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Home / Poetry / Poetry R. M. Rilke / Aphorisms       above Hradcany (Hradchin) by Martin Andrysek (2004)

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on 16.VI.2004







A cherished old form of literature, the art of formulting maxims or epigrams seems to have fallen out of favour with XXth and XXIth century authors. From the Chinese to King Solomon's Proverbs [ Ecclesiastes 1:10, from the Hebrew אֵין כָּל חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ (nihil novi sub sole est)], to the Greeks Hippocrates, Pythagoras and Epictetus, to the Romans Cicero Horace, and Seneca, to the mediaeval scholastic writers, to the Renaissance, to Michel de Montaigne, Erasmus, Blaise Pascal, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, Martin Luther, Baltasar Gracián, Baruch Spinoza, Jean de la Bruyère, Jean de La Fontaine, François de La Rochefoucauld, François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander Pushkin, Artur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rabindranath Tagore, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and H.L. Mencken, a wealth of aphorisms has come down to us: ethical, unethical, cynical, humorous, enlightening, excruciatingly cruel, and frequently worth more reflection than many books. Epigrams are tasty nuggets of humour, wit, irony, melancholy and even wisdom! They have even been the subject of famous paintings, including Pieter Brueghel's Nederlandse Spreekwoorden(The Blue Cloak or The Topsy Turvy World)

Every year I publish about 100 epigrams or "impromptus" for the UN literary journal Ex Tempore. One of these days I intend to compile "One thousand and one aphorisms" and organize them by subject matter: human frailties, love, fantasies, infatuations, obsessions, the workplace, academia, nature, the animal world, paradoxes, war and peace, etc.. But I'm not there yet.

Getting away with it does not render aggression any less criminal. Impunity does not legalize crime. Fake news and fake law ultimately do not prevail. Getting away with crime does not create legal precedent -- ex injuria non oritur jus.

“Fake news” is a widespread phenomenon – not only in Europe and the United States, but all over the planet. “Fake news” are invented and disseminated by governments, supposedly “independent journalists”, private media, social media. So emerges “fragmented truth” and no one really knows what truth is, everyone clings to his own views, refusing to consider alternative versions of the facts. Only reluctantly will we acknowledge that “fake news” have always been around, the difference being that in the past only governments were purveyors of fake news, only governments could manipulate public opinion, whereas today anybody with access to the internet can also weigh in.  This in turn has generated “fake history”, which feeds into the steady flow of fake news.  But why is no one talking  about “fake law”? Indeed, politicians and journalists frequently “invent” law, contending that what some lobby or interest group invokes as law actually has legal force, as if law and legal obligations could spontaneously arise, without the drafting, negotiation and adoption of a treaty, convention, or without a specific legislative act by Parliament. We must beware of the loose use of legal terms, which undermine the authority and credibility of the law.  Not every massacre constitutes “genocide”, not every bombardment of a military objective falls into the category of a “war crime”, not every form of sexual harassment can be considered “rape”.  Nor is every jailed politician a “political prisoner”, nor every migrant a “refugee” under the Geneva Refugee Convention.  And yet, much hyperbole and political agitation play out on this pseudo-legal arena, much political blackmail is practiced on the basis of fake “law”, much propaganda is actually believed by average citizens.  All too often we are confronted by a combination of fake news, fake history and fake law, a very toxic cocktail for any democracy.  Alas, fake law has become a favourite weapon of demagogues and fake “experts” and “diplomats” who gleefully engage in what may be termed “fake diplomacy”, as the goal is not to reach a reasonable negotiated settlement, but rather to score points on the gladiator arena of power-politics, with the dutiful collusion of a sold-out and fickle media. Thus continues the game of sabre-rattling and many make fortunes in the process, since nothing is as lucrative as the arms business. Is there a solution? Demagogues would establish an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”, others would criminalize “fake news” (but only inconvenient "fake news"), others would pretend to filter facts and opinion using self-made tools to determine what is true and what isn’t.  No one needs this kind of Inquisition and censorship, because neither governments nor the private sector can be gatekeepers of the truth. The only solution is ensuring access to pluralistic information and open debate.  Society must demand greater transparency at all levels and proactively seek the truth by consulting multiple sources and making a new synthesis, which will not be “revealed truth” or “immutable truth”, but a constantly evolving truth that incorporates the complexity and nuances of reality on the ground.


The best rule of thumb is the Delphian oracle Παν μέτρον άριστον

Holding on to political loyalties is a bit like reaffirming religious faith, a kind of pious fanaticism, which in itself is harmless, as long as it does not go beyond simple rooting for a sporting club or team. All of us need to believe in something, and we try to hang on to a political credo for as long as we can, until we experience an epiphany, followed by disappointment, anger and finally equanimity. Whatever we do, we should endeavour to keep a sense for proportions, what the Greeks at Delphos knew as Παν μέτρον άριστον.

Libertinism is not freedom. Hedonism is not happiness. Populism is not democracy -- neither is elitism. Competition is not the mother of progress.  Only competition in alliance with conscious cooperation can achieve results, otherwise what could be progress might ultimately result in regression, as philanthropy can be misanthropic, and productivity can degenerate into the tyranny of agendas and deadlines at the expense of spontaneity. The faster we go, the more of life we waste. Being -- just being -- is so much more important than doing!

Objectivity means neutrality at the outset, rigorous methodology, honest effort to listen to all sides, practicing audiatur et altera pars, seeking pluralistic and reliable sources, double-checking of facts, consulting experts with different opinions, accepting unsuspected, inconvenient truths, challenging mainstream "certainties", weighing all evidence in good faith, arriving at a balanced conclusion, having the courage to publicly express that conclusion, notwithstanding insults, defamation, humiliation, always committed to a notion of veritas as a frank approximation of truth, not selective truth, but truth in context and perspective, offered for discussion in humility and equanimity.

“Fake news” is a widespread phenomenon – not only in Europe and the United States, but all over the planet. “Fake news” are invented and disseminated by governments, supposedly “independent journalists”, private media, social media. So emerges “fragmented truth” and no one really knows what truth is, everyone clings to his own views, refusing to consider alternative versions of the facts. Only reluctantly will we acknowledge that “fake news” have always been around, the difference being that in the past only governments were purveyors of fake news, only governments could manipulate public opinion, whereas today anybody with access to the internet can also weigh in.  This in turn has generated “fake history”, which feeds into the steady flow of fake news.  But why is no one talking  about “fake law”? Indeed, politicians and journalists frequently “invent” law, contending that what some lobby or interest group invokes as law actually has legal force, as if law and legal obligations could spontaneously arise, without the drafting, negotiation and adoption of a treaty, convention, or without a specific legislative act by Parliament. We must beware of the loose use of legal terms, which undermine the authority and credibility of the law.  Not every massacre constitutes “genocide”, not every bombardment of a military objective falls into the category of a “war crime”, not every form of sexual harassment can be considered “rape”.  Nor is every jailed politician a “political prisoner”, nor every migrant a “refugee” under the Geneva Refugee Convention.  And yet, much hyperbole and political agitation play out on this pseudo-legal arena, much political blackmail is practiced on the basis of fake “law”, much propaganda is actually believed by average citizens.  All too often we are confronted by a combination of fake news, fake history and fake law, a very toxic cocktail for any democracy.  Alas, fake law has become a favourite weapon of demagogues and fake “experts” and “diplomats” who gleefully engage in what may be termed “fake diplomacy”, as the goal is not to reach a reasonable negotiated settlement, but rather to score points in the fickle media, continue the game of sabre-rattling and make money in the process. Is there a solution? Certainly NOT the establishment of an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”, nor the criminalization of “fake news”, nor the hopeless undertaking to filter facts and determine what is true and what isn’t.  No one needs this kind of Inquisition and censorship, because neither governments nor the private sector can be gatekeepers of the truth. The only solution is ensuring access to pluralistic information and open debate.  Society must demand greater transparency at all levels and proactively seek the truth by consulting multiple sources and making a new synthesis, which will not be “revealed truth” or “immutable truth”, but a constantly evolving truth that incorporates the complexity and nuances of reality on the ground.


Human rights condottieri abound, filling the ranks of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, universities, think tanks, ministries, United Nations, European, American, African human rights commissions and committees. A vast human rights industry has emerged and expanded, attracting not only those persons genuinely committed to the promotion of human dignity, equity, justice, social peace, solidarity -- but also some who are interested in well-paying jobs and the non-monetary remuneration of club-membership in a synergy of operatives who nurture the illusion of belonging to the avant-garde, the club of “progressives”, the “enlightened”, the “good guys”.  Over my 45 years experience in  human rights ngo’s, universities and United Nations institutions,  I have met too many mercenaries who do not practice what they preach, who behave like intolerant ideologues and actually mob their peers, intimidate, humiliate and show contempt for those who do aim at the practical application of human rights.  As in any business, there is considerable pressure toward conformism, to go along with what donors demand, to bow to the wishes of lobbies, join "band wagons" and “the flavor of the month”. Those who disagree or simply are reluctant to "pull the rope" must pay a price, choose between self-censorship, ostracism, or perseverance in a Quixotic drive to truth.  Hypocrisy is not a 21st century invention -- it has been part of the human condition since time immemorial. Notwithstanding the above, there are genuine human rights advocates -- in national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, universities, think tanks, ministries and expert commissions. These unsung heroes for humanity deserve our solidarity and respect. I remember fondly my UN chiefs Jakob Möller, Theo van Boven, Kurt Herndl, Jan Martenson, Jose Ayala Lasso, Bertie Ramcharan -- I learned much from them, especially that human rights must never be instrumentalized as weapons against others. The moment that human rights cease to be seen as positive entitlements and constructive impulses but become instead tools to dismantle political enemies, the whole philosophy of human dignity and solidarity is undermined. Our resolution for 2018: demonstrate on a daily basis the 3 p's for human rights: patience, perseverance and passion.

