It was at the so called “Founding Congress” of the Olympic Games in June 1894, that Coubertin stated the view that expresses his mythological and propagandist attitude to ancient “sport”: “The Greek heritage is so vast, Gentlemen, that all those who in the modern world have conceived physical exercise under one of its multiple aspects have been able legitimately to refer to Greece, which contained them all.” (43) Coubertin here applies his already proved method: he creates the impression that Hellenic physical culture was the source of modern physical culture and sport, in order to reduce the ancient physical culture to “his” physical culture and sport and thus give them the legitimacy of being “cultural” and “eternal”. At the same time, Coubertin does not mention that Hellenic physical culture was socially conditioned, since in that case it is no longer “suprahistorical” (mythological) and becomes a concrete historical phenomenon inseparably connected with the society in which it appeared and within which it can be comprehended in the right way. In that context, Coubertin “overlooks” the fact that way back in antiquity the difference between a stadium (hippodrome) and a gymnasium agon was established, which (only conditionally) corresponds to the present distinction between sport and physical culture, and the idea of a true physical culture was created, which opened space for establishing a critical detachment to the Olympic Games and the Olympic contestants.
The ancient world does not know of the progressistic principle citius, altius, fortius – on which the modern Olympic Games are based. In antiquity, there did not exist the principle of performance, or the criteria for its measurement and comparison. Unlike the ancient “sport”, in modern sport “the result which can be quantified” became the “criterion for the acceptance (Anerkennung) of social systems” (Prokop), which is the consequence of the connection between governing and industrialization, dominated not by the demands for freedom and justice, but by the demands for satisfying privatized needs by means of technically efficient bureaucratic organization.” Sport is a “symbolic manifestation of this legitimacy by way of the mind (Vernunft), whose determination is reduced for the optimal adjustment of the means to the ends.” (44) At the ancient Olympic Games, the basic purpose of “competing” was not to achieve better results (records), but victory. Instead in the form of numbers, the history of the ancient Olympic Games appears as a list of winners – which, in the fifth century B.C, was put together by Hippies of Ellis, and complemented and systematized by Aristotle. Originally, the Olympic Games were dominated by the morality of the tribal aristocracy: the contests lasted until the surrender or death. Everything that led to victory, except hurting the “soft parts of the body” (eyes, genitals), was allowed, including the hitting of the opponent while he was on the ground, as well as special “clutches” for breaking fingers, underarms and shins, wrists and neck. To kill the opponent was a legitimate way of winning. (45)
The idea of personal achievement, without which (modern) sport cannot be imagined, does not exist in ancient society. Victory is not the expression of the human powers and thus a human achievement: it is the expression of the divine will. Miloš Đurić refers to that: “The glory of Dories, the youngest Diagora’s son, who was three times the winner at Olympia, seven times at Eastham and six times at the Nemean games, was so great that during the Peloponnesian war the Athenians released him as a prisoner of war without offending him, since in his victories they saw a divine providence.” (46) The same goes for physical qualities, strength and speed: they are not the qualities of man, but the divine gift. There do not exist any free will, personal initiative, personal achievement and personal responsibility: man is “Gods’ toy”. The purpose of fighting is not to develop the human powers, but to earn “honour” by winning the divine mercy and thus insure victory and “immortality”. In his Olympic poems (epinike) Pindar does not praise the winners as humans, but as gods’ electees and the objects of divine mercy. (47) Coubertin’s and ancient concepts share the view that the purpose of a sports competition is not, ultimately, to develop man’s individual powers, but the tyrannical power of the “master race”.
