The following is a short article by Rob Riemen. After having nearly finished his second book To Fight Against This Age, I looked him up using Google, found his e-mail address and wrote to him asking him if he would be interested in writing something for my blog. I doubted I would receive a reply or anything substantial. I was wrong. He has been following my blog for some time and sent me this piece as an attached document. I was very moved to have received his warm reply which I found in my e-mail just after I had finished reading the book I mentioned above.
He was also open to my suggestion of studying Aspergers / autism from a philosophical point of view, and this is certainly going to be a great challenge for me to be asked to participate in a symposium at the Nexus Institute in Amsterdam (I don’t speak any Dutch, but I have never met a Dutchman who didn’t speak fluent English). I find the prospect quite thrilling.
Anyway, here is his précis of the book I have just read. There is a way to fight, not with weapons of war or aggression, but bringing back Princess Europa is a matter of caring for our soul. This is the real meaning of Europe.
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What if the world of tomorrow turns out to be the world of yesterday? No, not that world of yesterday of Stefan Zweig’s evocative memoir of the splendor of the world before the first world war, but the era that came after that war, the fascist era?
‘No, not possible’, is what an academic and political class wants us to believe. Populism, yes, but fascism – are you kidding? Yet this kind of denial, as the memoir of Zweig reminds us, is so not much different from the mindset in Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. A World War? Impossible!
And yet it happened.
That was the first chapter of the 20th century.
The second chapter was the rise of fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, the love of millions of a nationalistic, xenophobic, resentful mindset and their hatred against the values of a liberal democracy.
The third chapter was a second world war.
The fourth chapter was based on the premise: ‘Never again!’. And we build a new society, this time a commercial society with economic growth, science and technology as the guardian angels for an enduring peace, progress and prosperity. But with almost blind faith in this new Holy Trinity of Money, Science, Technology, we no longer even wanted to remember what caused a First and Second World War. A political amnesia could get hold of our society.
The fifth chapter of our more recent history, our time, presents already one obvious fact: just one look in the better newspapers will tell us that the idea, the wish of ‘never again’, is simply no longer true. Those who still believe this, are delusional – and ignorant.
Ignorant that with his novel La Peste Albert Camus already warned in 1947: fascism is a political phenomenon that will never disappear, as it is the dark side of every democracy! When democracy degenerates into mass-democracy whereby demagogues, stupidity, propaganda, claptrap, vulgarity, and the lowest of human instincts increase their dominance, that will inevitably give birth to that bastard child of democracy: fascism.
Ignorant about the fact that fascism will never return in black uniforms, and of course it will deny being fascist. But the characteristics of its mindset will be the same: the politics of resentment, the incitement of anger, fear and violence, the vulgar materialism and xenophobia and need of scapegoats, its hatred of the life of the mind; it’s hatred against the democratic spirit.
Ignorant about the fact that fascism is effective as a secular religion because it offers exactly what Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor knew that a people who live in fear of freedom and devote their life to the pursuit of happiness and likes really want: myths, wonders and authoritarianism.
Ignorant about the fact that a true democracy, a pluralistic society of free people where everybody can life in dignity, is an elitist idea! Elitist in its original meaning: an expression of the best; of what a good society is. But like every expression of “the best” it comes with conditions and demands.
A democratic society demands the cultivation of moral and spiritual values which will set us free and create a culture in which we can try to make life meaningful and find understanding of our world and ourselves.
A true democracy will cultivate the tradition of European humanism, which teaches us that the quest for freedom and a living together of all kinds of people, demands of everybody that they practice: to live in truth, to do justice, to create beauty, to have compassion.
It was Cicero who captures this humanism in just four words: cultura animi philosophia est – the cultivation of the human soul is the quest for wisdom.
This humanism defines European culture and it is the key to a true democratic society. However when this mindset of nobility of spirit is replaced by the kitsch of nowadays money-culture with its idolatry of quantity, and the blind faith in science and technology, just one economic crisis will trigger all those dark instincts with which fascism will return.
Can we stop it? Of course we can. But that demands a fight, a fight against this age – for a human world tomorrow.
Author of Nobility of Spirit. A Forgotten Ideal (Yale UP)
and To Fight Against This Age. On Fascism and Humanism (W.W.Norton, 2018 )