The Republic

By Jules Katherine Mendelsohn

 

And the world don’t accept you

And the culture don’t respect you

But you think it’s all love

– Kendrick Lamar

OPENING: Europe
The magical mountain // The philosopher kings

I went down yesterday to the Pirae with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might o er up my prayers to the goddess (Bend , the Thracian Artem .); and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which w a new thing. I w delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians w equally,

if not more, beautiful. When we had nished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarch the son of Cephal chanced to catch sight of from a distance we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid wait for him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said: Polemarch desir you to wait.

And so we sat and waited. And a conversation emerged. A dialogue perhaps. Its setting is the present; its theme the world as it appears to us today. More real than a dream. More convo- luted than a fairy-tale. The greatest fairy-tale of all times; that of the world as it is and as was supposed to be.

Brussels can be seen in the distance. The European quarter appears as though it were a moun- tain – a fortress (but we must not get ahead of ourselves). A and B look up at a mountain. They see a ock of men in suits.

A: They were raised on a force more powerful than ideas and that is love. B: Love?

A: Yes, love.
The purest and most beautiful ideal, but so sel sh, exclusive and restrictive in its execution.

Nurtured and protected by their families’ love and their heritage from all that lies beyond these walls, the seas and valleys, they grew accustomed to concerning themselves with prob- lems that are of interest only to them and with the immediate result of their actions.

They do not walk the elds or sit on rocks and ponder.
They are too busy and too determined to get by with what they have.

Smothered by wealth and privilege, certain only of themselves and desperately clinging on to their entitlement, they have grown feeble – too lazy to think – and scared of ideas.

B: Scared of ideas?

A: They are scared of their grandeur and scared of the uncertainty that accompanies their novelty. Scared of the chain reaction – that others might be thinking too. The source of so many ideas – the dream – is a magic no longer spoken of.

B: Who is this you speak of? The Philosopher Kings?

A: No, the kings and princes of this world are philosophers only in heir but not in spirit. They are the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of what I once called the Philosopher Kings.

B: Heirs. Resting on the shoulders of giants.

A: Quite. Whilst a continent and a world goes to the dogs.

B: Was that ever any di erent?

A: It is not the result or course of history, nor politics that de ne the spirit of time we live in. It is our vision and the yearning that accompanies everyday events.

Once upon a time, the people of this continent needed ideas. They needed philosophy or a grand opera, a revolution or break from classical musical form. / They needed to invent new forms of government, to create the rights of men and their choices. / They needed a theo- ry of everything or the intoxicating reality of their art just to feel alive. / They proved the existence of God – multiple times over – just to declare him dead. / They knew how many angels danced atop a needle pin and how low the owl of Minerva ew in the night she took her nal ight.

B: If this is no longer so then according to a logic you uttered previously this city does not have the possibility of life and does not behold the light of day?

A: Such was the thought, my dear B, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing.

But this is the world we live in. They are the kings, because they write rules. The narratives and the truisms that people in all corners of this world are forced to live by.

B: You speak so easily of the banality of these men. As though they have lost all sense of themselves…

his voice starts drifting o and a song appears (Leonard Cohen)

between the birthmark and the stain between the ocean and your open vein once again..
once again..

Love calls you by your name

….as though they are no longer human.

A interrupts speaking a confused manner; as though in conversation with himself

A: They say it is love that makes us human.

But it is only when we think that we have a sense for our being and can create the world.

We might feel the strong desire to escape into an expansive dialogue with people that speak our tongue, that detect the sparkling glimpse in our eye and can read between our un n- ished lines. Failing to realise this and in a desperate attempt to nd an echo – something to replace the voice of the master – we stop thinking and pretend that there exists some kind of discourse with all of society.

But this is self-deception.
The world of thought is an isolated and deafeningly lonely one.

B: This “thought-up” world you speak of. Is it real?

A: It is certainly more real and more true than the grey structures and “systems” they have created.

B: Are not these structures manifestations of ideas?

A: In the past many great European have constructed many great things: institutions, hier- archies, agency, rights, formulas, self-ful lling prophecies.

B: And others seem to make it their life’s work to deconstruct them.

A: Yes, but whether they are occupied with construction or deconstruction is immaterial. Here their essential illness arises: all of their intellect, their time and potential empathy is spent constructing rules and institutions and ensuring that they are kept in place.

Both function and dysfunction rea rms them of their purpose.

To use a dramatic turn of phrase: they have become functions of their own systems; the agents of their own constructions.

This is what it has come to.

This is what it means to be European.
“Tonight we rejoice and tomorrow we go back to work.”
To be European is to function.
And all the while the threat of collapse looms all around us and creeps ever closer.

B: You’re sounding like you wouldn’t regret this collapse.

