Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

In search of continuity between the Fourth and the Fifth Seminar (1)

Why such a need to say all of this as a sort of reflection in-between the Fourth and Fifth Seminar?

The answer lies as much in the complexity of the concept 'culture', as in what people do, hope, cherish and evaluate within a certain time. They act according to the best of their knowledge and do what they think is important by not only trying to fulfil specific needs, but also by trying constantly to learn on how to articulate best their needs or what they want. This deeper want for knowledge about real needs facilitates the finding of solutions, especially if they are not artificially created, but authentically there, rooted, as it were, in the person.

It goes, therefore, without saying, that such an articulation underlines searches for experiences, but also different forms of expression. There is wisdom in a poem as much as in a children's story. Logic is found also or rather especially in dialogues, while short articles and long novels together reveal attempts to grasp reality, when read either alone at night or else with students in a seminar. One such contribution to that kind of searching discourse have been the books brought about and edited by Bart Verschaffel when he was co-ordinator of the workshop on 'Literature and Discourse' during the time when Antwerp was the cultural capital of Europe 1993. An example of 'signs of life' is that book on communication. It is called appropriately 'Wordlessness' and has as under title the explanation, that 'in a world of communication there is nothing more communicated than the need to communicate'.

Literature becomes in that sense a source of philosophical inspiration to reformulate the old questions and face anew the experiences humanity has gone through, but this time without the pain and with the added advantage of having some distance to the event. Identification without such a distance would really mean the break-down of language and hence asking for trouble that is violence.

With regards to European literature, it appears that the view of the writer has been more often directed towards what happens on the street. It is a way of merging inside and outside reality, but as Peter Handke put it already a long time, in modern European life the inside has become the outside and vice versa. There seems to be no longer any clear distinction between reality perceived through the senses and reality as defined by concepts, images and illusions. That is why there prevails seemingly as much certainty as uncertainty as to what the word 'reality' entails. Often 'this' reality becomes a beacon of events, in order to make some impact. That includes spectacular shows with the drums rolling while the artist crosses the trapeze without any safety net underneath. Cautiously interpreted, this is done in the wish to play a certain role, but at other times, people revolt rather than continue merely surviving within the system. That is when the impact of the system becomes visible, while those who manage to escape its brutal force walk off due to having the means that is money to survive. By ignoring the fates of others, however, they do so at a high price, for they live only in an abstract sense, a bit too far removed from the concrete brutality of those who suffer really under the failures of everyone else. The consumption and information society produce at the visible surface of things merely an illusionary sameness as if a wish by everyone to overcome the class societies of the past. Things appear on the market as if in reach of everyone while real dividing lines can be distinguished as different degrees of poverty with pockets of resistance being transformed into stream-lined areas of richness to enjoy some of the few privileges left, that is what is not within everyone's reach. In reality, the entire society can no longer escape pollution and thus is stunned into one encounter after another with its failures to cope. That includes traffic congestions and traffic accidents, the death rate there on a yearly basis as high as entire village populations being wiped out in one blow. Compared to that even wars do not appear to be as deadly as that; death comes with artificial dependencies and no way out of the dilemma or true contradiction between what is truly needed and yet overseen through artificial forms satisfying whimsical wishes. The latter is an expansive affair and does not stop producing even more yachts even though by now almost every harbour capacity has reached its limits as the streets cannot take any more cars.

Then, there is the political dimension which can be read more like a medical novel about ‘crazy minds’ trying to do something, but who on the other hand is acting like fools. There is the famous saying, 'I know that others abuse me, but as long as they think they get what I want them to obtain, then it is alright with me'. That is not a mother-child or other kind of parental relationship. Europe is struggling right now to create 'peer' groups with or without the necessary principle of hierarchy that goes along with it. By necessity, they will reproduce themselves within ghettos of privileges, the outcome of which depends upon distribution of power within that peer group. At societal level that breeds only ignorance and creates manifold historical dilemmas since such peer groups are not future oriented, but built upon wishes or dreams of the past when the logic of power was supported by a much clearer 'logic of partitioning' between us and them. The reclaim of culture for purposes of 'identity' at political level of even a region has that inherent tendency to simplify everything along those lines of thoughts dividing the 'we' from 'them' while leaving out the others. It is then not culture, but a lack of differentiation which leads to a distortion of not only history but more so of the political options at hand. If the market would be really open to a political decision making process, then it would mean along with it must be possible in public the clarification of how man stands in relation to society. Yet if stunned, there is really no chance for true reflections while culture becomes not a force of resistance, but something to be influenced politically, hence not convincing enough anymore to be a true enough subject of reflection for everyone, in order to have orientation.

