Pacification of Hearts and Minds: Prerequisite or Consequence of Intercultural Dialogue?
In this essay, Françoise Bonardel analyses the problem of human conflict related to cultural differences and the conditions to create authentic inter-cultural dialogue that might provide peace. With the help of authors like Ernst Jünger, Martin Buber and Jan Patočka, Bonardel exhumes a spiritual dimension that cuts across the progressive wasteland of a post-modern culture divided between technocrats and brainless consumers. In this way, she proposes a re-direction of culture based on the ennoblement of the human being and an increasing awareness of the challenge that multiple identities represent.
No one can seriously disavow Kant’s introduction to his perpetual peace project with these words: “No conclusion of peace should be taken as valid, if a secret reservation provides substance for future war”1. Addressed mainly to warmongering countries, could and should these remarks similarly apply to cultures whose increasingly frequent dialogue assumes a remedial figure for the inter-communal conflicts that jeopardise the unity of humankind and the ideal of fraternity meant to put an end to such fratricidal struggles? In theory, although there is no doubt about it, two reasons cause me nevertheless to doubt that the absence of any such “reservation” suffices to make dialogue between cultures a factor for peace.
The first is that Kant subordinated the possibility of any such “perpetual peace” to what has remained a providential view of Universal History, at the centre of which the imperatives of practical reason were assumed to lead humankind to become a community of goodwill, autonomous and disinterested. Replacing this eschatalogical view of History with a history approached scientifically in a secular manner, can modern societies still accomplish the unifying and pacifying mission to which Nature, according to Kant, has predisposed human reason? Sullied by nameless horrors, the history of the twentieth century has moreover made us sceptical with regard to the hope of the Age of Enlightenment that the exercise of rationality could, in itself, be a peacemaker.
The second of my doubts is the fact that Kant himself hardly had any illusion about human aptitude to respond unconditionally to this imperative: “From timber as crooked as that of which man is made, nothing totally straight can be cut”, he wrote, adding, “All that Nature imposes on us is to draw closer to this Idea”2. This leads us to note that the “secret reservation” posing an obstacle to perpetual peace is not that of States alone, signing peace treaties concealing the germ of future war, as has often been said of the Treaty of Versailles. It is ascribable to man himself, in whom subsists that fault from which Christian authors derive original sin, heavy to bear of course, but quite convenient after all with regard to the difficulties found by present-day progressives in providing a rational explanation of human fallibility: man would like peace, but he makes war. We consequently need to ascribe responsibility to a breakdown in reason in its quest for rationality, or need to take into account the tissue of unconscious motivations sabotaging whatever the conscience feels it can do to pacify man beset by multiple passions.
In teaching us to take into account the cloudy game of the unconscious, psychoanalysis demands, in this connection, on the threshhold of any dialogue with others or with ourselves, that we ask who is actually speaking and who is playing the role of “subject” within these entities that we call cultures: political leaders, social actors, the masses, cultivated élites? Any culture speaking with a single voice – the polyphony brought about by democracy, in itself a good thing – also complicates the representational game, which often leads to a blurring of the message. What do politicians really understand, for example, of the dialogue of men of culture that might influence their action in favour of peace? Now, assuming that a satisfactory response can be given to this preliminary question and that dialogue takes place, the fact remains that a lasting – or even perpetual – peace can only be considered a mere cessation of hostilities, not even the relatively well-demarcated pacific coexistence between entities, but as a long process of pacification leading, in the best of cases, to the definitive extinction of tensions between individuals, countries or cultures.
Can we then in such a connection separate culture as a collective entity endowed with a specific way of life and mentality from the “formation” (Bildung3) process of individuals, also known as “culture”4? Furthermore, we cannot hide the fact that nowadays we Westerners are forced to take on and manage a double burden, for better or worse: our guilty conscience over colonisation carried out in the name of “civilisation” and, more generally, the fact that Western rationality, in spreading its economic and technical ascendency over the world, risks leading it to its ruin. We must also, however, recover from the trauma caused by the fact that European culture has proven incapable of stopping Nazi barbarism, coming moreover from a country of high culture, just as it is disarmed when confronted by Marxist totalitarianism, supported by a large part of Western intelligentsia. Can we pretend that this double heritage no longer weighs on dialogue between cultures even within Europe itself, and a fortiori in Europe’s relations with the rest of the world?
