„Sports Pedagogy“

Thomas Arnold, the most influential reformer of the British system of education in the XIX century, was one of the first to proclaim Hobbes’ principles bellum omnium contra omnes and homo homini lupus est, disguised in Christian moralistic rhetoric, the fundamental pedagogical principles. Social Darwinism became the basis of the «elitist» pedagogy which was eagerly accepted by Pierre de Coubertin, who built on it, discarding the Christian veil, the foundations of his «utilitarian pedagogy» that became the indisputable basis for physical education both in the fascist Germany and in the whole «civilized world». Its basic aim was not «disciplining of the body», but confrontation with senses, Eros, spontaneity, imagination, and the creation of a sado-masochistic character, which means the mutilation of a child’s personality and his fitting into the model of a submissive and usable subject. Coubertin clearly indicated that the aim of physical education is not to produce a physically healthy person, especially not a child’s cultural development, but to destroy the libertarian (self) conscious and to create a «positive» man. Hence he discards the maxim mens sana in corpore sano and opts for the maxim mens fervida in corpore lacertoso. Coubertin’s sports pedagogy seeks to produce «masters» and is guided by the following views: «The battle at Waterloo was won on the sports fields of Eton», ascribed to Wellington, and «Restore the colonial glory of France!» («Rebronzer la France!») These views are corresponded by the following view: „Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds which, on other days, on other fields, will bear the seeds of victory.“ (1) held by the American general Douglas MacArthur, which was and still is the undisputed guiding principle of the sports pedagogy in the USA. «Sports pedagogy» established upbringing without education. It is one of the basic reasons why it does not have a theoretical part: its aim is not to enlighten the young and cultivate their body, but to produce a ruthless belligerent character and an «iron body». Instead of promoting spontaneity, imagination, pleasure, «sports pedagogy» promotes productivism, utilitarianism, masochism… «The habit of obeying the commands» represents one of the basic principles both of Coubertin’s «utilitarian pedagogy» and of the bourgeois «physical education».

A pursuit of virtue (arete) is the basis of the ancient paideia, on which the ancient ideal of human existence is based. Physical motion is the expression of a spiritual motion based on man’s endeavours to fit into the cosmic order. The ancient conception of cosmos and man’s cosmic essence is corresponded by a holistic approach to man as the unique physical, ethical and esthetic being, whence follows the principle of a harmonious development of human faculties as one of the basic elements of ancient eurhythmics. In the Hellenic world, the Olympic agonistes was modeled after the cosmological and not after the anthropological conception. At the same time, physical exercises became a peculiar service to gods, which Coubertin himself pointed out claiming that «by chiseling his body with exercise as a sculptor chisels a statue” the athlete in antiquity was “honouring the gods”.(2) Prevails the spirituality of the bodily movement that arises from a “religious feeling” which pervades the whole life. Instead of insisting on a muscular body, as is the case in sport, the highest challenge for physical exercises in antiquity was a geometrically constructed bodily proportion, corresponding to the ideal of a closed and final world and representing the basis of the Hellenes’ racial (self) recognition. The ruling model of the physical and the spiritual, as well as the principle of a harmonious development of the physical and the spiritual, were derived from the dominant conception of the world which originated from the very essence of the Hellenic society and their strivings to preserve the established order: the ancient physical culture was of a conservative character. In addition, in antiquity there was no principle of “greater effort”, the dominant principles being “measure is the best” (metron ariston) and “nothing too much” (meden agan), as well as the principle of “beautiful and good” (kalokagathia). Instead of polis and a spiritual vault, represented by the Olympic gods, as the basis of human self-determination and mediators in interpersonal relations, the basis of man’s “self-conscious” and mediator in “interpersonal” relations in sport is the animal world, degenerated by a technical world: a sports competition is of a Social Darwinist and progressistic character.

In Rousseau’s pedagogy, man’s relation towards another man is mediated by man’s relation towards nature and towards his own body as his immediate nature. A natural motion is becoming the motion of one man towards another (homo homini homo). This man is not denaturalized and thus dehumanized; he is not deprived of impulses, affects and senses; it is a complete man, who is in nature and in unity with his natural being; who aspires to a universal body as the expression of his universal life-creating powers… In Rousseau, (as well as in Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Pestalozzi, Fit, Guts Muths and other philanthropists), a «return to nature» is the preparation for living in society: nature becomes man’s ally in the fight against the ancien régime. He seeks to free man from a patterned behaviour which kills his vividness, to make him independent from his childhood so as to enable him to develop his personality though his own life-creating activism and the experience acquired in this way. To liberate man from spiritual tutelage and help him acquire the character of an independent and free person – this is the basic purpose of Rousseau’s «return to nature»: a natural movement becomes the synonym for a free movement. Rousseau: «Those constant exercises, left to the guidance of nature, strengthen the body and not only do they not blunt the spirit but, on the contrary, create in us the only kind of reason for which the period of childhood is capable of, and which is most needed at any age. They teach us to recognize the real use of our forces, the relation of our body to the bodies around us, and the use of natural tools within our reach suited to our organs.» (3) Speaking of the «ancient nations», Rousseau emphasizes the importance of «gymnastic exercises» for the «bodily and spiritual strength which makes those nations so different from today’s people.» (4) By way of a free movement, man is connected with nature and is humanized as a cultural and natural being, since nature is not for man only an immediate existential space, as it is for the animal, but is a space where he can realize his working skill and spiritual powers. Most importantly, a «return to nature» means to return man to his natural being which has been alienated from him by the development of civilization.