Of course, there are also those who care what is going on elsewhere; at the same time, they wish to carry on with what they have to do, in order to sustain their lives. These characters take on traits of stability and ensure that the society functions in a certain way. That makes society recognisable according to some typical or categorical elements: there the shoemaker, here the people sipping early in the morning a coffee on their way to work, while someone else may search the rubbish bin for some food. These types or characters are as much determined by their times and circumstances, as they are indeterminate whether they ought to break out or not. That is why recourse to tradition and custom but implies reproducing stereotypical images of society remaining just the same as it always has been: a beautiful lie and a twist of fate for want of another life experienced differently from what it had been before. Quite different from that is the upkeep of honesty like the shoemaker not over demanding his customers with high prices. The latter make life possible for everyone, the former but never reach any form of satisfaction and thus are never free of a kind of negative aggression, unjust judgements over others included.

Contradictions in life

And again, in having said all of this, it was still an odd coincidence to see in Bruges vis-à-vis the seat of the bishop the sign of a genealogist. Somehow this contrast provokes thoughts about what alternatives women have when faced by a church condemning abortions. Or else, is life really about how to face contradictions?

There is a sharpness, not keenness in the air when people tell you around such a cold Saturday afternoon, just prior to the start of the workshops, about the hardships in other places than Bruges - another kind of dexterity is needed when life does not seem possible everywhere. The German philosopher Bloch defined reactionary forces as abortions of possibilities to live together in peace. Why they are driven out of the minds of people that is in need of an explanation. What added thus to that sense of urgency to clarify what culture means to Europeans as a main topic of the Bruges seminar, that was the contact in the streets of Bruges to a special group of participants of the seminar who remained unnoticed until all was over: the people dealing with Sarajevo as cultural capital of Europe in an attempt to keep up the hope of those people enclosed there by shells and mortars.

Historical settings as possible reason why 'culture' has become such an important term

At the outset following remark might be useful to set the terms of analysis. Prof. Beckman’s stressed in particular in his book (written jointly with Robert Picht) 'European Societies between Diversity and Convergence', that there is the need for a clarification's of terms, so that they can be used truly throughout Europe. This means they must be comparative, while remaining applicable in diverse situations, culturally speaking. Within the various European programmes and networks, languages have developed both in terms of cross-cultural identities and professional subcultures. These concepts reveal that the possibilities of European integration will be shaped accordingly by a policy as based on the 'systematisation of knowledge' about European affairs. It is interesting to note that this goes hand in hand, for instance, with comparative literary studies rather than national philological schools (Dyserink).

Comparative terms are all the more important when considering what different relationships to history prevail in Europe. Germany has, for example, quite a different problem to confront when faced with the past as compared to France, Greece or Holland. Degrees of insecurity vary accordingly, but also the sense for what is politically important. A derivative of that is a particular mentality based set of values related to the upkeep of the system. Here the introductory note could be related immediately to what was planned in the workshop itself, namely to hear Kerkhof's report about an ongoing research comparing various values in Europe.

Philosophically speaking, 'culture and identity' should be seen at all times as a dialectical relationship. Whether or not the historical setting predetermines or not the ability to articulate a cultural identity, it remains to be seen or rather is a point of reference in need of further examination. At times it becomes difficult to distinguish theory from methodological approaches, for in either cases implicit value assumptions are in need of conscious reflection while knowing fully that 'values are set, but not easily discussed' (Cornelius Castoriadis). In other words, sometimes such workshops border on the impossible, while participants may cling to other concepts than mentality, such as symbols, consciousness, relationships etc... Such a seminar is an enormous undertaking to bring all of this into some kind of understandable framework while unfolding some further perspectives for the theoretical reflection undertaken already up to now.