In ancient society man is not an emancipated individual and thus a constitutive factor of (civil) society, he is the member of a polis and thus zoon politikon (Aristotle). Accordingly, at the Olympic Games, he does not fight as an individual but as a representative of the polis. At the same time, the Olympic Games are a form of racial integration of the Hellenes, which means that “the principle of equality”, on which modern sport is based, is alien to them. In the Greek agon, individual or personal achievements are not as important as the race, which appears under the aristocratic evaluative aureole (aristocratic arete as the foundation of the ancient fair-play). It is the agon that seeks to create the master, namely, to educate the Hellenes as a master race. To strive to be better than one’s compatriots involves being above the “barbarous peoples”. In antiquity agon is the highest form of man’s cultural manifestation and thus the indicator of his divine nature, while in Coubertin Olympism deals with the cultural heritage of mankind and eliminates all civilizatory barriers to man’s (bourgeois) “animal nature”. Coubertin abolishes the modern citizen and rejects the view according to which man is a zoon politikon. The main integrative force of society is not the will of the citizen, based on his inalienable “human rights”, it is the tyrannical power of the ruling class, based on the principle “might is right”; the foundation and ideal of social structuring is not a political, but an animal community. “Sports republic”, which Coubertin offers to those deprived of their humane and civil rights, is not the prototype of a politically organized society which should be sought for, it is the means of the parasitic classes with which the oppressed should be “taught” how to obediently accept the order ruled by the stronger. In Coubertin, we find no universal good: the class interest is above the interest of society. As far as the Olympic Games are concerned, man appears at them not as an emancipated individual, but as the toy of the ruling Social Darwinist and progressistic spirit which, by means of a racial (national), class and gender collectivity, abolishes the individual and from man, in the form of a “sportsman”, creates a fanaticized crusader: the hoisting of the flag symbolizes the victory of the ruling order and the defeat of the human.
The ancient Olympic Games have a cult character and represent the highest religious ritual. Comparing the moral character of the modern with that of the ancient “sportsman”, Coubertin says: “Moral qualification existed in antiquity in connection with religious requirements. We believe that it will impose itself again in our time. With the Olympiads becoming ever more solemn, a movement will grow to pay respect to them (if one may use this expression), by (morally, not.P.d.C.) purifying the participants and by creating a genuine elite worthy of so exceptional an occasion.” (48) The ancient religio athletae involves moral pureness. “The gods’ electee” was only that athlete who had never been convicted and had never offended the gods. On the Olympic playgrounds competitors appear as fanatical worshipers of Zeus and as the members of the same race, class and sex. Their mutual relations are reduced to a ritual expression of their respect for each other as the representatives of the highest values of the established world and the champions of those values. “Friendship” between fighters was mediated through their allotted roles, which they were supposed to play consistently so as not to question the seriousness and superhuman character of the values they represented. The winner is an idealized incarnation of the divine will: the celebration of the winners becomes the celebration of the gods. The values attributed to the winner do not apply to man, but only to a winner, which means to the one who was elected by the gods. Everything that is connected with him, and above all his family, must be appropriately valued, according to the greatness of the divine decision – which is clearly shown in Pindar’s Olympic poems. The winner is a symbolic represen- tative and incarnation of the aristocratic (ruling) arete, which is not based on the love of freedom and people, but on the love of power and ambition. The victory is not the proof of the human powers, but the form in which man expresses his complete and hopeless submission to the traditional social structures and values. By winning, man produces the ruling relations and thus the bonds with which he chains himself to the existing world. By killing the “opponent”, which is a constituent part of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games, man symbolically kills his human dignity and expresses his complete worthlessness in relation to the ruling order that appears in the form of an all-mighty Olympic oligarchy. It is no accident that the critique of the Olympic Games and the Olympic winners comes at the time of the rise of ancient democracy.
Capitalist society removed the divine (normative) firmament that conditioned the religious (spiritual) nature of the ancient agon, which had a restrictive rather than an expansionist character. “Religious demands” that Coubertin, departing from antiquity, poses to the modern athlete, are actually meant to deal with the ancient religio athletae, which is the expression of the highest religious (philosophical) principle gnothi seauton. Coubertin insists on a strict ritual form of the Olympic Games in order to arouse a “religious feeling” similar to that in antiquity. At the same time, he “forgets” that he cannot do it without the gods, who symbolize the normative firmament as an indisputable starting point for determining the behavior of people and the criterion for distinguishing between good and bad, and without the ancient world, which is totally pervaded with religion, and the ancient man, who is fatally submitted to the divine will. In order to arouse the “feeling of sublimity”, (49) Coubertin needs a value that transcends the existing world and that can take man “out” of it. Coubertin’s religio athletae is reduced to a means for fanaticizing man, for killing his humane dignity and his (critical) conscious and for his complete submission to the ruling order. What connects the ancient and modern Olympic Games is their belligerent spirit: they are a peculiar war tournament at which the contestants do not fight with arms, but with their bodies, and are thus a combat with the pacifistic mind and a preparation for war. Hence ruthless “rivalry”, which involves readiness to kill the “opponent”, represents the main feature of sports “friendship”.
