- American Immanence: Democracy for an Uncertain World by Michael S. Hogue
American Immanence begins with the following premise: as the Earth becomes increasingly a product of human existence, we are faced with a radical unsettling of our traditional modes of self-understanding, both in relation to each other and to the broader environment. As Hogue succinctly observes, “By making the Earth homo imago, by terraforming our own self-image into the Earth, we have discovered ourselves as earth creatures, terra bēstiae” (55). The anthropogenic shifts that have beset our ecological, religious, and political climates, he insists, require us to reconceive many of our basic anthropological, ethical, and theological assumptions. These shifts signify the paradoxicality of the Anthropocene as, at once, the product of human power and a cautionary tale of human impotence.
The dominant tone of American Immanence is far from defeatist. It is, rather, profoundly hopeful. Hogue describes the Anthropocene paradox as [End Page 123] a provocation, an event that “calls us” to forge new modes of relation to the Earth (3). It has a “natal aspect” that lures us toward the realization of our creative potential and “calls us to set in motion a deeply democratic, ecologically attuned, and spiritually vital political theology” (3–4). At the same time, this paradox enables us to do so by opening “a conceptual space” in which to recommit ourselves to a deeper and more resilient democracy. Hogue seeks to provide the means by which we might achieve this recommitment by developing an “insurrectionist” (13) political theology whose sufficiency to this purpose is funded by the philosophical and theological insights of the American immanentists—most notably, William James, John Dewey, and Alfred North Whitehead.
Five chapters comprise the book as a whole. The first chapter is predominantly critical in tone, elucidating what Hogue calls the “antidemocratic” (26) aspects of the dominant American theopolitical tradition. These antidemocratic aspects owe to a moral logic of extraction and externalization under-written by what he calls the “redeemer symbolic” (29) operative in American history and identity. The redeemer symbolic “is a constellation of biblical and secular narratives, foremost among which are the stories of Christ as the redeeming savior of the world, which legitimates the extraction of diverse forms of value and justifies the externalization of diverse costs as the price of American exceptionalism” (29). The moral logic of redemption by means of an ontological exceptional agency has manifested in various ways throughout American history, whether explicitly theological, nationalist-imperialist, or by way of neoliberal economics (29). In short, Hogue contends that the moral logic of the redeemer symbolic has served to legitimate the theopolitics of American exceptionalism.
Chapter two expands Hogue’s focus from the national to the global. It is here that Hogue more explicitly details the paradoxical nature of the Anthropocene and the “wickedness” (65) of the climate crisis. The paradox is most palpable, he argues, in terms of climate change. That is, the climate crisis represents both the scale of human influence and the failures of human responsibility. It is precisely this duplicity that qualifies climate change as a “wicked” problem—that is, as a problem “that not only resists but refuses solution” (65). Wickedness names those problems that are only “exacerbated” by our conventional attempts to solve them because these very attempts “are indentured to interests” that contributed to the problem in the first place (65). It is precisely because wicked problems are structurally embedded in society that they are difficult to analyze, because embeddedness means that these problems have a nonlinear causal structure. Wicked problems consist of “nonlocal viscosity, diffused causality, and asymmetrical effects” that require solutions attuned to their [End Page 124] polythetic nature (75). Together, the paradox and wickedness of our current socioecological situation render unsuitable our longstanding ontological and epistemological self-understandings.
While there are other candidate traditions to which one could appeal for reimagining these self-understandings, Hogue argues for the unique relevance of the tradition of American immanence. Hogue articulates this unique relevance in chapter three. Here, Hogue exposits...