French Professor of Religious Philosophy Rémi Brague Describes Our Age as Barbaric Because of our Inability to Communicate


Barbarism. One usually associates it with hairy ax-wielding ogres, with primitive tribes grunting around a roaring fire, not with a sophisticated, tech-savvy culture.

But Rémi Brague, Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Religious Philosophy at the Sorbonne and Romano Guardini Chair of Philosophy at the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, used barbarism when describing the twenty-first century. He boldly claimed that “civilization has to do with linguistic communication” but that (despite all the emails and text messages we send) we are unable to communicate.

The implications of this can be frightening.

“Civilization means conversation,” said Brague in his lecture “Conservation as Conversation” given for the Lumen Christi Institute on October 14, 2015. Without communication, violence follows, he warned.

The absurdity of this in the era of instant communication fills us, Brague says, with a certain anxiety.

My lecture has to do “with anxiety which I feel in my bones, in the marrow of the whole Western culture. It is an anxiety before a return to barbarism.”

Taking notes at the Oct. 15 symposium on "From Ancient Philosophy to Christian Wisdom."
What exactly have we failed to communicate? Is there a way to avoid a barbaric disaster of our own making?
Brague asserts that civilization has to be conserved. It is a precious legacy of the past that cannot be taken for granted. When we ignore the past, we are fools, worse yet, barbarians. We can’t just talk about the present.
“Continuity isn’t fixity,” he explained. “It is the will for us to go on…to carry on, to transfer goods from one point to another.” Barbarism is a denial of continuity; it severs our connection with those who are dead and those who are yet to be born.
A deep knowledge of Western culture and tradition is a part of this process of preserving the culture and passing it down to future generations.
“All this presupposes that the past (or whatever came before us) is something with which we can and should engage in a conversation. Hence it must have something to tell us.”
One cannot have a vision of the past “as filled to the brim with senseless errors that could and should be done away with and buried in oblivion.”
After all, “the past has produced us,” Brague pointedly remarked. “We should feel grateful toward it.”
Brague speaks on panel at symposium on "From Ancient Philosophy to Christian Wisdom"

Brague finds that the modern view of discarding the past is turning us into barbarians. The nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche saw this clearly, he says. We are objectifying the past (not seeing that it is richer and more colorful than the knowledge we can get of it in a definitive point in time) and therefore killing it.

But we are also barbarians in our stance toward nature. “Nature, the physical world, has to be looked at as meaningful in order to have a conversation.” Our vulgar interpretation of us as mere products of natural selection, as “winners that never deserved the jackpot,” has turned us into “barbarians in a barbarian world.”

What has to be ultimately salvaged, argues Brague, is the speaking animal that currently doubts its legitimacy. Only then can we acknowledge the Logos in the past and in nature, and become “the dialogue partner of a rational being whose rational will underlies the whole show.”