According to Miloš Đurić, the “agonal activity, in addition to the myth and cult, was the chief element of the Hellenic spiritual existence and the central feature in the upbringing of the Hellenic people and all the forms of its spiritual expression”. (50) Ancient Olympism is a comprehensive religious world view and the corresponding way of life, while the Olympic Games are but one of the chief ritual forms of the incarnation of that spirit, namely, a religious rite sacred to the god of war and the supreme Olympic god Zeus. Ancient Olympism thus represents the crown of the ancient agon. The Olympic Games are the culmination of the activist integration of the Hellenic world – spiritual, combatant, erotical… Like other similar manifestations, they are a peculiar form of participation in public affairs, which was obligatory. Unlike the Roman parasitic plebs, the ancient demos is not composed of “masses”. From it follows a crucial distinction between the old Greek Olympic Games and Roman gladiatorial games: the former are a form of activist integration of the Hellenes in their attempt to preserve the order, while the latter are the form of making the “masses” passive. Coubertin’s conception contains both of these principles: sport is a means for developing a combatant character of the bourgeois and a means for pacifying (depolitizing) the workers.
In ancient society there existed two kinds of agon: the aristocratic, and the civil. Speaking of the aristocratic agon, Miloš Đurić says: “The real aim of competing was victory, and it was considered to be the climax of this worldly happiness, because it guaranteed the winner what was basically the aim of every Helen: to be admired in life and celebrated after death. For some time the agonal glory was almost the only glory in the Hellenes, and was regarded as the greatest happiness in the world (…) So, the aim of the contests were not material rewards, but to satisfy one’s ambition, to strive for excellence and virtue, and this is what Homer expressed through the mouth of the Likes hero Hipolah, who advised his son Glaucon during his preparations for Troy: always be the best and excellent among others (Iliad VI 208, XI 784). This line concisely and precisely expresses the educational purpose of the tribal aristocracy.” (51) Olympic agonistics in its original sense belongs to a “heroic view of life”. (52) Seen in a broader social context, Olympic agonistics has a multifold nature and involves: competition between the members of the aristocracy for primacy (“honour”); the fight for preserving the indisputable power of the aristocracy over demos; the fight for the spiritual integration of the Hellenes as the “master race” in relation to the “barbarians” and preservation of the slave-owning order, as well as the fight for domination between polises and the fight for preserving the patriarchal order.
One of the main characteristics of Hellenic society is the social status acquired by birth. The aristocratic agon is not a fight for acquiring but for confirming the social status and thus is the way of glorifying the order that insures the privileges acquired by birth. “Honour” is the privilege of noblemen and thus the ticket for the world of the Olympic gods, and the Olympic contests are a merciless struggle for preserving the aristocratic status after death, with which they will avoid Hades and the fate of ordinary people. The Olympic contestants are not friends, but mortal enemies struggling for a place in eternity. Instead of the polis and the spiritual firmament made up of the Olympic gods being the foundation of human self-determination and the mediator in the establishment of interhuman relations, in modern Olympism the animal world and the principle of natural selection are the foundations of human “self-conscious” and the mediators in establishing “interhuman” relations: Coubertin’s agon has a Social Darwinist character. The bourgeois does not pursue “honour” which should insure him eternity in the other world, but victory with which he will eliminate his rivals in the life “match”. “The stronger survive, the weaker are eliminated.” (Coubertin) – That is the essence of the modern Olympic epistle which corresponds to the ruling spirit of monopolistic capitalism expressed in the principle: “Destroy the competition!” Since for Coubertin natural selection is the bearer of “progress”, which is the fatal power to which man is hopelessly submitted, it is quite understandable why Coubertin speaks of war with such enthusiasm: he sees in it the highest and the most direct form of the law of natural selection. In antiquity, the form of the individual struggle for acquiring a place on Olympus conceals the struggle of the ruling class to preserve its privileges; in modern society, in the disguise of sports competitions there goes on the struggle of the parasitic classes against the emancipatory heritage of mankind and against man as a universal creative being of freedom. In that context, Coubertin deals with the competition that does not involve elimination and domination of man over man, particularly with the competition that involves the development of man’s creative powers and opens a possibility of overcoming the existing and creating a new world.
