Citizens in a Vat of Dye

The Birth of Democracy from the Spirit of Disarmament

Peter Sloterdijk

May 1, 2006essay,

The following text is a shortened version of a lecture delivered by philosopher Peter Sloterdijk during the conference ‘Atmospheres for Freedom. Towards an Ecology of Good Government’ in Venice in 2004.1  In this lecture, Sloterdijk addresses the premises of a democratic society and the importance therein of written and representational media.

I would like to present a few informal considerations that focus on the atmospheric premises for a democratic community. In other words, I am talking about the conditions that make democracy possible, but I am not addressing the subject in Kantian terms, according to which this political life form should be regarded as a by-product of citizens exercising their powers of judgement. Instead, I would claim that the conditions are an effect of ‘waiting power’ – meaning both the ability to wait and to let others wait. Furthermore, democracy is based on the proto-architectonic ability to build waiting rooms, not to mention the proto-political ability to disarm citizens. I would like in what follows to intimate how these two abilities are interrelated. With a view to the swordless George hanging over us, the question must surely be whether there are other ways of persuading citizens to lay down their swords and under what conditions such a procedere can be carried out. In fact, such procedures do indeed exist, and I would like to remind you of them by way of reminiscing first on the history of architecture and then on the logic of the media.

In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, English garden architects started creating houses that were hybrids of glass and cast iron dedicated exclusively to housing a population of extremely sensitive plants. It is a well-known fact that this marked a clear caesura in the history of building. The first so-called hothouses initially obeyed only the principle of whim, because the prosperous inhabitants of the British Isles indulged in the imperialist caprice of declaring their country a place to which plants that were sensitive to the climate could immigrate. And I beg your indulgence if here I am politicizing the fate of plants, as it were, a language game that can at least lay claim to being based on Bruno Latour’s concept of an expanded collective. The immigration of plants to Europe in the nineteenth century can be read as a pattern for a new politics of trans-human symbiosis. The engineers concerned themselves with the problem of climatic structures in light of the conditions of solar radiation quite some way north of the equator. The invention of bent glass helped them decisively in this regard, as did the introduction of prefabrication based on standardized elements. The latter was a technology eminently suited to enabling the erection of large ensembles in a very short space of time; consider the adventure of Crystal Palace in 1851, which (although it was to emerge as by far the largest edifice in the history of architecture to that date) was built in the amazingly short time of only 10 months.

Only gradually did nineteenth-century minds grasp the paradigmatic significance of constructing glass houses. Such edifices took into account that organisms and climate zones reference each other as it were a priori and that the random uprooting of organisms to plant them elsewhere could only occur if the climatic conditions were transposed along with them. The imperial Englishmen had of course noticed that some of the most beautiful plants had the irritating habit of only wanting to flourish under non-British skies, and some creative thinking was necessary if one wished to welcome these guests to the British Isles. If, for example, you really want to make a palm tree feel unhappy, then force it to spend a winter in England without the protection of an artificial skin that shrouds it in its native climate. British politeness excluded this ugly hypothesis and instead enabled the mass immigration of palms from an early date by creating a new type of building, namely the palm house – something that to this very day can be considered one of the most beautiful achievements of world architecture. Wherever we now encounter such buildings (be they the classical palm houses or orchid houses or camellia houses or, finally, the greenhouses for Victoria regia, that most famous of water lilies), we likewise encounter the materialization of a new view of building by virtue of which climatic factors were taken into account in the very structures made. Modernism in architecture has always also implied the transition of the climatic into the age of its explicit presentation and production. Architecture responds with its means to a new form of mobility that now includes not only human and animal movement but also plant migration. For reasons of space, for further details on this complex swath of phenomena, allow me simply to refer you to Alfred W. Crosby’s well-known study, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe.2

Following the initial breakthroughs in devising an elaborate system for harbouring plants alien to the local climate, it was to be another two or three generations before theoretical biology responded at the conceptual level to the new practices of uprooting plants. It bears considering that it was the afore-mentioned exercise of granting plants hospitality that first created the conditions under which it became possible to formulate a concept of environment. I can of course forgo providing any detailed explanation of how and why the concept of ‘environment’ as coined by biologist Jacob von Uexküll in 1909 (in his book Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere, second edition, 1921)3 was one of those twentieth-century innovations in logic that was to have the greatest impact. Not only do large stretches of modern biology depend on it, but also both ecology as a whole and systems theory. If post-Uexküll the talk was of ‘environment’, then this meant thinking not just of the natural habitat of exotic animals and plants but also of the procedures for the technical reproduction of that habitat in alien surroundings. It was initially this reconstructive imperative that we have to thank for the fact that a general concept of the environment was formulated. From the historical viewpoint, the destructive imperative was no less significant, because modern warfare (such as commenced with the introduction of gas as a weapon in Ypres in April 1915) was likewise based on the insight that the enemy’s environment, the space occupied by him, could be destroyed.

