The politics behind ideas

H.R. Patapievici is currently a discrete public voice. After two decades of bitter involvement in cultural and political polemics, he now stands out solely through several rare conferences. Patapievici first made his mark as an “anti-patriot,” especially during a period (the early 1990s) when nationalism was a daily discourse of various parties. He permitted himself to be, in his texts, extremely critical of his fellow compatriots.

Keeping the proportions, he was trying to be like a Biblical prophet that criticizes his contemporaries because they left behind the exigencies of “chosen people.” But he did not neglect the political dimension of this decline, so that the intelligence services of the Ion Iliescu regime started taking an interest in him, but not in sufficiently discrete manner, so that the critical intellectual gained the aura of a harassed opponent.
He did not remain a marginal intellectual, or a simple voice that has its own audience.
The temporary fall of Iliescu eventually propelled Patapievici within the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, in a period in which one of the political battles was the always-postponed attempt of a lustration – the elimination from public life of those that were far too compromised by their collaboration with the communist regime. And since simple membership within the leadership structures of the communist party or within the political police institutions was not accepted as legitimate discrimination criteria, it was attempted through the blaming of snitches (who were often rather victims than executioners).
Thus the Securitate files became political weapons. The results however were modest and disappointing. But the most influential position in Patapievici’s public career was that of president of the Romanian Cultural Institute, an office in which he was appointed by Traian Basescu (the institution being at the time subordinated to the President, and the elimination of Patapievici taking place seven years later through the political scheme of making it subordinated to the Senate, a maneuver made by the new Premier Ponta). He was undeniably one of “Basescu’s intellectuals,” irrespective of how one interprets his relation with the President. In what concerns his intellectual career, Patapievici is the author of a best-seller – “Omul recent” – a theoretization of his criticism of the prestige of certain mainstream contemporary ideas. Less known but significant is his activity as a publisher, coordinating an interesting and original “history of ideas” collection at the Humanitas publishing house.
Last week he took part in a public conference in Cluj, in front of a full amphitheater. It is the second conference under the auspices of a local evangelical association – “Edictum Dei.” The main thesis of the lecturer consisted of the cultural superiority of Christianity, likewise denouncing the so-called “Christian complex” through which modern Europe is trying to repress (in a neurotic fashion, the psychoanalysis would say) references to the civilization that preceded her, that of ancient and medieval Christianity. Why are we ashamed of our Christian past? Especially in the context, the lecturer points out, in which precisely the mental pedagogy of Christian theology allegedly lies at the basis of modernity’s scientific thinking. In other words, without Christian theology modern European science could not have appeared. Such a thesis seems appealing and even flattering. Only we, Christians or at least the descendents of Christians, were able to create today’s civilization of prosperity. Patapievici even gave the example of a report from today’s communist China, a report which points out that capitalist growth depends on the Christian mentality of those promoting it. In other words, the Chinese will never reach the performances of Westerners (Europeans or Americans). Meanwhile, the lecturer complained, Europeans have eliminated any reference to Christianity from the EU Constitution. A fact that allegedly represents “self-denial” (if not self-hatred). And the MEPs rejected Rocco Butiglione, proposed by the Italian government and by Silvio Berlusconi as Justice Commissioner, allegedly because he was a more consistent Catholic. A paradoxical situation that should seriously give us food for thought, according to Patapievici.
However, where are the weak points of this series of arguments? First of all in the premise that modernity is fundamentally a new stage of Christianity, that the Secular Age is only the belated fruit of Christian ideas. In fact, modernity was born from the interweaving of three trends: conserving, under other forms, the mentalities of medieval Christianity; the reforming, sometimes radical, of these ideas; the reaction, sometimes brutal, to Christianity. The share of the latter is not at all negligible. (to be continued)

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