Seeking to make from ancient society the ideal of a positive world that modern society should strive for, Coubertin depicts antiquity as a conflictless society without dynamics of development, particularly not the one that is conditioned by the clash between social classes and groups, or by the conflict between the new and the old. However, the dominant ancient agon did not have a dialectic character: a conflict does not result in overcoming the existing world and creating a novum. It is not the relation between “old” and “new”, but the elimination of one of them (the former) by means of the other, similarly to the “substitution” of patriarchate for matriarchate. In antiquity, the notion of the “old” does not acquire its meaning relative to the “new”: it is conceived as a source of life which, covered with a mythological veil, acquires the character of a cult. In that sense, “old” is the symbol of stability as opposed to an uncertain future. In Coubertin, we have an absolutized progressistic logic which, on the basis of Social Darwinist laws, becomes a fateful power alienated from man: he chained “progress” by means of quantification and thus destroyed the possibility of a novum. Obsessed by the desire to preserve the class order, Coubertin failed to recognize the existential risk of the rule of the absolutized principle of competition and performance.
Coubertin overlooks the fact that even in antiquity there existed a conflict between aristocratic and civil models of upbringing (education), which occurred in the form of the struggle between a “masculine ideal” of the tribal aristocracy and a “philosophical man”: “Sport or spirit, in this either-or lies the striking force of attack” – says Jäger.(53) Thus Xenophanes “is not capable, like Pindar, to see in every Olympic victory, whether it be wrestling or boxing, running or chariot racing, the revelation of the winner’s divine arete. ‘He wins a place of honour in the sight of all the games, his food at the public cost from the State, and a gift to be an heirloom for him – what if he conquer in the chariot-race – he will not deserve all this for his portion so much as I do. Far better is our art then the strength of men and of horses! These are not but thoughtless judgments, nor is it fitting to set strength before goodly art. Even if these arise a mighty boxer among a people, or one great in the pentathlon or at wrestling, or one excelling in swiftness of foot … the city would be none the better governed for that. It is but a little joy a city gets of it if a man conquers at the games by Pisa’s banks; it is not this that makes fat the store-houses of the city’.” (54) This insisting on “polis and its happiness as the measure of all values” is also present in Tirteus. In his lines “the spirit of the political ethics” rose against the “old ideal of chivalry “. (55) “Later, in the name of polis, justice was glorified as the cardinal virtue, when the legal state replaced the old one. Now in the name of polis Xenophanes proclaims his new form of arete, a spiritual upbringing (…). It transcends all previous ideals. The power of the spirit in the state creates the law and the rules, a good order and well-being. Xenophanes consciously took Tirteus’ elegy as a model and in its form, so suitable for his purpose, inspired a new content of his thought. With this stage the development of the political notion of arete reached its goal: courage, prudence and justice, and finally wisdom – these are the qualities that even for Plato were the sum of the civil arete. In Xenophanes’ elegy the new ‘spiritual virtue’ of this sofia, which was to play such an important role in philosophical virtue, claims its right for the first time. Philosophy revealed its importance for man, i.e. for polis. A step from pure contemplation of truth to a claim to critique and to guiding human life was made.” (56) Euripides also fights against the traditional overestimation of the athletes among the Greeks with the weapons he takes over from Xenophanes, and Plato’s critique of the use of Homeric myths in upbringing follows the same critical line. (57) Coubertin seeks to conceal that way back in antiquity the aristocratic values were dethroned, the same values from which he sought to make an indisputable suprahistorical ideal of man that appears in the form of the slave-owning, aristocratic and bourgeois “master class”. Coubertin uses this interpretation of antiquity to deal with the bourgeois ideal of man that in the French Revolution acquired a universal character and was normatively shaped in the inalienable droits de l’homme and droits de citoyen. Riding on the wings of a paganized and dehumanized Christianity, Coubertin arrived from antiquity in the Modern Age. Nothing important happened, or to put it in his words, “only the form changed, while the