The Threat of Totalitarianism Today – Or Why Hannah Arendt Still Matters

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Philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), photographed in Paris, 1935.

THE THREAT OF TOTALITARIANISM TODAY

(OR: WHY ARENDT STILL MATTERS)

By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer

It’s an obvious fact that the books of great philosophers survive the physical existence of the philosophers themselves: their thought is alive for decades or centuries after their deaths, ideas kept safe, like a treasure in a trunk, in the books they’ve written. Even tough they are no longer among the living, we are still under their influence, and our thought and judgement can be expanded and enriched by their legacy. A dead philosopher may have a long future after the brain that used to act inside his or her skull has vanished from the world. Looked in this perspective, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask, for example: “what would Arendt have to teach us about Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror? What would Arendt say, if she was alive today, about the danger of totalitarian horror happening again in the future? And nowadays, where would Arendt recognize a totalitarian regime in action, here and now? “

Similarly, one might ask: what would Nietzsche have to say about the III Reich and the Nazi’s “Final Solution”? What opinions would Spinoza nurture about the Enlightenment thinkers or the French Revolution? Would Plato agree with Jesus Christ if they had ever met? And what about Hannah Arendt, if she was living today, would she criticize some of our societies as totalitarian regimes? This sort of questions, in which one tries to figure out what some thinker would consider about historical events or people he or she didn’t live to witness, may seem to many of us some sort of absurd anachronism. Some may argue that this line of questioning may have its value only as an intellectual exercise, but can never achieve truthfulness because it relies too much on speculation and conjectures; it’s just philosophy acting in science-fiction-mode, right?

27388_hannah_arendt_olgemtlde_heidemarie_kull_copyrigt (1)Well, Hannah Arendt’s case is interesting to adress, in this context, because she seems to be one of the alivest of all dead philosophers. And scholars, researchers, political theorists and journalists keep invoking Hannah Arendt’s thought to explain recent stuff, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, which brought to light the wide-spread use of torture as the U.S. Army’s “interrogation method” at the detention centers for suspects of terrorism. An excellent doc about it is Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

In an article published by New Internationalist Magazine, for example, Sean Willcock evokes Arent’s très celèbre “the banality of evil” to explain Abu Ghraib’s mixture of terrible disrespect for basic human rights, combined with the banality of soldiers who took “selfies” with smiling faces, aparently stupidly unaware of the crushed dignity of those fellow humans they were humiliating, torturing and killing.


Also recommended: Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary by Errol Morris

Hannah_Arendt_Film_PosterIn our technologically connected “global village”, philosophers can also be brought back from their graves by other means than books, of course. Recently, Hannah Arednt was summoned from the tomb to appear as protagonist of Margaret Von Trotta’s bio-pic. Even tough it’s mainly an historical and biographical film, mostly about the Eichmman case, I feel there’s a lot to be found in the film to enlighten us nowadays (see, for example, this excellent article about the film @ “MantleThought.org).

I deeply agree with Celso Lafer when he argues: “Arendt is a classic in Bobbio’s meaning of the word: an author whose concepts, even tough developed in the past, still serve us to understand the world of the present.” There’s good fruits to be gained by trying to re-think and re-actualize Arendt’s thought, instead of treating it as fixed: wouldn’t it be better to deal with her works in a dynamic way, expanding it and adapting it to serve as tools for our understanding of new occurences? Of course this sort of thinking is based on what I’d call imaginative speculation, dangerously on peril of betraying a writer when transplanting him – or his ideas – to another era. But doesn’t the merit of a certain thinker lie also in what he has to say to posterity, what can be learned in his books by those who came afterwards?

In her book Why Arendt Matters, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl mobilizes Hannah Arendt concepts and theories in order to understand events that happened after Arendt’s death in 1975. What would Arendt have to teach us, for example, about suicide bombers on a jihad against “the West” and who hope to be rewarded in Afterlife by Allmighty Allah? And what would she teach us about the “War on Terror”, the military invasion of Afheganistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which were unleashed after the September 11th attacks in 2001?

Arendt’s inspiring intellectual courage, I think, lies in her ability to go beyond simple moral outrage. She tries to understand things that most people are so horrified of that they’d rather not even try to understand them. Instead of being paralysed in horror in front of such terrible realities – Hiroshimas and Auschwitzes, gulags and atom bombs… – Arednt confronts these realities and tries to judge them, understand them, put them in historical context, portray a web of relations inside which they occur. That’s why Arendt’s procedure, whether she analyses imperialism or anti-semitism or totalitarian societies, can be used by us today in order to enhance our understanding of our current geopolitical landscape.

9780300120448The Nazi concentration camps, those “factories of death”, made the most horrendous criminal acts into a day-to-day process. Trying to understand an era of genocide in industrial scale, Hannah Arendt never acts with simplistic demonization of the Nazis, for example. It would be narrow-minded and deranged to say that Hitler or Goebbels or Eichmann were “possessed by the Devil”, or have been born with innate evilness. Hannah Arendt tries to understand the emergence of “a new type of criminal, the consequence-blind bureaucrat, agent of a criminal state, so unconcerned for the world – or alienated from it – that he could help lay waste to it.” (YOUNG-BRUHEL: 5)

After carefully watching Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, Arendt was surprised to discover not a devilish man, but rather a dumb fellow, blindly obedient to his superiors in the hierarchy. Eichmann’s triking characteristic was, in Arendt’s eyes, his “thoughtlessness”, his stupidity.

“Thoughtlessness – the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty – seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time.” (ARENDT, The Human Condition, Prologue).

 Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, when he says “everything that the Nazis did was legal”, that Justice (as a value, as a virtue) is not necessarily the same as the Law. There are plenty of unjust laws – based on racist discrimination or ethnical cleansing, for example. Eichmann, inside Nazi society, was a lawful agent. In a land were genocide is not outlawed, a mass killer is also a law-abiding citizen. If we are really to understand how did the terribles tragedies of 20th century’s happened, includin the “World Wars”, with its Holocausts and Atom Bombs, we need to understand how much evil can arise from blind obedience, from lack of thought and atrophy of judgement. Hannah Arendt provides us a path to follow if we wish to understand how could this horrors happen. Arendt enlightens us by providing a way to understand our tragedies in which there’s no explanation of evil as a pact-with-the-devil or the result of innate-bad-genes. Stupidity can become criminal:

“After listening to Eichmann at his trial and reading the pretrial interviews with him, she concluded that he had no criminal motives but only motives – not criminal in themselves – related to his own advancement in the Nazi hierarchy. (…) He was a man who, conforming to the prevailing norms and his Führer’s will, failed altogether to grasp the meaning of what he was doing. He was not diabolical, he was thoughtless. The word “thoughtlessness” is used by Arendt for a mental condition reflecting remoteness from reality, inability to grasp a reality that stares you in the face – a failure of imagination and judgment. (…) No deep-rooted or radical evil was necessary to make the trains to Auschwitz run on time.” (YOUNG-BRUEL, p. 108)

It reminds me of that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, in which he tested how far can people go in the art of inflicting pain unto others. Milgram came up with a test to check how people would act when asked to approve the use of electrical shocks of increasing voltage; he wanted to see how wicked could a human being act just because a certain authority ordered it. The 20th century teachs us that hierarchy (and blind obedience to it) has much more relation with tragedy of epic proportions than the principles and actions of anarchists.

 Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, it seems to me, is also a reflection upon the evils that follow from conformity to unquestioned authority. The Origins of Totalitarism, I believe, can and should be read and understood with the aid of classics of social psychology such as Erich Fromm’ Fear of Freedom or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The shocking fact about the III Reich is that those crimes were commited by law-abbiding citizens, who were only following the orders and honouring the Führer’s will. One of the psychological factors that made it possible for so many Germans to participate in the mega-machine of mass-murder was the notion that Hitler assumed all responsability, and those who worked in the concentration camps, those who operated the trains to the death fields, those who released the poisonous and deadly Zyklon B, could all excuse themselves by saying: “I was merely following orders.” Which reminds me of Howard Zinn’s often quoted statement, somewhat inspired by Thoreau, that civil obedience is in fact a danger far greater than civil disobedience:

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people… (ZINN, Howard. Here.)

 When Hannah Arendt writes about crimes against humanity, and relates them to an evil arising from thoughtlessness and lack of judgement, she seems to be praising the individual’s potential for autonomy. Blind obedience to leaders or to established laws, unthinking conformity to the status quo, can lead to disaster. According to Young-Bruehl, who also wrote one of the most comprehensive biographies about Hannah Arendt, “she had always written out of solidarity with the victims of such crimes, with the conviction that telling their story for the sake of the future was her life task.” (YOUNG-BRUEHL, op cit., p. 209). This, also, we can learn from Arendt: solidarity with those who are, nowadays, the victims of crimes against humanity – for example, the detainees in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or the pakistanis killed by drone attacks. The U.S.A.’s War on Terror, even tough it justifies itself as a crusade of Freedom against Terror, utilizes “totalitarian methods”, argues Young-Bruehl, and such methods can be traced back to the Cold War era:

One of the most threatening ways that adopting totalitarian methods to fight totalitarianism helped shape the current world order  was in the practise adopted by U.S. governments during the Cold War period of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists as agents of opposition to Soviet communism. This began on a small scale during Eisenhower’s presidency with support for the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna… In Washington it was originally hoped that the political Islamists would help prevent the Communist ideology from infecting Arab states, but the policy of support became progressively aimed more at promoting Arab supranationalism and funding middle-ground wars. U.S. support of Arab supranationalism (with its own ideology, Wahhabism) focused on the reactionary Saudi monarchy, which was encouraged to create a network of right-wing Arab states using the Muslim Brotherhood as its agent. The Saudis also built on the Brotherhood’s violent opposition to Egypt under Nasser, who was considered a revolutionary nationalist in Washington and posed a direct challenge to U.S. and British oil interests in the Gulf… The CIA, in the most portentous instance, supported the Afghan fighters  in their resistance to the Soviet Union’s imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA helped Osama bin Laden build a network of ‘Afghan Arabs’, the forerunner of Al-Qaeda…(YOUNG-BRUEHL, p. 57)

 It gets me wondering what Hannah Arendt would have to teach us about the 21st century. Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bays would very likely seem to her as dangerously similar to nazi concentration camps or soviet gulags, places where people lose their basic human rights and become victims of dehumanizing humiliation and torture. What about State Surveillance, a current reality denounced by whistleblower Edward Snowden? Isn’t it a dangerously totalitarian method, George Orwell’s Big Brother finally realized in mass scale? I’m quite sure Orwell never meant 1984 to be an Instructions Manual! And what to say about a country whose nuclear arsenal is huge, and who goes to war against Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction in his hands? As if the United States of Atom Bombs hadn’t weapons of mass destruction also! And what to say about the thousands of americans who, misled by demagogy, blinded by patriotism, bound to their “duty”, marched straight to war, dropped bombs, launched drones? Now, of course, the damage is done and the thousands of dead bodies pile up as yet another reminder of human folly and of the dangers of thoughtlessness and blind obedience.

