RES PUBLICA contains sixteen articles on a wide range of topics related to culture, politics and religion. The articles are divided in two chapters:
The Defeat of Education in the Age of Digital Technologies
In this article the author analyzes current issues in higher education, focusing on Serbia and the Southeastern European region, but he also reflects on the situation in Western Europe and USA. The field of humanities seems to be most affected by the recent reforms in higher education in Europe. The crisis of higher education and its accessibility is also visible in USA, with the process of “corporatization” (including privatization) of higher education. The situation is especially in countries like Serbia, where many institutions of higher education (especially the private ones) seem to be lacking basic professional as well as ethical standards.
The author points out that this can have very serious consequences toward the entire society, such as the lack of well-educated professionals, which is directly related to a faster and more successful social development. On the other hand, if the general population is poorly educated (which includes many of those who, formally, received university diplomas but without real education) it can cause serious problems in functioning of the democratic procedures, values and institutions, together with the erosion of the civil society.
This situation can seem somewhat paradoxical, given the new information technologies and their accessibility. They enable faster communication and easier access to relevant information, both from the professional and social/political spheres. However, if we carefully analyze the nature of the new technologies and their usage in each particular society, we may conclude that accessibility of new technologies does not correspond directly to the increase in the level of education in each particular context. To maximize the positive influence of the new information technologies on (both formal and informal) education, it is necessary to use them in an adequate way, which will prevent simplifications, reduce propaganda influences and the “copy-paste” culture that can seriously damage not only our awareness of the facts but also our ability to critically think. Attempts to diminish those aspects of higher education that affirm critical thinking can be seen both in the developing and in the developed industrial countries. In such a situation, the role of new technologies becomes critical on a global scale, since the way we use technological innovations (e.g. internet) defines to a significant extent the possibility of affirmation of critical thinking and our ability to access relevant information, as well as the outcomes of the entire educational process.
The Crisis of Democracy?
The author analyzes the crisis of democratic capacities in many countries of the western hemisphere. Although most European and other advanced industrial countries do formally accept democratic institutions, values and procedures, one can notice serious deficiencies in the democratic culture. Moreover, the concept of democracy is very often used as an ideological weapon to rationalize and justify extremely undemocratic and anti-human aims (such as aggressive military campaigns). On the other hand, some conservative circles, including many Christian traditionalists, openly argue against democracy as a secular and, therefore, non- or anti-Christian form of government.
The author argues in favor of an authentic concept of democracy from the point of view of Orthodox Christianity. He gives a short description of the history of modern democracy and explains some of the necessary elements/ideals of a functioning democracy that include not only free elections but also the rule of law, basic human and political freedoms and rights, educated citizens, free circulation of ideas, and decent living standards for all members of the society (including social security, health care and accessible education). In spite of the fact that from a Christian perspective there is no ideal form of government in history (since the only ideal society is the Kingdom of God as an eschatological reality), the values and standards that constitute the very foundations of the modern idea of democracy are closer to Orthodox Christian anthropology than any previous forms of government. The author concludes that instead of rejecting the very concept democracy and values related to it (because of the current corporate attacks on democracy, violence that many “democratic” countries exercise in the world, “partocracy” and “mediacracy” that often replace authentic democracy), we should try to revive the basic principles of democracy and strengthen the capacity of the civil society to respond to these challenges.
The Consciousness of Our Time: Noam Chomsky
This article gives an insight into the basic principles of Noam Chomsky’s political philosophy and his activism. Chomsky belongs to the tradition of the world’s greatest humanists and intellectuals, whose work and life helped in understanding the complex reality we live in. At the same time, he has been the source of inspiration for many people in their attempts to change some aspects of that reality and to improve their living conditions.
Quo Vadis Europa?
