Has the West ever been modern? If not, what are the consequences? These are the issues Bruno Latour calls into question. Perhaps the term Revolution has been thrown around to casually. Perhaps, specifically, the West has thrown it around casually out of arrogance or ignorance.
Considering oneself revolutionary, Keith Peterson suggests, is to view oneself as special or different from ones predecessors and contemporaries. The Western World certainly fits this description. Without hesitation, we consider ourselves to differ radically from everyone else; we imagine ourselves to be a qualitatively greater civilization than every other, on the belief that we “mobilize nature as it is known to the sciences”. In other words, the Western World is scientifically backed; medicine, for example, is based on science and research instead of natural remedies or superstitious beliefs. Running with the example of medicine, I will evaluate Latour’s claim.
To say the West has never been modern may be a bit of a stretch, however to say it has never been revolutionary is, I think, a more plausible. The Western World has indeed moved into modernity, at least concerning modernity, because it has been introduced, or created rather, more resistant and hostile diseases and sicknesses. So, its medicine has had to evolve in order to combat the, for example, viruses that it has created through abusing antibiotics. Other parts of the world have not felt the urgency to change their medical practices, on account that the same things do not threaten the West as they do them. This makes them vulnerable to disease, however only if we introduce it to them. Tribes that have made contact with the white man, for instance, have usually been unpleasant encounters, as the diseases we carried ravaged their people. In their everyday life however, their medical practices are probably sufficient enough to deal with the threats that their environment imposes on them. Thus, is it fair to say the West is radically different than other parts of the World? Maybe. But I think the claim that we are qualitatively greater is rather pompous. Are science may be more advanced, but it is also necessary for the conditions we live in. More isolated civilizations do not nearly have the sciences that the West boasts, yet they get by just fine with what they have. In fact, if we were to put Western people into these more remote civilizations, their sciences and technological advancements would probably do them no good for surviving in that particular environment.
Latour’s claim, therefore, is I think a harsh critique of the Western World. The West, I think has been and is modern, due to the advancements it has made and has had to make. However, whether or not it is revolutionary can be debated. It would seem natural for modernity and revolutionary to go hand in hand, but I think it is possible for the West to be one and not the other.