In her thought-provoking article A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism, Peg Birmingham investigates if totalitarianism is a threat today.  She answers with conviction – “yes it is!” – and argues with Hannah Arendt that the danger is co-related to the problem of political lies, of ideological deception. Historians can’t cease to be amazed by the re-occurence, in Human History, of mass credulity in ideologies and leaders. Humanity may seem ludicrous and ridiculous when we take a look back and discover the scale in which lies were massively believed in, with the outcome of radical evil of colossal proportions. How not to be flabbergasted with the fact that millions could believe Hitler’s racist lies about ethnical cleansing and the Jewish Plague, or believe W. Bush’s pious lies about Saddam’s nuclear bombs? It’s a scenario to make us bemoan the fate of this planet in a time, to remember Shakespeare’s King Lear, “when madmen lead the blind.” (SHAKESPEARE, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)

In her essay “The Seeds of a Fascist International” (1945), Hannah Arendt wrote: “It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform lies into reality. For such a fabrication of lying reality, no one was prepared. The essential characteristic of fascist propaganda was never its lies, for this is something more or less common to propaganda everywhere, and of every time. The essential thing was that they exploited the age-old occidental prejudice which confuses reality with truth, and made that true which until then could only be stated as a lie.” (ARENDT, 146-147) For example: if Mr. X makes a statement such as “my aunt is dead”, but then Mrs. Y contradicts him with “No, this ain’t true, I saw your aunt just a moment ago at the market”, all Mr. X needs to do to mutate his statement from a lie to a truth is “to go home and murder his aunt” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 74.) 

Winter Soldier

In Winter Soldier (1972), an excellent documentary about the Vietnam War, built upon statements from the soldiers who were there and witnessed it all, a man who fought with the U.S. Army gives us an example of the Political Lie in action: when civilians were killed (military leaders, then and now, call this “collateral damage”), the U.S. Army ordered that those people  were to be labeled as gooks, written down in the “official reports” as if they were vietcongs. Kill first, then label the murdered person a devil, a filthy gook, an unworthy-to-live commie. That’s the strategy. Every dead Vietnamese, even tough he might have been a pacifist, is suddenly turned into a dangerous and murderous communist terrorist.

We still live in such a world where the Terrorist Menace is constantly evoked, and in its name are justified colossal measures of war, emprisonment and mass surveillance. If there’s a threat of totalitarianism in the world today, it certainly lies in the way governments are dealing with the so-called Terrorist Menace. The established powers, the status quo, the ruling elites, label as terrorists those who oppose their crushing powers. In India, the “terrorists” are the maoists who oppose Hindu nationalism and Free Trade Capitalism (check Arundhati Roy’s brilliant report Walking With The Comrades); in Mexico, the “terrorists” are the Zapatistas of Chiapas’s jungles who defend the rights of indigenous people against the pillage of big business; in the U.S., the “terrorists” are Islamic jihadists threatening to re-enact September 11th; in Brazil, “terrorists” are those citizens who take to the streets to protest against banks and corporate power, and refusing pacifism in their Black Bloc techniques or Anarchistic tendencies. And so on and so on… The “terrorist danger” is what justifies massive investments in police, it’s what governenmets use to justify the use of repression and mass incarceration. Welcome to “Democracy”, the best one that money can buy.

The danger of totalitarianism lies entangled with the threat of mass-belief in political lies:

The problem of ideology is, for Hannah Arendt, the problem of political deception. Ideology is the mutation that establishes the lying world order, by replacing reality with an ironclad fiction. In other words, ideology is the ‘most devilish version of the lie'”; these are Hannah Arendt’s words, and we should hear her claim that the banality of evil is, at its very heart, ideology. With both its hellish fantasies and its clichés, the ‘banality of evil’ is characterized by a strident logicality – a logic through which the whole of reality is thoroughly and systematically organized, according to  a fiction with a view to total domination.” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 77.) 

I wonder if our totalitarian threat may reside, today, also in the Market, or in what many specialists call “The Economy”. Aren’t we endangered by the “Free Trade” totalitarian ideology? In which every means are acceptable in order to enforce the holy end of “Free Markets”? Including the drone-attacks against Pakistan, the war of aggression against Iraq, the pious crusade of genocidal proportions against Afeghanistan? Who is naive enough to believe it was all made for the sake of Freedom and Democracy, when it actually resulted in a massive pile of corpses?  Not to mention, in previous decades, how Free Trade capitalism, Yankee-style, forced its way all around the globe with the aid of the military dictartorships and coup d’états imposed by U.S. interest in South and Central America. We, Latin Americans, can never forget what happened in Chile in September 11th, 1973. Not to mention the military interventions in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), justified as Anti-Communist measures.

The political lie, the fascist twist of propaganda to be discerned here, I would argue, lies in the preposterous idea that “Free Trade = Freedom and Justice”. That’s a lying and deceiving equation: if we take a closer look at the ideology of Free Trade, of the theories so dominant in today’s capitalism and that call themselves “liberal” and “neo-liberal”,  we’ll discover that they have a tendency to increase mass incarceration and police repression, for example. The U.S. currently has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. When prison become a business, that can be run for profit (with the aid, of course, of strick laws of prohibition against illicit drugs), neoliberal capitalism shows its true face: that of nasty greediness, mounting inequality, resulting in a dystopic society in which millions and millions of its citizens are behind bars, while an elite hides away, locked inside comfortable bunkers, with obscene accumulations of capital in protected by Hi-Tech Security.

