in a ‘liberal’ sense, and yet other aspects I would wish to conserve.

The ecological movement, as you point out, is, more properly speaking, a radically conservative movement—i.e., it wishes to conserve the biosphere in as much of its pre-human vitality as possible. Yet this movement is most forcefully taken up by “progressives,” who thus (because the terms of discourse are so polarized) lack the language to embrace their own conservative values, which could ground their program of social reconstruction in deeper structures worth preserving.

The “integral” is one way beyond such arbitrary reifications, and so is metamoderism—and I do feel that Sloterdijk’s version of expanding, collapsing, and proliferating (i.e., dynamic) “spheres” gives some shape to the sense in which our reality is composed of structures and processes (dry, abstract words otherwise) containing worlds of experience.


Agreed, with the caveat that “arbitrary reifications” end up being a large part of how political collective visions are conveyed in social space and time. Keeping “integral” and “metamodern” from becoming similarly arbitrary (i.e., of leaky ‘meaning’) is a task for the vigilant - staying in tune with process and experience. John says it all the time: paying attention to how we pay attention…


Good caveat; the post-dialectical can be elusive. I’ve already coined the term ‘alt-integral’ just to nudge at reifications I perceive among contemporary integralists. It’s hard to keep words pure, and it’s probably a losing game—which is not bad; it forces us to get creative.

I think poetry is needed, as a spiritual function, to renew the relationship between language, thought, and experience—conserving meaning, but also breaking it when required, to allow for new patterns to emerge. I wonder what new political identities might emerge in a post-dialectical space. Maybe something like this?


Maybe something exactly like that. (I’d heard a little about the Danish Alternative as well recently, and most probably through “Hanzi Freinacht”…)
Odds are against it of course, but then again this is the internet age. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it’s “successful” - or, let me rephrase that, its success is in existing at all as an idea with some viability amidst general (justified) discontent with business as usual from all over the social spectrum. Beta tests will eventually turn out the versions that last. Or this group gets its seat in parliament, and no one will be happier than this history-reading skeptic!


And I think visual art is needed, as a spiritual function, to renew the relationship between symbol, thought, and experience. And music is needed, as a spiritual function, to renew the relationship between expression, emotion, and experience. And literature… And participatory politics… And ecological balance… And… … we’re back to the concern you raised in a discussion months ago: each of us in small but consistent -and persistent - ways have to contribute to the rebuilding of culture. A reading group here, an Initiative there…


This question is difficult. I particularly do not believe that in the last 30 years we have taken philosophers, politicians, sociologists, thinkers and theologians among others, they would have the ability to write something like Sloterdijk has been doing. I place Tocqueville and Rousseau as conservatives (up to Zizek, in a specific sense). When you read some of Sloterdijk’s works there is no traditional way of writing for concepts or ideas. Sloterdijk mostly in the Spheres hardly ever wonders about things like: what is justice? What is the sphere? He does the opposite, he tells him that the sphere is this, that, uses figures, bible, theology, biology, physics, archeology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. His writing is almost as if he were telling us a story about the “sources of expressions of solidarity.” It would be there in solidarity (American pragmatism comes from this notion of communitarianism), something from the left (taking the term broadly) and whether research is about our suitability for relationship - which is in fact the center of the trilogy of spheres, then, at the limit, it would still be fully in force on a plane that concerns changes, pertaining to the revolutionary character of human goodness. But paradoxically, Sloterdijk abandoned the view of human misery and scarcity which is basically almost all the left’s work in social philosophy, politics and sociology in the last two centuries


You might find Dwight Macdonald’s The Root is Man interesting in this context. He makes a rather convincing argument (in my mind at least), why the notions of “left” and “right” are obsolete.


I get this too, @Eduardo_Rocha. And the centrality of human solidarity, or the “strong relationship,” is what Sloterdijk’s work ultimately seems to me to be about. In other words, it is ethical as much as it is ontological. But I feel (which I think @achronon would agree with) that Sloterdjik doesn’t actually make a strong ethical statement, or at least hasn’t yet in the work I’ve read.