The rule of law is a pillar of stability, predictability and democratic ethos. Its object and purpose is to serve the human person and progressively achieve human dignity in larger freedom.

However, because law reflects power imbalances, we must ensure that the ideal of the rule of law is not instrumentalized simply to enforce the status quo, maintain privilege, and the exploitation of one group over another. The rule of law must be a rule that allows flexibility and welcomes continuous democratic dialogue to devise and implement those reforms required by an evolving society. It must be a rule of conscience and of listening.
Throughout history law has been all too frequently manipulated by political power, becoming a kind of dictatorship of law, where people are robbed of their individual and collective rights, and the law itself becomes the instrument of their disenfranchisement. Experience has taught us that law is not coterminous with justice and that laws can be adopted and enforced to perpetuate abuse and cement injustice. Accordingly, any appeal to the rule of law should be contextualized within a human-rights-based framework.
Already in Sophocles' Antigone we saw the clash between the arbitrary law of King Creon and the unwritten law of humanity. Enforcing Creon's unjust law brought misery to all. In roman times the maxim dura lex sed lex (the law is hard but it is the law) was mellowed by Cicero's wise reminder that summum jus summa injuria (highest law is highest injustice, de Officiis 1, 10, 33), i.e. blind application of the law may cause great injustice.  The argument that "the law must be obeyed" has been challenged by human rights heroes for thousands of years. Spartacus fought against the Roman slave laws and paid with his life. Slavery remained constitutional and legal until the nineteenth century; colonialism was constitutional and legal until the decolonization of the 1950's and 60's; the Nuremberg laws of 1935 were constitutional and legal;Apartheid was constitutional and legal; segregation in the US was constitutional and legal (see, for instance, the US Supreme Court judgment Plessy v. Ferguson).  Civil disobedience by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mohamed Bouozizi were legitimate and necessary to initiate reforms -- but they all suffered the consequences of opposing blind positivism, the fetishism of the rule of law. 
Democracy in the 21st century requires that the rule of law cease being the rule of the elites, the rule that might makes right. The rule of law must evolve into the rule of justice.

“Progressive” is an over-used adjective with many positive connotations. Now, does it always entail the promotion of Progress? In contemporary “newspeak” the label progressive has mutated into an all-purpose tag to describe certain drifts and fashions, which actually entail regression to the pre-civilized state of non-law, non-values, “anything goes”. Truly progressive politics mean socially-responsible strategies which make use of science and technology to advance the well-being of mankind, to promote equity and peace. Yet, the label “progressive” is being used to imply acceptance of socially destructive practices, including legalized pornography, sex “education” of minors, easy access to soft- and hard-drugs, nudity, exhibitionism, voyeurism, promiscuity, adultery, same-sex “marriage”, and abortion ad libitum. Regression to Sodom and Gomorrah, Dionysian orgies, and Palaeolithic infanticide are currently promoted as a form of “liberation” from moral constraints in the name of “modernity” or even “progress”. Civilization, however, is precisely the recognition that ethics, moderation, proportion and self-restraint are necessary: Μέτρον άριστον. Because light is an allegory of truth, true progress must be illuminated by the light of truth and not overshadowed by transitory lust and avarice.

International human rights treaty law mandates inter alia the protection of human life, the promotion of the family and respect for religious convictions.  Notwithstanding these clear norms of hard law, some governments are busy curtailing pro-life, pro-family and pro-religion activities under the pretext of advancing (imposing) secularism and enforcing the catch-all goal of “non-discrimination”.  This is done through arbitrary interpretations of the norms, sometimes in an unreasonably restrictive, other times in an unimaginably expansive manner, essentially corrupting the language of the norms so that the words lose their intended meaning.  The result undermines the object and purpose of treaty provisions and erodes the State's duty to respect the sanctity of life. The proposed "newspeak" promotes abortion under the contradictory rubric "reproductive rights", same-sex unions as a form of "marriage" (which is specifically defined in article 23 ICCPR as the union of a man and a woman), and even penalizes the teaching the Bible (a grave violation of religious freedom, guaranteed in article 18 ICCPR). In a scenario of cognitive dissonance, pro-life, pro-family and pro-religion are even defamed in a bizarre way as contrary to human rights.  But what human rights are here at issue?  There is no human right to abortion (which in some instances is a euphemism for infanticide), nor any human right to adopt children (article 24 ICCPR and the convention on the rights of the child place the interests of the child -- not of the "parents" -- as paramount, including the right of the child to have a safe childhood with affective links to a mother and a father, and free of potentially traumatic stress).These are not only matters of morals, but of the sanctity of life and of the dignity of the human person.  Hence each State must legislate in accordance with established human rights obligations laid down in the ICCPR and ICESCR.  Although persecuting religious persons for their beliefs and traditional values undoubtedly contravenes human rights law, in some countries so-called “hate speech” laws are actually being instrumentalized to restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of a significant part of the population.  Such restrictions are incompatible with articles 17, 18, 19, 23 and 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Moreover, accusing practicing Christians of preaching “hate speech” constitutes in itself a form of “hate speech” against Christians, who are being discriminated in a manner that also violates their rights under article 26 ICCPR.   


Multiculturalism must begin with knowledge of one’s own values, heritage, history and identity.  Only thus can we understand and appreciate other cultures.  The kind of enforced multiculturalism being promoted by some so-called “progressive” politicians and echoed by the mainstream media is something entirely different – it is the new culture of homologation through bullying and intimidation, a recipe for misanthropic negationism:  the denial of one’s identity, discarding one’s own culture as somehow obsolete, and the suggestion to replace it by n’importe quoi, often some transient fashion, “flavor of the month”, or worse, by submission to a new “faith”, which upon analysis may be a cop-out. a sect or a cult of nihilism. Human dignity is identity, the right to be ourselves, the right to live out our culture, our religion, our transcendence. UNESCO defends this right of each and every one of us to be who we are and not to be subjected to cultural imperialism. The only kind of multiculturalism that works is the multiculturalism of free peoples, e.g. in Switzerland, where 26 cantons are populated by urban and rural peoples speaking German, French, Italian and rheto-romanche, living side by side, each canton cultivating its own traditions while respecting the customs and practices of its neighbours. This multicultural society has had no problem welcoming a limited number of Tamils, Serbs, Albanians, Kosovars, Êritreans — and helping them participate in Swiss traditions. The much praised American “melting pot” is not a success story of integration, but rather an enormous supermarket or consumer cooperative– a hybrid society of elite universities, widespread homelessness and trigger-happy cops.  It has produced Rock and Roll and  MacDo — but thus far no Beethoven in sight.

Monogamy has many rewards. True partnership in marriage flourishes when two competing "I's" converge into one continuously completing "we", replacing selfish jealousy, sterile reproach and do ut des syndromes by the more congenial habits of respect, trust, moral support, and that felicitous conjugal passion of understanding in serenity. Couples in love listen to each other, exercise day-to-day empathy, patience, learn to anticipate each other's wishes, instinctively saying what needs to be said and sensing when it is more beautiful just to keep silent. A wink, a smile, a good measure of humour improve the recipe for living two in one. Sharing is the key -- talking, singing, praying, cooking, gardening, cycling, hiking, skiing, swimming -- together! It is fun to build a conjugal cosmos that engenders its own music -- and more. Who does not admire the albatross for its constancy and fidelity? Prophets of the new gender ideology fail to see that they are travelling an uncharted road that ultimately may lead to manifestations of misogyny and misanthropy -- an artificial and bizarrely insensitive path away from the natural joys of living one's identity in diversity. Vive la différence!

Music is often an expression of love, passion, compassion, yearning, awe, rhythm. It can also be a celebration of national identity and a protest against foreign aggression, intervention, domination. Tschaikovsky's 1812 Overture is a hymn of defiance against the Napoleonic invasion, so too Prokofiev's Opera War and Peace, based on Leo Tolstoy's epic. Sibelius' Finlandia is a reaffirmation of Finnish identity to counteract Tsar Nicholas' abolition of Finnish autonomy in 1899. Smetana's Vltava (the Moldau) from the suite Ma Vlast was a pure product of the Czech 19th century cultural Renaissance. Wagner's Meistersinger celebrates traditional German culture and values, a positive patriotism that laughts at human foibles and makes an earnest warning about losing the values consecrated in art. "Spirituals" and "Soul" are eloquent expressions of the self-determination and vigour of the oppressed African-Americans. So too indigenous songs of the Sioux, Cree and Mapuche.

"Fake news" and "post-truth" are popular neologisms -- but they have actually been part of the political landscape for long.  What is far more worrisome is the phenomenon that there are "real facts" that cry out for action, e.g. massive tax evasion, corporate bribery, economic exploitation, ecocide, extreme poverty, exorbitant military expenses, primitive war-mongering, aggression, unilateral sanctions, social exclusion -- and yet these facts are largely ignored or trivialized by politicians and media alike, because they are somehow “inconvenient”.  Sooner or later, however, these “facts without consequences" will engender an imbalance and a destabilizing sense of incoherence.  When important facts are deliberately kept out of the political narrative, this quite naturally generates "populism", because, as Spinoza wrote in his Ethics, “nature abhors a vacuum”.  No wonder that when the elites ignore facts, the vacuum is filled by populists. The phenomenon of selective indignation and application of the law à la carte predictably subverts the system of governance and makes societies lose faith in the rule of law, or at least in the "establishment". The attempt to deal with "fake news" through censorship and “hate speech” legislation is futile and will only lead to totalitarianism. What is needed is easier access to all pertinent information and pluralistic views, more open debate -- not less!  The internet must remain free of political controls - whether by government or the private sector. There must not be "filters" to test the truth of digital exchanges. The only legitimate controls are those to suppress pornography, racketeering and other scams -- not to suppress the dissemination of factual information that the mainstream media deliberately ignore, nor to suppress an alternative interpretation of facts.  What we need is a “culture of civilized dissent” – where everyone can express his/her opinions without the threat of career death and social ostracism.  We need to reaffirm the right to be wrong -- because only by preserving the possibility to err do we remain independent. Artistic, scientific, sociological progress depends on the freedom to postulate hypothesis, different models, different perspectives -- which sometimes will be correct and sometimes not. But a failed hypothesis cannot be criminalized. The alternative is stagntion in homologation, robotization, Orwellian dystopia. The conformism of the current Zeitgeist is unworthy of democratic societies.  It is up to us to vindicate the right to know and the right to dissent.  That is the freedom we want.