In this article the author analyzes the current political situation in Europe. He focuses on the economic and political crisis within the EU and the threats for peace, security and prosperity on the continent. He points out that the crisis of Euro and the permanent tensions between national governments and the central EU authorities is just one aspect of the underlying political processes that can reshape the basic idea of the European Union, as it was envisioned more than half a century ago. The need for a stronger and more integrated EU, in which the central executive institutions would be able to respond more effectively to the economic and other challenges, poses questions about the role of Germany as the strongest economy and the dominant power in such Europe, and the future of European democracies. The author also reflects on those positions that see the current situation in Europe as the rise of the “Fourth Reich.” He warns of growing nationalistic and racist ideologies and practices in many central and western European countries, which is a potential source of future conflicts and tensions. He also points to the strong connection between the multinational corporations and local governments that, together with the economic crisis and the rise of nationalism, may lead to a gradual decline of the democratic culture in Europe.
Religious and National Identity in the Context of EU Integrations
The author analyzes in this article the process of EU integrations in connection to the national and religious identity. To answer the question what is the role of national and religious identity (particularly in Serbia) in the process of EU integrations? the author explains the connection between the national and religious identities from the point of view of Orthodox Christian theology. He analyzes the position of Orthodoxy toward the concepts of state and nation, pointing to the discrepancy that exists between the basic doctrinal/theological positions that can be characterized as an “Orthodox anarchism” (skepticism toward any illegitimate exercise of power, authority and subordination in the social/political sphere) and concrete historical practices and particular theological discourses that supported them. He explains fundamental differences and even immanent conflict between the Christian, on the one side, and national or ethnic identities on the other. The reasons for the traditional confusion between these identities and the constant attempts to give a religious justification to political institutions, oppression, and imperial aspirations of political agents, lie in the institutional aspect of religion. The author makes a distinction between the institutional Christianity and the “mystical” or “eschatological” Christianity. Based on this distinction, the author reflects on the sphere of the political primarily in practical and functional terms. This means, contrary to what generations of Christian theologians have been trying to do, that it is not necessary to give metaphysical or mystical foundations to political constructs (such as states and nations) or political processes, although they can be analyzed/criticized from the point of view of Christian anthropology, based on the consequences of these processes toward the quality of life of all human beings in the given society.
The author concludes that the current process of EU integrations should also be analyzed primarily from the perspective of practical, political and economical consequences and benefits. Orthodox faith and Orthodox Christian identity should be, therefore, indifferent to this process. If the EU integrations bring concrete, practical benefits for the citizens, there is no reason for Orthodox Church or Orthodox faith to be opposed to them; the Orthodox identity will not be affirmed or negated.
Pro and Contra “Tolerance”
This article explores “tolerance” as one of the key concepts in the contemporary politically correct speech. Very often, “tolerance” is prescribed as a solution to many social and political issues. This raises many questions as to the function of such a concept in modern society and its ability to solve concrete problems related to national, ethnic and other tensions. To merely “tolerate” those from the social, cultural or economic margins can be understood as a fake solution to real problems; it can serve other purposes as well, apart from preventing conflicts and tensions between the “outsiders” and the “mainstream.” To “tolerate” them may very well mean to leave them in their isolation, suffering, poverty and exclusion.
On the other hand, many Christians argue against the modern concept of “tolerance” on different grounds. They point out that “tolerance” is an inferior understanding of the inter-personal relations compared to the Christian understanding of love and self-sacrifice for other human beings. While the author affirms this position in principle, he also stresses that many of those who criticize the concept of “tolerance” from the Christian perspective are unable in practice to rise even to this basic level. The author argues that while the optimum of the inter-personal relations should be love and the readiness to sacrifice ourselves for others, tolerance and acceptance of otherness (even if that means the lack of communication in order to prevent harassment of any kind) must be kept as the minimum.
Orthodox Church and Socio-Economic Development
This is one of the first attempts to analyze modern economic models and the problem of social development from the Orthodox Christian perspective. The author points out that in spite of the fact that ten out of twelve countries, in which Orthodoxy is both traditional and dominant faith, are European countries (one is Eurasian), none of them can be counted among the rich and developed societies. In spite of the fact that the present situation can be, to certain extent, explained by various historical circumstances (e.g. long period of Turkish occupation of many of these countries), one can also wonder if there is something in the very teachings, practices and culture of Orthodoxy that contributed to it? One inevitably thinks of the relation, established by Weber, between the capitalist development in the West and the “protestant ethics.” The author points to ideologisations of the Orthodox faith that offered theoretical articulations of many (unacceptable) social and political practices in the past. In these ideologisations (such as the famous cult of empire and the emperor, which can be traced back to Roman/Byzantine empire) Orthodox Christianity has been misused in support of particular forms of government that have no connection to authentic Christian teachings and values. Some of these concepts and practices represent an obstacle to the process of modernization and a faster social and economic development. On the other hand, in all of these countries we find very developed informal social networks that are aimed at mutual support and care for other human beings.