A: Not so, but the wrong things are collapsing in this “ever closer union”. The system in and of itself still functions. And I have the suspicion that it functions just as it is supposed to. With no real cause or concern for what it calls “externalities” – the widespread and ev- erlasting consequences, all the inequalities, the dissolution of values and the hurt that is left in its trail.

B: But people – I would contend “good people” “thinking people” – are constantly trying to change Europe for the better.

A: And failing.
B: “Ever tried; ever failed”?

A: “No, matter? Fail better?”
Yes quite.
And it is both intended and inevitable.

B: Intended?

A: In order to strengthen the structures – the pillars of power. Once the illegitimacy of a system is illuminated its only option is to become inevitable in the minds of those who would otherwise have the power to question it. It must be solidi ed and re-cast as inevitable by the failures of those who attempted to undermine it.

You once asked whether these men up on the hill are puppets. Now you have your answer: the real puppets are those who are given a chance to challenge and deny the system. As you say: they try – they fail and their failure breaks not only them but leaves incredible ruptures and henceforth the system is undeniable.

B: But the men in suits. They realise this? Are they cynics?

A: Master of cynicism.
But they are by far not this re ective.
They simply try not to think about such things. Successfully.

B: But surely they need some justi cation for the power they hold. Something that reaches beyond their natural sense of entitlement?

A: Surely you have heard the word on the street!
It is called „democratic legitimation“ in public places.
But no, they do not believe to hold even this.
And they do not need it.
Power and the desire to be in power needs no „legitimacy“. It is indulgent. A power and a truth onto itself.

B: Now you are really making them sound like a horde of little Medici.

A: We can argue about what to call them, but no, most of them are just trying to keep busy and to do their job.

And in a world that feeds on fears, where jobs will soon be hard to come by, this means everything to them.

It has replaced questions of power, glory and virtues. The o ces they hold, the schedules they live by now o er the ultimate sense of superiority.

Talking to the Medici, Machiavelli framed the choice as being whether to remain prince and to do whatever is necessary to that end, or to cease to be a prince.

It divides the new „haves“ from the „have-nots“ and like the blueness of blood or the line- up to the throne must be defended at all costs.

B: But what about the people – all the good people – of Europe. Where do they feature? Are their hearts not in the right places?

A: Meaning?

B: Do they not have the power to x things and some reminiscent love left for this conti- nent and are emotionally invested in its future.

A: As I have been hinting at throughout, love has become a personal matter. It is currently not an a air with the state or with the soul.

Hence there is no way for me to know whose heart is where and in what state. There is of course no reason to assume that anyone’s “heart is bad”, but how could it possibly be in the right place?

Look around you. How do you think the people of Europe “feel”? B: Lost?

The rest of the citizens may be courageo or may be cowardly, but their courage or cow- ardice will not, I conceive, have the effect of making the city either the one or the other.

A: As lost as one could possibly be. They are caught in the complete opposite of a top-down revolution or a regime installed through obvious power and violence.

It is a bottom-up stagnation. They are asked to carry more than they can bare and function on so many levels, become so many people. But none of them themselves.

They have been put out and left in complete darkness. Without any tangible sense of what Europe means and what is left of the great liberating project ensuring “peace and prosper- ity”, some of them have turned inward, other simply mimic the “defense of their culture”.

And here your so-called love turns to hate or rather an intense suspicion of the people, cul- tures and politics beyond their borders.

And this from the people you brought you common dignity and human rights. They who invented both the self and “the other”.

B appears exhausted. He scrambles together his things and gets ready to leave. Just before his exits, he turns to A.

B: It is not only their heritage. I still love this continent.

This old continent, for all its beauty and all its grace. For all it has overcome and all it has yet to be.

A: As you should.

All the truths we speak of are not gone.

They are simply dormant and this continent entirely o -balance.

But you are wrong to call it the old continent.

It is being born again as we speak.

And before its new phase of youthfulness, all its agents and all its old souls will choose new lives.

The deck won’t be replaced but the cards will be re-shu ed.

Now they were all required to drink a certain amount of water, but some were too stupid to look a er themselv properly and drank more than the required amount. As each person drank, he forgot everything. They lay down in the middle of the night there w thunder and an earthquake. All of a sudden, they were li ed up from where they were, and they darted like shooting stars away in vario directions of rebirth.

(…)

Anyway, my recommendation would be for to regard the soul immortal and capable of surviving a great deal of su ering, just it surviv all the good tim . We must keep to the upward path, and we should use every means at our disposal to act morally and with intelligence, so that we may gain our own and the god’s approval, not only during our stay here on earth, but also when we collect the priz our morality h earned .

(…)

And then, both here and during the thousand-year journey of our story, all will be well with .