I suppose, “You must change your life,” is a strong statement. But it really doesn’t tell me that one kind of life is better than another kind of life. Perhaps this is simply part of Sloterdjik’s philosophy: an ethic of spaciousness. By understanding how spheres work as immunological containers, we can give ourselves and others the kind of spaces we need to be the kinds of (strongly relational) beings we are. I don’t know, at this point, exactly how this translates into a political program…and suspect we must look elsewhere for insights on that level.


We might also want to take a look at Chapter 4, endnote 24 on the question of Sloterdijk’s ‘conservatism.’ In the context of his discussion of Greek philosophy’s construction of an ensouled world-whole or ‘cosmopolis’, and the ‘spheric crisis’ of modern globalization, he writes:

It is a characteristic of the “emancipatory” politics of modernity that it had to rely on cosmopolitanism after the end of the positive cosmos principle—in other words, on a politics of the infinite. Previously, political infinitism, which is the philosophical definition of the left, had to set itself apart from the entire rhetoric and praxis of the concrete community, as the latter recommends a politics of the finite.

In recent times, Alain Badiou affirmatively formulated the axiom of a post-Marxist politics of emancipation from this perspective: “the situations of politics are infinite.: (Conditions, p. 172) This statement is obviously false, but it does have the advantage of clarity. It shows that the metaphysical left calls in the infinite for the critique of the finite—which exposes the religious roots of all politics to the left of the possible and the real. Political infiniti’s (to which such divergent authors as Derrida, Lyotard, Lévinas, Deleuze and others tend) is thus a form of “attitude” in the negative sense. The point of recent communitarianism, by contrast, is to clarify the preconditions for a leftist politics of the finite.

Only a political spherology can adequately formulate the tension between finite and infinite forms of politics. It also shows why it is unacceptable to have to choose between a conservatism that sees itself as a delayer of decadence and a progressivism suspected of acting as a hastener thereof.

The concept of “world culture” indicates the horizon of a political constructivism beyond the binary opposition of conservative and progressive. […]

This reminds me of the notion of a ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ (or cosmopolitan patriotism) found, e.g., in Kwame Anthony Appiah, which seems like an obvious synthesis of local and global, particular and universal, etc.


:bell:-ding-:bell: You are now free to move about the cosmos

As mentioned previously of being out of my league but wishing to participate (and may be a defining character trait: @achronon: resident curmudgeon :: @Douggins : reluctant whipper-snapper), I find myself navel-gazing out the aircraft’s window. Which aircraft? who is in control?
Currently I am the passenger on Sloterdijk’s aircraft. The answer to which craft and who is in control is as vague as attempting to answer the “is he conservative?” question: For a few passages he is a whirlybird, hovering for hours over a terrain before finally running out of fuel. Sometimes we are enclosed in his flight-orb as a bubble, examining the cabin’s ornate features.

For this passage (pp. 384-386 in English translation of Globes, ending with ‘note 24’) Sloterdijk is more than a jet engine…he is a time machine, stopping for a few seconds in one era, jumping to the next, covering 500+ years in a couple pages (right after nearly 50 pages of Platonic Globulation). I am grateful that you brought this up, for this jet stream analysis announced by Peter the Pilot (“if you look out your window now, you will see all of history”), was well over my head; the view was obscured by the passing clouds. Had to do some Cosmopolis research and liked this essay and, though Sloterdijk is focusing on the human to human interactions, I think Jordan Brown’s Forget Shorter Showers connects with the rooted cosmopolitanism idea.