Facts without consequendes are that category of reality -- known to politicians and media alike -- available in the internet and acknowledged -- but only under the tacit condition that no action may follow thereon. It is worse than a conspiracy of silence. It is a conspiracy of irresponsibility.

Electoral extravaganzas, “bandwagon” politics, “populist” competition, “amusement park” catering, “bargain basement” deals, “change for the sake of change”, “lobby democracy”, “team loyalty”, and “the lesser of two evils” ballot-box syndrome are not very likely to deliver democratic governance.  A pluralistic media and full access to information will allow citizens to formulate their own opinions on all issues from taxation to foreign adventures.  Genuine democracy is not “manufactured consent”, but the correlation between the will of the people and the policies that affect them. The power of initiative and the possibility to call referenda on various issues are the best tools of democracy.

Government lawyers should not be "escapist actors" but facilitators of law enforcement domestically and internationally. They should devote their efforts to translating international commitments into concrete action and crafting the necessary measures to comply with treaties and rules of international judicial bodies. Alas, many government lawyers mistake their vocation for that of defense lawyers paid to get their guilty clients off the hook, no matter by what means... It is really not their function to look for ways to dodge responsibility by concocting specious interpretations of the law, making bogus distinctions or inventing loopholes. Would it not be a lot more sensible if lawyers would endeavour to make human rights law implementable -- and not constantly try to drill holes into the vessel of human dignity?

Let us resolve to work together so that the year 2017 breathes life into that elusive concept of human dignity -- and brings the planet a measure of peace and reconciliation – instead of continued terrorism, anxiety, mass surveillance, cheap consumerism and more injustice. Let us address the root causes of our local and global problems -- instead of trying to fix things temporarily by applying band-aids here and there. Let us talk freely without fear of saying something "policically incorrect". The very essence of freedom is that freedom to think and say what we believe, that temerity to be wrong rather than just silent – as long as we are in good faith and as long as we are capable of learning and changing for the better. Let us not just echo the media and "condemn" all the bad things of the world -- let us instead work affirmatively for the good things -- in international solidarity.

The New Year may perhaps continue the sterile debate over “hate speech” and laws designed to ban it, without, however, endeavouring to understand the sources of social phobias.  Punishment is an ineffective preventive strategy. The easy temptation to penalize dissenting opinions as so-called codes for hate speech ignores pertinent historical precedents.  Back in the days of the Inquisition, heresy was seen as a kind of “hate speech” against God and the established order, and heretics were tried and burned at the stake, like the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno in the year 1600 at Rome’s Campo di Fiori.  During the French Revolution, the Comité de Salut Public imposed La Terreur -- Robespiere's totalitarian rule that led to the persecution and guillotining of dissenters, including poets like André Chenier (immortalized in the opera by Umberto Giordano) and the scientist Antone de Lavoisier in the name of liberté, egalité, fraternité. The Comité also ordered the devastation of the recalcitrant population of the Vendée, which rebelled against the persecution and killing of their parish priests. The infamous Vendée genocide of 1793-94 took no less than 200,000 innocent lives. During the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 some 8,000 priests, monks, seminarians, brothers, nuns and other religious were murdered, including 13 bishops (immortalized in Paul Claudel’s poem Aux martyrs espagnols).  It seems that their religious convictions and ministry constituted a kind of “hate speech” against “progressive” republican dogmas.  It is just a small step from “hate speech” legislation to censorship, self-censorship and Orwellian dystopia. Similarly, the current hysteria about “fake news” and “post-truth” is proving toxic to democracy and freedom of expression. Moreover, who is going to determine what is “fake news”? Will this entail the setting up of a special institution -- a kind of “Ministry of Truth”? Indeed a slippery road to Stalinist totalitarianism. Here the purported medicine would be decidedly worse than the disease.  

Demophobia – the fear of and hostility toward the people -- is a phenomenon that occurs in oligarchies and is increasingly reflected in the mainstream media. Fatigued democracies are those where governments no longer trust the demos and fear the people’s right of initiative and their right to express themselves by way of referendum. While elites give lip service to “democracy”, they reject the concept of direct democracy, and insist on the so-called “representative democracy” model, which they can better manipulate.  Indeed, in many Parliaments, the senators, Congressmen, Congresswomen, and other “elected” representatives do not represent the demos but the lobbies, the donors, the military-industrial-financial complex. Such non-representative forms of government depend on a subservient MSM that colludes with power to try to create an illusion of consensus or “manufactured consent” (Noam Chomsky),  More and more we witness government where those who are elected do not govern and those who do govern are not elected.

Civilization does not mean expanding GDPs, ever-growing consumption, aggressive exploitation of natural resources -- but respect for human and animal life, sustainable management of the environment, local, regional and international solidarity, social justice and a culture of peace. Civilization does not entail building ever-higher skyscrapers, producing more gadgets, accumulating material goods, but affirming one's identity, uniqueness and history, while celebrating diversity and the common heritage of mankind, demonstrating a sense for proportions and creating beauty for future generations -- in literature, art, music.

Modern art is like fast-food:  you consume it quickly and go on with your life – until the whim again takes you, and you give in to the temptation of indulging in fast-art sculpture, fast-art painting, throw-away abstractions not meant to last but only to entertain hic et nunc. I would call this kind of art epidermic, superficial, decerebrated, opportunistic art. By contrast -- Velazquez Surrender of Breda is slow-art, sustainable art, so too Vermeers Delft and Michelangelo’s Pieta. Absent a world war or other eschatological cataclysm, they will remain for millennia as Fedelino, the Greco-Roman Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a boy removing a thorn (now at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome) or the runners of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Governments, Parliaments and Courts have a responsibility to act in the public interest and in the interests of justice.  Their commitment to the “rule of law” is not coterminous with legalism or blind positivism. It does not mean submission to manifestly unjust or tyrannical law – ISIS legality, Taliban legality, Hitler legality,  Pinochet legality, Pol Pot legality -- or the "laws of the market". The rule of law is the normative framework that enables life in a civilized society and protects human dignity; it means the rule of justice and ethics based on natural law. Throughout history utilitarian positivism has allowed the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, exploitation, apartheid, segregation, and unequal remuneration for equal work performance.  Positivism has led to grave injustices, as Cicero already noted in De Officis I, 10 33, summum jus, summa injuria (excessive legalism is the height of injustice).  Indeed, the letter of the law is not equivalent with justice, especially because the letter of the law can and often is instrumentalized for other agendas and manipulated to subvert the spirit of the law.  It is the spirit of the law (Montesquieu) and the general principle of bona fides (good faith) that must permeate all human activity, in particular the administration of justice, in order to advance civilized existence and protect the common heritage of mankind. There are many legal "doctrines" that undermine law itself -- one of them being the notorious "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) warning, which pretends to legitimize bad faith in business dealings and puts an undue burden on the buyer rather than imposing due diligence on the seller. It is, however, a pillar of mercantilism -- which in the 21st century should be discarded as incompatible with civilized values and human rights.  

Instead of striving toward more direct democracy, transparency and rule of law, European central governance has moved from the ideal government of the people, by the people and for the people, into corporate management for the elites only -- where enterprises and lobbies dictate to compliant Brussels bureaucrats how public policy should be and what human rights in the "brave new world" should mean. Like in Kafka's Metamorphosis, the EU has morphed ever-so-slowly from a sensible free-trade and free-movement of capital organization into a monstrous entity that strips democratic governments of their sovereignty and citizens of their rights while attempting to micromage them. No wonder that increasingly more people find the EU undemocratic, unrepresentative, intrusive and abusive. Brexit is only a symptom of the general malaise.

The United Nations Human Rights Council should become the international arena where governments compete to show how to implement human rights most effectively, how to strengthen the rule of law, how to achieve social justice, where they display their best practices to the world.  Competition in human rights performance is a noble goal.  Hence the Council should become the preeminent forum where governments elucidate what they themselves have done and are doing to deliver on human rights, in good-faith implementation of pledges, in adherence to a generous culture of human rights characterized by expansive interpretation of human rights treaties and a commitment to the inclusion of all stakeholders.  In short, the Council should be the ”catwalk of human rights innovation”. What the Council must not be is a politicized arena where gladiators use human rights as weapons to defeat their political adversaries and where human rights are undermined through “side shows”, the “flavor of the month” or “legal black holes.” UN reform is possible. See my Youtube interview:

The human right to beauty is a natural emanation of human dignity – the source of all human rights. It is an affirmation of the right to life, peace, truth.  As John Keats intimated in Ode to a Grecian Urn, “beauty is truth, truth beauty”. Indeed, there is Beauty in mercy, forgiveness, sharing, healing, and doing justice. Beauty means living in harmony with ourselves and our environment, with persons and landscapes, with animals and plants.  It is not static nirvana, fusion with an impersonal cosmos, no dead-end of anonymity, but a dynamic work-in-progress, a continuing process toward completion, happiness, identity – and light.

Disappointments free us from illusions, allowing us to undertake new beginnings with clearer vision and concrete experience. The lessons we draw from disappointment are more valuable than those we think we learn from success.

