Olympism and Mysticism


Unlike Bacon, Coubertin does not use the inductive method but departs from a given political goal, and in that context selects the facts, giving them an interpretation and coming to such conclusions that should enable its realization. At the same time, Coubertin does not use the methods that offer the possibility of an empirical verification and rational proof, but puts forward his thought in the form of peculiar sermons with which he tries to reach people’s subconscious and win them over from “the depths of their souls”. He does not address the public as a scientist, but as a “Messiah” who should carry out a “holy mission”: to forever deal with the libertarian dignity and the libertarian struggle of the oppressed. Coubertin does not strive to create reasonable people who are capable of making their own judgments, but sects of loyal followers who obediently execute what they are told. That is why, with his “utilitarian pedagogy”, he above all seeks to create the character of a loyal and usable subject to whom he would attach the corresponding positive conscious. Not the development of a scientific, but the creation of a fanatical religious conscious – that is the basic purpose of Coubertin’s dogmatic. Hence irrationalism and mysticism become the main characteristics of Coubertin’s Olympic rhetoric and practice. The Olympic doctrine seeks not only to repress reason, but to open the road to its destruction: fanatism and idiocy are the ultimate results of the Olympic irrationalism.

Coubertin uses the Olympic spectacle to blind man by reducing his capability of reasoning, and thus draw him into the spiritual orbit of the existing world. “The Church or the fair” – cries out Coubertin in his opposition to the professionalization of sportsmen that threatens to devalue religio athletae, the main symbol of the Olympic religiousness, and trivialize the Olympic mystery. Coubertin rejects the logic of panem et circences and opts for the principle of bread and pagan festivities, having as a model the “great world exhibitions” and pompous monarchist manifestations that were meant to arouse admiration of the oppressed for the ruling order. The spectacular Olympic ceremony becomes a mythological picture of a “happy world” committed to the spirit that governs the world. Instead of a naive cheerfulness, Coubertin’s Olympic Games are dominated by a fanatical commitment to the ruling spirit; instead of the “love of God”, dominates the “love” of the existing order. In spite of trying in his later writings to be close to the Nazis, Coubertin does not strive to build the “collective unconscious” (Jung) in the dark labyrinths of the subconscious by means of the ancient myths. Guided by the principle savoir pour prevoir, prevoir pour agir Coubertin carefully tries to keep things under control and instrumentalize them for his political goals. The subconscious is, in any case, the main Coubertin’s ally in the creation of positive man, and sport and physical drill are the basic ways of achieving it. That is why Coubertin, in his “utilitarian pedagogy”, insists on an upbringing without education. He seeks to remove ambiguity in man resulting in the “confrontation of two intentions”. (41) Uncontradictoriness of man’s character is based on a sublimated activism where the suppressed can be fully realized. Coubertin’s positive man is fully united with himself for he is completely submitted, through the conquering (oppressive) activism, to the spirit of “progress”.

Coubertin is not a mystic. Modern Olympic mysticism has an instrumental character and is thus the means of the ruling oligarchy for controlling the “masses”. It is grounded in positive reason which adopted all the results of modern thought (modern rationalism) that can serve to create a positive man and positive society. Mysticism is not an expression of the mystery of life to which the ancient man was totally submitted, but becomes a means of the mystification of the spirit of capitalism. It is not an integral part of the Olympic mystery, as it was in antiquity, but is a technical means for “producing” the Olympic spectacle: Olympism becomes one of the distorted mirrors of capitalism that gives it a mysterious image. The main role of the members of IOC, as the highest Olympic priests, is to give the spirit of capitalism, by way of the Olympic Games and the Olympic mythomania, the character of the “deepest mystery”, which means an indisputable and untouchable force to which man’s being and destiny are totally submitted. Not mystical religious ceremonies, but great economic world exhibitions, as a spectacular demonstration of the progressistic and expansionist power of capitalism, are the models for Coubertin’s Olympic Games. They do not symbolize the closeness and finality of the ancient cosmos, but the “endless openness” of the capitalist universe. Coubertin was explicitly against the professionalization of sport and the commercialization of the Olympic Games, because he realized that it inevitably led to the banalization of the Olympic mystery and the destruction of its religious spirit.

Like Huizinga and other theorists of bourgeois society, Coubertin tries to preserve capitalism by instrumentalizing irrationalism and thus preventing the creation of a rational alternative to capitalism as an irrational (antilibertarian and antiexistential) order. Olympism becomes the highest and the most efficient form of the instrumentalization of irrationalism, and a mindless and operationalized reason becomes its chief tool. The main role of the International Olympic Committee is to “mediate” between capitalism and man, and by way of the Olympic mysticism and mythology destroy a reasonable relation of man to the world and his critical-visionary conscious. A lack of ability to distinguish between myth and reality, as well as between historical facts and the picture of the “past”, represents one of the main features of Coubertin’s positive man that makes him close to the ancient man. A mystification and mythologization of the present world and a destruction of reason are two sides of the Olympic positivism.