On this perspective, I should like to dwell on some of the main points of Ernst Jünger’s meditation on peace in 19435, at a time when Germany’s defeat was already looming. His remarks are those of a warrior, and that is what to my mind makes them so striking in any search for a lasting peace of hearts and minds. They are also the remarks of a man of great culture, the heir of a long tradition of thought relating to the humane education of the individual and the author of another meditation, no less remarkable, on the mind’s resistance to barbarism: On the Marble Cliffs (1938). Here Jünger is poles apart from Romain Rolland extolling pacifism in “Above the Battle” first (1914), then in a number of other writings. Although the moral and spiritual grandeur of pacifism is undeniable, its weakness is that of behaving as though hearts and minds are already sufficiently pacified for a definitive turning away from war. Jünger wrote on this subject in At the Wall of Time: “Humanistic theories, albeit derived from the primordial image of a mode of peace, lead as little as any others to world peace”6. Now pacifism claims to be the quintessence of humanism in affirming its desire for peace at any price, without assuring this requisite clearly enounced by Jünger: “To succeed, the struggle against nihilism must first be pursued in every man’s heart”7. Let us dwell briefly on this point.
If we take the word “nihilism” in its most usual sense – to annihilate, to destroy, liberating Thanatos, the death drive – any war triggers the triumph of one form of nihilism or another by triggering the desire to annihilate the enemy. We also know however that Jünger, in this case close to Heidegger and and in a lesser degree to Nietzsche – saw nihilism as the force of self-destruction leading the West to its decline, and with it all the peoples of the Earth, insisting on its values or rather, on calculating rationality, which is more easily exportable, but which, alone, does not represent the whole of European or Western culture. Of their respective converging analyses I will simply mention the conclusion, which is suitable to clarify my argument: stretching its shadow over the planet, nihilism places mankind in a state of permanent war, a war that is latent and dares not speak its name. Here we have a new form of polemos, combat, confrontation, the daily reality of which passes unperceived, but whose action corrupts hearts and minds, continuously “mobilised” to respond to the dictates of Technology and the imperatives of a consumer society.
Is not the first task of culture in the humane education of human beings that of tempering the inner resonance of that call to “infinite mobilisation”, to use Peter Sloterdijk’s expression8? What result can be expected from a dialogue of cultures at their highest level of achievement and representation when the citizens of post-modern societies are conditioned in parallel from their earliest youth with a view to this kind of competition, including – if necessary – aggression? When adolescents lose their bearings and find nothing abnormal in killing for possession of a territory, a packet of cigarettes or a jacket? No man of culture in serene dialogue with his equals can ignore that the ghettos of our consumer society have become, for reasons other than those of the Tsarist era, as sordid as those painted by Maxim Gorky.
From Jünger’s meditation, I retain a second idea that is paradoxical at first sight: that peace can only be prepared between “war-hardened” persons, which does not mean that one must necessarily have experienced war to be worthy of that name, but refers to a type of experience rendering each person capable of doing his utmost – including giving his life if need be – to defend what in his eyes is not negotiable: the dignity of human beings, wherever it is threatened or scorned. This makes us think that a lasting peace may be possible between adversaries with mutual respect and even esteem, rather than between false-friends united by a common fear of conflict or out of interest in the preservation of their assets, as designated by the old expression paix des braves. So, who nowadays are the braves capable of promoting peace, if not men of culture, sufficiently “war-hardened” by their confrontation with works of high ethical and spiritual standards to have no further need to prove their valiance in war?
In turn, this expected call merits two remarks: we speak spontaneously of human dignity as though there were some unanimity among cultures on this subject. Nothing of the sort: each culture determines the level beyond which man ceases in their eyes to be “human”. A man “hardened” to gathering honey on Himalayan mountainsides at the risk of his life should, in theory, be capable of dialoguing with the Kamikaze offering his life for such and such a cause, or the anonymous hero who dives into the water to save someone. Experience teaches us that being ready to risk one’s life is not enough to give rise to dialogue, and being hardened to contact with the greatest adversities is only a factor for peace if such valiance permits a common horizon to be perceived by the different cultures, liable to become a shared space between human beings; such a horizon has long been drawn by the West, in the certainty of giving the world the best of itself, but faced with the need to convert into a peace mission a civilising vocation till then founded on the universality of reason.