Among the first to respond to the provocation innate in the concept of the environment was Martin Heidegger, who as early as the mid-1920s grasped the ontological implications of the new biology. I would go so far as to say that his formulation of ‘being-in-the-world’ constitutes a philosophical response to the shock he felt when confronted by the biological concept of the environment. He intended the use of the preposition ‘in’ to distinguish ontologically between man’s ecstasy, in the original Greek sense, in the world and the animal’s ensnarement in a specific habitat. Now the experience of original displacement plays a decisive role here: When Heidegger speaks of the Geworfenheit (‘thrownness’) of being, this expression brings to mind the risk of a sudden dis-alignment of organism and environment, such as a palm tree of African origin faces if it were to unfortunately find itself in England prior to the invention of the greenhouse. The vegetative counterpart to Geworfenheit would then be ‘enracination’. In the one as in the other case, what we have is a situation in which the human or plant is surrounded or embraced by a circle of incompatibility. Assistance in such a case would be if the surrounding(s) were themselves to adjust to accommodate the entity projected into their midst. In the case of plants, such an adjustment ensues with a greenhouse geared to recreating the plant’s original conditions; in the case of humans, the solution would be to embed the newcomer in the host’s language as the ‘house of being’ – in other words in the ontological version of the greenhouse, an environment impregnated by mysteriousness and nothingness. Whereas for the organism the meaning of the ‘en’ in environment or the ‘sur’ in surrounding consists of the perfectly calibrated dependence on the original stimuli, in the case of existence in the world they signify an abyss above which one hangs, or a transcendence into which one is suspended.

Now, in order to highlight the relevance of these considerations for political theory, allow me to show that the phenomenon of greenhouses in nineteenth-century architecture actually had a predecessor in older urbanist or polis theories. Thus, prior to its explicit formulation in the early twentieth century, the concept of environment has an implicit pre-history, which, as we shall see, stretches back as far as classical Greece. Thanks to Bruno Latour, we are familiar with the art of posing epistemologically bizarre questions, such as, ‘Where were the microbes prior to Pasteur?’ I wish to adopt this pattern and ask ‘Where in the world could the environment have been prior to Uexküll?’ I shall initially search for an answer among the post-Socratic Greek philosophers, who I believe I can show were in their own way already theorists of the greenhouse and ipso facto environmental theorists. In actual fact, the birth of ancient Greek political theory implied for them a doctrine of living in an artificial construct. What the early philosophers termed polis is in essence nothing other than an artificial construct ruled by nomos and amounts to the practical answer to the challenge posed by the improbability of bringing numerous strangers together to coexist behind shared walls. The word polis itself, if one listens carefully to it, has a certain ring to it reminiscent of greenhouse theory. Anyone using it professes to believe that it is possible for strangers and persons who are not related to one another to come together in one place and naturalize in a shared climate. The Greek city was a greenhouse for people who agreed to be uprooted from the modus vivendi of living in separation and instead be planted in the disarming modus vivendi of living together. If the word polis always retains a certain astonishing ring to it, it’s because those who first used it were never able to quite forget that the city as a form of life always stood out like a social wonder of the world against the background of pre-urban conditions.

Let us assume that the founders of classical philosophy would have responded to these problems conceptually. And let me simply imagine that Aristotle, that great technician, composed a dialogue entitled Daedalus – or the Art of Building Cities, a text that along with all his other dialogues has been lost because tradition in its barren selectivity did not wish to preserve any of them. After all, Aristotle is said to have authored as many such pieces as did Plato. And let us further assume that a team of archaeologists recently succeeded in unearthing a copy of the lost text inside a vase buried in the sand outside Alexandria. Let me also assume that I had the privilege, alongside a team of papyrologists, classical scholars, philosophers and security men, of gaining an initial impression of the newly-found document, putting me in the fortunate position of being able to present a few preliminary observations on the sensational object.