Mickey’s closing remarks in “Is Sloterdijk Conservative” is correct to say it is a misunderstanding to view Sloterdijk’s “Human Zoo” as controversial in the nationalistic or eugenics reading of the essay. “The rules for the Menschenpark are postsecular rules of coexistential building, dwelling, and thinking—the anthropotechnic design principles of planetary co-immunism.” The understanding I grasped from “The Human Zoo” was essentially that we aware intellectuals are essentially archivists, browsing about the books, the web, etc. and coming to great conclusions and understandings…but to what collective benefit? We are set to cruise control as Sloterdijk comes to us from the cockpit to tell us a few flighty fantasies, yet when we hit turbulence, we all go back to our seats and our Conservative (“Sloterdijk is conservative insofar as he is advocating stability, conserving immunological integrity, stabilizing the spheres of our Silver Age”) pilot navigates away from the trouble…ahhh! That’s better…smooth sailing again. Now we can go back to archiving. But if we were to look out the windows of our craft…we would see the atmosphere filled with individuals and small groups of families and friends floating about bumping into eachother, some forming larger systems, some attempting to burst others bubbles. How can we fly in the forming foams? Our pilot often wishes to seek higher altitudes, away from the rising masses, so he can share his stories and be the philosopher he wants to be… not necessarily the Silver Ager that we may need him to be. As @johnnydavis54 states about his aloofness, he doesn’t want to mingle with the masses, just tell us how to behave. I love @Eduardo_Rocha’s depiction of Sloterdijk as the —>

archeologist of intimacy

The man is one who manifests as an “interior designer”. Sloterdijk defines the sphere as a medium that has at least a dyad, two poles; but there are these poles the starting point of the narrative, because they are guided and, say, generated by that causes the ball to be a sphere: the resonance. The esferology is composed of “bubbles”, “globes” and “foams”. The bubbles are what fits to investigate within the framework of a microesferologia, in this case, then, the intimacy. But the intimacy here seen spatially, must be studied by historian of space, the archaeologist. Sloterdijk makes himself a philosopher to the extent that arises as an archeologist of intimacy.

My first “reading” of Sloterdijk had me understanding him not as a true philosopher but as the slow-time archeological magician-alchemist, unearthing the elements, dusting each preserved bone and ligament so as not to disturb, fusing these into new chemistry, though the gold must be dug rather than alchemically fused.

Perhaps we will come down from our heights, take a free dive from Sloterdijk’s realm and float freely in the foams, seeking to form-foam together, creating an integral skin foam (just look at the performance benefits! Looks like optimal bubble material to me). Or float above the atmosphere and seek a new home, still conserving and archiving, allowing others to enter our bubble-craft when we see fit.


Please excuse me for butting in here, but I keep trying to follow all your (pl.) engagements, but I find this statement to be precisely the Sloterdijkian blither that keeps me from reading him, but perhaps one (or all of you) can help me out here. I’m looking for clarification:

Badiou says, “the situations of politics are infinite” and Sloterdijk says, “This statement is obviously false.” So my question: how (or in what way … actually, why) is Badiou’s statement “obviously false”?

Secondarily, what exactly is the “metaphysical left”? (Is this a notion he introduced earlier? … I don’t understand the concept.) And I get the feeling (at least in this citation) that Sloterdijk is somehow necessarily connecting the infinite with the religious (otherwise how do the “religious roots” of which he speaks get exposed?), which I find a rather myopic view of the notion.

What am I missing (again)?


It is oooobviously false because, well, essentially, Sloterdijk says it is. In another one of his “unique and instructive” exaggerations, he wants politics to remain in the finite sphere that he has formed in Globes, especially as he depicts Platonic “habitation formulation” as relieving the masses from the infinite madness that came about once destruction of the city walls occurred in post Socratic Athens (maybe?)…Plato’s early philosophy and cosmos formation can be viewed as the 1st opium for mass-space relief (maybe?)…acceptance of fate, cosmos reduction, etc.

I would like to do more injustice to the text, but maybe its about time to just read it. For our sake! Hopefully others will chime in, but I still have to say, “relax, Ed. For an ignoramus such as I, lacking political, religious, historical grounding for this text, I’d say this is fun reading, and if it is providing me with an exaggerated view of history, so be it!”