essence remained the same”. (58) Man loses his independence, acquired in the Modern Age, and becomes again the toy of (new) gods. In comparison with antiquity, Coubertin comes closest to the Spartan educational model, which was reduced to a military training. Aristotle’s view of Spartan upbringing as a “one-sided training for war” expresses the essence of Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy” intended for the bourgeois youth. Unlike Sparta, dominated by a militaristically established collectivism which involved a high degree of solidarity and readiness to make sacrifices for the common good, Coubertin insists on the domination of the principle of natural selection, which involves greediness and the “natural right” of the stronger to oppress the weaker.
Guided by a Social Darwinist evolutionism coupled with a Jesuit and petty-bourgeois spirit, Coubertin “overcame” the ancient aristocratic and civil models of education by rejecting their emancipatory essence. Coubertin deals with the cultural heritage of the ancient paideia and establishes a “relation” with antiquity on the level of a spiritless and mindless conquering (oppressive) activism. Such an attitude to antiquity reflects his endeavour to build a “utilitarian pedagogy” dominated by an upbringing without education, with which he will create a new “master race”, which, in its endeavour to conquer the world, is not stopped by universal human considerations. This is the basis of Coubertin’s Procrustean relation not only to antiquity and Christianity, but also to Thomas Arnold and modern pedagogical thought. Coubertin realized that the normative firmament of the ancient paideia, with its demand that man obediently submit to the divine powers that transcend the existing world, opens a possibility of establishing the limits to the self-willedness of the ruling “elite”, which he seeks to avoid at all costs. It is no accident that in the “heroic age” of ancient Greece, with a complete domination of the tribal aristocracy over demos, Coubertin found the source of his Olympism. The conquering (oppressive) character of the slave-owning and racist order of antiquity is the “natural” foundation of modern Olympism as the ideology of monopolistic capitalism. In it, Coubertin, the aristocrat, found the model for a “humanist” foundation of Olympism, which will be confirmed in the medieval “chivalry” codex. The aim of upbringing is not the development of a libertarian and creative personality, but the acquiring of an appropriate class status. Instead of a love of man and freedom – which in the modern era appears in the form of the ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood – ambition and love of power become the pivots of his elitist ideology. Hence the submission of the “lower races”, ruthless plundering of the working people and a readiness to sacrifice life to defend the order (duel as a “defense of honor”, war as a “play”), represent the most important characteristics of the bourgeois arete. “The chivalrous ideals”, to which Coubertin refers, are but a mask for a lustful and immoral bourgeois.
In spite of referring to the tribal aristocracy in his creation of the model of “his” man, Coubertin does not depart from a statical aristocratic world in which everything is submitted to strict conventional, ethical and aesthetical canons, but from a dynamic bourgeois world that strives for expansion. He tries to make from Olympism a new “dynamic religion” (Brundage) that suits the spirit of a new era and that will not make constraints, but will remove the obstacles that can hinder the development of capitalism. Modern Olympism is the ideology of the bourgeois who hurries to plunder the world riding on the wave of the industrial revolution and capitalist expansion and destroying all normative (customary, moral, legal, religious) boundaries on his way. New conquests give him a new power which produces an ever bigger hunger for acquisition – and so on, ad infinitum. Trying to reach the modern Olympic heights, Coubertin is not guided by the divine models nor by the productivity power of capitalism, particularly not by man’s libertarian aspirations and creative powers, but by the most primitive petty-bourgeois motives: “the will to power” based on greediness is the basic driving force in the “development” of mankind. In its original form, the modern Olympic idea is intended to militarize the European bourgeoisie by way of sport for the sake of a successful colonial expansion: colonial exploits without a good sports preparation represent, according to Coubertin, “dangerous thoughtlessness”. The Olympic Games, as a peculiar knight tournament with the best representatives of the “civilized nations”, is the highest form of the spiritual integration of the new “master race” in its attempt to conquer the world.