The initial decoding of the text led to a key finding that I can summarize: Aristotle has the mythical builder of the Cretan labyrinth discuss the art of building cities with Hippodamos of Milet, the inventor of town planning by grid. Both attribute the history of the city to an event that is known by the name synoikismós. This expression designates the decisions by smaller village and fortress communities, originally scattered around the countryside and ruled by nobles, to place themselves under the protection of shared walls and in future subject themselves to shared laws. Unlike Plato, however, Aristotle does not feel it necessary to resort here to some diluvian myth, and he also knows nothing of some primordial assembly following the cataclysm. According to Aristotle, it was not the social drive of survivors of the great natural disaster that gave rise to the polis but the insight on the part of the prospective citizens that a cooperative constitution could be advantageous for them compared with the prior modus vivendi. What is interesting about these considerations is less their quasi proto-pragmatic thrust than Aristotle’s expressing of a view otherwise seldom encountered in classical antiquity, namely that polis-like coexistence is fundamentally a very artificial way for people to live together. This does not, incidentally, contradict his renowned hypothesis that man is a zóon politikón, as in this context the epithet politikós specifically does not imply a reference to urban culture but quite simply pinpoints the biological fact that we live in groups or packs. Instead, what is striking is that Aristotle judges that the synousía of people in the city is the result of their special psycho-political treatment. Humans are, he suggests, by no means urbanites by nature but have to be turned into such; they cannot simply be posited as city-dwellers, because a simple decision by individual will does not suffice to stabilize such an improbable state of affairs as the coexistence of the many in the polis. So there must logically be a third term that comes between nature and such an assumed act of will, one that would be strong enough to neutralize the powers people have to repel one another and to overcome their aversion to involuntary neighbourhoods. The moral enigma of the city is that it rests on the creation of people who turn away from a certain natural phobia of neighbours and instead champion a highly artificial xenophilia in the most confined of spaces; it is a metamorphosis that can be compared with the moral alchemy of Christendom, with the difference being that what we have here is love your neighbour not your next of kin.

Engineer Daedalus, after whom the dialogue is named, had various suggestions as regards the third term, and they will raise a few eyebrows among the theorists of democracy. To put it briefly, instead of nature or tyranny, the democratic psycho-politics is based on rituals that we must invariably consider the skilful application of anti-misanthropic procedures. In the dialogue, it is above all Daedalus who counters Hippodamos the rationalist by arguing that urban planning is necessary at two levels. As long as the two architects talk about the walls and gates, the piazzas, the temples and the buildings for the magistrates, the ideas of these first explicit city-makers remain more or less conventional in thrust; the same is true when they tackle war, institutions and civil ethical behaviour. By contrast, the references to psychic urban planning are striking: instructions on the rituals that need to be established in order to generate or strengthen the citizens’ sense of commonality. When describing these procedures of urbanization, the author of the dialogue almost turns into a poet. It is as if he wished to compete with Plato in the field the latter was so strong in. Aristotle introduces two allegories into the discussion of political issues that have good prospects of becoming established alongside the well-known Platonic parables. The first is the dyer’s parable, which is evidently constructed to contrast deliberately with Plato’s weaver’s parable in the Statesman dialogue, while the second, the fountain parable, essentially contains the proposal for a political ritual.

With his dyer’s parable, Aristotle moves into terrain occupied by Plato: Just as the latter in his Politikós had termed the ‘royal technique’ the capacity to meaningfully interweave the two socially beneficial, basic moods of masculinity (the courageous / aggressive and the self-controlled / harmonizing mindsets) as a weaver makes his fabric using woof and warp, so in the Daedalus Aristotle defines the ‘democratic technique’ as a procedure to immerse all citizens of the commonality in the same dyer’s vat until they are impregnated down to the very innermost fibre of their being. He believes synoikismós will in this way penetrate the citizens’ most basic emotional strands. This vat of dye impregnates the citizens with a shared pride in the freedom of their own polis as well as with respect for the beautiful acts of megalopsychía, or, to couch it in modern terms, the generosity thanks to which some citizens stand out from others. This pride and respect must precede all other statements of a political nature in the city. Far from rendering the city monochromatic and reducing it to some one-dimensional consensus, it is these pre-political ‘undertones’ that enable those polychromatic layers to be added by dint of which each vibrant city can become a forum for debate, party foundations and rivalry among friends. The implicit argument in this parable is interesting because it points to the pre-logical or pre-discursive premises of the art of urban coexistence. To again resort to modern terms, we could say that here the philosopher for the first time gives voice to the climatic or psycho-political conditions for social synthesis.

