Olympism and the ”Philosophy of Performance”


In spite of giving primary importance to the principle of “greater effort”, Coubertin does not argue for the “philosophy of performance” (Leistungsphilosophie) which would result from the endeavours to establish an indisputable domination of the progressistic principle citius, altius, fortius, but insists on the Social Darwinist principle as the main spiritual power and the basis of social order. Nevertheless, Coubertin’s maxim “it is important to fight well” cannot avoid a comparison of performance by quantitative criteria, since it is the basis for determining a “victory” over “opponents” as well as a “victory” over oneself. Quantitative comparison becomes an “objective” criterion for determining the place on the social ladder of power, which appears in the form of Arnold’s elitist “theory of pyramid”: one hundred people are to engage in physical culture if fifty people are to engage in sport; fifty people are to engage in sport if twenty people are to specialize; twenty people are to specialize if five people are to achieve “astonishing bravery” (prouesse étonnante). (75) The pyramid of success indicates a hierarchical structure of Coubertin’s “natural selection” and mechanistic logic of “competing” which corresponds to “competition” on the free market and to “industrial society”. Most importantly, quantitative comparison becomes a form expressing the dominance of “progress” over man and affirming its indisputability and eternity. Again, Coubertin mystifies phenomena: quantitative comparison is not a product of history, but is a “fact” which by no means can be questioned and is thus an instrument for teaching the subjects how to accept social inequality as something inevitable. At the same time, a record is not important as a human achievement, but as a means for proving the “progressive” nature of the ruling order and thus the growing power of the “master race”. Since there are no medical or moral barriers to the progressistic principles of “greater effort” and citius, altius, fortius, it is clear that man’s “perfectioning”, based on them, leads to his (self) destruction. Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy” does not contain the idea of “optimal effort”, which is one of the basic principles of modern sports training, nor does it distinguish between tiredness and exhaustion, which means between normal physical exertion and excessive effort that destroys the organism and leads to death. Coubertin’s principle of “greater effort”, as the basis of “overcoming” man’s animal nature, involves man’s deerotization, destruction of spontaneity, creativity and imagination, in short, the suppression of man’s playing nature and the creation of “positive man”. Hence the dynamics of “greater effort”: the increasing torturing of the body increases the suppression of primary (sexual) needs resulting in an increased combative energy which, in turn, increases the suppression of Eros. The circle is closed.

Coubertin insists on “perfectioning”, but his sports pedagogy rejects the principle of the universal development of man’s physical faculties and insists on onesidedness and uniformity. Instead of suppleness and flexibility, the highest challenge for his “utilitarian pedagogy” becomes the production of an “iron body” corresponded by a ruthless “iron character”. Instead of the Christian “prison of the soul”, the body becomes an iron fist with which “progress” removes the obstacles on its way. The destruction of naturalness and humanity and the transformation of man into “pure material” which will be used for making a new “master race” capable of conquering the world is one of the most important aims of Coubertin’s pedagogy. Sport and physical drill become the ways of producing physically and mentally degenerated people, who are prepared to destroy themselves in order to achieve the given end and who find ”pleasure” in it. Hence sportsmen represent a bodily and character model after which young people are to be educated and thus are a mythological incarnation of the highest values of the present world.

In spite of criticizing the present world ruled by “futile efforts”, Coubertin is not opposed to science and technique, the pillars of capitalism, but wants to turn them into an exclusive means of the bourgeoisie for gaining control over man and nature. His principle of “greater effort”, with which man’s “lazy animal nature” is to be overcome, is founded on the expansionist power of capitalism based on the development of science and technique: the mechanization of the body becomes the highest form in which the process of evolution of the living beings appears. Unlike the ancient techne where there is no distinction between nature and man and which involves an artistic shapening, sports technique is a capitalist form of controlling nature and dealing with man’s natural being and creative nature. The mastering of a sports technique comes down to the suppression and crippling of man’s original playing, spiritual, reasonable and physical faculties, and his subjection to a dehumanized and denaturalized “progress” that becomes a superior power whose fatal course can be slowed down, but cannot be stopped: sport symbolizes the victory of “technical civilization” over man. Since the nature of capitalism directly affects the nature of sport and since sport brings the process of capitalist reproduction to its conclusion, man in sport is not only a labour force, as claim Habermas and Rigauer, (76) but is a labour tool and raw material for making, by way of capitalistically degenerated science and technique, “recorders”.

