Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The Silence of the Intellectuals and the Need for New Actions - by Eugene van Itterbeek, Poet, Former General Secretary of the Poetry House 'Seven Sleepers' in Leuven

By "silence of the intellectuals" we understand a situation where there is an absence of a philosophy of the State to address the political and cultural crisis that the western societies are going through in a declining period of the welfare state and of the collapse of the communists states in Central and Eastern Europe. Capitalism of the western type failed also to map out a policy for short term development for the states of the former Eastern bloc. Implicitly, the technocratic state admits to its incapacity to combat economic and social crisis within itself, as well as outside itself.

Already in 1969 this collapse was predicted. In an economic-social colloquium held in Namur in 1966-67, the philosopher Alphonse de Waelhens announced that "the welfare state is fatally close to being a technocracy and that its perpetuation can only be posed in technological terms." The entire system rests on "supply and demand", or, in other words, demand and the satisfaction of needs, which is destructive in itself. In the 70's, it was believed that the welfare state would culminate in violence. In this context, De Waelhens maintains that the technocratic state generates violence by the very fact that it tends to negate or ignore the cultural roots of people. So the technocratic system, in fact, excludes any thought on the raison d'etre of welfare, because its only concern consists in safeguarding itself and its self-perpetuation. Here the philosopher or the intellectual is relegated to the periphery (1). Their questions are frowned upon by the system as utter futility and even menacing. Sartre's diagnostic in Les Temps Modernes points out the same thing: the technocratic state had imposed itself in America, Germany and Japan but "at the cost of a long and extremely brutal crisis which economically ruined and politically annihilated the petite-bourgeoisie and the pre-capitalists or pre-industrial rural population, and permitted the resurgence of the technocratic state." (2)

The editorial of the Les Temps Modernes, November 1969 issue, signed under the name of T.M., - which we surmise as the pen of J.P. Sartre - stated that in France itself, the technocratic state had not been able to impose itself because of the resistance of the working classes who "were not disposed to an alliance with monopolies." (p. 589)

What observations can be made on the basis of that diagnosis and our problems? First of all, should we not ask ourselves, if the crisis of the European concept is not situated in the context which we raise? For example, there is the fact that the capitalism of monopoly has its political and economic mediation always guaranteed by the technocratic state and which the European Union has taken as a model for itself, even though such a state is not able to maintain itself and hence ought to admit its incapacity to substitute the communist state model, which in turn has caused there, where it had imposed itself by military force and indoctrination, many economic and social losses in the Central and Eastern European regions. The latter system did also not tolerate intellectual criticism, thus the tendency of many intellectuals to live foremostly in exile.

Many Western intellectuals who had announced in the 70's the crisis of the technocratic era, made references to the era of Marxism. On this point, the intellectuals of the left displayed an intolerance, even with regard to their own colleagues who shared the same preoccupations, but who refused to choose between communism and anti-communism. This is a case in point, as we all know, that separated Sartre from his friend Merleau-Ponty (3). Although their fundamental philosophical diagnosis remains unchallenged, these leftist intellectuals have left behind an immense ideological vacuum.

Philosophers of culture-as-counterculture, like Marcuse from the Frankfurt School, did not succeed either in elaborating a philosophy of State or in proposing a political project capable of rivalling that of the technocratic concept. Their main concern was to criticise such policy as based on the capitalist system and to create a philosophical and sociological base for culture as a critical function in society. That applies equally to the philosophers of culture, critics of the modern world such as Denis de Rougemont, Hannah Arendt or Rene Guenon.

Federalism, as well as the idea of a Europe of Regions, conceived by Denis de Rougemont, is the only one to survive. It also nourished the currents of popular nationalism as well as the models of the ecological society. Also, we refer to the American theories of limited government, which is intended to curb the power of the state, so that its citizens have a greater freedom to run the economy and to manage social welfare.

In cultural matters, the technocratic state has not quite elaborated a truly cultural policy, since this is not among its primary objectives. It abandoned culture, to a great extent, and left it to be financed privately through sponsoring and private investments, in particular in the fields of the media, movie industry and press, thereby allowing the establishment of monopolies in the information sector and creating a space for the cultural industry to control all cultural consumptions. This has come to replace the cultural policy as advocated by Andre Malraux and UNESCO in the 60's and 70's. UNESCO itself almost collapsed over the problem of monopoly of information that the technological stated wanted to impose on developing countries. This type of cultural and modernist technocracy is substituted for the cultural behaviour proper to the society of pre-industrial classes, threatening the cultural diversity of European society which is linked to the existence of the petite-bourgeoisie and the pre-industrial peasantry. These - the petite bourgeoisie and the pre-industrial peasantry - are the humus, the roots, sap, colour and poetry of life, which in turn is at the very core of cultural diversity. I am referring here to the views of the French novelist at the beginning of the 20th century, George Duhamel, who considered the petite-bourgeoisie as the fundamental base of society. Here too I would like to mention similar ideas of Richard Hoggart in his book La Culture du pauvre. His study points to the fact that the technocratic state has been manipulating and suffocating the humus or the reservoir of democracy (among the petite-bourgeoisie and the peasantry) through the creation of a monoculture based entirely on economics. In this regard, it is quite significant that the Rumanian culture, for example, deeply rooted in ancestral traditions of the villages, was able to resist and survive the onslaught of the communist technocracy, organised by president Ceauscu and his totalitarian regime.

At a time of political, economic and cultural crisis which currently affects all European nations, as well as the whole technocratic system of the European Union, the intellectuals ought to assume their responsibility which consists not only in the current crisis forthcoming in all its dimensions, but also to elaborate models and projects of cultural actions in all the dimensions that are born out of a profound democratic reflection on the multiple needs of the citizenry. These have to be closely linked to economic and social policies of our societies and communities, and they must figure out projects of integral development.

In the cultural field, it is a question of identifying the fields of actions and finding principles such as:

An active policy of cultural development requires the renovation of the formation of cultural actors, joining reflection to concrete action. It is by definition oriented towards greater access of the public to culture, and towards the establishing of a greater cultural democracy.


(1) Alphone De Waelhens, Filosofische bedenkingen over de welvaartsmaatschappij (Philosophical Reflections on the Welfare State), in De Maand, May 1967, p. 195 - 199.

(2) T.M., La Crise, in Les Temps Modernes, Nov. 69, p. 585 - 589.

(3) Sartre, Merleau-Ponty: les leures d'une rapture, in Magmazine literaire (double issue: L'existentialisme de Kierkegaard a Saint-Germaine-des-Pres), April 1994. See the letter of Merleau-Ponty on July 8, 1953: "Even if (philosophy) does not choose between communism and anti-communism, it is an attitude in the world not of abstention, it is not particular only to philosophers but it is also manifested outside their books."

(4) Hoggart, R., La Culture du pauvre. Paris, 1970.

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