To enforce capitalism, the preachers of Free Trade, with their billions – which could be invested to end global hunger or treat curable diseases in all continents! – uy themselves an immense apparatus of military repression and aggression. Remember Seattle, 1999. Remember Québec City, 2001. Remember Genoa, 2008. Remember Toronto, 2010. Remember Brazil’s World Cup, in 2014, in which neo-liberal interests where defended with military police and national Army, throughout the streets, programmed to silence and crush all dissidence and protest to FIFA’s money-making machine…

As Arundhati Roy reminds us, everytime that the world’s Capitalist Elites try to join for their summits, their G8 meetings, their WTOs and Free Trade congresses, they are only able to do it spending millions in what they call Security – another political lie, ideological fiction, that masks the fact that “Security” is based on agression, repression, and incarceration of political prisoners (it’s been done for centuries: put in prison your oponents, then justify yourself calling them “terrorists”). The so-called Liberal Democracy in the U.S. spends so much in War and Prisons that it shows to the world its true face, behind the masks and the fake twinklings of ideological propaganda. Look at Detroit, once America’s pearl, one of the wealthiest metropolis on Earth, now reduced to a wasteland; Detroit, who could be photographed nowadays in order to illustrate Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums. Remember New Orleans when Katrina hit: the same country who spends billions with its Wars and who lets profits run wild with “free trades” such as that of Guns and Ammunitions, leaves its own citizens in abandonment while they face one of the worst climate disasters of American History…

Why, if a mandatory evacuation was issued, ordering that everybody should leave New Orleans before Katrina hit, the U.S. government didn’t provide the means for this evacuation to happen? Money, you always tell me, is not a problem in the U.S., The Land of Profit. When the poorest of people in New Orleans, who couldn’t afford a bus or plane ticket to a safe area, who couldn’t afford renting a hotel room in a Hurricane-free town, the least you’d expect from a sensible government is help. Perhaps they were too busy doing war in the Middle East, or spying on people’s private lifes in search of potencial terrorists, or torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to ready be able to listen as New Orleans’ cried for help while drowning out in one of the crudest of the ecological turmoil’s of our “anthropocene” era. Rapper Kanye West, witnessing this, couldn’t do nothing but to speak on National TV: “George W. Bush doesn’t care for black people”. Neither he does care for Muslims. While the U.S. Army was bombing and torturing Muslims, in New Orleans it left off, unatended to, abandoned to their luck, those American Citizens who were still in town when the Hurricane came. As Naomi Klein shows in her The Shock Doctrine, after the disaster the authorities in charge of defending Free Trade capitalism took an interest in New Orleans: they saw that in Disaster there was Opportunity. What used to be Public service, in New Orleans, could now be refashioned to attend Private Interests. This is another reason why Arendt still matters: because Free Trade ideology wants to erase the notions of Public Space and of Common Good, in order to enforce its society of private interests and individualistic consumerism, protected by military force and crowded prisons.

In 1972, in a conference at the Toronto Society for the Study of Social and Political Thought (York University), Hannah Arendt said (and it remains for me inspirational stuff): “If we really believe – and I think we share this belief – that plurality rules the earth, then I think one has got to modify this notion of the unity of theory and practice to such an extent that it will be unrecognizable for those who tried their hand at it before. I really believe that you can only act in concert and I really believe that you can only think by yourself.” (pg. 305) Arendt matters because she can teach us a lot about thinking for ourselves (instead of accepting fixed truths that rain from above in the hierarchy…) and because she can teach us how to act in concert to criticize, dismantle and fight the threats of totalitarism today. 

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REFERENCES

ARENDT, Hannah. “The Seeds of a Fascist International”. Pgs. 146-147.

———————-. The Human Condition, Prologue.

BIRMINGHAM, Peg. “A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism”In: Thinking in Dark Times, New York: Fordham University press.

YOUNG-BRUEHL, Elisabeth . Why Arendt Matters. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

SHAKESPEARE, William. King Lear. Act 4, Scene 1.

ZINN, Howard. Zinn Reader. Seven Stories Press, 1970.

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Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

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“SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED” [by E. F. Schumacher]

Small is Beautiful

Notes inspired by:

“SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED”

[by E. F. Schumacher]

If we are all born good, how come there’s so much wickedness? And if we’re born wicked, where does all the goodness come from? To follow Nietzsche’s lead into a realm Beyond Good And Evil, let’s try to meditate upon our current systems of production with no condemnation or praise. Even though historian Howard Zinn states that “it’s impossible to be neutral on a moving train”, let’s try for some minutes to practice some neutrality. Let’s take, for instance, capitalism: there’s no shortage of criticism, home-made bombs and armed guerrilas rising against it all throughout History, but there’s no shortage neither of its lovers, its praising servants, its devoted and faithful idolizers.

Who doubts that lots of moral indignation, or revulsion at immorality, has led many Marxists to mobilize their dialectics and their parties and their revolutions against Capitalism, Imperialism, Colonialism etc.? What are the grounds in which “leftists” dare to criticize the capitalist system of production by claiming it’s “morally monstruous” (to quote Miss Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, note #1 )? How do we practise neutrality in the field of history and politics, where the struggles for power and moral considerations are to be found everywhere we look?

I’ll suggest that we try, as a means to attempt to arrive at neutrality, as a raft who might take us there, an exercise in de-humanization: let’s look at things as if we weren’t humans. Maybe then we’ll be able to reach the standpoint of wisdom, which in Lucretius’s poem The Nature Of Things is described with a well-known metaphor: the wise one – which Lucretius, of course, identifies with his Greek master, Epicurus – is the one who stands serene, with full lucidity, at firm ground, watching the folly of ships at sea.