I hardly suspect you’re an ignoramus, and perhaps you are not doing injustice to the text at all. Perhaps you are spot on and this is simply obvious because Peter says it is so. (That’s what I suspect, and now I know I may not be alone in my suspicion.)

Nevertheless, if you are having fun reading it, that’s fine with me. I say enjoy yourself to the fullest.

I – and I want to believe that I’m speaking for the majority of curmudgeons when I say this – well, I simply have a different understanding of fun. Some people love rollercoasters and others won’t get on them. Some people love slasher movies and others don’t. Some people like to put puzzles together and others have fun playing board games. And still others have a modicum – and I mean modicum – of fun asking others about the fun they’re having. :roll_eyes:


This pronouncement from Sloterdijk gave me pause, too, as it’s not obvious to me that the situations of politics are not infinite. But I think I understand his distinction between a “finite” and “infinite” politics, which is really the issue here, and I do believe Sloterdijk lays out a pretty clear idea of the difference, based on his understanding of Platonism as an “extreme immune reaction” to the spiritual crisis (Sloterdijk doesn’t use this term, but talks about the “panic of soul loss”) in Athens following the Peloponnesian War. This is a quite compelling section in the book, I must say.

An “infinite politics” is one that is not bounded by a protectionist cosmology. The “metaphysical left” thus believes in progress, openness, free (though to be sure, in progressivism, also fair) trade—but not in the totalizing spiritual order of a whole-world system, which binds a people together and oriented toward a common center. (Think: China, Holy Roman Empire, etc.)

I think Sloterdijk’s point (or one of them) is that there is a limit to how “uprooted” human beings can be and still survive, let alone flourish. In the absence of adequate encompassing/grounding structures, we find ways to create spheres of belonging and meaning, one way or the other: in the modern world, through the hyper-individualism and radical relativism of the “foam,” each in their own separate bubble. This is liberatory in one sense (given the oppressiveness of the metaphysical systems we are talking about)—but is also prone to depression, anomie, existential despair, narcissism, and so on, i.e., the “postmodern condition.” Hence the need for a new spherology of being, or ‘rooted cosmopolitanism,’ in other words.

We will surely discuss this further in our talk tonight!


Don’t get me wrong: I do not wish to flog a dead horse, nor be contentious. I am still trying to see if there is a reason to want to read more Sloterdijk. I appreciate greatly you taking the time to respond, and while what you say is infinitely more clear (pun intended) than what Peter said, there is still a lot which I simply don’t get:

Those last two words are obviously a Sloterdijkianism, for I’ve never seen them in that combination before. (He may not have stated it thus, but he got you to think it thus, which makes it still “his” in my mind.) I don’t know what that is. The notion of “protection” implies threat, but it is not clear where this threat comes from cosmologically, which, by definition is the totality of everything that is (or perhaps I don’t understand what a “cosmos” is). The threat must come from within; that is, it is then somehow inherent in the “system”, so how does one develop a notion of a totality that protects one from what’s within that totality. I think you can see from my depiction which axle I’m wrapping myself around.

Following the logic of the “metaphysical left”, the “metaphysical right” is one that believes in all this things you listed plus a “totalizing spiritual order of a whole-world system”. In the cited statement from Peter, however, it was this lack which exposed “the religious roots of all politics to the left of the possible and the real. [emphasis mine]” Peter’s implied spiritual order is, what? unrelated to the religious? Not “metaphysical”? Solely indicative of the possible and real? Where is that exactly? Does his immunological rejection bring us then to the center, or a center or just to the right of the possible (wherever that is)? Shite! This must be an 18-wheeler, here comes another axle!

This is beginning to strike me as intellectual sleight-of-hand … not your admirable elucidations, but the groundwork that’s been laid for them.

I hope you do discuss this further tonight, and I wish you all the best of luck, too! From Curmudgeonia you’re going to need it.