The author concludes that authentic Orthodox anthropology, with its focus on the unique value of each human being, freedom, justice and human dignity, can be helpful in formulating an economic model which will allow the society to grow in all of its aspects, rising at the same time the awareness of the significance of each human being and developing effective instruments for help to those in need (through some form of the welfare state). Another important aspect of this economic model must be the protection of the environment, perceived by the Christians as part of God’s creation.
The Spectacle of the Ephemeral
In this article the author analyzes the idea of progress as one of the basic aspects of modernity. However, he warns that this idea can be transformed into a “bad progressivism.” This is clearly visible in the consumerist mentality. Consumerism represents the “metastasis” of the “bad progressivism.” Consumerism is not only the logic of the market/profit oriented ideology anymore, but a major cultural phenomenon based on the imperative for a constant change and a constant consumption of the “new.” Consumers of “news” and such “innovations,” that are not really innovative, behave as addicts who depend on the new stimuli. This insatiable thirst for “new” stimuli leads to a paradox – everything becomes increasingly outdated. The logic of Facebook is a good illustration of this; “news” (new Facebook posts) last for a couple of hours, maximum a day, and become replaced by “new” stories that, just as previous ones, do not bring any news. We enter, thus, the times of “aposteriority.”
Another significant example of this logic is the exploitation of youth in our culture. Youth is an omnipresent market product and one of the most desirable qualities, in spite of the fact that we cannot define what “young” or “old” is. These categories are both biologically and culturally determined; a person can be “young” in one context and, at the same time, “old” in a different context. The author also warns of the dangers hidden in the absolutization of all general categories (especially those that a person has no control over) that become then the criterion for judging the value and achievements of concrete, particular persons. This is also the case in the exploitation of youth as a value per se, which has been one of the crucial characteristics of all totalitarian regimes (e.g. Fascism and Nazism).
The author concludes that “bad progressivism” is a spectacle of the ephemeral, which virtualizes and dehumanizes human beings, reducing them to particular qualities and categories suitable for a mass-consumption, which tends to continue indefinitely.
The (In)Stability of Memory
In this article the author addresses the question of memory as one of the most important ideas in Christianity. Memory connects what was with what is and what will be.
The act of remembering constructs the past. This memory is always, by definition, exclusive. Selective (and manipulative) memories create history. Contemporary mass-media act like a giant machine which manufactures memories and, thus, histories.
The author explores two different types of memory that occur within the Christian tradition. One is the “negative conservatism,” which takes the past as the criterion for the present and the future. The other is “Christian progressivism,” which is oriented toward the future and the eschaton as the source of truth and meaning. To remember in a Christian way means to affirm God’s memory as the only relevant one; it is His memory (presence in His mind) which gives the very being to all creatures.
This has important consequences toward the process of reconciliation and “healing of memories.” We become aware that forgetfulness is the immanent part of memory. The art of memory consists in choosing what (and how) to remember and what (and how) to forget. The author suggests remembering of the eternal value of each human being and the eschatological criterion of truth as a way of constructing a memory which can avoid traps of ideological and exclusivist memories that can always be politically used, as a basis for future conflicts.
How to Remember?
This article focuses on the way the art historical narrative has been constructed. He explores how particular artworks, authors and stories become parts of the universal (official) history of art. He points to the immanent politics and ideological functions of the “art world” within the modern (bourgeois) society. The way the contemporary art world functions, makes us realize that the only “real nature” of art and art history, as modern constructs, lie in their social and political function within the modern western society.