Dreams are good for all of us, but life is a provocation that does not correspond to our dreams or our expectations of persons or events. It is better to live in truth than in falsehood.

Governments should embrace a new Olympic discipline and compete with other governments in human rights achievements -- The Human Rights Council should cease being the preferred arena where legal gladiators wield human rights as weapons against political adversaries. Government lawyers should devote their juridical skills to devising user-friendly means of enforcing human rights treaties and the rulings of human rights bodies, e.g. by making international human rights treaties part of directly enforceable domestic law, by enacting "enabling laws" that would give domestic legal status to international human rights rulings, or by accommodating a "half-way house", whereby rulings of international bodies would be received by the Foreign Ministry and immediately referred to a standing committee of Ministers to determine which Ministry should be entrusted with implementation. To claim that international law is not "self-executing" is a poor cop-out. It is precisely the responsibility of government -- and its lawyers -- to set up the legal and social mechanisms so that human rights and human dignity can be promoted, protected and fulfilled. Alas, experience shows that government lawyers often understand their role as finding ways to "justify the unjustifiable" -- always looking for technical points, escape clauses, loopholes or inventing abstruse interpretations of treaties and rulings of international bodies so as to weasel out of their legal -- and ethical -- obligations. Law schools would do well to teach prospective government lawyers that they have a sacred trust to work for justice, and that justice cannot be de-coupled from human rights. The "name of the game" is not how to make plausible the indefensible, how to get their governments "off the hook" or how to "beat the system". The common goal is to devise simple and pragmatic methods of good faith implementation. Chauvinistic and jingoistic lawyers do a disservice to the world -- and to their own governments.

The so-called "fragmentation of international law" is a red herring, a convenient excuse for the powerful to impose the wrong priorities.

Too much self-awareness is a form of narcissism.  Consciousness of the self of others in their inter-relationship with us is what makes life worth living.  But we have no monopoly over self-awareness, as ethological studies prove that apes, dolphins, Eurasian magpies and dogs also have a level of self-consciousness.  The whole body language of a dog tells us that he/she knows who he/she is and who we are.

Traditions like Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are expressions of a continuum with past and future generations, a spiritual communion with transcendental values of family, home, heritage, identity, Heimat, reflected in symbols and sounds such as nativity scenes, carol singing, midnight Mass. Reenacting these rites has added value - touching base with ourselves, exercising that most fundamental human right to our identity, to be just who we are. This holiday season can and must be more than just gourmet meals, gadgets, kitsch, consumerism (buy more stuff!) and sterile materialism. Let's make it sacred and truly ours as a celebration of our human nature and our sense of belonging to a community, living in solidarity and Geborgenheit. It may be permitted to propose a shift in thinking models to discard the Zeitgeist-imposed "flavour of the month" and the artificial division of human rights into categories of first, second and third generation rights — with their skewed value judgements. Rights should henceforth be redefined in functional terms, recognizing human dignity as the source of all rights, whether individual or collective. This functional paradigm reveals the interrelatedness of all rights, the convergence of enabling rights (such as the rights to peace, food, health, homeland and environment), inherent/immanent rights (such as equality and non-discrimination), procedural rights (such as access to information, freedom of expression and due process) and what could be called outcome rights, that is, the practical realization of human dignity in the form of the right to identity with its corollaries: the rights to privacy, home and family, to our personality, to achieve our potential and to be just who we are, free to live our transcendence, practice our faith, enjoy our own culture, preferences and opinions, without intimidation, surveillance or pressures to behave in a prescribed “politically correct” mode or endure self-censorship. The entire edifice of human rights promotion and protection is there in order to ensure the enjoyment of the right to our identity. The absence of this right to our personality and self-respect is reflected in much of the strife we see in the world today. Pax vobiscum! (see A/68/284, para. 68).

Relaxation is hardly a waste of time, but rather a wise investment. After all, creative ideas often emerge in the silence of contemplation, in the quiet of leisure, in the fertility of empty time.  Satius est enim otiosum esse – quam nihil agere. (Plinius Minor, Epistula 1 ,9,8). Hence my new year's resolution: follow Cicero's advice in the ethical pursuit of Otium cum dignitate.

Infatuation with superficial beauty often engenders bitter-sweet expectations that wane in disillusionment. Beauty is perception, but also memory and imagination that should be marshaled with equanimity, enjoying it when we experience it, as when the cherry blossoms charm us with their exquisite transient glory. Let us be thankful for all beauty in its ephemeral transcendence.

Maturity liberates us from many spiritual and virtual chains, including certain historical myths we grow up with, those caricatures, illusions, legends and simplifications we take for “certainties” and cling on to -- because we ontologically need to believe. Indeed, who among us would have the temerity to believe in nothing? Most mature persons eventually dismantle mythologies, stone by stone, myth by myth, before they can erect a personalized history, a pertinent history based on empirical observation and logical analysis.  This personalized history never coagulates --isn't carved in stone – but continues to evolve day by day as new experiences and new information complete our ever-changing picture of reality. And yet, there are wonders that escape us, miracles we cannot explain. Even mature persons remain in awe of the vastness and beauty of creation, retain an intimation of spirituality, a measure of optimism, persevere in that ineffable hope that the world makes sense -- after all.

Trivia is a treasure that flavours life
and facilitates perspective while entertaining us.
Without trivia and some kitsch, life might be more focused and sober, but we would lose the poetry of the ephemeral, the quaintness of detail, the comical of the ridiculous. Pepper and salt are very good in moderation.

When world politics go insane, politicians persist in insulting our intelligence, comedians are not funny but gross, meaningless bureaucracy engulfs us, trifles are made into tragedies and genuine tragedies and grave injustices are accepted as "part of the game", it is time to turn to nature for recalibration – to gaze upon the infinity of the sea, watch a windsurfer glide, a kite surfer skim the waves, absorb sunrise and sunset, explore the sky full of galaxies, the moon in all its moods and shapes, the play of clouds, go for a morning stroll in the forest,  hike for hours in the mountains, observe a butterfly, listen to merels sing, take pleasure in small things, fly a kite – only thus can we regain our equanimity, restore our sense of proportions, reaffirm our values.  


The brave new world of unregulated capitalism promises endless progress and seduces many through virtual pleasures, a festival of consumerism, digital gadgets galore, fast lanes and fast tracks to everywhere and nowhere, the illusion of doing more with less.  One day we may wake up with a heavy spiritual hang-over, realizing we have entered the dystopian age of mass surveillance, of vital self-censorship, burdened by a sense of not coping with those things that really matter, by a paralyzing meaninglessness, unable to escape, condemned to the perpetual panem et circensis of conformist society.  We can check out anytime and become social misfits and vagabonds, but we can no longer leave the New World Hotel -- because there is nowhere else to go.    

Territorial integrity is an important principle of international law – but it is not an absolute norm that trumps all other norms, since throughout history frontiers have always shifted in all regions of the world, often through unjust wars, ethnic cleansing, gneocide and land-grab, resulting in artificial lines that are not sacred -- and never were.  At best the principle of territorial integrity reflects a legitimate desire for stability, an attempt to preserve the status quo, and in this sense it serves the noble purpose of keeping the peace among nations.  At worst it entails a form of continuing aggression by the insistence to keep what has been unjustly obtained, and may even constitute a threat to international peace and security if an occupier or neo-colonial State irresponsibly refuses to negotiate as stipulated in article 2(3) of the UN Charter.  Intransigence is not a right recognized in international law. Territorial and other disputes should always be settled peacefully in accordance with the right of self-determination of peoples and in a manner that serves human rights and international solidarity.

“Homicidal words” are tools or short-cuts to dispense of discussion by defaming the adversary as fascist, racist, terrorist, crypto-nazi, anti-semite, islamophobe, xenophobe, homophobe, etc. – no need to prove anything.  The accusation suffices.  Words do kill.

Notwithstanding the optimistic perspective of the slogan "the truth shall set you free" (Gospel of St. John, 8:32), this promise is not self-executing. Alas, truth will not come like a white knight to rescue us from the bad dragon, no outside force will suddenly solve our problems, no Deus in machina will ensure a happy end. No. We ourselves must proactively seek truth, separate it from the daily lies and misconceptions, disseminate truth, liberate the word, use it as a sword to cut through pretense and manipulation. Truth will reveal the degree of control to which we are all subjected in modern society, the brainwashing, the robotization of our lives, the self-censorship of political conrrectness. Truth can and should enable us to develop a survival strategy to counter Big Brother in his multiple manifestations, refute political canards and expose opportunism. In any event, we must not give up faith. Even if we will never succeed in knowing all the truth all the time, we must make a decent effort to approach it, and thus vindicate truth as more than just a placebo, a red herring, an empty promise, an illusion.

The Neingesang of intransigence does not stop the world from continuing its course. The dogs may bark while the traffic rushes by.

"Empty time" is anything but empty -- it is the window of opportunity for free thinking, innovation, synthesis, poetry. If we believe in progress, we must also believe in the utilitarianism of "empty" time.