There is a specific need for this. Misunderstandings occur due to political apprehensions prevailing when there is a fear by some participants that other questions must be articulated and other approaches offered, if the entire project is not to succumb to some intended political initiative. The difference between science and ideology is sometimes not so great. The uneasiness accompanying such a process of introduction into a specific constellation of thoughts dealing with European integration in terms of 'cultural diversity' must be taken seriously. At the same time, simple reductions are equally to be avoided, even though political assumptions about the entire undertaking presume to be able to explain at times why money was given for such a specific purpose. In the case of the fourth seminar of Bruges, that became not only clear through the affiliation to the Flemish community and its government in Belgium, but also through the Bruges declaration by Minister President van den Brande given at the end of the seminar, that is, after both workshops and final plenary session had ended.

The issue to be addressed here is whether or not 'politics' is taken seriously. All cannot be seen as mere outcome of purely negative interests to be equated with motivations to be distrusted. Politics is man's ongoing search to deal consciously with reality while assuming responsibility. Decisions must, therefore, be not only justifiable, but also brought about through carefully prepared steps and ideas. Not everything works or can be left to the mere pragmatic way of dealing with things. Still, 'the right to mistrust' (Horkheimer) has remained a pivot point for critical reflections of ‘politics’ tries to relate intentions to ongoing practises that are specific necessities. In turn, historical settings reflect the combination of the two or what political forces are at work.

On the other hand, the attempt to define culture through historical settings or rather historical developments implies a schematic approach is being applied at the risk of not coming to terms with reality. This includes some of the most crucial questions concerning meanings in language and politics. As noted above, some panel speakers presumed a split between culture and institutions within Europe and there was nothing else to do, but to build on this split. That could be called a kind of realistic attitude inherent in the minds of those who have many experiences as to what social institutions can handle what not. They transpose those models of experience upon the European level and presume that the same criteria apply. However, it may turn out to be a fallacy and not the model itself a mistake, including the model of integration. This seminar needs therefore to reflect what 'integration' of culturally diversified members could mean in terms of political possibilities. Effectively the Bruges seminar grouped that concern into economic, legal (institutional) and cultural identity matters. Can the impact of powerful thesis due to an overall viewpoint making it easier to bring across to the media and hence to the European audiences be maintained when the Athens seminar has to go into depth and come up with concrete proposals for 'cultural actions' at all levels and in all fields of cultural activities or activities related to culture?

Given all the richness of experiences, diversity means naturally a kind of complexity many find difficult to deal with. That has to be understood. It has not been a general tradition in many European countries to be tolerant in that direction. Rather uniformity and conformity predominated especially when it came to secure the allegiance of the population to the nation state. A description of the present European setting would, therefore, include signs of breaking out of such nationalistic schematic approaches to keep the binding-forces within a particular society together only in terms of the specific state. What new binding forces can maintain 'social cohesion' at an overall European level while becoming diversified and more capable in handling complexity in differentiated terms? Usually the answer is that this is too expensive, but as every politician knows, democracy has not only its own price, but it must be supported by culture and thus activities within that sphere must be financed in such a manner, as to respect and to maintain 'artistic freedom' as prime prerequisite.

This is all the more crucial, if culture is taken as depending upon artistic actions as follow-up to their own confrontations with reality, in order to maintain perspectives for the future. Art in that sense is a model of communication with the rest of the world (Herbert Distel). Presently this notion finds it’s most adequate expression not so much in the 'power', but rather in what 'fear' pictures invoke. As substitute for ready-made answers, such pictures are like 'fast food' joints; they are not so much open to further problematizations, but rather underscore deterministic notions or the belief if one has seen one of them, then one has seen all of them. The sameness running through the MacDonalds from San Francisco to Moscow is, of course, intended. It should give a sense of worldliness, not sameness or repetitive uniformity, even though their staffs are dressed in uniforms to make sure the distinction between buyers (consumers) and employees (workers). In other words, an added sense of urgency to the present situation stems from the fact that the fear not to be in touch with reality and hence changing times makes people cling to the very temples of consumption reproducing uniformity rather than diversity. In a perverse sense, the wish to be 'with the times' or to be 'in', not 'out' of society, makes emancipation efforts into negations of the 'common sense' that life in diversity is really an enrichment, while politics and the arts have to be linked through critical dialogues. Only then people can become intertwined by creating independent sources of judgements about life in society. The outcome of that could be called the 'political culture' of a specific time.

