Book. “Sobriety” made a remarkable entry into the public debate during the year 2022. According to Bruno Villalba, professor of political science at AgroParisTech, the operation had been carefully considered. Two years after trying to delegitimize this notion, by mocking the “amish pattern”, Emmanuel Macron changes strategy in the context of the presidential campaign. Its goal is now to seize this term to defuse its critical charge. It then makes sobriety, imilated to simple common sense, an imperative for optimizing energy consumption, without constraint for the commercial sector or reflection on needs. It is against this now dominant discourse that is written Sobriety policies.
Since the early 1970s, the idea of sobriety has been an issue of struggle. Often seen as a simple tool for energy efficiency, it is also the fulcrum of a profound questioning of industrial modernity. It is this last approach that Bruno Villalba seeks to rearm, following Jacques Ellul, Bernard Charbonneau, Ivan Illich or André Gorz.
Against any performative use of the term, his approach aims to be materialistic and “consequentialist” : any real policy of sobriety should examine not the intentions and the speeches, but the material consequences of our actions. This is the case, for example, of “green” energies, recycling, digital or nuclear, which are the subject of a chapter devoted to “logics of innovation and efficiency”. In view of their medium and long-term consequences, these would only be a performative discourse intended to “keep alive the promise of abundance”.
Rejecting such illusions is necessary at a time when the parameters of politics are being redefined by new limits. Planetary limits, first, linked to the fragility of climatic and ecological balances. Temporal limits, then: the idea of a linear historical time, of an indefinite progress, gave way to a rationality of the deadline or the hourgl, in which it is necessary to act quickly and strongly in order to be able to limit the extent of an already irreparable disaster.
It’s definitely not a feel-good book that this one. Sobriety, for Villalba, is first and foremost an apprenticeship in “renunciation”. The latter does not go through a politicization of “negative commons”as in the recent work by Alexandre Monnin, Politicizing renunciation (Divergences, 160 pages, 15 euros), published at the same time, but rather through an inner transformation: it is never too late to renounce the illusions of abundance, productivism and consumerism.
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