Now, no conversion of this kind is possible without the individual pacification to which I referred at the outset: “It is man’s hell”, writes Jünger elsewhere, “that projects itself into the image of the world, just as inner serenity can be recognised by outward peace9.” What could world leaders effectively do in calling for a new war, if no one followed them? Absolutely nothing! It is consequently illusory to assume that mankind, apparently united by commercial globalisation, but without any previous pyschological and spiritual pacification, would be ready to live in peace for long. The world’s current situation proves it: conflicts are increasingly tribal and violence is on the point of corrupting that place of peace that ought to remain its school. It is here that all those belonging to the so-called “cultural” life are called upon to mobilise and make pacification an educational priority, so that peace may reign, not among brainless consumers, but among men of good will “hardened” by culture. Now, such pacification is to my way of thinking illusory unless it is based on a humane education that has at its highest level a desire for excellence, reminding the individual of what constitutes his true humanity.
This is therefore the first condition that I would formulate concerning possible dialogue between cultures: that they have not abandoned their concern for the ennoblement of the human being – the “care of the soul”, which, following Plato, we find in the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka10 – but that it is subordinated to the realisation of an imperative for pacification and not vulgar competition. Such moreover has always been the effective work of all great cultures that have left a lasting mark on the history of mankind, although nowadays its transmission is parasitised not only by the subculture programmed for the masses, conquered by the artificial paradises of consumption, but also by the imperialism of political and religious groups that consider the State as the most enterprising of merchants, and God as an almighty warlord. No dialogue with any lasting collective effect can be brought about by men of culture if a split is made between culture as a way of life and system of values of a community and the “formation” through which every human being becomes capable of acquiring a humanising personal identity, open to universalism.
We are also well aware however that each culture has its own idea of the humane education it intends to dispense, and that a child integrated from an early age in a Buddhist monastery will never become the same man as one who has entered a kindergarten in a European city, and a fortiori as one trained to salute his country’s flag every morning before going to work in the factory or the fields. Here intercultural dialogue collides with a major obstacle, and the humanitarian “right of intervention” on which the West prides itself, flying to rescue child prostitutes or women reduced to slavery, claims a universality that is far from unanimous. Should acknowledgement of this right be an indispensable prerequisite for dialogue, or should one hope that any dialogue, once opened, will end up endorsing such a right? In this connection, the Western position is delicate if it is desired that recognition of a right to dignity, inseparable from the human condition, should not be deemed an expression of a new imperialism at the point where cultures define man differently as a human being.
I come now to the very notion of “dialogue” as used in the West, without – in my opinion – taking sufficiently into account the fact that the cultures with which dialogue is worthwhile are precisely those that do not attribute to dialogue the value that has been attributed to it in the West since Socrates made it the condition of the progress of rational thought in his quest for truth. This clearly does not mean that Westerners are themselves always capable of dialogue! There is, however, nothing more stabilising than what for them is the essential tool for any pacific relationship between communities, immediately rejected by those for whom dialogue is a sign of weakness, unworthy of a man capable of asserting himself by means other than words. By what right do Westerners trained to dialogue – reasonably well it is assumed – impose it as a condition of rapprochement between cultures, some of whom, it would seem, in no way aspire to it, except – increasingly – for economic ends? Inherited from Western universalism and reinforced by globalisation, rapprochement as the result of dialogue is far from being an ideal shared by all the peoples that constitute mankind.
At the same time, do Westerners themselves always agree on what constitutes the nature of dialogue? Doubtless, we consider that dialogue only exists when the other side is really listened to: what Martin Buber termed “authentic dialogue”, to distinguish it from pseudo-dialogue, which is solely a pretext for monologue, and “technical dialogue” which, as Buber says, “is inspired solely by the pressing need for practical agreement”11. Buber himself, however, bearer of the dialogal spirit of Judaism albeit professing an individualistic type of philosophy, did not conceive of dialogue in the Socratic manner: as a way, benevolent and ironical by turns, of driving his interlocutor in his defensive positions to the point of making him deliver a truth transcending the limits of his individuality. Clearly, not all dialogues have a vocation to put such maieutics into practice and, when not purely technical, most are often merely conversations between cultivated persons, consultations between good companions or friends.
