Ton Lemaire

The Fall of Prometheus

Over de keerzijden van de vooruitgang

On the downside of progress

In The Fall of Prometheus Ton Lemaire explores the negative consequences of our irrational faith in the future, beginning with the depletion of natural resources, climate change and other environmental crises, before going on to examine the chronic dissatisfaction and emptiness typical of so many lives in the world’s most prosperous countries. People seek happiness in consumerism and hedonism, and are increasingly miserable as a result.

Lemaire shows how our society is obsessed with economic growth, addicted to consumption and trapped in a spiral of desire. In light of the approaching scarcity of fossil fuels, we seem like giants with feet of clay, blinded by the illusion that technology has a solution to everything, that the earth’s bounty is inexhaustible and that there are no limits to what mankind can do.

The root cause of our reckless addiction to growth lies in our belief in progress, which Lemaire regards as the ultimate religion of modernity, nourished by the ancient myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. The dark side of this Prometheanism emerged in the twentieth century, when devastating wars, totalitarian regimes and unprecedented environmental destruction proved Prometheus’ fire capable not only of providing human beings with light and warmth but of blinding or even consuming them.

Lemaire advocates active conservation policies combined with a thoroughgoing reform of agriculture, the redistribution of wealth and a simpler, more natural lifestyle. He also proposes a new kind of spirituality, in which people define and experience their place in nature in new ways. While resisting the eco-fundamentalism and anti-humanism that exist within certain groups of radical environmentalists, he insists it would be fatal for us to continue on our present course.

A rational approach to the natural world, the source of our prosperity and scientific knowledge, must be accompanied by a realization that we are part of nature and cannot bend it to our will with impunity.

  • A salutary mixture of Calvinism, Buddhism, maturity and erudition in response to an era of hedonism
  • Lemaire’s advocacy of negative growth demonstrates his intellectual courage and theoretical consistency

The Fall of Prometheus is a miracle of nuance, reasonableness and profundity. This is the ideal handbook for thinking about sustainability.

Vrij Nederland

The Fall of Prometheus is an important book with a message that deserves to be heard.

De Volkskrant

Ton Lemaire

Ton Lemaire is an anthropologist and philosopher. Early in his career he published the bestseller Filosofie van het landschap (Philosophy of the Landscape, 1970) followed by, among others, Over de waarde van culturen (On the Value of Cultures, 1976), De indiaan in ons bewustzijn (The Indian in Our…

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De val van Prometheus. Over de keerzijden van de vooruitgang (2010). Non-fiction, 375 pages.
Words: 98,000
Copies sold: 3,000

With notes and references


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