The wise one in the mountain witnesses and meditates upon the human condition at the same time as many humans are on their troubled ships at sea, thrown around by furious waves, involved in bloody fratricidal naval battles, or filled with vendetta ambitions like Ahab’s against Moby Dick. The sea of uncontrolled passions and thriving irrationality is the one Lucretius invites us to leave behind us, in order for us to reach the serenity of wise neutrality and lucid contemplation.

The trouble is, the “Western mind” has been conditioned to believe that Nature is inferior to Man, that nature can and should be exploited and extracted by ease by us, its masters and conquerors. This is how F.A. Schumacher puts it in the first paragraphs of Small is Beautiful: 

“Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side. We are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves. Even the great Dr Marx fell into this devastating error when he formulated the so-called ‘labour theory of value’. Far larger is the capital provided by nature and not by man – and we do not even recognise it as such. This larger part is now being used up at an alarming rate, and that is why it is an absurd and suicidal error to believe, and act on the belief, that the problem of production has been solved. Let us take a closer look at this ‘natural capital’. First of all, and most obviously, there are the fossil fuels. No-one, I am sure, will deny that we are treating them as income items although they are undeniably capital items. If we treated them as capital items, we should be concerned with conservation: we should do everything in our power to try and minimise their current rate of use…” [SCHUMACHER, note #2]

We have a tendency to think of capital as something created by humans, by labour we impose upon the materiality of nature, but Schumacher invites us to take a look at the wealth of nature without mankind in it. Petroleum is natural capital, then, because it wasn’t created by mankind, it’s the outcome of billions and billions of years in which the organisms dead remnants gathered below the earthly garden. We could even say, to communicate this with the more poetically inclined, that this stuff we today call fossil fuels are materialized death. It also contains a lot of energy, gathered by organisms who lived perhaps millions of years prior to the ascent of a primate such as ourselves. We have been burning the remnants of death like crazy in our car-junkie meat-devouring highly-consumptive and madly-extractive lifestyles.

It’s sufficient to take a peek at our rivers and seas, depleted of fish and poisoned by toxic waste; at our decapitaded forests and smoggy polluted skies; it becomes clear that the “Westernization” of the whole world, known as Globalization, has ecological consequences of mega-magnitude, and it’s increasingly becoming clear and well-known, to millions and millions worldwide, that the “Free Market” path is simply a suicidal one. Speaking about “Westerners” in they continued dependency on fossil fuels, un-reneable energy source, Schumacher states:

“We are not in the least concerned with conservation: we are maximising, instead of minimising the current rates of use; and, far from being interested in studying the possibilities of alternative methods of production and patterns of living – so as to get off the collision course on which we are moving with ever-increasing speed – we happily talk of unlimited progress along the beaten track of ‘education for leisure’ in the rich countries, and of ‘the transfer of technology’ to the poor countries…”  [SCHUMACHER, note #3]

One way to wake up from the Matrix of Western capitalist mentality is suggested by Buckminster Fuller [note #4] when we talks about us as 7 billion passengers of the same ship, Spaceship Earth. We’re all earthlings – that’s something we can easily agree upon. Going beyond parochialisms and egotisms and ethnocentric neuroses, we can arrive at true cosmopolitanism: we are all flying together with our bodies glued by gravity to this revolving planet, this celestial body who dances around a star with almost un-ending energy…

Let’s get back to the ground with economics, this very earthly example: in Toronto, where I lived for a year, there was an array of options in the market area I could reach by foot in the Runnymede neighbourhood: at the corner, I could buy fresh vegetables, juicy fruits, sold by a small-scale Vietnamese shop (“small is beautiful”), side by side with a huge PetroCanada station (a symbol of Canadian big oil biz). I’d rather give my money to small-and-beautiful Vietnamese shop-keepers, refugees from the U.S. led war back in the sixties and seventies, than to fall on my knees to the power of Big Petro Companhies. But I know that, sadly, small is being slaughtered by huge in our world of big multinational corporations and oil-junkie plutocrats…

The gas station, besides, changes the urban landscape in such a way that I could daily witness an endless procession of cars filling up their tanks in order that they could run wild, drunk on petroleum… To which of these two shops should I pledge allegiance? I’d rather be on the side of the Vietnameses’ potatoes and brocolli… What I mean by all this is: betweend food and petroleum, what is the order of priority? Which such come first? Of course, we need to eat first and foremost, and it’s better if it’s GMO-free, and sadly, in our Spaceship, we still got more than 1 billion human earthlings being eaten alive by hunger and thrown into early death by unfulfilled basic needs.

  We are “inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves”, writes Schumacher, and he probably means that our self-adoration, through the praise of our wonderful Technology, is a bit egotistical, cause it treats the man-made as superior to the natural. Most I-Phone users, clicking their ways through bus rides and metro stations, are unaware both of the process of production of that technological gaget and of its ecological consequences. This is not willfull ignorance, self-imposed blindness, but the result of the media system who conditions us to never question the hidden hands and fists of the Market. We are asked to enjoy ourselves in the Marketplace, by which they mean: we should spend a lot of cash and this will heat up the economy, everybody’s gonna win with our high consumption frenzies. We’re supposed to get all horny for hamburguers at the sight of a big yellow M in red background in the urban landscape that’s filled with the mind-mines and fly-traps of advertised bullshit.

