Does it still make sense to talk about progress?
The word “progress” conjures up a positivistic view of the world, a late Victorian boundless trust in humanity’s talents for discovery and invention, and of advancement in any field, whether cultural or otherwise. But what happened after that? Did two World Wars splinter those certainties, causing progress to become separate from the idea of advancement? And can we still, nowadays, after and during an all-encompassing technological revolution, talk about progress? According to Schiavone, the financial crisis of 2008 proved a turning point, the moment when governments and people found themselves forced to act just to defend and keep what had already been achieved. The only possible solution to the ensuing political and cultural deficit is a global response that transcends the particular interest of this or that country. This is being amply demonstrated now, in the midst of the new global emergency that is coronavirus. Completed just before the start of the crisis, and with the addition of a chapter dedicated to it, these pages interrogate the progressive function of technology of science, not as alien powers but as integral part of what makes us human.
Aldo Schiavone is the author of Spartacus, Pontius Pilate, and The Invention of Law in the West. He was a professor of Roman law at the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane, which he founded. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he lives in Rome.