In antiquity people fought for victory, but not against nature. It is the same with the Renaissance, the aristocratic culture and with the Enlightenment and philanthropic doctrine. It was only in capitalist society, in which everything is subject to the logic of profit and the progressistic principle of performance, that people started to fight against nature, which was to become evident even in sport. The ever faster movement through space, based on the development of technique, becomes the capitalist way of “controlling nature”, which above all means controlling the body – man’s direct nature. At the same time, the speed of movement is not relevant as the expression of the development of human powers, but as a symbolic indication of the developing force of the ruling order. Records, measured in seconds, tens of seconds and hundreds of seconds have for man an abstract value. Also, a record, as the market value of a sports result, is not only the measure of man’s self-alienation, but also the measure of man’s alienation from nature and of the destruction of his own natural being. In Coubertin’s Olympic doctrine space and time are given quantities, independent of man. Coubertin’s relation to the sports space is the expression of the view that capitalist world is the highest form of evolution and that it is possible to improve it, but not to change it. Hence the sports stadium becomes the most authentic space of capitalism. It symbolizes man’s complete and final closing in the spiritual horizon of capitalist world and is thus a modern pagan temple in which, in the form of “sports competitions” and “physical exercises”, man’s libertarian dignity and his faith in a just world are offered as sacrifice to the ruling spirit of destruction.

Movement through space is the basis of man’s essentiality and libertarian self-conscious: at the beginning there was movement. The difference between human movement and mechanical and animal movement is in its relation to the existing world and movement towards new worlds, which means in its libertarian and visionary dimension. By reducing man to the tool of “progress”, Coubertin brings his movement to a level below that of an animal and gives it a mechanical dimension. He abolished man’s independent movement, with which he relates to the world and shows his distinctive character, imposing on him, by way of sport and bodily drill, a model of movement that corresponds to the nature of the capitalist order. Coubertin’s eurhythmics is close to that from antiquity: man is supposed to become one with the existing world and its organic part. To a dehumanized and denaturalized world, based on capitalist destruction, corresponds a dehumanized and denaturalized body and a destructive movement. The dynamics of bodily movement in sport is conditioned by the “pace of living” dictated by the dynamics of capitalist reproduction and represents a com- bat with the natural rhythm of movement. “The perfect rhythm of movement”, the highest functional and aesthetic challenge, which was in the past found in the animal world, is now found in the world of robots. It has turned out that Coubertin’s “new man”, like Hitler’s “overman” (over-beast), was only a transition to the creation of a “Rambo” (killer-idiot), that is to say, a “terminator” (a manlike robot-destructor), who is the incarnation of the ecocidal spirit of today’s capitalism. Sport becomes a way of taking man out of the living world and transferring him into the world of machines. Coubertin’s “progress” is not a movement forward. It is reduced to an endless and ever more intensive circular movement, which can be seen on the sports field, and it should stop history and prevent man from stepping out of the existing world – leading to his destruction. Sport becomes the capitalist merry-go-round of death that revolves faster and faster…

Coubertin rejected the emancipatory heritage of the traditional forms of culture and thus the bodily movement oriented to the development of human relations and man’s unity with nature. “The development of human powers” by way of sport has become a systematic destruction of man’s creative powers; “the fight for freedom” by way of sport has become a sidetrack leading to a further development of destructive processes; “the activation of the masses” by way of sport is reduced to establishing control over people in “their free (leisure) time” and to the creation of mass-idiocy; “the playing technique” has become a means for crippling man and creating hordes of modern Frankensteins… The dominant tendency in the “development” of sport suggests the dominant tendency in the “development” of the contemporary world: instead of creating the possibility of “leaping from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom” (Engels), capitalism destroys the germ of a novum created in modern society and makes man increasingly dependent on the increasingly threatened environment. Sport does not only deal with culture, it deals with life.

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