In his strivings to control man, Coubertin cannot rely on his fear of natural powers. In the Modern Age science represents the “victory” of man over the natural forces – the basic source of the ancient mystery and deification of nature (life). Coubertin seeks to deprive man of that heritage realizing that liberation from nature becomes the objective possibility of liberation from the alienated centers of social powers, and seeks to turn the “victory” of man over the natural forces into the victory of the bourgeoisie over the workers. Coubertin deals with the demystificatory power of science in order to (ab)use it for the production of the modern Olympic mystery. Science becomes the means for producing the modern Olympic mystery, in the form of the Olympic spectacle, which should deify the ruling principles of capitalism and arouse veneration. Instead of the ancient unity of life and mystery, there is a political manipulation of the ruling “elite” that tries, by way of science, to cover with a “mysterious” Olympic veil the primitive (worldly) power of capital and enter people’s subconscious. Olympism becomes the means of mystifying the world in which man’s creative powers were superseded by mystical “superhuman powers”. To prevent man from changing the social relations and his (submitted) position in society by developing the productive forces and his creative powers, that is to say, from gaining self-conscious as the creator of social goods and the capability to take over the control of social processes from the parasitic classes in his own hands – this is Coubertin’s aim. That is why he so ardently seeks to cut the emancipatory historical roots: the destruction of man’s self-conscious as the universal creative being of freedom represents the main task of Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy”.

The ancient (as well as the medieval) cosmos and its mysterion are alien to capitalism. The “mystery” of capitalism does not spring from a life dominated by the natural forces that acquire a divine and thus a fateful character, but from a life ruled by irrational and evasive laws of the market (the Stock Exchange as the meeting point of mysterious forces or the modern Pythia’s cave) and the corresponding institutionalized public sphere, which became the laws of the capitalist cosmos and thus the fateful power between man and life. The task of the modern Olympic paganism is to illuminate that power with a divine light and thus hide its class character and worldly vulnerability (transience). The Olympic Games are not the crown of the mystery of living with which man is faced every day, but a peculiar hypnotic séance appearing in the form of a “spectacle” that should blind man and prevent him from becoming aware of his own powers. Bearing in mind the Olympic ceremony and the importance Coubertin attaches to it, it becomes obvious that mysticism, and not reason, represents the umbilical cord that connects Coubertin’s man (citizen) with the existing world.

In Coubertin, evolution, embodied in capitalist progress, is the bearer of the Olympic mystery. In it, a mystified force appearing in the form of the “war of all against all” and the law of natural selection are created and developed. With the development of his conquering-oppressive power man is immerged in evolution, which is symbolically expressed in the explosive muscular strength which embodies the developing forces of evolution (progress). Similarly to antiquity, the real things occur in the sphere which preceded man, which created him and to which he is hopelessly subjected. Since man is by his nature a “lazy animal”, Coubertin had to envisage an additional power that offers the possibility of man’s “overcoming” his inherited “lazy animal nature”, but which does not offer him the possibility of a critical-changing attitude to the existing world. He appeals to the “immortal spirit of antiquity” that becomes the scepter in which is concentrated the activist (conquering-oppressive) power of evolution, which with its light should inseminate the “lazy animal nature” of man (the bourgeois) and thus beget a positive man.

At the closing ceremony of the Berlin Olympic Games Coubertin states in his final words that “understandings” at the Olympic Games are “stronger than death itself” (42) and thus indicates one of the basic moments in the creation of the Olympic mystery: the Olympic Games symbolize the revival of the vital force of capitalism and the continuity of the life force, with which the capability of an eternal self-reproduction of the existing world is affirmed, making the Games the “festivity of spring” and “youth”. The “sacred rhythm” of the Olimpiads becomes a symbolic expression of an unbreakable chain of births and deaths to which man is fatally submitted. A readiness to die represents an expression of man’s total submission to the ruling order based on natural selection – which as a fatal power appears in the form of the Olympic cult and becomes a means of man’s spiritual insemination. The Olympic Games symbolize man’s final “reconciliation” (Comte) to the present world.

The development of capitalism brought about a complete trivialization of the Olympic mystery: “mythology has entered into the profane” (Horkheimer /Adorno). (43) What Coubertin was faced with from the very beginning of the Olympic Games has come about: instead of the “Church”, the Olympic Games have become a “circus”; instead of becoming a symbolic incarnation of the “progressive” spirit of capitalism, sportsmen have become the “circus gladiators”. From the very beginning Coubertin undertook a fruitless work: he tried to rescue the Olympic Games as the highest religious ceremony dedicated to the glorification of capitalism – from capitalism itself. Coubertin’s Olympic idea ended on the altar of the God of money. Still, the most important thing was preserved: the Olympic Games were and still are a guillotine – a modernized form of the Procrustean method of execution – for the libertarian spirit.

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