The same is perhaps true of the fountain parable and possibly to an even greater extent. There, Daedalus recommends that all citizens of the polis bathe together once in spring and once in the autumn in a special pool that needs to be built for this purpose on the agora – the so-called city fountain. Now, while we can obviously imagine this to be something of an erotic group escapade or balneological carnival, quite as if Aristotle had already read Bakhtin, the key point in both procedures is the fact that there is no discernible direct reference to political dialogue, to logical argument and to an explicit political semantics. Rather, the allegories express procedures on how to direct the pre-symbolical dimension of the coexistence of citizens.

Incidentally, we could be forgiven suspecting here that the fountain ritual also possesses a certain link to a competing Platonic text, because we should not forget that, in his own way, Plato is familiar with the myth of bathing in the fountain of democracy, although, if we ignore its metaphorical traits, there the font exhibits essentially aristocratic and cynical overtones: I am of course thinking of his doctrine of the noble lie as presented in the Politeia, according to which the pre-discursive unanimity of the citizens can only be upheld securely in a city riven by class differences thanks to a legend of their being related to one another. According to it, the great mother of the Athenian city gave birth to three types of children – the golden, the silver and the bronze – and expects of them that they fraternize with one another the way one would expect of siblings – the birth of fraternité from the spirit of inescapable deception. In this case, the joint bath with strangers is replaced by immersion in an imaginary family milieu.

The thrust of my deliberations should now be clear; there is no further reason to explain it further by detours through parables. So let me simply answer the question as to the atmospheric basis that first enables democracy in terms of spatial and media theory. The space of the polis is evidently a place of enhanced improbabilities. In order for politics to consolidate as the art of the improbable, procedures have to be developed from which citizens arise as the agents of coexistence in the improbable. The two ‘Aristotelian’ allegories were meant to allude to the fact that the polis as such constitutes a specific space that we would customarily term a ‘public’ space. I would like to stress the immersive character of staying in this space. The public sphere is not just the effect of people assembling but in fact goes back to the construction of a space to contain them and in which the assembled persons are first able to assemble. The agora is the manifest urban form thereof, but we can only gain an adequate notion of its function if we construe the coming together of persons in this space as an installation. Installations such as those with which we are familiar from contemporary art have the task of developing compromises between observation and participation. Their meaning is to transform the position of juxtaposed observation into an immersive relationship to the milieu that surrounds the erstwhile beholder. By means of installations, modern artists endeavour to strengthen the position of the work vis-à-vis the observer: If, in regard to conventional art objects, isolated sculptures or pictures hung on a wall, the beholder essentially holds a position of strength (to the extent that he can be satisfied with casting a fleeting glance in passing), the installation forces him to take a far less dominating role and compels him to enter the work. Thus, the opportunity to experience art shifts from the pole of the beholder to that of the participant.

In this process, we can discern an insight that is vaguely comparable with Platonic psycho-politics. No open commonality can be constructed on the basis of a single affect – except that of tyrannical phobocracy, which functions only with the primary colour of fear (although as a rule ambition is assigned to it as a secondary colour). Instead, commonality presumes a compromise between at least two primary moods. Plato speaks with good reason of the fabric woven from courage and self-control (andreía and sophrosyne). We could in like manner say that the atmospheric premises of democracy must be formed from a parallelogram of observer’s virtues and participant’s virtues. The citizen as a highly improbable artificial figure of political anthropology would thus first become possible by a combination of actor and spectator in a single person, and that said, the entire public domain would have to consist of this type of agent. In this synthesis the more difficult half – and here we part company with the idea of the installation – without doubt involves the creation of the viewing or observing half, for if humans are beings that by nature have instincts, passions and interests, then only by more or less elaborate cultural techniques can they be persuaded to activate their possible analytical or theoretical intelligence. In order to do justice to the pre-political conditions of democracy, a deep link must be forged between the polis culture and theoretical behaviour. It is no coincidence that Athenian democracy appears to be the first literate collective on the stage of cultural history. Its features included the fact that the viewer virtues were not generated or strengthened by Dionysian theatre and the art of rhetoric alone but also by the invention of philosophy, which, in terms of political significance, was nothing other than the development of a universal logic of the coexistence of humans in a double assembly room, whereby the first was called Polis and the second Physis.

