mi è stato mandato da un cortese corrispondente un testo di uno dei fondatori della geopolitica, George Friedman. Testo, che ho trovato interessante, ma sul quale non sono stato del tutto d’accordo. E poiché egli ha chiesto ai lettori di inviargli le loro eventuali osservazioni, è quello che ho fatto.
Di seguito troverete il mio testo inglese, il mio testo italiano e infine l’articolo di Friedman, che ovviamente dovreste leggere per primo. Ma poiché il totale impegnerebbe parecchio tempo, ciascuno si regoli come crede.
ATHENS AND JERUSALEM
What George Friedman writes is, as always, interesting, yet it seems questionable in its starting point. The idea of looking for the origin of the European mind, and of the importance that Europe has had in the world, is of course to be appreciated, but one can object to the starting point of this enquiry. Friedman makes his analysis begin in the I Century a.C., and on the contrary it should begin largely before. As for Greece, at least at the IX Century b.C. and as for Rome with the chasing of the Etruscan kings, i.e. in the VI Century b.C. It seems appalling that one could oversee the presence of Rome, in this context.
Even if the Roman mind was greatly influenced by the Greek one, it stays true that, if Europe has known the Greek culture it depends on Rome. Without Rome, maybe Europe would never have known the Greek culture. Without Greece there would not have been Italy, as for culture, but without Rome there would not have been a Europe as we know it. Probably there would not have been a Great Britain, with its sensitiveness for freedom, with its sense of the State, with its pragmatism and its tendency to constitute an empire. The Roman mentality was much more matter of fact than the Greek one. No wonder that, in the world, the Roman law has been by and far the most influential. I imagine that Friedman has the intention of speaking of that later, but I don’t see why we should not begin from the beginning.
Second point. As I see it, Friedman gives too much importance to Jerusalem. Jerusalem belonged to the periphery of the empire, and Rome hardly perceived its very existence, if not as a little spot capable of creating some trouble. Until the final punishment, with the diaspora.
It is true that Christianism, little by little, conquered Rome and “was in command” thereafter, from the middle of the IV Century until the Renaissance. But it was not the final victory. To begin with, by becoming Roman, Christianism became also intellectual, what certainly was not in Jerusalem. Then, as Friedman himself says, Rome tried to reconcile the narrow and self-righteous Jewish horizon with the Greek philosophy (gnosticism, in particular) and, above all, Aristoteles. Thomas Aquinas was aristotelic to the point that, even today, they say that the philosophical structure of Christianism is “aristotelic-thomist”. All that does not seem very Jewish.
Another important difference is that Hebraism is not Catholic, i.e. it does not have the tendency to become universal and to convert other ethnic groups to Hebraism. A proof of this is that convertions to Hebraism are not encouraged, and in addition they are submitted to a lot of exams and conditions, whereas Christianism, right from the start, presented itself as being universal. Exactly as universal was Rome, that was in no sense a racist power.
Finally, whereas the layer of Hebraism-Christianism has been very important between the IV and the XV Centuries a.C., the “western” mind started with Homerus and. after the interruption I have spoken of, started recovering stamina with Humanism and Renaissance. So as to reach, in the contemporary times, a substancial lack of interest for religion. Exactly as it happened in republican and imperial Rome, until Constantine epoch.
For the Hebrews all that was worth knowing was written in the Bible, for the Greeks it was written in the world, and it was by knowing the world, not the Holy Scripture, that man would known more about it. Empedocles, Archimedes, Eratostenes and many more have been the first scientists of mankind.The Greek mythology itself constitutes an attempt of fantastic explanation of all natural phenomena, and this – if it false as an explanation – shows nevertheless an authentic thirst of an explanation of those phenomena. Not to quote Aristoteles’ contribution to all kinds of science. So much that, even today, the history of most sciences begins with Aristeteles’ opinion and writings in that field.
The Greeks were the first to feel the drive towards science. A drive that most other people didn’t perceive.
In a word, I disagree with Friedman (an author that I have been reading for years, that I appreciate and respect) when he wishes to speak to us of Athens and Jerusalem. As the origin of the Eutopean mentality. In my eyes, our world is the son of Athens and Rome.
Gianni Pardo, Italy
Quello che Friedman scrive è, come sempre, interessante, ma mi sembra discutibile nell’impostazione generale. Giusto ricercare l’origine della mentalità europea e dell’importanza che l’Europa ha avuto nel mondo, ma mi sembra sbagliato il punto di partenza di questa ricerca. Friedman fa cominciare la sua analisi dal I Secolo, mentre essa dovrebbe cominciare molto prima. Per la Grecia almeno all’Ottocento avanti Cristo, e per Roma con la cacciata dei re etruschi, e siamo ancora nel Sesto Secolo a.C. Non vedere che c’è Roma, in tutto questo contesto, mi sembra veramente strano.