Necessary Images: Mass Media and the Kingdom of Perishable
The author analyzes the aesthetics of the contemporary mass-media as the peak of the modernist idea of image as an autonomous aesthetic reality. Electronically generated mass-media images are able to produce more effective, more beautiful and more seductive representations compared to traditional visual media. They become capable of transmitting political and ideological messages more effectively, not by the narrative they depict but primarily by their aesthetic properties. In the combination of their aesthetic qualities and their supposed documentary (mimetic) character (that we expected from visual representations since the first theories of image) lies the manipulative power of contemporary multimedia images.
Beauty Will Destroy the World?
The article explores two types of beauty that correspond to Dostoevsky’s aesthetic differentiation between the beauty that has power to “turn the world upside down” and the beauty that can “save the world.”
The first type of beauty, which bears the potential to “turn the world upside down,” the author calls “entertaining” beauty. The author argues that this type of beauty is dominant in our contemporary media culture, and can be seen in billboards, TV shows and commercials, as well as in interactive internet images. He focuses especially on multimedia images as they appear in pornography and virtual “social networks” such as Facebook.
The second type of beauty is the “ecstatic” beauty, which is inherent to what the author calls Orthodox Christian aesthetics.
The Face of the Messiah
This article gives a concise overview of the evolution of Christ’s image through the history of art. The article first examines the written records of Christ’s physical appearance and traditional narratives about the authentic (“not made by hand”) images of Christ. He analyses the first preserved images of Christ in catacombs and continues with medieval art and subsequent periods in art history. The author chooses the most characteristic representations from various periods, up to contemporary art. All of the chosen examples represent the Messiah in a specific way showing, at the same time, the most important elements of the style and period they were made in. The author also includes images of Christ from non-western countries, such as modern African, Japanese and Chinese religious painting.
Faith Written in Stone: the Mosaic Workshop of the Centro Aletti
The focus of this article is the Centro Aletti, one of the most important contemporary workshops for Christian art from Rome. Under the artistic and spiritual guidance of Fr. Marko Rupnik, this studio is the major contemporary mosaic workshop. The style of these mosaics combines visual properties of the early Christian and Byzantine art, with a new and authentic visual language. Their innovations in techniques, the materials they use and the strength of their visual arrangements make these mosaics one of the most important manifestations of contemporary Christian liturgical art.
Toward Some of the Basic Theological Presuppositions of Contemporary Orthodox Architecture
In this original and in many respects unique study the author explores some of the basic questions related to contemporary Orthodox Christian architecture. He reflects on the questions of style, relevancy of previous historical periods, relation between the sacred space and the liturgy, and the role of architects, church hierarchy, members of the local Christian community and other citizens (including non-believers) in construction and design of new Church buildings. The author points to certain conservatism in modern/contemporary Christian architecture, which can be seen in different Christian traditions as well as in the sacral architecture in general. To keep “authentic” styles from the past is often perceived as a part of the confessional identity.
To access theological foundations that can be useful in articulation of the principles of contemporary Orthodox Christian architecture, the author explores the Old Testament roots of the Judeo-Christian sacral architecture. He questions the status of the tradition and the past in determining present forms of church buildings by pointing to the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle as the prototype for later structure of the Christian architecture was made according to an eschatological image; its “original” (prototype) comes from the future. Therefore, the roots of Christian architecture, as well as the roots of Christian liturgy, should be sought in the eschaton, in the Kingdom of God.
After examining theological and historical aspects of Christian architecture, the author concludes that there is no need to give a canonical status to any of the styles from the past, nor is it necessary to imitate any of them. The plurality of forms from the history of Christian architecture show that their real prototype was not in the past, but in the future. Therefore, the author advocates a free, creative and responsible approach to the question of contemporary Orthodox architecture, which will take into account many different factors, such as needs and preferences of the concrete liturgical community, urban context in which the church will be located, modern materials and the visual language which will creatively articulate the presence of the Christian faith in modern times.
The Belgrade Harp
In this article the author analyzes aesthetic properties of the new “Ada” bridge in Belgrade. This bridge has been recognized as one of the most successful constructions of its kind.