Equally, the discussion about culture as being distinct from 'popular' notions, in order to show that one is better than the others, relates to 'cultural elites'. It seems that every kind of society retains them for purposes of identification. Close to power, they portray at one and the same time achievements of the system while masking really power by means of aesthetic diversions. As one man put it aptly on an Italian piazza in uproar due to the kidnapping of Aldo Moro, 'why get excited, for lets face it, we work so that the rich can eat and taste determines the direction of politics'. Politically speaking, such idiomatic expressions reflect the dilemma all societies face when having to mediate between material and non-material needs. The mediation of that are really aesthetical reflections. Yet given recent political developments, expressed even by Mitterand and Kohl visiting jointly the German die-hard or elitist of the right, Ernst Juenger, the aesthetical reflections are left behind and the question of culture is perverted into what political adjustments are made to keep up with ideological tendencies leading to regressions of all kinds.

To put it in another form, the political question is what the conservative right of Europe intends to do now that the Berlin wall has come down and Eastern Europe wishes to enter the European Union? This is a point to be discussed especially when some historical interpretations are attempted and when it comes to map out Europe's future courses, including what options are ignored due to the politics of the right which constantly plays with fire and non-democratic alternatives to the more difficult decision making processes involved whenever justice and rule of complexity in relation to diversity is to prevail.

Indeed, since the fall of the Berlin wall 1989, the West had to open up to the East, the full outcome of which cannot be grasped as of yet. Nevertheless, two components seem to appear as complements of a kind of shift in the political awareness of Europeans. First of all, there are those of the old aristocratic class who are now more than ever busy trying to reclaim and to reshape their former land holdings, including castles and ruined estates by the many years of Communistic rule. Secondly, parallel to that, one main characteristic of the Right is the denouncement of any Western orientation for the sake of opening up again towards the East. At the same time, the struggle of survival has become more confrontational. There are the many without a job while others seem to be facing those without any scruples, when it comes to obtaining money. Whether this is done legally or not, that does not seem to bother anyone. A critical writer like Enzensberger would remark, scandals seem hardly capable to illuminate what happens really behind the stage-set used for political games, or even more frightening for others has become the fact that the public at large does not seem to care about the degree of corruption their political representatives are involved in, as the case in Belgium. Even in Italy, the shake-up of the establishment has not been sufficient enough to prevent obstruction by those who would have to fear revelations the most. In such a confusing and deeply disorientated setting, politics becomes a crucial question on how to confront all of this while still adhering to the democratic principles as upheld in the West.

In the past that is since 1945 the Western orientation was reinforced by NATO, the OECD and in general by the alliance with the United States while facing Eastern Europe under the dominance of a communistic regime in Moscow. But now that the cold war is over, new explanations for democratic values have to be found and yet very few of them are in sight. Everywhere there is to be heard this question of astonishment, 'why are the intellectuals so silent?' That leaves those adhering to democratic principles by definition in a weaker position, and even if a majority, they are nevertheless really weak when faced by new methods of survival by a minority dealing with power and money in the most cynical manner, that is without any moral conscience. It was, therefore, important that the representative of Eastern Europe speaking in the workshop 'culture and identity' began to stress democratic values as know to the West as having existed also in Prague, Budapest or Warsaw prior to Second World War. Subsequently a coalition of progressive Democrats all across Europe must be formed, if the differences between East and West are bridged without further exploitation and abuse of weaker positions. And it is not accidental, that Delors from the European Commission would remind Europeans of the fact that their culture is also shared by those living in those cities like Warsaw. That reminder is needed, in order for Europeans to envision a possible consensus at cultural level, necessary prior to any extension of the European Union towards the East (and North, if one includes the Scandinavian countries). For that implies immediately, that the integration process must be accompanied by the development of a sophisticated 'political culture', in order to safeguard democratic principles and the freedom of everyone.