Unlike Homer’s heroes, Coubertin’s bourgeois is deprived of Eros, spontaneity, imagination… He is focused only on one “social duty”: to defend, at all costs, the established order and enable its expansion. The rigidity of his positive man is conditioned by the nature of the order he struggles for, which eliminated quality and thus the human individuality and individual differences. What is dominant are unity and quantity, which means a positive one-mindedness and a combat with the creative personality. In Coubertin, there is no spontaneity and unpredictability in behavior, which are the most important features of the characters from antiquity. The voluntarism of Coubertin’s heroes has a utilitarian character and is strictly rational: they are guided by the maxim “to know in order to predict, to predict in order to act”. At the same time, Coubertin abolishes gods and proclaims the rich “elite” the bearers of the ruling power. For Coubertin, man is not “worthless” in relation to the gods, but acquires his “worthiness” as an extended hand of the laws of evolution, which appear in the form of the expansionist spirit of capitalism. In that context, Coubertin gives primary importance to “great people”, who are the bearers of “progress” and the symbolic incarnation of the “will to power”, only a few of whom can show off their “muscular body” – which is by no means the case with the “father” of modern Olympic Games, who was a convincing proof that the theory he so fervently advocated was wrong. In Coubertin, man and his life are not the objects of the cosmic power, whose active force is incarnated in the divine will, but are the incarnation and the bearers of the spirit of capitalism, which is the expression of the natural laws in a direct form. Coubertin does not regard society (and man) as a biological organism, but as the embodiment of imperishable natural laws. Man’s survival is insured through an immortal order which involves the eternal cycle of births and deaths. It is obvious that Coubertin draws a distinction between death (of the body) and perishing. The death of man becomes the condition of immortality of the established world (order), which means the eternal return of the cosmic cycle in which man appears as a “disposable material” of progress: man is mortal – order is eternal. Hence the readiness to die becomes the basic form of expressing one’s submission to order and thus the most important characteristic of both the aristocratic and the bourgeois arete.
The winner at the ancient Olympic Games is not determined by his strength, speed, and prowess, but by his being elected by the gods, just like the speed and direction of an arrow or lance on a battlefield are not determined by the strength and skill of the warrior, but by the self-willedness of the omnipotent Olympic oligarchy. Man is ”God’s toy” claims Plato, which means that the world is God’s playground. In Coubertin, there is no the absolute which transcends the existing world, since he follows a progressistic logic, according to which the future is open, and “natural” laws, which involve a constant struggle for a place under the sun. Coubertin insists on personal initiative, but it is reduced to a dehumanized and denaturalized productivity activism, while other people, reduced to “rivals”, serve as the means for developing individual powers. In any case, Coubertin’s models are not the heroes of antiquity, like Hector, who is guided by nobility: Coubertin’s “philosophy of the will” becomes the philosophy of an unrestrained greediness and self-willedness of the strong.