To understand evil it is useless to demonize it or exorcise it, because evil then becomes artificial, trivial, a caricature.  The key to understanding lies in the particular context, nuances, personal psychology.  In our complex universe there is good in the bad and bad in the good, a natural amalgam, which we must take into account when looking at subjective perceptions and priorities.  It is not eccentric to infer that many “bad guys” never see themselves as doing “evil”, but justify their actions on the grounds of “necessity”, “force majeure”, “defence of country”, “outside threats”, “civic duty”, or the all-purpose Machiavellian cop-out -- the noble end that justifies the evil means.  Of course, with 20/20 hindsight we can say that Bolshevism and Nazism were evil and criminal. But can we extrapolate and categorically say that all of their aspects and ramifications were evil?  Or that all the people who lived through them necessarily understood what was going on or condoned it?  Assuming arguendo that most people do things because they think they are doing something positive, it is not outlandish to surmise that Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even Pol Pot saw themselves as advancing some kind of "good", some humanistic aspects of communism – notwithstanding the “regrettable errors” committed in implementation. Some people consider that Attila the Hun, Pope Innocent III, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, Richard III, Henry VIII, Cortes, Pizarro, Jeffrey Amherst, Jan van Leiden, Gustavus Adolphus, Louis XIV, Marquis de Sade, Robespierre, Napoleon, William Tecumseh Sherman, Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, Georges Clemenceau, Hitler, Mussolini, Pierre Laval, Josef Mengele, Churchill, Arthur Harris, Paul Tibbets, Eduard Benes, Videla, Pinochet, Verwoerd, Milosevich, Tudjman, Sharon, Bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, George Walker Bush, Tony Blair, Joseph Kony, Abubakar Shekau did many evil things.  But were they subjectively conscious that some of their acts were profoundly “evil” and not justifiable under any ethical or value-system?  This consideration is neither a “praise of folly” nor a capitulation to relativism – it is a sober recognition that the human capacity for self-deception is immense.  It is better to reaffirm ethical values, condemn evil acts and evil policies and dispense with unhelpful labels upon the instruments of evil.


As youth needs to believe in role models, adults also need to believe in the coming generations. The cycle of life is fuelled by such faith – sometimes even faith in illusions – an inner voice that keeps alive the vital fire, that optimistic light of hope in the future. I always liked a quote (apocryphally) attributed to Luther: even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.

In rich, developed countries individualism, consumerism and materialism have gone so far that the sense of community and heritage have been lost. No wonder that young people who have received no values other than money-making and who have not been taught the role of ethics and solidarity in human affairs -- are on the lookout precisely for such values. Alas, some of them think they have found them in sects, fundamentalist religions or even djihads.  Hence it is up to us -- who are aware that the social fabric binding people together has been torn -- to try to mend it by propagating a sense of belonging and working together for the common good. Each one of us can and should take up the challenge.

Modern Realpolitik has learned how to instrumentalize human rights rhetoric to pursue traditional geopolitics.

Life at its infancy is sprightly, funny, cuddly, cute, spontaneous, surprising, delightful – whether puppy, kitten or child.  Eventually all this magic mutates into us.

What distinguishes human beings from animals is not just that humans know how to make tools (some animals use tools also!) or that they engage in sports (cats play too!) but that humans know how to create art and how to transform ideas, emotions, feelings into canvas, sculpture, music.

Music is neither a liturgy of sounds nor a  litany of notes -- not empty ritual, but epiphany, a sacrament capable to redeem the soul. On angels' wings waft melodies of melancholy, merriment, of yearning, reveries, elation, vivat crescat floreat -- while human hearts beat to the rhythm of ethereal hymns.

The rule of law applies both the letter and the spirit of the law, since it aims at achieving justice in its nuanced complexity. The rule of positivism only knows the letter of the law, which when applied bureaucratically often results in injustice.

The rule of law is meant to progressively achieve justice, which requires flexibility and fine-tuning. If law were mathematics – one would use computers and could dispense of judges!  The rule of positivism or dura lex sed lex is just blind bureaucracy.

Positivism should not be confused with the rule of law – for it is only the rule of the elites.

Realpolitik in the 21st century has learned how to instrumentalize human rights rhetoric to pursue traditional geopolitical and hegemonial agendas -- hitherto with remarkable success, since broad sectors of civil society actually fall for the propaganda disseminated by a well orchestrated corporate media and supported by an accommodating "human rights industry", too often compliant and complicit with the business enterprises that dish out donations and engender long-term dependencies. Just watch them deploy their multiple campaigns to join human rights bandwagons, fashions, "the flavour of the month", while exercising self-censorship on weightier human rights problems such as abject poverty, lack of clean water and minimal health care!

This industry has a convenient fig-leaf function and serves to advance those human rights that are business-friendly and likely to generate profits -- notwithstanding the misery of millions of human beings who lack everything, those "unsung victims" of the irrelevant "third world". This widespread approach builds on the "trickle-down" phantasy, according to which if the rich become richer, then some excess wealth eventually will make its way down to the poor. Alas, this hypothesis is but a rip-off system that only aggravates the situation and negates any and all hope of human solidarity. But there is enough pious opium for the masses, pathos for adolescents -- and panem et circensis for the rest of us.

Manufactured consent corrupts democracies into populist entities that easily mutate into predator democracies both domestically and internationally.

A consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights against a population negates the legitimacy of the exercise of governmental power. In case of unrest, dialogue must first be engaged in the hope of redressing grievances. States may not first provoke the population through grave human rights abuses and then pretend to invoke the right of self-defence in justification of the use of force against them. That would violate the principle of estoppel (ex injuria non oritur jus), a general principle of law recognized by the ICJ. Although all States have the right of self-defence from armed attack (Art. 51 UN Charter) they also have the responsibility to protect the life and security of all persons under their jurisdiction. No doctrine, neither that of territorial integrity nor that of self-determination, justifies massacres. Neither doctrine can derogate from the right to life. Norms are not mathematics and must be applied with flexibility and a sense for proportionality in order to prevent and reduce chaos and death.

The slogan "truth will make you free" is nothing more than a placebo, a red herring, an empty promise, an illusion. It contaIns multiple fallacies, including the assumption of automatism, that truth will come like a white knight to rescue us from the bad dragon, than an outside force will solve our problems, that a Deus in machina will ensure a happy end, that truth alone will be self-executing. No. We ourselves must proactively seek truth, separate it from the daily lies and misconceptions, disseminate truth, liberate the word, use truth as a sword to cut through pretense and manipulation. Truth will reveal the degree of control to which we are all subjected in modern society, the brainwashing, the robotization of our lives, the self-censorship of political conrrectness. Truth will enable us to develop a survival strategy and targeted tactics to counter Big Brother in his multiple manifestations, refute political canards and expose opportunism.

Time is a precious resource, and its allocation deserves reflection.  Since competitors for our attention are many, priority-setting is of the essence. To whom should we devote our limited time? The choice is ours, but the seducers are clever. Subliminal propaganda is everywhere, flashed on TV, on our PCs, etc.  An electronic war over our attention is also under way.  The greater the number of internet clicks, the broader the internet presence, the higher the visibility attained. This eventually attracts attention, even if it is trivia.  Social media enhances the illusion of self-importance and the associated hope of gaining fame and fortune – or just the narcissistic satisfaction of a moment in the limelight.  Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas. (Ecclesiastes I,2)  Of course, electronic clicks can be artificially generated, as there is no “quality control” over clicks.  Visibility in the virtual world seems to offer an Ersatz for real meaning, especially to those who rely on the internet for their impulses – instead of drawing knowledge and understanding from the good advice of friends, from critical dialogue, from books.  Good judgment is shown in the way we allocate our limited time and attention.    

Human beings are peculiar animals with an omnivorous appetite for discovering things, experimenting, improvising, playing, dreaming.... They  invent tools, organise, collect things, build museums, create art, write philosophical treatises, practise doxology, revel in philocaly, set up orchestras, look endlessly into the sunset humming Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, play chess, watch football, paint graffiti on subway walls.

Representative democracy deserves the predicate "democratic" only if and when parliamentarians genuinely represent their constituents. An elected Congressman(woman) or Senator administers a sacred trust and must proactively inform the electorate of relevant developments that impact on decision-making.  He/she must be committed to inquire into what the voters need and want.  In other words, a representative is accountable to the citizens, must act transparently and regularly consult, since he/she is not a plenipotentiary, or even a delegate with a blank check.  A representative represents, since he/she is a servant -- not a master -- with a mandate limited in time and scope, which he/she must administer in good faith and not in usurpation of power.

Nil admirari (Cicero, Horace, Seneca). Roman thinkers already knew the wisdom of keeping a certain distance, the rewards of equanimity and the advantages of not being surprised by people or events. However, young people do need role models and should not be prematurely blasé. Youth should feel the rush of adrenalin that accompanies enthusiasm, the excitement of discovery, the euphoria of falling in love, the infatuation with infatuation, the illusion of heroism that floods the heart with joy. Youth has a right to be in awe of Olympic achievements and individual achievers, should endeavour to imitate them, not be afraid of asking questions, testing established customs, making personal experiences -- both good and bad -- and most importantly, they should believe in something! Of course, as we all mature, we learn to temper our enthusiasm, to discern between semblance and reality, to accept disappointment. The Roman maxim nil admirari is for post-adolescents only.

Although we all live in the real world with all its beauty, complexity, nuances, physical laws and objective facts, we operate in artificially limited worlds, in contexts governed by teleological rules, red lines, stop signs, taboos – and enforced certainties.  These separate epistemological systems are subject to man-made rules with their own internal logic and mathematics, where 2 plus 2 does not necessarily result in 4, because the building blocks are weighted according to extraneous factors of perceived political or social necessity, where essential elements and crucial facts that do not fit the equation can be negated if their logical consequences and implications counter the socially imposed “truths” which determine not only the outcome but also the process of deliberation.  There are many local, regional and larger contexts where the law is not applied uniformly, but à la carte, because what does not fit the paradigm must be ignored.  What is politically undesirable loses its objective character, mutates into non-fact. Lapses in logic and obvious fallacies are tolerated in respectful silence.   Thus, for survival in our post-modern societies, we must demonstrate intellectual and emotional versatility, always bearing in mind that besides a real world of universal logic and objectivity, there are other, restricted worlds of directed behaviour – and it is only in these truncated worlds that we are allowed to function, anxious about not behaving in the socially desired way, hesitating under an undefined threat of adverse consequences if we venture beyond, numbed by a vague apprehension that engenders both censorship and self-censorship.  Wherefore – in this world of subtle and not so subtle intimidation, cognitive dissonance, capricious dialectics, false analogies, skewed empirical data, doublethink, double standards and selective indignation – we have to keep our eyes wide open and our moral compass operational so as to navigate through the troubled waters.  Overcoming these challenges is a full-time job, but worth it -- if we want to keep our identity and our sanity.  