Benché la mentalità romana sia stata grandemente influenzata da quella greca, rimane vero che se l’Europa ha conosciuto la cultura greca è stato a causa di Roma. Senza Roma l’Europa forse non avrebbe conosciuto la Grecia. Senza la Grecia non ci sarebbe stata l’Italia, culturalmente parlando, ma senza Roma non ci sarebbe stata l’Europa come la conosciamo. Forse non ci sarebbe stata nemmeno la Gran Bretagna, col suo senso di libertà, col senso dello Stato, col suo pragmatismo e con la sua tendenza a costituire un impero.La mentalità romana era molto più concreta di quella greca. Non è un caso che, nel mondo, il diritto romano sia stato senza dubbio il più influente. Immagino che Friedman si riservi di parlare di tutto ciò dopo, ma non vedo perché non cominciare da principio.
Secondo punto: a mio parere, Friedman dà troppa importanza a Gerusalemme. Gerusalemme faceva parte della periferia dell’impero, e Roma quasi non si accorgeva di essa, se non come piccolo posto capace di dare fastidio. Fino alla definitiva vendetta, con la diaspora.
È vero che il Cristianesimo, a poco a poco, conquistò Roma e “imperò” poi, dopo la metà del Quarto Secolo, fino al Rinascimento. Ma non fu una vittoria definitiva. Innanzi tutto, divenendo romano, il Cristianesimo divenne anche intellettuale, quello che certo non era a Gerusalemme. In secondo luogo, come dice lo stesso Friedman, Roma cercò di conciliare lo stretto e bigotto orizzonte ebraico con la filosofia greca (lo gnosticismo, in particolare) e soprattutto Aristotele. Tommaso d’Aquino fu talmente aristotelico che, ancora oggi, si dice che la struttura filosofica del Cristianesimo è “aristotelico-tomista”. Tutto ciò non mi sembra molto ebraico.
Altra differenza importante. L’ebraismo non è “cattolico”, cioè non tende ad essere universale e a convertire altre etnie all’ebraismo. Il “popolo eletto” è soltanto quello, ed ebrei si è soltanto perché si è usciti da un utero ebreo. Prova ne sia che le conversioni all’ebraismo, non che essere incoraggiate, sono sottoposte ad esami e condizioni, mentre il Cristianesimo, sin dal primo momento, si propose come universale, esattamente come universale, non razzista in nessun senso, fu il potere romano.
Infine, mentre la patina di Ebraismo-Cristianesimo è stata molto importante fra il Quarto e il Quindicesimo secolo, la mentalità “occidentale” cominciò con Omero e, dopo la parziale interruzione che ho appena segnalato, si riprese con l’Umanesimo e il Rinascimento, fino ad arrivare, nell’epoca contemporanea, al sostanziale disinteresse per la religione, esattamente come avveniva nella Roma repubblicana ed imperiale, fino a Costantino.
Per gli ebrei, tutto ciò che c’era da sapere era scritto nella Bibbia, per i Greci era scritto nel mondo, ed era conoscendo il mondo, non le scritture, che se ne sarebbe saputo di più. Empedocle, Archimede Aristotele, Eratostene e tanti altri sono stati i primi scienziati dell’umanità. La stessa mitologia greca costituisce una spiegazione fantastica di tutti i fenomeni naturali, e ciò – se è falso come spiegazione – dimostra tuttavia una vera sete di spiegazione di quei fenomeni. Per non parlare di Aristotele e del suo contributo ad ogni genere di scienza. Al punto che ancora oggi la storia di mote scienze comincia parlando delle opinioni e degli scritti di Aristotele in quel campo. La molla della scienza, di cui tanti altri popoli non hanno sentito la spinta.
I greci per primi hanno sentito la spinta verso la scienza. Una spinta che la maggior parte dei popoli del mondo non hanno percepito.
In una parola, sono in disaccordo con Friedman (che leggo da anni con stima e rispetto) quando ci vuole parlare di Athens and Jerusalem come origine della mentalità europea. A mio parere il nostro mondo è figlio di Atene e di Roma.
ATHENS AND JERUSALEM
It is time for me to write the book I always wanted to write, the book that may have no readers but that sums up my work. My book on America, “The Storm Before the Calm,” will be out in September, freeing me to write the book that has no title yet. The intent of this next book is to embed geopolitics, my life’s work, with philosophy, my love; I want to imagine that geopolitics derives from the great minds I read. My other books I have written alone. The writing of this one, or at least the thoughts that give it life, will be shared with my readers. And they, being in my mind far wiser than all the professors of philosophy I have met, will point out my errors and inconsistencies and will enrage me until I do better.
Each week I will write about a fragment of thought that I have been mulling over. Some will be polished; most – such as this one – will not have reached the clarity worthy of the reader. But each fragment is meant to be a prism through which I can understand important things in due course. The pieces will appear each Thursday.
It may be that most people will object to its obscurity and carelessness. If so, I will return to my cave and mutter.
This week’s fragment of thought is on the relationship between geopolitics and the shaping of the human soul. It traces Europe to Christianity, Christianity to Athens and Jerusalem, and these cities to wars between Babylon and Persia. It also traces the tension between the dictums “know thyself” and “I am the Lord thy God.” It is only a first sketch, so don’t expect too much of it.