In the true sense of the word, dialogue is only effective when the logos that gives meaning to the dia (through, by) circulates between the protagonists. Dialogue is only possible between those who share the same conception of logos, and that is not even clear among philosophers! Dialogue is thus only possible in a common language, or at least if the partners are equally convinced that they have to create one that allows effective communication. Here I am not speaking only of the idiom used for the dialogue, but rather of that “language” that is human culture, producing peculiar forms that have taken shape in one cultural community or another. We must also recognise that, although scientific and technical rationalism has largely delivered us from the problem of having to dialogue to seek for ourselves those truths whose discovery lies henceforth in the hands of “specialists”, the question still remains as to whether the language of culture has to align itself with that of science to the point of losing its specificity, which is to weave disinterested bonds between human beings with a view to a respective refining that alone can pacify and thus bring them together.
Speaking spontaneously of a “dialogue between cultures”, we usually assume rather too rapidly that this plural guarantees the respect for alterity without which any search for dialogue is vain. Again, such cultures must be “cultivated” and exist as entities with a well-defined identity, created over the centuries, yet nevertheless open to encounter, without which there can be no dialogue; they must also be able to integrate within their heritage a minimum of novelty and diversity, without needing to align themselves with Western post-modernism and treat it as a veritable cult of whatever is “new”. Each culture involved in the need for dialogue is nowadays threatened by at least one of those two extremisms that are, on the one hand, religious fundamentalism, a new avatar of political totalitarianism, and on the other, a massive Westernisation of ways of living and thinking that, unfortunately, almost always retain the most superficial aspects of what has produced, and continues to produce, the grandeur of European culture.
Each culture involved in the need for dialogue is nowadays threatened by at least one of those two extremisms that are, on the one hand, religious fundamentalism, a new avatar of political totalitarianism, and on the other, a massive Westernisation of ways of living and thinking.
A new balance must therefore be found for each of them, between retrograde entrenchment in the supposedly timeless values of the tradition they feel they belong to, and a brutal cosmopolitisation of their ways of living and thinking that, supplanting what the Ancients called “cosmopolitism”12, leads to a loss of identity or to a sort of “combination” of identities, of which Dariush Shayegan provides an example in speaking of the “cultural schizophrenia” his Iranian contemporaries are obliged to live in13. Although numerous persons around the world nowadays realise that they have multiple identities without necessarily being schizophrenic, this is because they have drawn the best of what each culture can give them: they have even seen their creativity strengthened by it. Far from being a seductive fashion marked by facility, the “cultural intermixture” now in vogue multiplies the challenges to which both individuals and cultures are called upon to “harden” themselves.
No dialogue can consequently take place between cultures that have lost their entire “spiritual” dimension, in that the mind remains the best form of resistance to the reification of consciousness, as shown by thinkers as different as Jünger and Adorno. The opposition between culture and religion itself will cease to apply when leaders of the major religions show that they are more vigilant than they have been in the recent past. Contemporary history effectively teaches us that rationality can be diverted from its pacifying mission, perverted and instrumentalised to the extent of serving as the armed wing of the worst monstrosities ever committed by mankind. It also teaches us that the mind of a people can be taken over on the pretext of its ethnic or cultural specificity, or of some inspiration from on high, to exercise world domination. Warned of this double danger, are we nevertheless going to turn away from both one and the other? The task of men of culture is rather to assist the mind once more to inspire reason which, without it, would be blind, and to assist each culture in claiming its own “mind” in order to take part in building peace among human beings.
