“When I was a student I had the privilege to interview Harry Mulisch. One of the things I asked him in the context of a conversation on the Second World War and literature was, ‘What good does literature? What knowledge does it have to offer?’ The writer’s answer: ‘Political and historical scholarship is good for knowing the facts: who did what, what happened when. But if you really want to understand what fascism is, how things got that far, you need read Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus.”
Mulish was certain that, to gain insight into the human soul, as well as in social and political issues, you need to read the books of Dostojevki, Tolstoi, Shakespeare, Musil, Broch, Mann, Vargas Llosa, Marquez. These authors can help us in our search for truth.
In cooperation with his dear friend Johan Polak, who magnanimously shared his valuable experience in publishing, the Dutch journal Nexus is launched in 1991. To both, the relevance of a new magazine is obvious: Nexus is to serve the European culture, the European ideal of civilization. The thematically connected essays are written by both famous and upcoming international authors. Or as Rob Riemen puts it in his essay ‘Nexus’ Genesis’:
“A journal with this era in mind but not of this time; societally relevant but not political; with space for the religious and philosophical questions but not a journal of religion or philosophy; its quality intellectual, but accessible.”
Alongside Nexus as a platform for the written word, Rob Riemen widens the possibilities when in 1994 he establishes the Nexus Institute to make way for the spoken word. The Nexus Institute looks at the European cultural heritage in a social, philosophical, and artistic context. The Institute is nowadays widely acknowledged for the quality with which it offers insight into contemporary issues through its conferences and lectures. Together with speakers such as Sonia Gandhi, Michael Ignatieff, Mario Vargas Llosa, George Steiner, Francis Fukuyama, Richard Dawkins, John Coetzee, Susan Sontag, Richard Rorty and Jürgen Habermas, the Nexus Institute gives shape to its cosmopolitan ideal.
In 2008, Yale University Press publishes Rob Riemen’s first book Nobility of Spirit. A forgotten Ideal. It is well received in The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. The plea for the revival of classical humanist values is translated worldwide and has readers in Europe, the United States, South America, Russia and Asia.
Two years later, in 2010, Rob Riemen writes The Eternal Return of Fascism. In this essay he states that in The Netherlands, Geert Wilders and his political Party for Freedom (PVV) are “the consequence of political parties that have renounced their own intellectual tradition, intellectuals who have cultivated a pleasure-seeking nihilism, universities not worthy of their description, the greed of the business world and a mass media which would rather be the people’s ventriloquist than a critical mirror.” The pamphlet is widely read, elicits heated discussions, and finds both praise and critique.
In The University of Life, published in Dutch in 2013, Rob Riemen has conversations with nineteen friends from Europe, America and the Middle East, all past the age of 65. They are publishers, musicians, writers, philosophers and scientists; they are people with an intellectual, political or artistic passion. Each of them has been on a long and eventful journey through life. The important question central to these conversations: what has life taught you?
Rob Riemen receives invitations for lectures worldwide. Just a small selection: he spoke at the Lowlands Festival in The Netherlands, the Mário Soares Foundation in Portugal, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the Johns Hopkins University in Shanghai, Tsinghua University in Beijing, The National Council for Culture and the Arts, and UNAM in Mexico, Bard College in New York, the University of California, Yale University, The Aspen Institute in Colorado, Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, and Maison du Futur in Lebanon.