What struck me as awesome while I was reading Small is Beautiful for the first time is how Natural Capital is described by the author as something much bigger, vaster, wealthier, than every Human-created Capital. This means, in other words, that Nature is way above the G8 countries, way above the IMF and the World Bank, in its wealth. Nature is rich and mighty, and humans are poor arrogant fools, who’ll pay the price for their húbris in the form of ecological catastrophes. The danger is to believe that Nature, cause she’s awfully rich, wouldn’t mind a bit if we humans plunder it and exploit for centuries and centuries. Perhaps we should wise up and respect that Nature in which we are permanently rooted, cause whatever we do to Nature’s web-of-life, we do it to ourselves as parts of it.

“We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” ― Chief Seattle.

Cheers, fellow earthlings!

This Awestruck Wanderer now retreats again into silent wonder and worried plans of action.

Chief Seattle's Web of Life by Trina Yelensky
Chief

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

1. KLEIN, Naomi.  This Changes Everything.

2. SCHUMACHER, E.F. Small Is Beautiful. Chapter 1.

3. Op. cit.

4. FULLER, Buckminster. The World of Buckminster Fuller (Documentary).

THE PREACHER TO THE SLAVE: “YOU’LL GET PIE IN THE SKY WHEN YOU DIE.”

Joe Hill

THE PREACHER AND THE SLAVE
Lyrics: Joe Hill

—————————————-­————

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

* * * * *

Joe HIll 3RAMBLE ON:

Don’t Mourn, Organize! The Songs of Joe Hill

Joe Hill 4

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“GITANJALI – SONG OFFERINGS” by Rabindranath TAGORE (1861-1941) [Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913]

devi_20

Rabindranath TAGORE (1861-1941) [Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913]

“GITANJALI – SONG OFFERINGS” 

DOWNLOAD EBOOK (PDF)

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy
pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest
again and again, and fillest it ever with
fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried
over hills and dales, and hast breathed
through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little
heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth
to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these
very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and
still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

When thou commandest me to sing it
seems that my heart would break with
pride; and I look to thy face, and tears
come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony–and my
adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know thou takest pleasure in my singing.
I know that only as a singer I come before
thy presence.

I touch by the edge of the far-spreading
wing of my song thy feet which I could
never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing I forget
myself and call thee friend who art my lord.

I know not how thou singest, my master!
ever listen in silent amazement.
The light of thy music illumines the world.

The life breath of thy music runs from sky
to sky. The holy stream of thy music
breaks through all stony obstacles and
rushes on.

My heart longs to join in thy song, but
vainly struggles for a voice. I would
speak, but speech breaks not into song,

and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made
my heart captive in the endless meshes of
thy music, my master!

Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my
body pure, knowing that thy living touch is
upon all my limbs.

I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from
my thoughts, knowing that thou art that
truth which has kindled the light of reason
in my mind.

I shall ever try to drive all evils away from
my heart and keep my love in flower,
knowing that thou hast thy seat in the
inmost shrine of my heart.

And it shall be my endeavour to reveal
thee in my actions, knowing it is thy power
gives me strength to act.

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by
thy side. The works that I have in hand I
will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart
knows no rest nor respite, and my work
becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea
of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window
with its sighs and murmurs; and the bees
are plying their minstrelsy at the court of
the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with
thee, and to sing dedication of live in this
silent and overflowing leisure.

Pluck this little flower and take it, delay
not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the
dust.

I may not find a place in thy garland, but
honour it with a touch of pain from thy
hand and pluck it. I fear lest the day end
before I am aware, and the time of offering
go by.

Though its colour be not deep and its smell
be faint, use this flower in thy service and
pluck it while there is time.

My song has put off her adornments. She
has no pride of dress and decoration.
Ornaments would mar our union; they
would come between thee and me; their
jingling would drown thy whispers.

My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy
sight. O master poet, I have sat down at
thy feet. Only let me make my life simple
and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to
fill with music.

The child who is decked with prince’s
robes and who has jewelled chains round
his neck loses all pleasure in his play; his
dress hampers him at every step.

In fear that it may be frayed, or stained
with dust he keeps himself from the world,
and is afraid even to move.

Mother, it is no gain, thy bondage of
finery, if it keep one shut off from the
healthful dust of the earth, if it rob one of
the right of entrance to the great fair of
common human life.

* * * *

READ ON:
DOWNLOAD EBOOK (PDF)

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einstein-vs-tagore

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On Being: He bestowed the title “Mahatma” on Gandhi. He debated the deepest nature of reality with Einstein. He was championed by Yeats and Pound to become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath — a writer and a painter, a philosopher and a musician, and a social innovator — but much of his poetry and prose is virtually untranslatable (or inaccessibly translated) for modern minds. We pull back the “dusty veils” that have hidden his memory from history.

Listen to the podcast: https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/anita-desai-and-andrew-robinson-the-modern-resonance-of-rabindranath-tagore

You might also enjoy:

Sadhana: The Realisation of Life Download e-book (McMillan, 1913, English) or Listen to audiobook:

READ ON!
Precious poets previously published @ Awestruck Wanderer:

Simon Critchley and Cornel West in Conversation at BAM

Simon Critchley and Cornel West in Conversation.

OUR PLUNDERED COMMON HOME – Pope Francis (a.k.a. Jorge Mario Bergoglio) demands action against environmental ruin and global warming

time-person-of-the-year-cover-pope-francis

“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. (…) This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. (…) The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” [READ IT ALL HERE]

POPE FRANCIS / JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO 
(2015 Encyclical Letter [READ IT ALL HERE])
Wikipedia

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DEMOCRACY NOW!