However, it is not only unemployment and economic recessions that beset Europe as a whole. There are also changes in attitude towards the European Union to be noticed, if one is to follow the path of those who take advantage of any given situation while neglecting to tell the truth of their intention to others. For example, there are those who think nowadays in other terms than just 'aristocratic' games, but games nevertheless. Game theory predominates in even the most refined heads who suffer the agony of knowing how different reality can be from the one they are exposed to due to the situation they ended up in, job-wise. That means the distance to the aristocratic order of things is finally not that great, even though former Communists might now act as managers of aristocratic land holdings. No doubt, there has always been in Europe that affinity to nobility. Even the working movement spoke of the aristocratic worker. That meant a sort of aloofness as sign of strength in terms of independence. Culturally speaking, it has always meant the notion of being better than the 'poor' masses. Noble blood was and still is used as delineation in social terms even when it comes to heritage. The tools of the trade are shaped accordingly.

As a reminder of European history, there is this film called 'What a lovely game war is'. It should be recalled that the aristocratic order of Europe at the beginning of this century led to First World War. Other factors may be useful to explain that tragic event, such as Germany's wish to catch up in the race for colonies at that time still firmly in the hands of the British and the French. For this competition between the ruling European elites can be seen as the real cause, including the many kinds of threats to democratic life. One fault of those aristocratic classes is that they are completely out of touch with reality. They tend to cling to a feudal past rather than live in an urban context of modernity, and yet they consider this as a value: their 'independence' from society.

Altogether this means something prevails within Europe that can still resist ongoing changes and force societies to behave in an anachronistic way: here the new technology and there the nostalgia for the past. As Bavaria shows, this mixture of extreme modernity uprooting almost everything and a traditional, indeed folklorist maintenance of the past is quite effective of keeping disturbing elements out of sight. The general public stresses decency and ignores who it puts into power. That is not an expression of culture, but of perversion. The continuity through tradition remains always to be a residual of power. It seems up to now to have worked as well in Japan. In combining ruthless advancements with permeated offers of continuity, people seem more ready to accept radical changes leading to 'disturbed' identities. For they can keep up an identity despite of all negative elements, if they believe all that can be transcended by locally rooted customs and habits. Nevertheless there are signs even in Bavaria that this model of cultural tradition as adaptation to technological changes, exploitations thereof, is no longer functioning so smoothly. Something is happening there not as of yet easily identifiable.

As remarked earlier, there are those who play eagerly the role by which society retains its stabilising factors. Once these traditional identities are linked with the 'cultural' identity of that particular region, then it becomes an earmark for the predominant political trend. However, one indication that such a trend no longer holds, is shown by the radicalization tendencies of the European Conservative Parties in the direction of the extreme Right. An odd mixture of Nationalists, but pure Localists, tries to merge with anti-Foreigners, anti-Americans or Anti-West forces spilling lately over to the East, while in its wake anti-Europeans follow suit. One example may be what the newly founded party of Brunner in Bavaria tries to achieve, namely ascend to power over an anti-Europe sentiment. It tries to gain access to power by exploiting vague fears that the old game may no longer be possible. And while this shift to the East is going on, it is reported that Moscow has again the mask balls of the czarism’s times. They are being revived by the still existing aristocratic class including the Tolstoy family. And if this nostalgic feeling for the good, old times underlines in over simplified terms where real power seems to be symbolically concentrated, then it may be best to recall what the German writer Heinrich Boell said already a long time ago about Germany's society 'as being not in the hands of capitalists, but still dependent upon a land owning gentry connected with feudal times'.

There is a question to be asked whether Europe's interest lies in developing towards a future that reflects 'lessons of history' in a positive sense, including the appreciation of values of a Western orientation, or else it subjugates all political attempts to the need to play into the hands of those who refuse to learn out of the past. Faced with such a dilemma, what can be done, culturally speaking, so that actions undertaken within the framework of the European Union are governed by a model really made for the twenty-first century?

This is needed to be stated at the outset, in order to know whether or not the replacement of theoretical reflections is continued, in order to forge the new ideology of the right. One element of that would be a schematic explanation as shown in the case of the 'historical debate' (see, for example, Martin Jay, "Post-modern Fascism? Reflections on the Return of the Oppressed" in Tikkun, Volume 8, Nr. 6).