In antiquity, the Olympic contests, as well as physical exercises, reflected the tragedy of human existence. The ancient heroes are tragic characters who in their highest flight experience their tragic end. In Coubertin’s gnothi seauton there is no hopeless confrontation of man with his destiny; man is “reconciled” to it by never becoming conscious of his tragical position in the existing world: tragedy is removed from Coubertin’s progressistic and optimistic cosmos. Coubertin’s positive man does not strive for something higher – something that transcends the existing world – he strives for something bigger by destroying all the barriers on his way. His does not look up in the sky, but at the parts of the world he wants to conquer and plunder. He is not responsible to the gods, who are symbolized by a statical and closed world in which man is a tragic follower of his destiny given to him by their will, but before unstoppable “progress”. Coubertin’s cosmos does not have outer boundaries and it is up to the bourgeois to develop his conquering and oppressive powers and thus expand his horizons. Ancient Olympism is, in its original sense, a way of proving man’s total and hopeless submission to the deities that rule the world, and that means the mortality and worthlessness of man in relation to the immortality and omnipotence of gods. Speaking of Sophocles’s view of tragedy, Mihailo Đurić stresses “man’s tragic self cognition, which Delphian gnothi seauton extends to the knowledge that the human power and earthly happiness with their worthles- sness resemble a shadow.” (59) Coubertin’s positive man is not confronted with his destiny hopelessly striving to wrench himself from its hands, but is fanatical- ly determined to build the ever higher ramparts around the world he lives in, which is for him the only possible space of life and “happiness”. Coubertin’s maxim mens fervida in corpore lacertoso expresses man’s unity with the existing world and at the same time symbolically incarnates the Social Darwinist and progressistic nature of capitalism. For him, human existence, whose bearer is the bourgeois, is not worthless, for it embodies the dominant spirit of the existing world. It can be seen from the physique of a sportsman: he is not fashioned according to a geometrical pattern, like the ancient athlete, nor is he deprived of the corporal, as a humble Christian, but bursts with (muscular) strength.
Coubertin’s doctrine deals with the aristocratic principle ordre et mesure. Immoderation in possessing and governing is the basic force of “progress”. “The passionate cry” (Coubertin) of the Olympic winner is the expression of the untamable expansionist power of the order – on which its existence is based. An explosive muscular strength and the will to proceed at all costs are the main features of the “new man”. The expansion of capitalism is the basis of Olympic optimism and of the idea of mankind’s “perfectioning”. Modern Olympism establishes unity of the bourgeois aspirations (greediness, immoderation) with the ruling expansionist and progressistic spirit of capitalism. It is a dynamic balance: the bourgeois becomes the bearer of the power that rules the capitalist cosmos, while his insatiable greediness is the driving force of “progress”. All that can remind him that he is a limited human being, that can frighten and tame him, has been eliminated, particularly the things that can arouse in him a sense of solidarity and tolerance. In Coubertin, man does not relate to himself via the relation to something higher than himself, because there is no value that transcends the existing world and that mediates between life and the ideal world which should be sought for. A complete integration of man into the existing world, without any hope of a better world – that is the highest challenge for Coubertin’s “utilitarian pedagogy”. In Coubertin, there is a “self-restraint” by way of sport and physical drill (the principle of “greater effort”), but it destroys man’s playing nature and reason and produces a loyal and usable citizen (subject). Coubertin, also, insists on a “self-restraint” of the bourgeoisie in terms of their duty to maintain the established order, as well as on a “self-restraint” of the oppressed in terms of their duty to work and obediently endure injustice.