Human beings of all cultures and colours share a common physiognomy, basic functions, needs and aspirations.  Over thousands of years they have built diverse civilizations in which individual members have shown virtue and vice, generosity and greed, astounding creativity, musicality, gastronomy ....  Collectively, however, no civilization was ever all good or all bad, all constructive or all destructive, all innocent or all guilty – these are unhistorical categories.  From the perspective of the 21st century, we can observe the progress and retrogression of peoples and detect a growing consciousness of the need for human solidarity and proactive bridge-building, in the name of survival of the species. Global challenges demand global solutions -- ensuring global participation in decision-making. Perhaps we will someday learn to build on our 99% commonalities, instead of fighting over the 1% that separates us. Pax optima rerum!

Peace is not an eschatological phenomenon but continuous work-in-progress.

Celebrating the myriad good things of life, dwelling on nature's generous bounty, grasping those transcendental moments of genuine elation is decidedly more fun than keeping book on the faults and frailties of human beings, noticing the imperfections, counting the wrinkles or worrying about what might go wrong. This Advent season, let us enjoy the good things and sing them songs. Sursum corda!

We are who we are and ought to be comfortable with our identity, conscious of our heritage and serenely proud of the achievements of our ancestors.  Just happy to exist hic et nunc.  Each one of us has the faculty to extend our horizons, learn, build, evolve, modify our opinions as often as necessary -- as we gain experience and perhaps perspective and a measure of wisdom.  We should exercise the freedoms we have to ask questions, seek to understand our dynamic surroundings, continuously push the limits, but always in harmony with our roots and our identity. An Aborigine need not desire to be European.  A Bolivian need not aspire to be Brazilian. A German need not wish to be American.  Let the Aborigine be proud of being Aborigine, the African to be African, the American to be American – as long as such pride is tempered by self-criticism and respect for others.  There is nothing wrong with patriotism – only with egoism, exceptionalism, chauvinism.  The key to personal happiness is a sense of belonging, of harmony and familiarity with one’s environment, a combination of enthusiasm and melancholy, of love and equanimity, of being snug in one’s skin.  Love of oneself and respect for one’s heritage must not to be confused with narcissism or xenophobia.  On the contrary: it is a prerequisite for creativity and a dependable foundation to love and inter-relate with others.  We all have a pluralistic identity which is always in flux like a river (Heraclitus) and manifests not only a collective dimension in its dynamics of flow, in liturgies and rituals, but also an individualistic dimension defined by our personal choices.

Profession of faith in the wisdom of the Nuremberg Trials does not resolve certain inherent paradoxes and contradictions.

An excess of common virtues frustrates the higher virtues of moderation and proportion.

Youth is sometimes wasted on the young (George Bernard Shaw), as history can be wasted on historians, notably politically-correct historians, and ideologies on ideologues-- who are notorious for losing all sense for proportion.

Education should teach young people how to think independently, how to put things into context, compare, imagine, invent.  Alas, only few teachers bother to instill curiosity in their pupils or teach them how to think outside the box, how to dare.  What is mostly taught in high schools and colleges is how to adjust oneself to the spirit of the times, how to be a loyal fan of a given sports club, how to function within a system of political correctness, and how to respect the many red lines imposed by society to maintain the status quo.

Blithe spirits bringing a myriad colours to our gardens, magic, ephemeral wings -- butterflies -- with short life-spans of a week to a few months. But why such an unpoetic name for a delicate daughter of nature? The Germans call them Schmetterlinge (even less onomatopoetic), the Russians call them бабочка (not to be confused with Бабушка, which means grandmother), the Greek πεταλουδα (which makes you think of petals), the French call them papillons (which is closer to the Latin papilio). Perhaps the more congenial, smoother descriptions are the Spanish mariposa and the delicate Dutch vlinder.

The practice of naming and shaming has relatively little effect because it rests on multiple fallacies:  first, that the party doing the naming has nothing to be ashamed of and possesses moral authority to shame the other; second, that the impugned party is generally open to criticism; third, that the target of the naming and shaming acknowledges the legitimacy of the namer to act as judge. Experience shows that the namer frequently has a closet full of skeletons and that therefore the target of the naming and shaming has no inclination to bow to the namer's pretense to moral superiority or justification to hurl the first stone at the adulteress. Instead of raising fingers and pointing at others, it would be better if those States and ngo's who claim moral superiority would instead consider offering advisory services and technical assistance so as to enable impugned States to improve their human rights practices and infrastructures.
What we urgently need is good faith, more mirrors of self-criticism, more focus on root causes and prevention, greater readiness to dialogue without preconditions, patience and perseverance -- and much less eagerness to verbally condemn or judicially punish -- above all, we need more compassion toward the victims and a commitment to redress the wrongs in international solidarity.
The all-too-frequent instrumentalization of human rights for political purposes and the abuse of the concept of human rights as a selective weapon against others demonstrates how little politicians and media care for the essence of human dignity -- which entails respect for the other person's identity, diversity and his/her right to hold different opinions. We need neutral brokers, not polemics nor rhetoric with the pervasive geopolitical after-taste. We need intellectual honesty -- not international law à la carte.


To become an apostate from the Zeitgeist, from the "consensus", from the bandwagon is an act of intellectual liberation – and maturity. It presupposes the capacity to think outside systems, escape indoctrination and relentless media brainwashing, arrive at new syntheses, remaining open to new inputs, patient with colleagues and friends who lag behind, never abandoning hope in the power of reason over force, of the λόγος over chaos and nihilism.

War crimes and crimes against humanity are perpetrated by ordinary people inspired by the philosophy “the end justifies the means”, and indoctrinated into believing that the envisaged end is noble, duty, divinely ordained, or inevitable. Deviation from this conviction is perceived by the powerful as “unpatriotic” or even “treacherous”.

History writing and teaching have always been co-opted by the elites in order to legitimize and consolidate their continued exercise of power. Yet, whoever has the temerity to do independent research into the past, visits the archives, analyzes documents, compares primary and secondary sources, meets doers and diplomats, interviews witnesses who may still be alive -- discovers crucial facts, deliberately omitted by the court historians, new perspectives, dimensions, nuances that fundamentally change our understanding of events and differ substantially from media caricatures, popular misconceptions and Zeitgeist. I do not pretend to think that we can arrive at the "truth" in all of its manifestations, but surely a better approximation is possible and necessary.

Living on the edge is a youthful ideal of glorified danger with attendant adrenaline rushes. Living more toward the centre is the preferred location for those who, like me, are no longer youngsters and embrace the philosophy of Buen Vivir, which entails being satisfied to have just enough, not too much, and to practice the Delphian Γνώθι Σεαυτόν and Μηδὲν ἄγαν.


Blithe spirits bringing a myriad colours to our gardens, magic, ephemeral wings -- butterflies -- with short life-spans of a week to a few months. But why such an unpoetic name for a delicate daughter of nature? The Germans call them Schmetterlinge (even less onomatopoetic), the Russians call them бабочка (not to be confused with Бабушка, which means grandmother), the Greek πεταλουδα (which makes you think of petals), the French call them papillons (which is closer to the Latin papilio). Perhaps the more congenial, smoother descriptions are the Spanish mariposa and the delicate Dutch vlinder.

Rhetoric has little to do with truth or sincerity, for it is a form of seduction through eloquence. Indeed, impressive rhetoric all too often proves empty if not downright false, as we know from some virtuosi of political debate. Similarly, beauty is scarcely related to goodness or generosity, for it is essentially a manifestation of aesthetics. Alas, a handsome face does not always announce a merciful heart.

War is not a given in life, but rather a crime willed by megalomaniacs, organized by bureaucrats, sold by media propaganda and suffered by soldiers and civilians alike. There are no "good wars", for all are bloody, dehumanizing, nasty, unjust and eminently avoidable.

The rule of law is more than a platitude, and much more than mere positivism.  It entails predictability, uniformity of application, absence of arbitrariness.  Most importantly the rule of law must be the rule of justice.  Laws that perpetuate privilege and injustice must be abrogated and replaced by laws that advance human well-being and human dignity.  Some countries pay lip service to the rule of law while practicing the antediluvian might is right paradigm.

Democracy is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve the sacred promises of human dignity, justice and peace. Democracy is not just the ballot box, nor is it mere majority rule. It is a form of government based on respect and solidarity with other members of society. It is a Covenant to listen to all members of the demos.

Civilization is the long journey from predator behavior to interdependence, rule of law and caritas.

Neither can we ski like the pros, nor can we sing like Met soloists, but we can sense the divine in their prowess and vicariously partake in that transcendental humanness.  They too, Olympic champions and opera singers, are members of our species, have two eyes, two ears, one mouth -- and though their achievements will also pass, we prolong them by internalizing them.

Fantasies are invigorating for the spirit, but their magic escapes if we try to concretize them.  Living out our fantasies hic et nunc is dangerous business.

Poetry resides in us all, but only the passionate few can reveal the magic. 

Civilization is the gradual transformation of the human predator into a social being endowed with a moral conscience and an awareness of both rights and duties. Alas, there are still too many antediluvian predators roaming Planet Earth. How can we teach ethics, peace and solidarity to these slow learners? That's a worthy challenge for 2013!

Human dignity has nothing to do with “justiciability” and less with positivism.  Dignity derives from the essence of the human person, and justice reflects equilibrium and harmony as an expression of the intrinsic nature of things. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 certainly did not invent the rights there proclaimed, nor for that matter la Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen of 1789.  These are but incomplete compilations of some human entitlements, for surely the rights predated their codification.  It is a poor excuse to say that a right does not exist (e.g. the right to the homeland, the right to peace, the right to a sustainable environment) or that it is not “justiciable”, just because it has not been specifically codified. Lawyers have a responsibility to complete the task of codification and politicians must establish enforcement mechanisms that ensure real remedies.