True theoretical reflection can be found, for example, in Freud's answer to Einstein's question around 1930: 'can war be explained and hence prevented?' Freud replied that he had no real explanation. He outlined with that answer the limits of his knowledge, that is, what he thought the psychoanalytic theory could explain: very limited experiences of the psyche. It was not to be generalised in any form.

In other words, theoretical reflections include the knowledge of the limitations within which something can be explained in a rational that is human manner. This means, indeterminate things go hand in hand with openness to not knowing, while not pushing aside the concept of human responsibility for what occurs in history. That can and does link up directly with the concept of 'guilt and redemption', a title of Dostoevsky's novel quite often deformed into mere 'crime and punishment'. Jean Amery, who lived for many years in Brussels until he committed suicide, used a variation of that theme by calling his reflections as former Auschwitz prisoner: 'Beyond guilt and redemption'. Martin Jay, in his book about Adorno, stresses equally the meaning of culture as a form of 'redemption' once it becomes authentic in terms of what humans did in the past.

That is important if the wounds are to heal not only in America, as Conlin Wagner stressed in his lecture, but equally fulfils European hopes for peace as based on justice and human forgiveness. The latter is as much a 'freedom from contempt' as the 'honesty' to acknowledge what took really place in the past, without thereby seeking revenge or a kind of post-hero ship. The latter was the case of German writers who tried to create anti-fascistic heroes once the war had terminated, so Günter Grass about the group 1947, even though they had not existed in reality.

This means especially literature has to remain within a truthful account of reality, and not become a fiction, a source of another 'lie'. Truth in the arts is being just in human terms, even though it might be impossible to understand why the person did what he did. In that sense Uwe Johnson's novel 'days the year' fulfils such a demand and is subsequently a great novel, a narration touching upon many historical events and thus reveals what can be termed as the setting for the next stage, when he says 'the embrace has to be learned'.

Philosophically speaking, Sartre made here the remark that it is impossible for a new philosophy to be developed if not the demands of the old, including the demand for justice, has been fulfilled. He too was modest. He always considered his philosophy to be the working out of a special condition by which it might be become possible to fulfil the demands of the older philosophy that of Marx included.

Human understanding since the two World Wars is not really fulfilable. As Adorno would say it, 'the only thing that is self-understood is that nothing is self-understood'. If not a doubt, then at least it warns of taking things for granted. That determines fore mostly the 'cultural premise'.

In the light of this, European history can be considered as a finite space full of agonies, compassion's and 'lost causes' (James Joyce) due to an apparently never ending search for understanding. This has been ignored altogether or else is considered always as being merely 'humanistic', that is not realistic. In the refutation of any universal aspiration to make one's culture be understood outside its own borders, other considerations seem to play a role in defining what is useful, what not for the terms of trades to be conducted beyond those borders drawn over time by history and man-made conflicts.

In the introductory note for the Bruges workshop on 'culture and identity', there can be found the following description of the European historical setting:
"The third European unification originates at the end of the first world war. The treaty of Versailles carried in itself the causes for the Second World War. Extreme nationalism in Germany generated among other factors by the Versailles treaty, prevented peace from having any chance after First World War. The structure of the old Nation States could not be any longer the corner stone of the European development." (p.4)

The argument gives already a different notion of what could be 'building stones' for Europe. Yet it is rather doubtful that the cause of Second World War can be solely attributed to the Versailles treaty. Furthermore, to state that this specific treaty generated a nationalism which could not maintain peace in Europe, this overlooks in an oversimplified manner causes of war and of nationalism in the first place. That prevailed a long time before that. For instance, without nationalism, First World War would not have been possible. One needs only to think about the fate of the German Social Democrats who were driven by the fear to be stamped as traitors in their own country to voting for the war credit bill necessary for Germany to go under its emperor Wilhelm to war. To use moral and other forms of coercion, that is always easily at hand when false decisions are made. There is this struggle to justify the worst decisions in human terms, when in fact they are blind assertions of power without regard for human lives (see Solzhenitsyn, August 1914). As late as Charles de Gaulle, even the French despite their Revolution were led by some notion of the 'Grande nation', the concept of human destiny translated into the reasons why they should play a leading role as a nation and not as 'citoyon du monde'.

