Thursday, August 14, 2008

Europa, Europa: further discussion #2

The following is from a review of the book Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, by Alan Sokal, written by Simon Blackburn for the “New Republic.” You can find the whole review at [].

While most of this article is not terribly pertinent to my poem Europa, Europa, the following excerpt, speaking of the limits, if not the end of relativism, is a clear statement of what is the beginning place for my poem. If you don’t understand and agree with the following, you will surely have trouble with the poem.

...but consider in this connection also "political liberalism," the heading under which John Rawls could imagine the peoples of the world willingly leaving their ideological and cultural differences at the door and coming into the political arena carrying only that which they hold in common. What they had in common turned out to be a birthright of reason sufficient all by itself to enchant them with a nice liberal democratic constitution, amazingly like that of the United States, or perhaps western Europe. Conflict could be talked through and violence abated. When the philosophers explained the right way to live, everyone would fall happily into line. Innocent times.

But no longer. The present decade is different. The United States has had its wake-up call, and may have others just as loud. It has been told, brutally, that disagreement matters, and that if our grasp of what we need to defend is feeble enough, there are people out there only too happy to wrest it away from us. It has reacted even more brutally to that alarm by declaring war on people who had nothing to do with it in the first place, and then conducting that war with counterproductive barbarity. It has learned that there is not much common reason that is everyone's birthright -- that when disagreement comes, people cannot afford to shrug.

There are times when we have to do better than [say] "whatever" and "anything goes." A country needs to understand what is good, and also what is not good, about its preferred ways of living. It needs to understand what is good, and why, about its science, history, and self-understandings; and it even needs to understand what was good, and why, about the politics and the ethics [or religion] that it may have abandoned, let us hope temporarily.

I am a Jew, not a Christian, but I have come to understand the value and importance of Christianity, in spite of its failings. The abandonment of a such a faith by the majority, no matter the reasons, will create a vacuum that will be filled, as surely as any physical vacuum. If Christianity needs to be renewed, then now is the time to do it. If not, be assured, another God-based faith will replace it. Europe, I call on you to take possession of your future, and not abandon it to “whatever.”

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