A faith in the possibility of actualizing the true human nature is the basis of Rousseau’s relation towards man. What makes Rousseau’s «savage» «noble» is the capacity to become human. It is precisely this potential humanity that makes man human and, through Emil and upbringing and education, it becomes reality. Class society degenerates man, while towns and prevailing forms of movements mutilate him and kill his naturalness and humanity. It is no accident that Rousseau does not speak of an escape to nature, but of a «return to nature». Rousseau finds in nature a living environment which enables man to develop his authentic human powers and become noble. Rousseau’s «return to nature» involves an uncorrupted humanity based on the existential unity of man and nature. Rousseau’s «good savage» is actually an idealized picture of man who has developed his human powers, unlike the aristocracy whose natural and human powers were degenerated by its parasitic life. Rousseau’s pedagogical conception is based on natural production and manual labour, which means that there are no technical and scientific spheres which are alienated from man and which mediate between man and nature. The skill man acquires does not become the power with which man seeks to control and use nature, but with which he can be completely united with it. Emil does not seek to become the «master and owner of nature», but to live in nature using his cultivated natural powers. Between man and nature there is no civilizatory mediation: nature itself produces mimetic impulses which man spontaneously absorbs with his senses and they condition his (natural) behaviour. The immediate challenge is not an a priori knowledge and the skill acquired in that context, but natural circumstances, and by meeting that challenge man gains experience and develops his human powers in the form of a skill which enables him to act freely. Human movement is by its character a cultivated natural movement by which man simultaneously develops his natural and human being.

«Sports pedagogy» is a radical conflict with the ideal of cultivating the human nature. It emphasizes the «disciplining» of man, which means the suppression of individual dispositions, repression of the body, and man’s development after the model of an instrumentalized «citizen». Instead of the conscious of an emancipated man, the conscious of a subject is created. Unreasonable Social Darwinist («competitive») physical activism aimed at quantitatively measured performance, which mutilates man’s playing being, represents even today the basis of «physical (sports) education». In sport, man’s «will to power» is, in fact, the realization of Social Darwinist and progressistic spirit: sports competition does not produce cultural goods, nor does it develop man’s cultural being; it destroys it and creates a civilization without culture. In «sports pedagogy», human can-be is not based on the development of man as a universal creative being of freedom, but on the development of the ruling order: man is reduced to a tool used by capitalism for the realization of «progress». Rousseau seeks to liberate man from the fetters of a repressive civilization and to develop his authentic human powers; sport seeks to «liberate» man from the emancipatory heritage of mankind and create a «civilized» barbarism.

Sport is a capitalist way of dealing with man’s playing being, while «sports pedagogy» is a technically perfected drilling. In sport, a dehumanized science and technique are directly expressed, without the mediation of a pedagogical humanistic heritage. «Sports pedagogy» is not based on the ancient techne, but on the modern technique, particularly on that tendency in its development which seeks to turn technique into a means for the abuse of nature and submission of man. Sport does not insist on the development of man’s creative powers, but on the development of a belligerent character and aggressive muscular body, as well as on the cult of «intensive physical exercises» which systematically mutilate the body and create a sado-masochistic character. Instead of a playing skill, sport is dominated by a belligerent and destructive technique which becomes a tool for beating the «opponent» and achieving a record. It «disciplines» man by instrumentalizing his body and turning the erotic charge into aggressive muscular energy and murderous will. Horkheimer and Adorno emphasize in the «Dialectic of Enlightenment» that gymnasts and athletes have always had a close affinity to killing. They see the body as a moving mechanism, parts and joints, and flesh as the clothing of bones. They treat the body and move the limbs as if they had already been wrenched. (5) Ernst Bloch speaks in a similar tone: «…physical exercises, without the presence of the mind, ultimately means: to be the cannon fodder and, before that, a murderer». (6) Sport does not aim at the softness of movement and harmony of the body, at a variety of bodily expressions showing man’s spiritual wealth – but at the development of physical strength («iron body») and the creation of a (self) destructive combative character. Bodily movement is separated from the spiritual, sensual, erotic and visionary, from society as the community of people, from nature, history and culture – without which there is no specific human movement. Sport and physical drill become a way 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. The destructive instrumentalism, based on the absolutized principle of performance (profit), becomes one of the most important forms of the capitalist degeneration of man: instead of the Christian «prison of the soul», the body becomes an iron fist with which «progress» eliminates the obstacles on its way.

