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Leonardo Boff: Is the Worst of the Crisis Still to Come?

In a previous article we said that more than a financial-economic crisis, what is occurring is a crisis of humanity. The foundations of human sociability have been affected. Trust, truth, and cooperation have been destroyed by the voracity of capital. Politics and economic activity are impossible without them. Barbarism erupts. We would like to offer this philosophic reflection, inspired by Karl Marx and Max Horkheimer, two notable thinkers. The latter was a prominent figure in the school of Frankfurt, along with Adorno and Habermas. Even before the end of the war, in 1944, he had the courage to say in one of his conferences at Columbia University, USA, published under the title, Eclipse of Reason, that the imminent victory of the Allies would have little effect. The principal cause of the war was still active in the nucleus of the dominant culture. It was the abduction of reason by the world of technology and production, thus, by the world of the mass media, to the exclusion of any discussion of the ends. In other words, the human being no longer sought a higher meaning of life. To live became to produce endlessly, and to consume all that can be consumed. It is merely a material purpose, without greatness. Reason was used to facilitate this voracity. When reason was subjugated, it became blurred, no longer asking the questions that always had been at its center: what is the meaning of life and of the universe, what is our place? Without answers to these questions, there remains only the desire for power that leads to war, as in Hitler's Europe.

Marx said something similar in the third book of The Capital. In it, Marx clarifies that for capital, the beginning and the end is capital itself, with its limitless will to accumulate. Its objective is the endless increase of production, for production, and by production, as associated with consumption, seeking the development of all the forces of production. It is the sway of the means without discussion either of the ends or of the meaning of this delirious process. Humanitarian goals sustain society and give purpose to life. Our economist and thinker Celso Furtado said it well: «The challenge posed in the threshold of the XXI century is nothing less than to change the course of civilization, to move the axis of the logic of the means at the service of accumulation, in a short period of time, towards a logic of the ends, in function of social well being, of the exercise of freedom and cooperation among the peoples» (Brazil: an Interrupted Construction. [Brasil: a construção interrompida, 1993, 76].)

Was it not this that the ideologues of neoliberalism advised us: deregulation of the economy, and laissez-faire towards the markets? They lied to all humanity, promising the best of all worlds. There is no alternative, they would say. All that has been now unmasked, creating a crisis that will get even worse.

That is because the present crisis is happening in the midst of other, even more grave, crises: the crisis of global warming, that will be of catastrophic dimensions for millions of people, and the crisis of the unsustainability of the Earth, the result of virulent productivity and consumerism. We need a third again of Earth, that is, the Earth has already passed by 30% her capacity for recuperation. The Earth can no longer tolerate the present growth of production and consumption, as all countries propose. And the Earth will defend herself by causing chaos, not of a creative form, but destructive chaos.

The limits of capital lie in the limits of the Earth. That was not the case in the crisis of 1929. The Earth's capacity for support was taken as a given then. That is not so today: if we do not save the sustainability of the Earth, there will be no basis for capital's proposed growth. After having made labor's position precarious, replacing it with the machine, now capital is liquidating nature.

These considerations rarely appear in the present debate. Questions of the duration of the crisis, of the indices of the recession and the level of unemployment, predominate. In this terrain, the worst advisors are the economists, especially the Secretaries of the Treasury. They are hostage to a type of reasoning that blinds them to these vital questions. We must listen to the thinkers and those who love life and care for the Earth.


Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission


Free translation from the Spanish by,

sent by Melina Alfaro, done at