Review: A Spirit of Our Times

“Riemen does encourage us. He inscribes two words on the path to finding guidance where the lights went out: “Be Brave.” Leone Ginzburg dies knowing that dignity and responsibility make the spirit everlasting despite history’s watersheds. Power ascends and descends, but the values of humanism will survive with those who exercised the pedagogy of free culture. The meaning of life lies only in the search for the truth and that “which turns out to be a lie will vanish like snow beneath the sun.” Living in truth is, as Havel already told us, the most powerful weapon against the hedonism of obedience and conformity. In contrast to twenty years ago or to seventy years ago, now freedom reigns over almost all Europe. The crucial challenge is to make it meaningful. It can be eclipsed by boredom, fancy, fashion, and pride. It can only be substantiated through knowledge and wisdom, through the nobility of spirit. This is the lesson of Riemen’s book, and I agree with him, this should be the foundation of a New Europe. Europe has to become again a republic of culture conscious of its heritage and devoted to the fundamental values that allowed it to overcome its own ideological specters. Critical thought and intellectual integrity have to be the only markers for those who claim elite status in the continent reborn. If our world is to survive its own hubris faith in the crucial distinction between Good and Evil must always trump beliefs in the empowerment of Utopia. The only transformation of the self can be that provided by liberal education and not by the engineering of a New Man. To paraphrase the author, life is indeed the art of becoming human through the cultivation of the soul. Among the irruptions of “new siren songs of terrestrial eternity” Riemen writes an epic poem dedicated to the frailty of our own consciousness.

Bogdan Cristian Iacob