Bruno Latour’s claim that we have never been modern is indeed provocative. He suggested that every object in the world starts from its existence and eventually falls into a spectrum between pure nature and pure society. As time progresses, it undergoes an ongoing process towards purification. In this process, the object might oscillate between nature and society. His definition of modernism is the ultimate purification state, where at that time every object gets its stable place in the spectrum. However, per this very definition, modernism can never exist, because neither time will stop nor there will be a time when everything stops changing. An equally provocative implication of this train of thought is that we have never been revolutionary. In a revolution, the new emerge and the old is rejected; this very definition implies that the old and the new are two stable states. However, in Latour’s view things have always been changing over time, so the very idea of revolution cannot exist.
These two counter-intuitive claims rest on the idea that modernism is a point in time and that a revolution is a time interval. These assumptions are true in theory, but I want to propose alternative places for modernism and revolution in Latour’s scheme, so that we can see them in a slightly different light. Instead of points and intervals on the time axis, I think that modernism and revolution can also be objects. As time goes by, they too move towards points in the nature-society spectrum; in this case, both might settle on the social constructivist side. At a certain point in time, the places of the two objects get stabilized, and so are there definitions. Per this set of definitions, we can determine whether we are modern and whether an event is revolutionary.
A loose definition of modernism and revolution can be what people decide to be modernism and revolution. Take the widely-disputed Scientific Revolution for an example. In Latour’s definition as well as the contemporary definition of science, the Scientific Revolution is a misnomer, because it is neither scientific nor revolutionary. However, in the alternative definition of revolution, the Scientific Revolution is undoubtedly a revolution because people refer to the historical event as the Scientific Revolution. Though this logic sounds frivolous at first, the basis of it is the way people perceive the world. Note that everything we name is symbol of the subjective world that we observe; therefore, existence comes first. Because our perception of the world relies on subjectivity, defining A as A is ultimately correct, which makes the alternative definitions of modernism and revolution viable.
I am not denying Latour’s definition of modernism and revolution; in fact, compared with the alternative places of modernism and revolution, I think Latour’s definition is stronger. Nonetheless, the alternative places of the two concepts hopefully will shed light on people’s understanding of the world.