Coubertin realized that the expansion of capitalism is the most important condition of its survival. The basic purpose of his eurhythmics is to establish the unity of the strivings of the ruling class with the dominant expansionist and progressistic spirit of capitalism (the absolutized principle of performance), unlike antiquity, where the divine firmament is a restraining principle which finds its expression in the maxim gnothi seauton, and yet “does not diminish the vital importance of tragedy” (60) and its “combatant attitude to life” as opposed to the “passive morality of mysticism”. (61) Since they are “God’s toy” and that nothing depends on their will, the ancient heroes act as if there were nothing they could lose. They do not fight to preserve the world, since it belongs to the gods and is doomed to perish. Man of antiquity was not in unity with himself since nothing belonged to him, including his “human properties”. In his poems Pindar gives thanks to Haritas, the guardians of art: “For all that is beautiful and lovable in people/ you should be thanked; /beauty, wisdom and nobility/ man regards as the gifts of Heavens”. (62) It holds good for strength, speed and other qualities that make up the ancient arete: they are not the qualities peculiar to man, but are the exclusive qualities and properties of gods, which they “bestow” on individuals at will, as special ornaments which indicate that they are the objects of the divine mercy. The same holds good for the winners at the Olympic Games: victory is the expression of the gods’ sympathy and shows man’s worthlessness and their greatness. As we have seen, Pindar does not extol the winners, but the divine will that privileged them to win. By writing odes to the winners and their noble ancestors he wants to show that they are by their origin close to the divine source of life and are worthy of the divine mercy. At the same time, the tragedy of the ancient heroes is caused by their hopeless endeavour to approach the gods by virtue of their “glorious deeds”, and thus avoid the humiliation that awaits them in Hades, in which their “shadow that travels to Hades and as sheer nothingness” (63) will abide among the shadows of the ordinary and despised mortals. The Homeric man stands between Olympus and Hades and he lives and understands his life in terms of those two spheres. Coubertin abolished both spheres and thereby abolished the ancient dialectics and dramatics of life. Coubertin’s bourgeois is not a tragic hero in a world doomed to perish; he is an optimistic (positive) hero, who appears as an incarnation of the ruling progressistic spirit of capitalism and is doomed to eternity. He takes over the task which in antiquity was the privilege of gods: to learn how to be the bearer of the indisputable power of the capitalist cosmos, but also to protect it from the enemies, who are becoming ever more numerous and dangerous. The increasingly realistic likelihood that the order in which the parasitic “elite” prevails over the working “masses” will fail, conditions a rigid attitude to the bourgeois: Coubertin’s hero is reduced to a fanatical fighter for the interests of the rich “elite”. Hence, unlike the ancient heroes who possess contradictory qualities of the human nature, Coubertin’s “uncontradictory” bourgeois appears as a symbolic incarnation of the “progressive spirit” of the rich “elite”, which must constantly confirm its “superiority” in order to justify the “natural” foundation of its dominance over the “lower races”, working “masses” and women. In antiquity, racial superiority is proved in a number of ways and appears in a variety of cultural forms. Unlike the Hellenes, who knew of only “one cosmos in which all the deeds and passions were reflected”, (64) Coubertin submits everything to the development of the bourgeois tyrannical power in which he sees the warring caste. That is why ancient Sparta most resembles Coubertin’s model of society, apart from the fact that, in Coubertin, the dominant spirit is not that of asceticism and solidarity, but that of insatiable greediness as the driving force of “progress”.
The ancient and modern Olympic agon are similar because they appear as a universal principle of life. What makes Coubertin most close to antiquity is the reduction of agon to a struggle between people for domination with an unconditional observance of the ruling order, which means that the struggle of the oppressed against the strong and for freedom, particularly the struggle for the abolishment of the oppressive order, is excluded. The fight against the gods, who symbolize an indisputable power of the plutocratic “elite” over the working “masses”, is the worst of crimes both for the ruling “elite” in ancient Greece and for Coubertin. The ancient Olympism was a spiritual firmament under which a cruel struggle between the Greek states was carried out, the struggle that was to cause the weakening and degeneration of the Hellenic world, and the Olympic Games ignited the war fire which devoured Hellenic civilization. The driving force of the so much praised “Hellenic genius” brought the Hellenic world to its decline. In his “Paideia” Jäger points to a “ruthless fight between the Greek cities”, as well as to a “meaningless self-destruction at the moment when their country and their civilization were under an ever bigger pressure from foreign and hostile peoples”. (65) A lack of belief in their own human powers and in the capability of finding a reasonable solution which could have prevented the destruction and enabled their survival, paved the way that led them to the abyss. If Coubertin had really been a pacifist, he would have recognized in the destiny of the Hellenic world a warning telling him where agon – motivated by the strivings for domination and exploitation and for which war is the “highest test of a male’s maturity” – could lead. For Coubertin, also, man is not the creator of his own history, but is hopelessly submitted to “destiny” (“progress”). A mythological conscious and irrationalism are the common traits of the ancient and Coubertin’s world views. That is why Coubertin put on the first place the combat with critical reason and the idea of freedom – the heritage of the French Revolution and classical German philosophy – for they open the possibility of creating, starting from the universal human interests, a reasonable alternative to the existing world.