Art evokes a transcendental meaning, transmits a vital spark. It is not chaos, it is not n’importe quoi. So-called modern opera productions delight in reversing aesthetic values and reject -- quite deliberately -- the hitherto attainable synthesis of art forms (music, libretto, singing, acting, staging, costumes), a concept that Wagner termed Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art. The current fashion of so-called “director’s theater” (Regietheater) is to allow opera directors to supplant the composer and librettist and experiment with a kind of surrealistic parallelism – on the one side an unchanged musical score and libretto, on the other a different plot, a dream, a time-machine transposition. Instead of coordinating the staging to the music and libretto, a “spectacle” is played-out, admittedly with some tenuous links to the original message of the opera. The problem is that the effect is short-lived, only to become artificial, forced, boring, even ludicrous. Thus, for instance, the new, thoroughly unconvincing production of Lohengrin at La Scala fails miserably, notwithstanding the superlative voices. This production reminds me of what the Germans call a Schnappsidee – i.e. a wet idea that may seem intelligible under the influence of alcohol (Schnapps), but distinctly less so if you are in full use of your mental faculties. The asymmetries of Regietheater thus condemn it to be a temporary fad, a parody of culture, not a long-term dismantlement of art. And yet, the fad is not without consequences. Perhaps the greatest harm perpetrated by these art polluters (who evidently enjoy spraying graffiti on genius (Elisabeth Schwartzkopf)) is endured by the young. My generation was privileged to experience inspiring opera productions conducted by Karl Bohm, Herbert von Karajan etc. with intelligent staging by Schneider-Siemssen and others. Our younger generation of melomanes is being deprived of the opportunity of being seduced by a true Eva in Meistersinger or Marie-Thérèse in Rosenkavalier. What a shame, since modern technology and light effects would render the staging of opera much easier than in the past. "Modernity" does not have to mean parody -- or demolition. Art is the perfection of music, staging and dance -- for instance the 2007 Mariinsky Ballet production of Swan Lake in St. Petersburg, with Uliana Lopatkina (Odile) and Danila Korsuntsev (Prince Siegfried), conducted by Valery Gergiev, in the Ross MacGibbon production.

Humour delights in paradox, irony, unexpected turns, serendipity ... It entails that felicitous faculty of seeing a funny side in all human endeavour, recognizing ourselves in other peoples' foibles, sensing the ephemeral in vanity, jealousy, pettiness, taking distance, putting things in perspective --always with a sense for proportion-- laughing at awkward situations, including laughing at our own idiosyncrasies. Humour is an attitude quite unlike cynicism or hubris. It manifests an optimistic mindset, an exultation of spirit, an affirmation of joie de vivre.

When contemplating history, it is best to put aside labels, ideologies and nationalities, because they invariably cloud our vision, and what we think are short-cuts frequently turn out to be obstacles. What really matters is the personal integrity and courage, the nobility and heroism of individuals. Generalizations about peoples or even civilizations are artificial and all too often dehumanizing. Surely there were good Neanderthals and good Cro Magnons, good Israelis and Philistines, good Greeks and Persians, good Athenians and Spartans, good Romans and Carthaginians, good Crusaders and Fatimids, good Protestants and Papists, good French revolutionaries and royalists, good Unionists and Confederates, good Marxists and capitalists. There are heroes and scoundrels in every human conflict, for reality is never black and white, as in the good there is always an admixture of bad, and even in the bad some good. We should therefore celebrate the human being in all his complexity and contradictions, we shoud honour his good deeds -- not the Zeitgeist-caricature of humanity, nor the ideological "flavour of the month".

Belief is identity and raison d'être, as human nature requires an emotional map, reference points, defined goals -- no vacuum, no black hole ... For our own well-being we need to believe in something –the actual belief being somewhat less important.  Crucial is the readiness to have faith in ourselves and in humanity, in our culture, in human dignity, in the values of our nation -- not chauvinistically, not blindly "my country right or wrong", but consciously for the good of our community -- to believe in a cause bigger than ourselves, to serve a higher goal, even if we cannot reach it. And when we die, we can say, we have believed, and our yearning and striving has given meaning to our lives. Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen (Goethe, Faust II, 11936–11937). The temerity to believe in nothing may be a modern pseudo-philosophy, but it is neither heroic nor healthy, not even funny, but instead a manifestation of misanthropy, an insipid form of nihilism, a petulant mood devoid of fire, devoid of cheer. Thus, let us celebrate the rite of spring and the music of flowers -- and people -- around us. Fe y adelante!

Learning how to love ourselves, how to forgive ourselves is undoubtedly an important lesson for a good and healthy life. While evil and guilt do exist, they can and must be marshalled. A guilt fixation or obsession is in itself a fault, a sin. Guilt must be tempered by mercy and by a sense for proportion. How else can we love others, if we do not respect oneselves first. It should be obvious to everyone that if we are to love others as we love ourselves (golden rule), we must also know and accept our own wrinkles, sins and imperfections. Admittedly, we neither love nor condone sin, but we must exercise the faculty to rise above sin and to continue testing our conduct against universal ethical principles day by day. Only thus can we develop a life strategy how to deal with the reality of evil, evil which predated our birth, evil and injustice which existed even before Adam and Eve. We must reject the paradigm of original sin and embrace instead the paradigm of grace and forgiveness through the Cross and Resurrection. Sursum corda!

Every one knows the Latin maxim: si vis pacem, para bellum -- if you want peace, prepare war (Livius VI, 18,7; Vegetius, 'Epitome rei militaris' 3, prologue)). Surely it would be better to propose: si vis pacem, cole justitiam. If you want peace, cultivate justice ! This enlightened maxim greets you at the Peace Palace in The Hague and at the ILO headquarters in Geneva (ILO was awarded the Nobel peace price 1969). Policy-makers and civil society take note!


Although, in principle, history-writing should observe the five C's of chronology, context, causality, consequences and comparison, many contemporary historians seem to delight in anachronisms, ignoring the context and root causes of events, indulging in post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies and teleological conclusions, making truly ludicrous comparisons -- frequently to satisfy the capricious Zeitgeist.


Retirement is too big a word; what we basically want is withdrawal from bureaucracy,  so that we are free to do what we feel is really important.  Better old outside and young inside, than young outside and hopelessly decrepit inside.



Law is a tool to bring order into chaos. As such, it is a means, not an end. As a normative manifestation of power, law expresses the will, the priorites and sometimes the values of the sovereign. Law is not coterminous with justice; in fact, it may and is frequently used to maintain and legitimize an unjust social order, a system of exploitation, an uequal distribution of resources. The maxim "might is right" reflects the power equation, not any moral or categorical imperative (Kant) dictated by reason or deontology. It is for the philosophers -- and poets -- to infuse ethics into power ! It is for civil society to demand it.


A shockingly new idea, a controversial new prespective, an uncomfortable new paradigm first meets with fierce opposition, then with marginalization and silence, finally it is accepted as self-evident.

The two-party system is, alas, only twice as democratic as the one-party system.


The war on terror is a rhetorical war just like the war on poverty, and, alas, poverty won.


Education entails the faculty to think independently, apply criteria and arrive at individual judgment, even when different from consensus. It should awaken curiosity, discard taboos, formulate new questions, seek different perspectives, engage logic and coherence, strengthen ethics and intellectual honesty vis á vis others - and ourselves. This faculty of independent thinking, which is the very core of education, remains true even when we forget factual knowledge. Indoctrination, which thrives on uncritical repetition, deference to authority and peer pressure, has nothing to do with education..

Our goal can be somewhat less than trying to change the world. Helping a couple of people is fine too.

The legitimacy and credibility of law rests on its uniform application. Thus, there must not be any favouritism, because in law "one size fits all". The rule of law means the rule of non-arbitrariness, which knows no service à la carte. More fundamentally, although justice is not identical with law, justice requires that law be consistent with ethical values. Law should not follow politics, but it is politics that must follow law.

Societies can be animistic, pantheistic, atheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic -- or, like ours -- moneytheistic.

Civilization, as we know it, developed when nomads settled down, domesticated animals, invented the plow, grew wheat and vine, started baking bread and fermentig grape juice into wine ... O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint, Agricolas! Quibus ipsa procul discordibus armis fundit humo facilem victum iustissima tellus.(Vergilius, Georgics, ii, 458).

A “failed State” is not just a State with a troubled economy or with a dysfunctional administration. It is also a State that cannot live in peace with its neighbours.

If we take more time to enjoy what we do have, we will have that less time to belly-ache about what we still lack.

Serendipity goes beyond carpe diem, carpe noctem, beyond grasping at fortuity.. It means winning the game and holding on, remaining alert to fortune's many moods.

Tomorrow is one day more – and one less.

Good governance is more than mere alliteration -- it entails applying Logos rather than legalism, practicing proportion rather than perfection, preferring peace and pluralism over populism, promoting justice instead of jealousy -- and in budget matters employing more mathematics and less metaphors.

Politicians and generals go into history books. Musicians go into the hearts of generations of grateful listeners. Wellington, Blücher, Grant, Eisenhower, Motgommery, de Gaule, Zhukov are long dead. Beethoven lives!

Fortunately for mankind, glory is ephemeral and fame fades fast. Otherwise even more megalomaniacs would enter the fray and plague the rest of us in the process.

Peace is not just the absence of war. It means abandoning the aggressive animus and the will to exploit other nations and peoples. It requires closing down the criminal arms industry that fuels conflict throughout the world. More than that, peace implies the presence of something positive -- not just an absence of evil. It entails the presence of good will, a striving for harmony, the exercise of solidarity, the quest for justice -- that possible dream we once read about in the Sermon on the Mount.

