Rémi Brague proposes forgiveness in the face of 'the culture of cancellation'.

The French philosopher and professor emeritus of the Sorbonne, Rémi Brague, said at the 23rd Congress of Catholics and Public Life that what is at stake with the culture of cancellation is "our relationship with the past", and that we must choose "between forgiving or condemning". The historian proposes "to recover our capacity to forgive".

Rafael Miner-November 14, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
Rémi Brague

Photo: Rémi Brague during the conference ©CEU

"What is at stake here is not only the concrete problem of Western culture. In more general terms, it is about our relationship with the past," said the French thinker in his speech on the second day of the congress, organized by the Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACdP) and the CEU.

"In particular, we have to ask ourselves what kind of attitude we should adopt towards what we are the product of: to begin with, towards our parents, our country and our language, among others, and to go all the way back to the 'warm little pond' where Darwin imagined that life had arisen, and even further back: to the Big Bang. We must choose between forgiveness and condemnation,

"The past is replete with good deeds, but it is marred by a multitude of horrifying acts that we remember more easily. Traumas remain in memory, while we too easily take for granted that which is pleasurable, as if instead of being a gift it were something deserved."

In his opinion, "authentic creation never severs the link with the past. In an extremely interesting passage of his work SpeechesMachiavelli notes that Christianity could not completely suffocate the memories of the previous religion because it had to maintain Latin, the language of the Roman State that persecuted the believers, in order to propagate the new faith".

Ability to forgive

In any case, the philosopher continued, "our current culture is trapped in a sort of perversion of the sacrament of penance: we have confessions everywhere and we want others to confess and repent. However, there is no absolution, there is no forgiveness, so there is neither the hope of a new life nor the will to take it in hand. Hopefully we can regain our ability to forgive," said Remi Brague, who received the Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation Award in 2012, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the CEU San Pablo University in 2020.

Rémi Brague's paper at this year's Congress was entitled Does the culture of cancellation or the cancellation of culture? As is well known, One of the cultural phenomena of our times is cancellation, that is, the withdrawal of support for persons, facts, events or cultures according to certain parameters. A withdrawal that can go as far as denial.

Greek and Latin authors

To give an example of the French professor's presentation, "a young professor of Classics at Princeton, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, recently made an appeal where he positioned himself against the study of Greek and Latin authors for promoting racism. First, because references to classical antiquity are sometimes wielded as weapons in favor of white supremacism. Secondly, and more importantly, because the ancient world relied in part on slave labor as an infrastructure on which to build its culture".

"As a Christian myself," noted Rémi Brague, "I do not look favorably on this type of social system and wish for its disappearance. Moreover, I am happy to point out that slavery lost its legitimacy thanks to the revolution in thought brought about by the new faith. If I may allude once again to the hackneyed opposition between the two points of reference of Western culture, Jerusalem did more justice to the radical equality of all human beings than Athens".

In this dilemma between forgiving or condemning, the French thinker has formulated a series of reflections. For example, that "condemnation is a satanic stance. Satanism can be relatively gentle, and all the more efficient. According to Satan, everything that exists is guilty and must disappear. These are the words that Goethe puts in the mouth of his Mephistopheles (Alles was entsteht, / Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht).

However, "to forgive is not an easy task," he added. "How can we give our approval to what preceded us?" [...] "The past of humanity is marked by conflicts and wars", therefore, he admitted that "a personality whom a culture A considers a hero can represent the incarnation of evil for a culture B". He added that "only non-existent and purely imaginary cultures can be totally innocent".

Descartes' influence

In Brague's words, "what is called the culture of cancellation may be perceived at first sight as a contemporary phenomenon and therefore belongs to the journalistic rather than the philosophical sphere". However, he pointed out that "a more detailed analysis allows us to see that we are in the last phase (for now) of a long process that began in the prelude to modern times. We are only seeing the froth of a much larger wave. The idea of making tabula rasa dates back to the 17th century, with the French philosopher René Descartes. He planned to shed the prejudices of his childhood in order to build a new edifice of knowledge on a completely new ground.

Thus, the French philosopher has considered that, "it is always easier to destroy than to create something from nothing."something that should teach us "show a certain prudence. When we touch what previous generations have built, we should do so with trembling hands. Only Stalin claimed that his pulse would not tremble when he decided to carry out a purge and send people to the wall.".

Professor Rémi Brague was introduced by Elio Gallego, director of the CEU's Center for Training and Social Analysis Studies (CEFAS), who described the philosopher as "a distant disciple of Socrates, and also pointed out that "today's conversation needs freedom and truth, one needs the other.".

At the inauguration of this Congress of Catholics and Public Life, the underlying message was the intimate connection between political correctness and the culture of cancellation, which aims at eliminating discordant ideas from the debate. At the forefront is Christianity, which "is already politically incorrect," said on Friday its director, Rafael Sanchez Saus, who referred to political correctness as the "political correctness of the Catholic Church.mega-ideology of our time"which would consist of "a set of scattered ideas, weak from the intellectual point of view, united by the denial of transcendence". 

Transcendent dimension of man

Precisely in the denial of the transcendent dimension of man lies "the root of modern totalitarianism"., said the Vatican nuncio in Spain, Bishop Bernardito Auza, that by trying to eliminate that which makes man a "natural subject of rights", he is endangering freedoms. Political correctness, he said, "runs the risk of becoming Orwell's Big Brother".. 

For his part, the president of the ACdP and the CEU, Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza, focused on the current situation in our country. From his point of view, the culture of cancellation is shown in measures such as the recent penal reform by which participants in information and prayer groups that meet in front of centers where abortions are performed can be punished with prison sentences. He also warned of the dangers that the culture of political correctness poses for the "cohesion of Catholics".  

Also on Friday, the spokesman for the Polish Law and Justice party, Ryszard Legutko, spoke. In his opinion, a desire for social engineering can be detected in the EU institutions. "They are trying to restructure the whole society." with instruments created for "to generate this new society". Legutko pointed out how, hand in hand with "egalitarianism, neo-Marxism and liberalism", political correctness has become "an integral part of the European process". In his opinion, the culture of the cancellation of dissent, gives rise to the paradox that a society that presents itself as plural, inclusive and tolerant, "is full of discrimination, injustice, intolerance and hatred.", he argued.

This Sunday, after the Mass celebrated by Cardinal Carlos Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid, Bieito Rubido, director of the newspaper The Debate, on the subject The traps of neo-language and the erosion of values. This will be followed by the closing ceremony.

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