The essence of the written and representational media is that they allow users to manipulate the temporal axis thanks to which diachronic sequences can be transformed into synchronic images. It is best to think here of the phenomenon of spoken speech. Since the very beginnings, members of the Homo sapiens species have been familiar with the experience of a stream of sounds flowing from a speaker’s mouth only to disappear forever after an acoustic presence of a few fractions of a second. The inscription of the spoken word enables this flow to be halted so that the water level rises on the inner side of this symbolic dam. One must accept the idea that the art of writing (that is, of creating a reservoir or pool of language) is the cultural technique that has contributed most to the emergence of democracy. By giving the spoken word a spatial presence, it forces even the most fleeting thing in the world to tarry with us a while longer than would be possible in the purely oral world. The recorded or petrified world can then be repeated, and in this way new mental objects can be brought to life – of particular significance among them are, on the one hand, scholarly theorems and, on the other, political opinions. I would now claim that the art of polis building rests on expansions of this media factor. If the polis was the first historical answer to the question of how to make things public, then the key means to render political objects public is surely the citizens’ ability to capture the ‘things’ for posterity. The res publica arises from this act of capturing objects. If you do not possess suitable techniques for arresting them, then you cannot stabilize fleeting events and cannot give voice to them in the political domain. To this extent, democracy is preceded by a pre-political dimension in which the means to slow down the flow of speech / es is made available. It may be that philosophy in its Platonic variant so exaggerated the democracy-enabling effect in the face of transience that a new type of anti-democratic effects inevitably arose (Latour has uncovered it in his inexorable deconstruction of the Socratic techniques of silencing others by a ‘surfeit of reason’).4 Fundamentally, philosophy and democracy have their joint source in the same techniques for slowing language down, through the impact of which sufficiently stable theoretical and political objects can first arise that are viable for public use. In other words, the polis is a reservoir for symbolic objects that are to be given a longer presence in the shared community (koínon).

A psycho-political foundation for the city must be added to the media-based foundation of the polis by the urban media (writing, theatre, agora rhetoric, philosophy) that serve to prevent spoken utterances draining away into nothingness (or into the formlessness of memories). The psycho-political underpinnings function to spare the citizen’s pride and to render the aristocratic impatience of the former landed gentry compatible with the slowness of democratic procedures. The significance of this care paid by the citizens to the pride of the greats is brought into focus if we remember that the city founders and agents of the synoikismós were by no means some poor settlers who closed ranks out of weakness; they were Attic warlords and lords of keeps who were fully in possession of their power to lay claim to respect. Such characters can only resolve to coexist on the condition that their standards as regards thymos are duly taken into account within the city, or, put differently, that they can continue to operate at a very high level as regards their claims to self-respect and public importance. This will evidently only succeed if rules are found thanks to which the standpoints of competing honour can be respected in dealings between citizens.

In my opinion, the introduction of a list of speakers at the agora marks the hour when democracy was truly born, because not until this simple and so influential aid was introduced was there any guarantee that all those wishing to speak would be able to speak. Even more important is the fact that with the list it was no longer important whether I spoke first, second, fifth, or tenth; there was no humiliation involved in stepping onto the rostrum last. The simple device of the list of speakers itself is based on a far less simple psycho-semiotic premise: the audience’s ability to, as it were, lend the temporal sequence of speakers a spatial dimension, in the sense that we have just indicated as regards the relationship between the spoken and written word, meaning that here, too, the temporal sequence is transformed into synchrony. It is easy to concede that such an exercise can probably only be achieved by a literate audience. This transposition into synchronicity lays the basis for weighing up the opposing political objects – the ‘opinions’ or proposals – against one another. The well-known anecdote of the Athenian negotiator in the Spartan camp shows the degree to which this is a fairly improbable achievement and must first be nurtured in its own right. In reply to the Athenian’s rhetorically masterful petition, the Spartan leaders are said to have claimed: We cannot reply to your long speech, because now, at the end of it, we have forgotten what you said at the beginning. Now that is a reply that implies any number of possibilities but certainly does not attest to a democratic outlook or, to be more precise, democratic training.

Democracy depends on the ability to lend a spatial dimension to things said one after the other; it therefore implies constant training in patience. Only he will take this upon himself who can be sure that it will not impair his honour to wait for the moment when he is given the word. Ensuring that such waiting is not felt to entail humiliation can be considered an incomparable cultural achievement. To this day, populist and fascist uprisings can often be recognized by the fact that they commence with a revolt against the list of speakers.