Democracy Now
“In his long-awaited encyclical on the environment and climate change, Pope Francis has called for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” He called for a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture, and an end to “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good. Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical “imperative” for believers and nonbelievers alike that should supersede political and economic interests. A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet,” he said. We speak to Naomi Klein, author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.” She has been invited to speak at the Vatican, where she will speak at the “People and Planet First: The Imperative to Change Course” conference. And here in New York is Nathan Schneider, columnist at America magazine, a national Catholic weekly magazine published by the Jesuits.”

WATCH IT! 

* * * * *

cartoon-from-trenberth-ams-paper

* * * * *

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

NYTimes

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, blending a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.The vision that Francis outlined in a 184-page papal encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He describes relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment and says apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness are to blame.The most vulnerable victims, he declares, are the world’s poorest people, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

Francis, the first pope from the developing world, used the encyclical — titled “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You” — to highlight the crisis posed by climate change. He places most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity, while warning of an “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” if corrective action is not taken swiftly. Developed, industrialized countries were mostly responsible, he says, and are obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis.“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” he writes. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

READ ON

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Pope_Francis_graffiti
A graffiti image of Pope Francis in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, France.

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Full text of pope’s statement on environment and exploitation

* * * * *

The Guardian

“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilised in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesise nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet…” Pope Francis

EPICUREAN LIBRARY [FREE EBOOKS]

Epikur_Statue

EPICURUS
(341-270 B.C.E.)

“Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who savs that the age for happiness is not yet come to him, or has passed away.”

Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy of Greek original, 3rd century BC London

Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy of Greek original, 3rd century BC. London.

E-BOOKS // FREE DOWNLOAD:

Epicurea“EPICUREA”
Cambridge Classics
Edited by Hermann Usener
2010, 530 pgs.
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Hermann Karl Usener (1834-1905) published his monumental Epicurea in 1887. The volume is a collection of Epicurean texts and citations from a wide range of classical authors including Arrian, Cicero, Diodorus, Euripides, Plato and Seneca. The volume includes critical texts of Epicurus’ most important letters: Letter to Menoeceus, Letter to Herodotus and Letter to Pythocles, preserved by the third-century compiler Diogenes Laertius. The letters give important summaries of Epicurus’ philosophy. Usener’s pioneering work represented the first attempt to deal critically with the manuscript traditions behind Epicurean texts. His reconstructions of the texts included in this volume are based on a thorough understanding of the trajectories of textual transmission. Each text is supported by a detailed critical apparatus, and another apparatus records manuscript glosses and scholia. This work provided for the first time accurate and reliable texts for the critical study of Epicureanism.

* * * * *

Diogenes Laercio

“LIVES OF EMINENT PHILOSOPHERS” – BOOKS 6-10
Diogenes Laertius
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This rich compendium on the lives and doctrines of philosophers ranges over three centuries, from Thales to Epicurus (to whom the whole tenth book is devoted); 45 important figures are portrayed. Diogenes Laertius carefully compiled his information from hundreds of sources and enriches his accounts with numerous quotations. Diogenes Laertius lived probably in the earlier half of the 3rd century CE, his ancestry and birthplace being unknown. His history, in ten books, is divided unscientifically into two ‘Successions’ or sections: ‘Ionian’ from Anaximander to Theophrastus and Chrysippus, including the Socratic schools; ‘Italian’ from Pythagoras to Epicurus, including the Eleatics and sceptics. It is a very valuable collection of quotations and facts. The Loeb Classical Library edition of Diogenes Laertius is in two volumes.

* * * * *

De Witt“Epicurus and His Philosophy”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 396 pgs)
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Epicurus and His Philosophy was first published in 1954. In this volume, the first comprehensive book in English about Epicurus, existing data on the life of the ancient philosopher is related to the development of his doctrine. The result is a fascinating account that challenges traditional theories and interpretations of Epicurean philosophy. Professor DeWitt demonstrates the fallacy of centuries of abuse of Epicurus and the resulting distortion of most discussions of Epicureanism that appear in standard philosophical works…

[+] Book Review at JSTOR

* * * * *

St Paul“St. Paul and Epicurus”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 212 pgs.)
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St. Paul and Epicurus was first published in 1954. Everyone who is interested in the meaning of the Bible will find this a revealing study, for it opens up a new window on the New Testament, a window that was walled up centuries ago by prejudice. Professor DeWitt throws new light on the writings of the Apostle Paul by showing how they were influenced by the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. That Epicureanism could have a place in Christian religion may come as a surprise to those familiar with the conventional concept of the philosophy of Epicurus. As demonstrated in the meaning of the English word epicure, derived from the name of the ancient philosopher, the modern world has long associated Epicurus with the indulgence of sensual pleasure in food and drink. But,as Professor DeWitt makes clear both in this volume and in its predecessor, Epicurus and His Philosophy, the pleasures which the ancient Greek espoused as constituting the chief good of life were not the pleasures of the flesh. The merit and the lure, however, of the Epicurean ethic, which allied happiness with pleasure, were so appealing and so widely acknowledged that Paul had no choice but to adopt it and bless it for his followers with the sanction of religion. He could not, though, admit indebtedness to a philosopher who had long been accused of sensualism and atheism, and there was no choice, therefore, but to consign Epicurus to anonymity. Through his scholarly investigation into the Epicurean source of certain portions of the Epistles, Professor DeWitt provides new explanations or translations for seventy-six biblical verses. The close scrutiny of biblical passages is carried out, not in a spirit of vandalism, but in a quest for accuracy, and the result is a challenging, readable, and absorbing book.

