Latour bifurcates our traditions into the heterogeneous networks of domains (concrete traditions) and the homogeneous felicity conditions of modes (abstract traditions) and their values. Having spent a lot of time explaining to us how science, contrary to its image as an abstract tradition, is in fact a concrete impure assemblage of actors and trajectories, Latour is now explaining how nevertheless one can abstract out a pure value of objectivity that is served by this composite rhizomic domain.
The whole point is that Latour’s account of science or of any other tradition cannot by his own principles be descriptive in a simply iterative sense, that would be endorsing the « double-click » illusion of naive empiricism. A new description is a new interpretation intervening in a field of multiple interpretations, shared by both practitioners and their phantom publics. For Latour the public is a « phantom » in the sense that it is not a synchronic constituted object but a diachronic process composed of sub-phantoms:
« The public is necessarily a phantom, it cannot be a body. It is constantly at the stage of being restarted, of being a passage, of being an assembly of all the other assemblies that are in the process of revealing new issues » (from « We are all reactionaries today« ).
In the case of religion, Latour does not consider the domain of religion, an impure assemblage, but abstracts out the purity of religious enunciation. Here Latour is himself a member of a particular phantom public to which he gives hegemony over its rivals, in denying the pertinence of the category of belief to the religious mode. As in the case of science, the other phantom practitioners and phantom publics, or Deleuzian minorities, are constitutively valuing counter-traditions that make for transformative, and not just purportedly iterative, redescription. I argue that while preaching global empirical revision Latour is in effect practicing transcendental conservation, and that Latour’s agonistic agora is non-dialogical, constituted by an evacuation of counter-traditions by means of hegemonic felicity conditions posited as definitory. Latour identifies a tradition with a static snapshot of a valorised sub-group’s party-line given transcendental validity and thus hegemonic power over the characterisation of the essential mode qualifying the particular impure domain of practices. It is in this synchronic modalisation of diachronic traditions that Latour’s project resembles Badiou’s, despite the pluralistic openness to an abundance of modes of existence.