According to the French philosopher and psychoanalyst, Cynthia Fleury, vulnerability is not a dirty word but, rather, is a condition for our autonomy. Fleury dreams of a future world restored to health by the notion, and practice, of care.
In recent weeks, stands have begun to be taken on what the foundations of tomorrow's world should be. Their profusion sounds like denial to the ears of all those who, crisis after crisis, denounce the silence of intellectuals. France has long struggled to free itself from an outdated image of its thinkers, whose ideas often run contrary to the notion of the Republic itself. Yet nostalgic for the time when Sartre, Aron and Foucault denoted the just, the good and the true, France likes nothing better than to replay ad nauseam the conflict between philosophy and the city that led Socrates to his doom.
It is probably to avoid "being buried away" like her illustrious predecessor that Cynthia Fleury tries, whenever she can, to "articulate herself to a society" which, by its nature, "excludes philosophers". Her work consists, therefore, in "making oneself indispensable" to the city, in "being a point of rupture and crisis"... to better overcome the one we are going through and to assert oneself as helper to a sick democratic society.
A concern for the rule of law
Fleury has been able to do this by alerting society to the possible excesses of the state during public health emergency. The philosopher, who remains a practitioner and has been a member of the National Consultative Ethics Committee since 2013, understands better than most the fragility of the French health care system. She fears, however, that forgetting "the holistic truth of life, which is not only biological, but also economic, social and democratic," will lead to "the painful reduction of our essential individual and public freedoms."
"The Covid-19 crisis has shown that care cannot be improvised. For want of masks, after all, a whole society was put into confinement. Thus, the crisis offers an opportunity"
Under the guise of serving the common good, ‘benevolent’ surveillance has reigned supreme, to the point of jeopardizing our “capacity for self-determination". Yet, for Fleury, the rule of law must encourage individuals to become aware of their "irreplaceability", i.e. to get out of the conditioning that they are, somehow, in a minority, and to instead act and think in their own name. In this way, it aims to interrupt "the unprecedented and delirious dynamic of commodification that makes us all interchangeable" or even disposable entities, as the world of business sometimes suggests.
Care as a gesture of defiance
Becoming irreplaceable does not in any way authorize one to impose one's viewpoint on others. It implies building shared responsibility with each other, accepting to say "I" without losing sight of one's own vulnerability. Cynthia Fleury sets out her non-"deficit" vision of vulnerability in her 2019 essay, Care is a Humanism. Far from being a handicap, vulnerability gives rise to "a concern, an attention and a new quality of presence in the world and in others." The challenge is therefore to "invent an ethos" to deal with fragility and even "to preserve it".
Above all, it is a question of welcoming care within the city, which requires a revaluation of the care professions, as well as many others, in the wake of Covid 19. According to the 46 year old, care, as an activity, encompasses a much wider notion than just ‘health’ care. In politics, it is "what allows us to inhabit the world, to repair it." The Covid-19 crisis has shown that care cannot be improvised. For want of masks, after all, a whole society was put into confinement. Thus, the crisis offers an opportunity "to rediscover the benefits of solidarity, public services, the rule of law and social welfare combined, articulated, and allied forever." This will certainly require courage and a hint of imagination. However, it is only if care is regarded as "the key truth of democracy" that it will be possible to build a sustainable and effective liberalism. It is, then, up to philosophers and other intellectuals to educate "an empowered citizenship of individuals" in order to "enable the multiplication of their life choices" in the qualitative sense of the term.
By Marianne Fougère
Cynthia Fleury’s latest work, Répétition Générale (Gallimard) is out now.