Thursday, 20 September 2018

The European project and culture

"Europe’s challenges are not intractable. They could be resolved by the EU’s evolution into a republic, with well-defined borders, an army and a top-down capacity to balance the economic disparities that have made Germany so skeptical of Greece and Greece so skeptical of Germany. This republic could inculcate a republican identity in order to be buoyed by a shared and singular political culture."

Thus  Michael Kimmage on the website of The New Republic, in a book review.

It is not very likely that such idea would find many enthusiasts nowadays. Also the political scientist Ulrike Guérot has developed ideas along the line of Kimmage's thoughts, but what I miss in these thought experiments is the role of culture as such - not only political culture, but the artistic heritage of many ages of flowering invention. When Emmanuel Macron received the Charlemagne Prize in May this year, an important part of his impressive speech was dedicated to the role of culture in the project of European integration, because it reflects the continuous spiritual reflection upon the values by which one could and/or should live, and their many changes and developments. He advocated more exchanges of works of art, and the setting-up of a European Cultural Academy, and celebrated the typical European culture of sophisticated debate and exchanges of ideas:

"Cette civilité, c'est celle de l'Europe des cafés, des débats, des universités, du conflit d'idées, de l'opposition d'idées qui refuse la violence d'Etat comme la violence de rue mais qui croit à la force de la vérité parce qu'elle croit à la force de la confrontation démocratique des idées. C'est pour cela que je crois à la volonté de l'intelligence, à la volonté de la culture, car oui, il s'agit bien de volonté. Il y a toujours ce marasme, cher Anselm KIEFER, que nous évoquions hier, il est toujours là, sous nos pieds et il faut cette volonté de l'intelligence, du beau, de la culture, non pour le faire oublier, mais pour y porter des brèches, cette brèche dans laquelle nous vivons depuis 70 ans, qui ne sont pas des évidences, qui ne sont pas l'état naturel de l'humanité européenne, qui sont une exception liée à notre force d'âme. Donc oui, se battre pour une Académie européenne de la culture, se battre pour les universités européennes, se battre pour la traduction, se battre pour la circulation des œuvres d'art, se battre pour réinventer chaque fois ce débat esthétique, critique, intellectuel dans notre Europe, ce ne sont pas des belles idées réservées, pardonnez-moi, uniquement à quelques intellectuels, ce sont des idées essentielles pour nos sociétés, pour notre jeunesse parce que c'est la force d'âme de cette brèche ouverte il y a 70 ans, qui est notre combat plus encore aujourd’hui qu’hier!"

I could not find a mention of this element of Macron's speech in the many reports in the media. Obviously, this cultural aspect was deemed entirely irrelevant. But that is the result of thinking that questions about society are exclusively political and economic, ignoring the underlying fundament: the cultural values which are defining the opinions of the thinking elites, in the wides sense.

Here the full speech of Macron can be found:

For the arts, the artistic capital of the accumulated culture of the European past could again become a source of inspiration, an inexhausible data bank of possibilities, because basically, the many problems and challenges that Europe faces today, are not new - they are new in a literal sense, in their form, but not in the psychological sense of how people deal with injustice, migration, inequality, clashing interests, prioritizing values etc. etc.  And in the many works of visual art and serious music, the radiance of beauty and the sublime shines through everywhere, which is an aspirational force and an invitation to development.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

John Ruskin: 19c critic

An interesting article in The Guardian about John Ruskin (19C), which also sheds light upon our own time. Awareness of the fragility of civilization and the natural environment is not new, as is the rampant brutality of so many people who see in the world merely a jungle in which to survive on all costs.

Striking passage:

"A central line of thinking for Ruskin, cutting across his art criticism and political writing, is that a society founded on structures that are embroiled in heartlessness – in brutal treatment of people and the environment around them – is indifferent to beauty. As we see the growth of vast inequalities today, such billionaire tech firms employing precarious workers with diminished rights and pervasive environmental ruin, it is not hard to see parallels in our current moment."

Ruskin had strong opinions about social justice:

 “Whereas it has long been known and declared that the poor have no right to the property of the rich, I wish it also to be known and declared that the rich have no right to property of the poor.”

 “There is no wealth but life. Life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.”