Let me close with a remark of a more general nature. Many have claimed that ancient Greek culture was primarily one of the eye, while old Israel stood out as a culture of the ear. Against the background of my above remarks, to my mind it becomes evident that this cliché can only be used with great restraint. It seems more advisable to typify cultures in terms of how they deal with the time of judgement and consequently distinguish between patient and impatient systems. In this respect, the Athenian culture of patience can probably lay claim to a quite singular position. What the Greeks meant by the expression sophrosyne, a term usually poorly translated as ‘self-control’ or ‘prudence,’ can in a broader sense be attributed to the impact of a written culture; in the practice of the polis this not only includes the ability to exercise the faculty of judgement, but, and more important, the ability to listen, the ability to wait and let others wait, indeed the resolve to compel others to wait to the extent that is needed in order to disarm any overly heady sentiments among the citizens.

Greek psychology, which hinged on the basic concept of thymos, takes note of the fact that real persons always constitute complexes of pride / rancour (more generally: of agitation) and of arguments. Now if you wish to establish democratic forms of living, you must ensure that if the thymos is agitated this does not directly result in action(s). This can only be achieved by establishing the virtues of observation – and the key notion here would not come into sight if we discuss this process simply in terms of catchwords such as self-control or dissimulation. An intelligentsia of observers is fostered in a city only if this is preceded by the theatralization of agitated feelings, or, put differently, it requires that a stage be erected for mutual observation by people who know that their respective opinions are in part defined by their thymos.

Anyone wanting democracy had to strengthen the observer, albeit not with the means of meditation such as were characteristic of Eastern spirituality but with the means of the urban agon and its specific performances. This includes the principle of the equal power of agents / arguments or isosthenia, and it was the early Nietzsche who pointed to the significance of this for the way the Greeks saw life. Only in a stabilized atmosphere conducive to isosthenia can agents practice the democratic virtue kat exochen, for which there is no completely adequate expression in our vocabulary: We could paraphrase it in light of the above to read as pride-infused inter-patience between powerful individuals. Now that is of course not a very seductive label, but it does have in its favour that it avoids the vapidity of expressions such as tolerance and cooperation. One of the pre-political premises of life in the polis was to put in place a matrix for a broader distribution of powers in which repeatedly new isosthenic situations could be practiced. Thanks to this focus on isosthenia, a creative liaison arises between power and opinion, as a consequence of which each agent (understood here as a local conglomerate of power and opinion) adjusts to the fact that he will encounter agents and observers who are his equal in this respect. It is not communication or the freedom of speech as such that make democracy possible, but the ability of the agents to prevent themselves mutually from acting out unilateral pretensions.

This is the core of the anti-despotic affect in the citizen of a polis. Despotes is the man who wishes to comport himself in the city as if within his own four walls: He confuses public and private space and desires to act on the agora as does an owner on his own grounds. (Daedalus would say: The despot did not take part and bathe in the polis fountain; he has not been impregnated down to his innermost fibre by the dyer’s tub of commonality.) The Greeks despised tyranny quite simply because they considered the tyrant to be an agent who lacked a worthy opponent, someone who possessed the same powers as he did. The shortfall in isosthenia robs the polis of its decisive atmospheric premise: Where there is no space for a countervailing power, there fear, constraint and slavish observation rule (in other words, pitiful theory from below). Tyranny is the success phase of a lack of opponents; after all, the Greeks believed they knew that such phases were by their very nature condemned to be short. By contrast, democracy hopes to enjoy a long life as the success phase of procedures that prevent the various sides from abusing their freedom of speech, without championing an absence of power. The atmospheric premises of liberty include the athletic love of effort, or ponophilía, and it was the polis culture of classical antiquity that offered it its first platforms on which to practice.

1. Under the title ‘Atmospheric Politics’, this lecture is also included in the catalogue: Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (eds.), Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy (Karlsruhe, zkm Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie; Cabridge, Mass., The mit Press, 2005).

2. Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986).

3. Jacob von Uexküll, Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere (1921).

4. Bruno Latour, ‘A Politics Freed from Science. The Body Cosmopolitic’, in: Pandora’s Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 236-265.

Peter Sloterdijk is a German philosopher and cultural theorist. He is a professor of philosophy and media theory at the University of Art and Design Karlsruhe.