In this connection, the Mediterranean has a specific role to play in intercultural dialogue. Any traveller through the Mediterranean instinctively feels the artificiality of the partition of countries that shatters their unity: the same climate, the same way of life, above all the same light that inspires both philosophers and poets; should they not overcome the dissensions created by History? “A configuration discernible by the heart, that is what makes the Mediterranean spirit”, says Jean Grenie14, suggesting that contemporary man can be “renewed” through the popular wisdom of the Mediterranean. One should re-read these admirable pages in their grandeur and simplicity – those two vectors of Mediterranean inspiration – to regain hope in the aptitude of cultures for dialogue, at least around the Mediterranean, and to understand the lesson lavished on these lands placed under the aegis of the same Mother. Does not intercultural dialogue begin when each can freely question the other in the shade of a fig-tree or olive which, his property for centuries or perhaps become so more recently, is also the tutelary tree of a whole community? The community of beings who have received their “formation” as men of the Mediterranean, which has nourished and raised them, bringing out the best of themselves and in doing so has cultivated them.
- Kant, Vers la paix perpétuelle, trad. J.-F. Poirier et F. Proust, Paris, GF-Flammarion, 1991, p. 76. (German version : Immanuel Kant. Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf. First edition Königsberg, 1795).
- Kant, Idée pour une histoire universelle d’un point de vue cosmopolitique, in Histoire et politique, trad. G. Leroy, Paris, J. Vrin, 1999, p. 93. (German version: Immanuel Kant. Ideen zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht. First edition Leipzig, 1784).
- Editor’s note: In the English translation of this essay, the German term Bildung is translated in some cases as “formation” (reproducing Bonardel’s French choice in a literal way) and in other cases as “humane education” (as translated in the English version of Werner Jaeger’s book Paideia), depending on context.
- Cf. in this connection F. Bonardel, Des Héritiers sans passé. Essai sur la crise de l’identité culturelle européenne, Chatou, Les Éditions de la Transparence, 2010.
- Ernst Jünger, La Paix, trad. Banine et A. Petitjean, Paris, La Table Ronde, 1948. (German version: Ernst Jünger. Der Friede. Ein Wort an die Jugend Europas. Ein Wort an die Welt. First edition Amsterdam, 1946).
- Ernst Jünger, Le Mur du Temps, trad. H. Thomas, Paris, Gallimard, 1963, p. 125. (German version: Ernst Jünger. An der Zeitmauer. First edition Stuttgart, 1959).
- La Paix, p. 131. (Der Friede, see footnote 4)
- Peter Sloterdijk, La Mobilisation infinie, trad. H. Hildenbrand, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 2000. (Peter Sloterdijk. Kopernikanische Mobilmachung und ptolemäische Abrüstung: ästhetischer Versuch. Frankfurt am Main, 1987).
- Ernst Jünger, La Paix, p. 102. (Der Friede, see footnote 4).
- Jan Patoćka, Platon et l’Europe: séminaire privé du semestre d’été. trad. E. Abrams. [Series: La nuit surveillée]. Paris, 1983 (Jan Patoćka. Platón a Evropa. 1973); L’Europe après l’Europe, trad. E. Abrams, Paris, Verdier, 2007 (Jan Patoćka. Evropa a doba poevropská. Praha, 1992).
- Martin Buber, La vie en dialogue, trad. J. Loewenson-Lavi, Paris, Aubier : Éditions Montaigne, 1959, p. 125. (Martin Buber. Dialogisches Leben : gesammelte philosophische und pädagogische Schriften. Zürich, 1947).
- Cf. in this connection Ulrich Beck, Qu’est-ce que le cosmopolitisme ? transl. A. Duthoo, Paris, Aubier, 2006. (Ulrich Beck. Was ist Globalisierung ? Irrtürmer des Globalismus Antworten auf Globalisierung. Erste Auflage. Frankfurt am Main, 2007).
- Dariush Shayegan, Le Regard mutilé, Paris, Albin Michel, 1989. Republished in 2007 with the title Schizophrénie culturelle.
- Jean Grenier, Inspirations méditerranéennes, Paris, Gallimard, 1961, p. 90. This was also the title of the lecture given in 1933 by Paul Valéry who ended with these words: “Never, and nowhere, in so restricted an area and in so short a space of time, has it been possible to observe such a fermentation of minds, such a production of riches”, Variété III, Paris, Gallimard, 1936, p. 265.