Land and Sea

Land          -        Sea
Finite         -         Infinite

The retreat of nature as an obstacle to man's progress, which he achieves by means of his labor in culture and civilization, proceeds differently when man works on and through ships rather than by cultivating the earth and creating pasturelands.

The house remains the nucleus and center of terrestrial life, together with all its concrete orders: house and property, matrimony, family, and inheritance. All these concrete orders are born and grow upon the soil and under the stamp of terrestrial life, specifically agricultural life. The fundamental institution of law, dominium or property, receives its name from domus, house. That is obvious. But even legal jurists do not realize that the German word for laborer, “Bauer,” does not refer to the cultivation of the soil, but rather the act of building: Bau, Gebau. Labor thus designates in the first instance, the man who builds a house.

Terrestrial life revolves around the house. In contrast, maritime life revolves around the ship, which one must navigate. The house is rest: the ship, movement. The space in which the ship moves is distinct from that of the house. As a consequence, the ship belongs to another environment with a different horizon. On the ship, men engage in a different kind of social relation(ship) amongst themselves as well as with the outer world. They also have a fundamentally different relation to nature, above all with respect to animals. The man of the earth tames and domesticates animals—the elephant, the camel, horse, dog, cat, ox, mule—and makes them domestic animals. Fish, on the other hand, can never be domesticated. Never: they are fished and eaten because the house is foreign to the sea.

We bring these simple historical-cultural examples to mind here, in order to recall the profound difference between terrestrial and maritime existence, land and sea life.

We are looking for an answer to the question of why the industrial Revolution, with its unfettered technology, remains tied to maritime existence. A land-based order, with the house at its center, necessarily has a fundamentally different relation to technology than an order of life that revolves around the ship. The absolutization of technology and technological progress, the conflation of technical progress to mean progress in general, everything that one might understand under the catch-phrase "unfettered technology" [técnica desencadenada] develops only when fed by the nutritious subsoil and climate of maritime existence.

By following the call of the open seas, by actualizing the passage to sea life, the British isle gave a magnificent historical response to the historical call of the age of discoveries. With this it created the foundations of the industrial Revolution and the beginning of an era whose problematic we are experiencing today.

We have spoken concretely of the industrial Revolution, which is our present destiny. To reiterate, it could not have originated in any other country but England in the eighteenth century. An industrial Revolution signifies the freeing of technological progress: this liberation is solely comprehensible from within maritime existence; here it appears logical, up to a certain point.

Technological inventions have been made everywhere throughout the ages. The British contribution to technology is no greater than that of other nations. It always comes down to knowing what becomes of the technological invention, and this depends on the context, the concrete order, in which the invention turns up. Within the context of maritime existence, technological inventions develop unfettered and free, as opposed to when they emerge from the fixed organs of terrestrial life and remain surrounded and integrated to these.

The British, who in the eighteenth century were responsible for all the discoveries that led to the industrial Revolution (the coke oven, etc.) were in no way more brilliant than the men of other times and other countries that, while remaining tied to the land, had in an equal manner brought to realization many of the same eighteenth-century inventions. Technological inventions are not discoveries revealed by some mysterious, higher power. They fall within their time. They develop or decay according to the corresponding and concrete order of human life in which they have emerged.

So, this is to say that the inventions that inaugurate the industrial Revolution only become its foundation where the passage to maritime existence, sea life, has taken place. The passage to a purely maritime existence has as its result and in its most far reaching and intimate consequences, the freeing of technology as an autonomous force.

Notwithstanding all that had been developed before the arrival of technology in the context of essentially terrestrial life and existence, technology in an absolute sense had never arisen. It bears repeating here the observation that thalassic culture—limited to the coasts and interior seas—does not even signify a definitive step toward maritime existence. Only upon the ocean can the ship become the counter-image of the house.

Faith in absolute progress is a sign of having accomplished this passage toward maritime existence. The reactions caught up in a continuous and limitless process of invention are born in the historical, social and morally infinite space of sea life.

We are not referring here to the difference between sedentary and nomad peoples, but rather the opposition between land and sea as the possibilities of living in one of two elementally distinct forms of life. It is for this reason mistaken to speak of naval nomads, in comparison to nomads on horse, camel, or other nomads belonging to Terra firma. This is only one of the many incorrect homologies between land and sea. The space in which historical human existence localizes itself is fundamentally different between earth and sea, both in terms of their horizon of possibility as in terms of their very foundations; and essentially different forces lay behind human culture, on the one hand, and human civilization, on the other. These affect the one who views the sea from the land differently than the one who views the land from the sea, insofar as culture is determined more by the terrestrial (land-based order) and civilization by the maritime; and the maritime image of the world is first and foremost technomorphic before being sociomorphic.

"The principle of family life is dependence on the soil, on land, terra firma. Similarly, the natural element for industry, animating its outward movement, is the sea".

[Carl Schmitt]
‘The Planetary Tension Between Orient and Occident and the Opposition Between Land and Sea’, Chap. V

Related posts: