Enrique Dussel and Transmodern Thinking

Philosopher Enrique Dussel

HAVANA TIMES – The recent death of liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel is a huge loss and causes great sorrow for those of us who have been influenced by his way of thinking and firmly believe that we can build knowledge from the global south, far from the dominant Eurocentrism in our countries even today.

I personally came across Enrique Dussel’s work back in 2011, while studying a Masters in Communication and Contemporary Culture in Cordoba, Argentina, and I found myself looking for Latin American points of view, that would allow me to think about the region in broader political terms.

That’s how I went from a background as a sociologist in a pretty colonial and eurocentric Chile, where the notion of universality in Social Sciences, only covered up a epistemic violence, with the canon of thought focussing on writers from mainly five northern countries: the US, Germany, France, England, Italy.

Therefore, learning about the so-called decolonial turn in Latin America and the Caribbean, where writers such as Anibal Quijano, Catherine Walsh, Walter Mignolo, Arturo Escobar, Maria Lugones and Enrique Dussel himself, led me to questions that my previous education made it impossible for me to ask and go beyond the framework of modernity.

Ever since then, the notion of transmodernity, used by Enrique Dussel, has had a great impact on me. It never sought to be an anti-European way of thinking, like some people have mistakenly argued, but rather moves away from universality towards the pluriversality of knowledge, which allows for a truly horizontal dialogue about knowledge.

Meanwhile, transmodernity can’t be seen as an essentialist and fetishized view from the global south, but rather as a truly democratic and transformative project, that rescues different political experiences from across the world, and not only those from Western civilization.

As a result, Dussel questioned helenocentrism and the idea that philosophy and politics began with Greek thought, which has contributed greatly to the field, but believing that this is the beginning of all thought is to deny there was extremely important thought for human history before this.

In other words, Dussel cast doubt on the West’s linear history, that sells us the idea that we’ve lived through different eras (Ancient times, the Middle Ages, the Modern Age), as if the rest of the world had no other choice but to form part of a narrative that made us invisible and left us out of History.

That said, it becomes impossible not to see the fatal role that the 1492 Conquest had and the Spanish Empire’s cover-up of Abya Yala. The Spanish Empire, heir of Christianity and a civilization that not only imposed itself on other civilizations by military force, but also on an epistemic level, launching a modern colonial project, that was incapable of seeing diversity in the world.

Regarding the above, Dussel’s decolonizing project is completely linked to the people in the world who weren’t allowed to have their own view, which has been the case throughout History with indigenous peoples not only in South America, but also in other places around the globe, who have been belittled, racialized and animalized over the centuries.

In the case of the Palestinian people, for example, Dussel’s critique not only focussed on the oppression they’d suffered at the hands of the State of Israel for decades, but he also shows us how Judaism abroad colonized by a modern ideology, such as Zionism, rejects nomadic-Semitic thought, which has been persecuted since the Roman Empire up until today. 

It’s no coincidence that Dussel supported different emancipatory struggles of people across the world, which in the case of South America, has been strongly committed to the Cuban and Sandinista Revolutions and also the constitutional processes of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, which were a ray of hope for people at the time who were questioning discriminatory capitalist modernity, which always scorned and belittled others.

Nevertheless, while these processes sparked hope for certain peoples and meant a strong democratization on a social level in these countries, they drifted towards authoritarian leaderships, towards state-centric thinking, thereby replicating colonialism but from the Left and creating new oppression.

It could be said that Dussel was always aware of the colonial nature that could be present in Marxism and many other Lefts across the world, but unfortunately, he had quite a blind view of this in his last few years, as we can see with his sympathy for Nicolas Maduro’s authoritarian government in Venuzuela, which he didn’t hesitate to give his unwavering support for.

He also had a blind stance on what happened with multipolarity, given China’s and BRIC’s growing influence, and the loss of Western supremacy, which is positive in the sense the US has less power in the world, but it also legitimizes violent powers and governments who have very little or zero interest in building positive ways of living.

That said, I feel this last critique of Dussel on a political level is much-needed, but not to erase the huge contribution he had to anti-colonial thought and thought from the global south, influencing entire generations with his philosophy, which has made him a key and essential philosopher for anyone who wants to think about a world with space for many worlds.

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