Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading Montaigne is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas. It is also discovering an era.

When one reads Montaigne’s Essays, one thing that strikes is the modernity of the ideas and statements written down in the book. Of course, there are exceptions like his observations about women, but generally Montaigne gives many ideas and rules of life that are still applicable today and that can be used as guides in life. For understanding what Montaigne writes and for reading the Essays with pleasure, one does not need to know much about the man and the time he lived in. But what is the Battle of Dreux? Why was there so much violence around him in those days and why was his castle besieged? Who were Henri II, La Boétie, and many other persons he met? Why does he write so much about religion? Why are his Essays full of examples and quotations from classical antiquity? And so on. Many questions can be asked when reading the book, but, as said, the Essays can be read well and with pleasure without asking them and, in case one does, it is not necessary to answer them in order to enjoy the book. However, the author and his work can be understood better, if one does not only ask questions like these and if the reading does not only makes curious about such themes but if one really tries to answer them by diving mentally into the life and time of Montaigne. Then one does not only receive a better understanding of Montaigne’s Essays and what he is writing about his environment and himself (and aren’t the Essays a comment on and an explication of his life?), but one goes also into a period of history that was essential for the way the following ages developed. And the more one becomes involved in the time that Montaigne was living in, the more curious one becomes, and the more one wants to know about it. How amazing this age was! Therefore, I dare to say that reading Montaigne’s Essays is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas; it is also discovering an era.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace and politicians

Peace is not something that one must leave to politicians. In my blog last week, I criticized those politicians that show themselves satisfied with the result of the environment conference on Bali. Of course, it is so that many politicians would like to take more radical measures than those proposed in the rather vague document accepted at the end of the conference. But it is a fact that it wouldn’t have even come so far (and one can doubt whether the word "far" is the right word in this context) if there had not been much pressure from the base, from the grass roots, on the politicians. Without this pressure, maybe no declaration would have been accepted at all. Happily, many people are more radical in the measures to be taken in order to solve the environment problem.
It is the same for peace (and is there so much difference between peace problems and environment problems? It was not without reason that Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize). I do not want to say that everybody is peaceful (and isn’t it so that politicians belong also to this "everybody"?), but in her or his heart everybody wants peace. Nobody wants war, and everybody want to do his or her best for it. Why don’t politicians understand this?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Praising yourself until the end

The delegates of the climate conference applaus for themselves and the world continues going down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Proportionality of means

One can discuss about the usefulness of sending Western soldiers to Afghanistan, but if the Dutch government says that building up the country is very important, why are they going to spend then about thousand million euros for the Dutch army in Afghanistan in the years to come and only some tens of million euros for building up the country

Monday, December 03, 2007

Resistance to oppression

"If the essence of totalitarianism is its attempted penetration of the innermost recesses of life, then resistance can begin in those same recesses – in a private conversation, in a letter, in disobedience of a regulation at work, even in the invisible realms of a person’s thoughts". (Schell, The unconquerable world, Penguin Books, p. 199)
Nonviolent resistance is not only mass demonstrations, strikes, open protests, and the like as practised by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others and as theoretically developped by Gene Sharp. Nonviolent resistance is also living your own way of life, doing what you want to do in the way you want to do it: doing things not because the regime or the dictator prescribes them, but because you think that it is the right way of doing. It is what Havel called "living in truth". These (the open protests and "living in truth") are the two main ways of nonviolent resistance. The first means resistance on the political level, the second on the level of daily life. Both are important and both have to be applied according to the circumstances. Sometimes open resistance is better, sometimes hidden resistance is better, and sometimes both can be applied at the same time.