Olympism and Positivism


The positive thought of the 19th century is the most important philosophical source and foundation of modern Olympism. Coubertin does not try to develop a positive philosophy, but to use its original spirit and postulates that could contribute to an efficient struggle for preserving the ruling order. The “fullness” of Olympism is not primarily determined by positive philosophy, but by new “practical” challenges. In that sense, Olympism is not just an attempt to revive positive philosophy, but it is also an attempt to give new positive answers, which means to develop a more efficient mechanism of power, according to new class relations, for holding the “masses” in submission. Modern Olympism is not just a conception of the world, it is above all an active (conserving) attitude to the world that appears in the form of a struggle against those who want to see that world changed. In spite of being a scribomaniac, Coubertin’s basic intention was not to develop a theory, but a political practice. His writings are a peculiar elaboration of the strategy and tactics of the struggle against the working movement, colonized peoples and women. Coubertin does not try to make the bourgeois more clever and noble, but to stir the “lazy animal” in him, to develop his greediness and incite him to set on new colonial exploits. That is why a fanatical conquering spirit became one of the dominant features of Olympism.

Speaking of Comte’s positive philosophy, Marcuse states: “Rarely in the past has any philosophy urged itself forward with so strong and so overt a recommendation that it be utilized for the maintenance of prevailing authority and for the protection of vested interest from any and all revolutionary onset. (…) Positive philosophy is the only weapon able to combat ‘the anarchic force of purely revolutionary principles’; it alone can succeed in ‘absorbing the current revolutionary doctrine’.” And he continues: “The lords of earth will learn, also, that positivism inclines ‘to consolidate all power in the hands of those who possess this power – whoever they may be’. Comte becomes even more outspoken. He denounces ‘the strange and extremely dangerous’ theories and efforts that are directed against the prevailing property order. These erect an ‘absurd Utopia’. Certainly, it is necessary to improve the condition of the lower classes, but this must be done without deranging class barriers and without ‘disturbing the indispensable economic order’. On this point, too, positivism offers a testimonial to itself. It promises to ‘insure the ruling classes against every anarchistic invasion’ and to show the way to a proper treatment of the mass.” (1) Coubertin’s relation to the antiquity, Christianity, the Enlightenment, the guiding principles of the French Revolution, the philanthropic movement, the democratic institutions and national cultures, expresses his endeavour to remove from history everything that creates the possibility of developing a libertarian thought and stepping out of the existing world. Olympism is more then a spiritual counterrevolution: it does not only deal with the emancipatory heritage of the nineteenth-century civil society, but with the cultural tradition of the West. Using Marx’s “XI thesis of Feuerbach”, we could formulate the follo- wing Olympic postulate: philosophers have only interpreted the world – but the point however is to prevent it from being changed by all means and at all costs.

Among the scholars who have been concerned with Coubertin’s work there are those (Prokop) who hold that Coubertin did not have direct contact with Comte, but that it was Frédéric Le Play who introduced him to the world of positive philosophy. Either through Le Play or by reading Comte, Coubertin adopted the basic methodological and doctrinaire starting points of Comte’s philosophy and with his Olympic idea and practice tried to realize Comte’s idea of “positive society”. It can be said that international sport represents an attempt to revive and institutionalize positive philosophy and to turn it into a global spiritual (political) movement. Urlike Prokop rightly sees in international sport an “institution analogous to positive philosophy”. (2) The Olympic philosophy and sport appear as a unity of thought and practice in the construction of positive society.

The basis of Coubertin’s Olympic doctrine are the ideas which make the corner stones of Comte’s “social physics”: the ”idea of order” (“social statics”) and the ”idea of progress” (“social dynamics”).

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