Theater of Cruelty

European DNA

Eccentric culture – a theory of Western civilization, Democracy
Forfatter: Rémi Brague, Mikkel Bolt
Forlag: Solum Bokvennen, Antipyrine (Norge/Danmark)
DEMOCRACY / Rémi Brague analyzes in an original, albeit not unproblematic manner, his way to Europe's DNA – if Europe were to have an inferiority complex, why have we always arrogantly and brutally sought to incorporate others, take over, defeat? The second book, by Mikkel Bolt and Dominique Routhier, presents democratic texts of the time.


Doesn't just stand Europe but also its democratic cradle so precarious that it is soon falling into the grave? This is not, as such, the starting point for the two books that are treated here in a combined double review.

But it is difficult not to read contemporary events into the works. It is difficult – while reading – not to remember the ailing continent and the ailing form of government. Thoughts of Ukraine come to mind. Thoughts about the ill-fated European energy policy appear. Thoughts on the right turn in Hungary and Austria. And not least thoughts about direct attacks on democracy such as the storming of the American Congress and the Brazilian Parliament. Ergo, these two works are to that extent works about time.

Rémi Bragues – eksentriskhed

Let's start with Rémi Brague's book Eccentric culture – a theory of Western civilization, which is most of all a search for the European. In what does the specifically European consist and how did Europe actually come to be as a culture and a people? It is the market for the work that Brague approaches with great zeal, curiosity and excellent communication skills.

In what does the specifically European consist and how did Europe actually come to be as a culture and a people?

It is telling, however, that the table of contents in Eccentric culture spreads over a full four pages despite the fact that the book's total length is just under 300 pages. This is due, ergo, to the remarkably short sections that make up the structural anatomy of the book. It becomes just as fast and just as abrupt when Brague writes. I can easily see the intention of making the text slide down easier by making such frequent divisions, but unfortunately it also makes the text appear unnecessarily fragmented and grouped. I'm sure Brague can write coherently and fluently, so it's probably an editor we have to blame for this curious structural choice.

Well, let's look at the content itself. We are used to understanding the word 'eccentric' as a word that describes a deviation from a norm. It could be a person who behaves differently, peculiarly or it could be a film whose style we judge to be outlandish, perhaps corny or flippant. But the word also has another meaning, and it is the meaning that Brague pleads for in his work. Here the understanding of the word is an indication of something that lies outside a central point. That is, something that has its center outside itself. This is the case with Europe if we are to subscribe to Brague's analysis.

Marilena Nardi (Italy)-way

Greek, Jewish and Roman Empire culture

More specifically, Brague allocates the distinctiveness of Europe in its influence from partly Greek culture, partly Jewish and – perhaps not least – partly from the time of the Roman Empire. The overall analytical point is that Europe, qua its eccentricity, also suffers from an inferiority complex. Again, the word is not to be understood as we would normally use it; as something negative – but on the contrary, this inferiority gives rise to an openness towards the outside world. Recognizing that we stand on the shoulders of others to such an extent that the entire culture of the continent is a result of other cultures, we constantly have an eye for the foreign and what may surround us.

The work was published in English in 2009 and in the original French language back in 1992. Is it a fake, even an outdated work? In no way. Perhaps it is more important than ever to remember the history that underlies the continent.

In the preface, it is cleverly dealt with how democracy has only recently acquired such positive connotations.

Brague's analysis is sharp and original, but I'm not sure I buy it in its entirety. If Europe should have an inferiority driven by an awareness of where we come from, why have we always arrogantly and brutally sought to incorporate others, take over, defeat? I think Brague should have touched on that paradox in his otherwise mature analysis. In other words, there is plenty of holes in Brague's argument. Perhaps the analysis also exudes a deep-felt love for the European. Who wouldn't want a center outside themselves? It is – at least seen from today's eyes – an attraction to confess to a work that does not revolve around itself but constantly seeks inspiration elsewhere and maintains an openness qua this peripheral centre. In an almost paradoxical way, Brague thus seeks to be too centrally rooted in the European to come up with his non-centrally focused analysis.

Democratic texts

Age – or perhaps a more accurate word would be maturity – has also worked Democracy. It is still a collection of historical texts, three pieces to be more precise. Here we get Karl Marx's «Critical marginal notes» to the article «The King of Prussia and the social reform. Of a Prussian", Claude Lefort's "The question of democracy" and Mario Trontis' "To a critique of political democracy".

Not least, we also get a well-written and well-laid out foreword in the form of the text essay "A farewell to (the actually existing) democracy" written by Mikkel Bolt og Dominique Routhier. In the preface, it is cleverly dealt with how democracy only in recent times has it acquired such positive connotations and become what everyone (?) seeks to aspire to.

The fluctuating assessment of democracy's strengths and weaknesses is an important reminder in our time and an underlining that democracy is not defined the same everywhere and at all times. Take for example The strongs write. The concept of democracy is here rooted in a counterplay to everything that might be totalitarian. Democracy is opposition and resistance to any form of oppression. Thus, democracy is characterized by "radical openness", as stated in the preface.

With tronti we find another focus. Here 'homo oeconomicus' and the 'homo democraticus' are inseparable quantities. Democracy combines freedom and domination. We go around saying "the free world" when we talk about democracies, and with Tronti's thoughts, it is solely due to the fact that inherent in democracy is a search for dominance – some will rule over others. Some want powerone. Ergo, there will be something to seek freedom for or frihed after. But the freedom and dominance is perhaps most of all a result of capitalism, which is almost synonymous with democracy at Tronti.

The overriding strength of Bolt and Routhier's work is the tension between texts that engage in dialogue or argument with each other. It gives a completely different nuance than is the case with Brague.

Inherent in democracy is a quest for dominance – some will rule over others.

However, the two works – the Europa book and the democracy book – together form a useful pair of conversations that together make us not only smarter about the continent but about the form of government, that seems inextricably linked to our place.


See also mention of Democracy here.

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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