European civilization has a unique place in world history. It was Europe, through exploration and conquest, that forged the global understanding that there is a single humanity living in multiple hemispheres and made that notion common knowledge. Until then, humanity had lived with a different and false map of the world, ignorant of its breadth and variability. Since Europe was the continent of Christianity, it spread Christianity. But Europeans’ realization of the many different cultures that existed, worshipping so many different gods, ultimately weakened the self-confidence of Christianity and of European civilization. But that is a story to consider at a later date. For now, the question is why it was Europe and not some other civilization that tore the veil away and revealed the breadth of the world.
All of this is a geopolitical problem. Religion would seem not to be part of geopolitics any more than philosophy is, but geopolitics is complex. It is about the relationship of humans to a place, but the nature of a place is shaped by complex forces – which, in this case, include Christianity. And Christianity itself emerges from two cities that are both near and very far apart: Athens and Jerusalem. It is there that we must begin.
Athens was the city in which reason came to know itself as man’s highest moment, and in which Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Jerusalem is the city that enshrined the commandment “I am the Lord thy God … Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Athens was the city of logos – reason and discourse. Jerusalem was the city of awe not of men but of God and his law. The Gospel of John begins with the proclamation, “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In that phrase, John sought to unite reason and revelation, the principles of Athens and Jerusalem. Athens held the core belief that to know thyself was the highest of goods; Jerusalem, that knowing God’s law was the greatest of things. Christianity obsessed over the soul and the self at the same time that it obsessed over God’s will. The Christian scholar Thomas Aquinas struggled with this tension, as did the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Muslim scholar al-Farabi. The dilemma of Athens and Jerusalem embedded itself in Eurasia. The tension between reason and revelation defined the region.
From a purely geopolitical point of view, it is striking that all of this played out along the rim of the Mediterranean, a small region within a far vaster world. It is hard to imagine two cities more distant in spirit than Athens and Jerusalem. Athens was built above a port, Piraeus. Ships from all over the Mediterranean arrived daily, delivering luxuries from around the basin. Athens was a wealthy city and, as some have said, corrupt and even weak because of its wealth. Jerusalem rested on a hill, overlooking a hard land where luxuries were few and held in suspicion. Athens luxuriated in the good life. Jerusalem luxuriated in a hard and jealous God. Athens knew many truths; Jerusalem, only one.
The one thing that bound them together was Persia. Persia threatened the Athenians’ very existence – but they were saved first by the Spartans (who were more Hebrew than Athenian) and then by their own navy. The Israelites were not threatened by the Persians but rather saved by them. The prophets had warned the Israelites that their failure to adhere to God’s laws would cause the fall of Jerusalem. In the end, this is what happened. They were conquered by Babylon (roughly located in present-day southern Iraq), the Israelites were exiled, and many wound up in Persia. Persia and Babylon fought a war – or, more precisely, an episode of a war that is ancient if not eternal. After defeating Babylon, King Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Israel and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
The Athenians had allies. The Spartans and the Athenians had a common interest in avoiding being subjugated by Persia. The Israelites lived on difficult land and struggled with one other – one of the reasons for God’s aforementioned warning. And because the land was hard, there were few allies available, and because the Israelites were meant to focus on God, diverting their attention to subtle statecraft could be difficult. Their relative poverty and limited ports also meant they were not embedded in the wider world of the Mediterranean. So, the Athenians won, the Israelites lost – yet, they recovered what was lost because of Persia’s war with Babylon and the Israelites’ ability to shape Persian policy toward them.
Greece defeated Persia because it had strategic depth: a navy that could strike the Persian flank and rugged hills to retreat into. The Greeks, moreover, did not have to unite until war broke out. Their own fragmentation increased their defensive capability. Israel faced a different problem. It had hills in the north and desert to the south, but there was little to protect it in the east. Therefore, the Israelites had to maintain constant vigilance and unity, for a threat could materialize quickly. The Israelites did not have the Greek comfort of strategic depth. Greece had luxury – even Sparta was luxurious compared to Israel. The Greeks had the luxury to think about knowing themselves. Israel, united by the commandment to honor God and his laws, could mass and win. Divided by a lack of piety, they could be crushed – and they were. The moral problem and the geopolitical reality merged. Or, more precisely, geopolitical reality generated a moral principle essential to survival.
Athens and Jerusalem were in many ways forged in the Persian-Babylonian crucible. But their most significant effect was not to the east but to the west and north, in Europe. Athens and Jerusalem served as the foundation for post-pagan Europe and dominated it. Europe dominated the creation of a single world as well. Part of Europe’s hunger came from searching for discounts in India. But the Christian components of the European surge into the world should not be neglected. And therefore, Athens and Jerusalem must not be neglected.
As I’ve said, this is not intended to be anything more than a fragment of thought. But it is the beginning of the question: What is the relationship of geopolitics to the intellectual tradition? I do not regard geopolitics as a mechanistic tool designed to predict next week. I see it as part of a very old discussion of how we humans should understand the things we do and the things we have done. I regard global self-awareness as a giant punctuation mark in human history that can be traced back to Christianity, Christianity to Athens and Jerusalem, and Athens and Jerusalem to Persia and Babylon – one of the axes of the world.
There will be more to follow