Unlike the classical bourgeois pedagogical concept, which sought to turn man into a loyal and usable citizen by suppressing the authentic natural and human (potentially creative) abilities (the so called «disciplining of the body»), modern sports pedagogy, using the results of science and developing its own means and methods, destroys man’s authentic natural and human qualities – distorting them genetically. In spite of insisting on the «perfectioning» of personality, sports pedagogy discards the principle of the universal and harmonious development of physical powers of man as a universal creative being. The ideal of the sports body is not a creative body, nor is it the body in antiquity based on the principle of kalokagathia according to a geometrically constructed cosmos; it is the body as a highly-specialized machine. In sport, man has entirely become a „one-dimensional“ (Marcuse) being. The fatal character of a one-sided physical exercise was pointed out by Schiller: „Indeed, athletes are created by gymnastic exercises, but beauty – only by a free and coordinate exercising of all parts of the body». (7) In sport, there is no room for the principle of measure and optimum effort, which takes into consideration one’s specific body, health and personal integrity. In his «utilitarian pedagogy», Coubertin attached primary importance to the principle of «greater effort» which is the most important means for overcoming man’s «lazy» animal nature, developing a ruthless combative character of a bourgeois and creating a positive man. Nature and body become a technical means for achieving inhuman ends.

As far as using competition as a pedagogical means is concerned, Rousseau is strongly against competition, giving priority instead to the love of man over the love of fame: «Especially, let all the vanity stay far away, all competition, all love of fame and all the feelings that make us compare with others. As these comparisons are never made without a certain feeling of hatred being aroused in us against all those that deny us the primacy…» (8) In this context, man does not try to «compete» with nature or to «conquer» it, and from this follows Rousseau’s relation to the body. The basis of «happiness» is not a conflict with one’s natural being (body), but a free and spontaneous development of the body, spirit, senses, mind, skills… Nature, life and freedom are at one. We find in Rousseau the most important elements of sports pedagogy – courage, stamina, self-initiative – but the way they are realized does not turn people into enemies and does not turn man against nature (body), as it is in sport; it rather turns people into friends and teaches man how to respect nature and his natural being.

Today’s capitalism imposes a new anthropological model which corresponds to the destructive nature of the «consumer society». Instead of the model of «man-beast», suited to the original spirit of capitalism (homo homini lupus), the prevailing model is that of «man-(self) destructor». Man’s being reduced to the beast has been overcome in sport itself. Today’s coaches do not try to stir in man a competitive («animal»), but a fanatical self-destructive motivation: in sport, violence is of an instrumental and destructive character. The most important element in a coach’s «work» is no longer a psychological manipulation by which sportsmen are turned against opponents, but an attempt to make them use increasingly monstrous dope and accept increasingly monstrous medical «treatments». The main challenge for the contemporary «champions» is not «rivalry» and thus aggression directed towards the opponent, but their readiness to destroy themselves and thus their aggression to their own body. Sport is marked by a (self) destructive sublimation. The elementary human needs remaining unsatisfied; the «negative» energy is directed towards the «opponent», record, conflict with one’s own body. Sports pedagogy is no longer aimed at winning; it is now an education aimed at performance (record) – and it is corresponded by the «philosophy of performance» (Leistungsphilosophie). Instead of liberty and ever greater probability of human survival, a dehumanized and denaturalized «progress», as another name for the process of capitalist reproduction based on the principle «Money does not stink!», becomes the highest «pedagogical» challenge.

Modern man realizes only a fraction of his intellectual and spiritual capacities and, in addition to that, capitalism mutilates his (potential) universal creative being and turns him into a specialty-idiot. Instead of developing his mind and his artistic talents, man is reduced to the ruling model of a «new» man (cyborg), in whom memory and operationalized intellect are being developed (manipulative dehumanized intelligence) – which is but one of the forms in which modern capitalism deals with «traditional» man. A humane civilization, by developing a pedagogical model which is not based on deprivation and repression, but on emotional closeness between people and mutual respect, as well as on education through life itself with its creative character – will enable the development of man’s creative powers from an early age. In a future society, the highest pedagogical challenge will not be a dehumanized «progress», but the development of man’s creative being and of society as a brotherly community of emancipated people.

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