* * * * *

Konstan“A Life Worthy of the Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus”
by David Konstan
(2008, 200 pgs)
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Epicurus, and his Roman disciple Lucretius, held that the primary cause of human unhappiness was an irrational fear of death. What is more, they believed that a clear understanding of the nature of the world would help to eliminate this fear; for if we recognise that the universe and everything in it is made up of atoms and empty space, we will see that the soul cannot possibly survive the extinction of the body – and no harm to us can occur after we die. This liberating insight is at the core of Epicurean therapy. In this book, Konstan seeks to show how such fears arose, according to the Epicureans, and why they persist even in modern societies. It offers a close examination of the basic principles of Epicurean psychology: showing how a system based on a materialistic world view could provide a coherent account of irrational anxieties and desires, and provide a therapy that would allow human beings to enjoy life to the fullest degree.

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Festugieres“Epicurus and His Gods”
Andre-Jean Festugière
(Harvard, 108 pgs)
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Table of Contents

PREFACE

I THE STATE OF RELIGION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE HELLENISTIC AGE
II THE LIFE OF EPICURUS
III EPICUREAN FRIENDSHIP
IV THE RELIGION OF EPICURUS
V EPICURUS AND THE ASTRAL RELIGION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Tim O Keefe“Epicurus On Freedom”
Tim O’Keefe
(Cambridge, 2005, 186 pgs)
DOWNLOAD E-BOOK

The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271/0 BCE) has attracted much contemporary interest. Tim O’Keefe argues that the sort of freedom which Epicurus wanted to preserve is significantly different from the ‘free will’ which philosophers debate today, and that in its emphasis on rational action has much closer affinities with Aristotle’s thought than with current preoccupations. His original and provocative book will be of interest to a wide range of readers in Hellenistic philosophy.

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Facing Death by James Warren“Facing Death”
James Warren
(Oxford, 2006, 256 pgs)
DOWNLOAD E-BOOK

The ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism tried to argue that death is “nothing to us.” Were they right? James Warren examines the arguments they offered and evaluates their success, setting them against modern philosophical accounts of how death can be a harm. He also asks whether a life free from all fear of death is an attractive option and what the consequences would be of a full acceptance of the Epicureans’ views.

* * * * *

Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition

“Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition”
Jeffrey Fish, Kirk R. Sanders
(Cambridge, 2011, 281 pgs)
DOWNLOAD EBOOK

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“The Greek Atomists and Epicurus”
by Cyril Bailey
(1964, 619 pgs)
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Lucretius

“Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom”
David N. Sedley
(Cambridge, 2008, 254 pgs)
DOWNLOAD EBOOK

This book studies the structure and origins of De Rerum Natura (On the nature of things), the great first-century BC poem by Lucretius. By showing how he worked from the literary model set by the Greek poet Empedocles but under the philosophical inspiration of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the book seeks to characterize Lucretius’ unique poetic achivement. It is addressed to those interested both in Latin poetry and in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

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Lucretius2“Lucretius: On the Nature of Things (1873 press)”
Titus Lucretius Carus, translation by W.H.D. Rouse
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Lucretius3

“The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius”
Stuart Gillespie, Philip Hardie
(Cambridge, 2007, 382 pgs)
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Lucretius’ didactic poem De rerum natura (‘On the Nature of Things’) is an impassioned and visionary presentation of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, and one of the most powerful poetic texts of antiquity. After its rediscovery in 1417 it became a controversial and seminal work in successive phases of literary history, the history of science, and the Enlightenment. In this Cambridge Companion experts in the history of literature, philosophy and science discuss the poem in its ancient contexts and in its reception both as a literary text and as a vehicle for progressive ideas. The Companion is designed both as an accessible handbook for the general reader who wishes to learn about Lucretius, and as a series of stimulating essays for students of classical antiquity and its reception. It is completely accessible to the reader who has only read Lucretius in translation.

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Lucretius4

“Oxford Readings in Lucretius”
Monica R. Gale
(Oxford, 2007, 400 pgs)
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This book gathers together some of the most important and influential scholarly articles of the last sixty to seventy years (three of which are translated into English here for the first time) on the Roman poet Lucretius. Lucretius’ philosophical epic, the De Rerum Natura or On the Nature of the Universe (c.55 BC), seeks to convince its reader of the validity of the rationalist theories of the Hellenistic thinker Epicurus. The articles collected in this volume explore Lucretius’ poetic and argumentative technique from a variety of perspectives, and also consider the poem in relation to its philosophical and literary milieux, and to the values and ideology of contemporary Roman society. All quotations in Latin or Greek are translated.

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Lucretius Serres“The Birth of Physics”
Michel Serres
(2001, 109 pgs)
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The Birth of Physics focuses on the largest text still intact to reach us from the Ancient Greek Atomists – Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura – but mobilises everything we know about the related scientific work of the time (Archemides, Epicurus et al) in order to demand a complete reappraisal of the legacy. Serres argues that the Greeks had all the mathematical resources to formulate an adequate picture of the physical principles acting on matter. Crucial to his reconception of the Atomists’ thought is a recognition that their model of atomic matter is essentially a fluid one – they are describing the actions of turbulence. Recognition of this fact throws in relief the force of this ancient thought with respect to the recent disciplines of chaos and complexity. It explains the continuing presence of Lucretius in the work of such scientific giants as Nobel Laureates Schroedinger and Prigogine. This book is truly a landmark in the study of ancient physics and will promote not only more work in the area but also stimulate a more general rebirth of philosophical interest in the ancients.