Duke University Press, 2013, 256 pages.
In The Fragility of Things: Self-organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism (2013), political theorist William Connolly delivers us into a chaotic world: “a world of becoming in which multiple force fields set on different tiers of chronotime periodically collide or coalesce to foment a new danger, risk, or possibility” (138). This is a volatile world that is constantly in motion, a world that gives a leading role to mystery and creative possibility, and thus a world where complete explanation is never fully attainable. Connolly’s cosmos is inspired by complexity theory in the biological and earth sciences, a Sophoclean sense of cosmic sensitivity, and thinkers who dwell upon a “multitiered cosmos of becoming” (29). Connolly engages these ideas, as well as several other well-known voices in the Western philosophical canon, in order to paint a picture of our cosmos and develop a set of principles by which to live and take action in it. In his estimation this is a timely endeavor, both because of recent advances in our understanding of self-organizing systems that underlie complexity theory, and because of the “hegemony of neoliberalism” (7), which belies the complexity and fragility of our world. The Fragility of Things ultimately offers us a new theory of political economy: one that firmly dislodges the market as the leading mechanism of historical explanation and, simultaneously, illuminates possibilities for political activists to realize different future trajectories.
This is a tall order, and in just under 200 pages, Connolly accomplishes it.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.