Americans coming from a different religious background translate that usually into a 'mission' as a sign of continuity of how South and North America was originally colonised by the Europeans. Starting in the sixteenth century, the split between the Humanism of the Renaissance and the brutal expansion of the economic power could no longer be maintained. The dominance of one God had to be spread everywhere. Spiritual and economic base coincided as one and the same system. There was no allowance for differences. That meant the exotic 'otherness' of the Third World was wiped out long before Romanticists discovered this distinction from European life and identity. One needs to think only of Gauguin and his stay in Tahiti due to the wish to escape a sick Europe.

Such ideas distort still nowadays tremendously the perception of human reality. Only writers like Carlos Fuentes can translate them as experiences connected with the 'treason of love' or reformulated by Brendan Kennelly into the 'voice of Judas' as betrayal of our dreams. After all, political coalitions determined always who would marry who for the sake of alliances of power and wealth. It was unfortunate that so many had to suffer the hardships of First World War, but they went enthusiastically into that adventure. Little did they anticipate what atrocities were awaiting them in the trenches? They had failed to see the consequences of Bismarck's plan to unify Germany by means of war: the coercion within through the real threat of war from without. Such inner-outer logic is always absurd at the human level, but marks the contradictions of internal and foreign policies of nation states. The West was blinded, for instance, by this fact as long as Ceausceau reigned in Rumania and was able to hide his dictatorship through an apparent enlightened foreign policy set apart from the wish of Moscow. But to come back to First World War, why should friends shoot at each other only because general conscription forces them all of a sudden to join their respective armies? And yet this absurdity happened after 1914. Europe has not as of yet recovered from that, the scars since Verdun and Vimy Ridge attest to that. It resurfaced as a debate in West Germany prior to re-unification 1990 when Habermas and Günter Grass warned not to proceed too quickly with mere economic and political integration, because first there must be a cultural understanding. The latter always takes time, seems too slow for both politicians having in mind concrete actions and those really impatient people thinking things are not done fast enough within a given time. They seem not to accept the fact that truth resides also with resistance: not the resistance to truth, as Horkheimer warned, but something having to do with 'human reason', in order to safeguard that steps undertaken do not have negative consequences by going against individuals as much as humanity in general. But that value judgement seems to be outmoded, even though Karl Jaspers would say, 'fear of death' is directly connected with the sense that humanity altogether is threatened in its survival by the developments leading to the atomic bomb. It makes the linkage to human values all the more important.

National assertion seems for the conservative elite to be the only way of survival. Never do they want to share, but only attain power over others. By proclaiming great goals in analogy to Ancient Greece and Rome, their ideologies distort the real usage of power. It was already deceptive enough for a philosopher like Hegel, when he was blended by the fact that the civil servants of the Prussian state had to write their Ph.D. thesis about Ancient Greece and failed, therefore, to see that it was a police state. However, it was even worse at the turn of the century. In those times many opted for a ruthless exploitation of technical possibilities at the cost of many human lives. They sensed what power such tools and weapons contained. Thus it was a rather contrived race that took place within Europe. Especially those who had lost their status in society in the aftermath of First World War, they wanted to regain a grip over the new tools of power and hence means for massive destruction, something they had obtained just a taste of it during First World War. Andre Malraux gives an impressive account alone on how scientists without any conscience experimented with 'gas'. That relates to Kafka who tried to follow those scientists in his imagination, even though they had gone beyond any terms of human understanding. Equally, Vincent Van Gogh was perhaps one of the last painters who tried to paint his subjects with 'empathy'. Bertrand Russell pointed out that these highly intelligent people with a wish to regain power were with no morals. It was the beginning of Second World War: the moment the remorse over the dead of First World War was no longer a moral force in politics. That decay of moral values began already with the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

Read the part two of "In search of continuity between the Fourth and the Fifth Seminar" here

^ Top

« Concept for the Fifth Seminar – six value premises | In search of continuity between the Fourth and the Fifth Seminar (2) »