Modern and Ancient Olympism


Coubertin treated Hellenic civilization much in the same way in which the European colonial conquerors treated ancient civilizations. Reading his writings on the ancient world one gets the impression that he is a looter digging the ancient sites in search for something that he might find useful. Unlike those ”noble” representatives of “European civilization” who were after material wealth, Coubertin was after the ancient spiritual wealth – which can be fully appraised only within the civilization in which it appeared – and ruthlessly crippled and tailored it in order to make from it a means for destroying the emancipatory heritage of modern society. The very use of the term “Olympic Games” is a sacrilege of the ancient tradition. Coubertin used that term not because he was inspired by the ancient spiritual heritage, but because it seemed to have a “solemn character”, which means that he saw in it a peculiar decoration for international sports competitions he planned to organize and institutionalize. His political conception is the key to understanding his Olympic idea and his relation to antiquity. Coubertin does not try to “restore the ancient Olympic Games” in order to develop sport, but with a view to contributing to the “development of France’s national strength” and its colonial expansion. That is the original prism through which Coubertin observes the “ancient heritage” and the criterion he uses to select what is “acceptable” for the Modern Age. For Coubertin, Hellenic spirituality does not have a cultural, but a practical and political value; he does not regard it in terms of the cultural development of modern society, but in terms of the realization of anticultural political and economic goals of the ruling bourgeois “elite”. While utilitarism is the starting point, positivism is a speculative prism through which Coubertin observes ancient Greece.

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