Good politicians are pessimists in analysis but optimists in action.

Progress depends on tempered enthusiasm rather than on hot tempers. Met drift kom je nergens, met geestdrift overal.

Collateral benefit is a form of serendipity – the joy of finding something unexpected when one is busy looking for something else

Human dignity transcends quantification and knows no competition, for respect is due to rich and poor alike. The dignitas humana has no room for privilege and exploitation; all victims deserve solidarity, recognition and rehabilitation without discrimination. Justice is not a beauty contest, but a conscious vindication of human dignity

There is no clash of civilizations, but rather the clash of narrow-minded politicians who pretend that theirs is the only civilization.

Hero worship is for adolescents, convenient mythologies for adults, caricatures for the elites, instrumentalized trivia for the hoi polloi -- quite a circus of institutionalized self-deception for one and all.

The Manichaean world view lacks the poetry of nuances, of the good within the bad, the bad within the good, the poetry of ambiguity.

Collateral benefit is a form of serendipity – the joy of finding something unexpected when one was busy looking for something else.

Objectivity does not exclude poetry.

Creation is divine -- and very much human: from writing a love poem, to composing a symphony, to inventing a flower arrangement, to baking a cheese cake, to singing Panis angelicus.

Truth is in the nuances.
Hero worship is for adolescents, convenient mythology for adults, caricature for the elites, instrumentalized trivia for the hoi polloi -- quite a circus of institutionalized self-deception for one and all.

Doing always the right thing does not automatically yield the good result.

Coping with great misfortune is sometimes easier than accepting banal inconveniences.

Failure is not per se punishment, nor does it entail guilt. Often enough it is the guilty who are successful and the innocent who lose.

Integrity entails living in the midst of lies and not falling for them, facing adversity without losing one’s sense of proportion.

Self-respect often requires stoic perseverance -- even when there are no followers.

Self-preservation takes precedence over revenge.

Some politicians indulge more in science fiction than in government.

A politician should be pessimistic in analysis but optimistic in action.

Cognitive dissonance occurs not only in politics, but also in human relations. How often does a lover pursue the shadow of his own infatuation? There are many Don Quijotes still yearning for their own imaginary Dulcineas.

War is the great destroyer – not only of human beings, but also of values.
“Clash of civilizations” is an euphemism for the animus to aggress others.

Human dignity transcends quantification and knows no competition.

Justice is not a beauty contest, but a conscious vindication of human dignity

There were good guys on all sides of the Peloponnesian war, the Punic wars, Julius Caesar’s campaigns, the “Reconquista”, the French revolution, the American Civil War, the Bolshevist revolution, the Spanish Civil War, at Verdun and at Stalingrad. There is never a monopoly of good or evil in any human conflict.

The essential homo sapiens evolves slowly. I bet that Neanderthal children threw snowballs at each other with as much gusto as 21st century lads.

The habits and expectations of modern man are scarcely conducive to happiness. Whereas everything good that happens to us is perceived as natural and we take it for granted, we are surprised and frustrated over every stone in our path. We would be happier if we would only learn to count our blessings.

When you take a nation’s past away, you also destroy its future

God obviously prefers carnivores to vegetarians, otherwise he would have given the same attention to Cain’s veggies as to Abel’s lamb offerings.

Mankind is not peaceful by nature. Violence was with us from the start – four human beings and already one murder!

God is not an advocate of an eye-for-an eye: Cain was banished, not killed because of murdering his brother.

It is easier to endure long misfortune than to prolong a state of happiness.

Good men do not always get what they deserve. Nor do the bad.

Commercial rivalries cause even more wars than religious differences.

Rulers can afford to be generous and enlightened after they have suppressed or even exterminated the opposition.

Morality lessons are easy to impart after a position of force has been secured, usually by immoral means.

Academic work is both drudgery and passion.

Not every philosopher has worthy disciples. Socrates lucked out with Plato, Plato with Aristotle. But Socrates failed to instill modesty and measure on his pupil Alcibiades, an egomaniac cheat, who never understood the meaning of moderation (meden agan, metron ariston), while Aristotle had the disappointment of tutoring Alexander (for some “the Great”), who started as a megalomaniac and grew into a genocidal killer – and drunkard.

Man is born into a culture and religion and has a limited number of roles to play.
While perfectly coherent within a given epistemology, outside this specific cultural or religions context, man’s actions may appear illogical or even irrational. Thus, while St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were doubtless brilliant thinkers, their legacy is not accessible outside the Christian faith. For non-believers, much of Aquinas’ reasoning may appear circular; to a traditional Christian, Muhammad remains inaccessible.

True scholarship is free of loyalties.

The scholar does not root for a team but remains aloof of the media fray.

Insisting on justice often only prolongs the pain. Experience teaches you to cut your losses and turn the page.

Dogs show immediate enthusiasm for other dogs and socialize with them readily – size, race or colour notwithstanding. Why don’t humans get more enthused over other humans ?

Imperialism, whether military or economic, was never benign.

Imperialism -- whether American, British, French, German, Ancient Greek, Roman or Persian – never endeared the masters to their subjects.

Realpolitik is more akin to opportunism than to patriotism.

Patriotism means very different things to different people. You may call it a cocktail of self-deception and bravado, a form of mental masturbation, rooting for a political party as you root for a football team, a readiness to rape.

Heroism is a cocktail of brazenness and patriotism. For some, a manifestation of stubbornness – fighting unto death for a personal conviction or even for a caprice.

Genuine patriotism entails a striving for political and social justice. It is not “my country right or wrong”, but “let’s work to make this country just”.
The cult of heroism is a totalitarian tool.

Every totalitarian regime has its saints.

Christianity has done many bad things such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Pope Alexander VI’s Bull Inter Cetera. But it has also done glorious things -- immeasurably enriched us by inventing musical notation (the monk Guido of Arezzo!), inspired Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert, gave outlet to all forms of artistic expression -- from the poetry of the Gothic Cathedral to the humanity of Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Beatitudes will always be an antidote to despair, consolation in mourning, hope in hope.

Religion is awe of nature plus a moral code.

Religion is more than rituals and sacraments, but belief in cosmic justice and commitment to truth -- helping other human beings – or at least not hurting them!

Pseudo-religion is the instrumentalization of fear for purposes of power.

The sun shines on the just and unjust alike. In its light, justice can be seen by all who have eyes, but some would hide justice in the shadow of their own agendas.

Competition does not exclude caritas.

Lessons learned are all too quickly unlearned.

Asymmetrical love lasts longer

Freedom of thought means freedom from mental models and the temerity to think the unthinkable.

Post-Cartesian logic:
Cogito libere, ergo ego sum. (I think independently, therefore I am myself).
Liber sum, ergo possum cogitare. (I am free, therefore I can think).

Axiom: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
-- Aldous Huxley, Proper Studies, 1927
Corollary: “Popular myths are not necessarily facts”

Retributive justice is hardly justice when it only reflects the top-dog/underdog syndrome. Restorative justice offers greater credibility and sustainability if it is based on the recognition of root causes, the mutual acknowledgment of errors, and is future-oriented, inspired by a genuine reconciliation paradigm.

Even those who have no future do have a human right to dream.

No one has the “right” to be a billionaire. Great fortunes are made thanks to the existence of a market – which is not an individual achievement, but rather the result of collective action by society at large. Whoever benefits from the marketplace owes it to the rest of society to share the profit with the collectivity. This is done by philanthropy -- and progressive taxation. Wealth is just and respectable as the merited reward for incentive. Taking a greater share of the pie than one deserves is but vulgar greed.

Property is a legal fiction to describe certain powers of disposition over material things
Property in rem is subject to taxation; property in personam is chattel slavery. "Ownership" is ephemeral, since we can exchange, dispose of or otherwise lose property, and after death we "can't take it with us!". Even in our lifetime, the idea that a human being “owns” a tree appears rather implausible. One may carve a sweetheart's name on a oak, one may chop down a conifer and make a chair out of it, but one never really owns the tree.

Freedom of expression is meaningful if one has an opinion to express.  Opinion is based on factual knowledge and an appreciation of the various points of view.  Freedom of expression would have little value if it only meant the right to echo what one receives from the media. More important is the right to think freely and to exchange views so as to develop one’s own conception of things. Thus, the manipulation of information is just as dangerous when it is done by the private sector (CNN, Fox) as when it is imposed by governmental authority.  The crucial test is whether the people have the information needed to formulate opinions and take decisions thereon, or whether they are just victims of manipulation.


An art lover who internalizes a painting has more ownership of it than a person who buys it and hangs it in his living room.

Tolerance is good, but frequently patronizing. Respect entails more: the acceptance of the other's right to be, even his right to be wrong.

It is relatively easy to find confirmation for a pet theory or hypothesis. What is crucial is to test the logic of competing theories and conscientiously look for refutation.

Being is immesurably more than doing

Freedom is the choice to swim with or against the current. Swimming only with the current misses out on a world of other possibilities. Freedom means adventure, even at the risk of drowning.

It is more important to deepen than to lengthen life, more existential to pause than to rush by.

Millennia ago there was neither politics nor law.  Humans were hunters and gatherers and survived from hand to mouth, from day to day.  Primitive politics manifested itself as brute force, but soon the chiefs themselves recognized the necessity to legitimize their rule and secure a degree of social stability by enacting commandments, laws and ultimately constitutions that conferred primacy to the ”rule of law” and were administered by a higher caste of lawyers and  judges.  Gradually a more sophisticated system of checks and balances emerged.  Today the clock cannot be turned back and no politician is legibus solutus or above the law


Theft is not only robbing a bank or burglarizing a jewellery shop.  It is also looting enterprises through abusively high salaries, unearned bonuses, luxury expense accounts, overpaid consultancies and golden handshakes, plundering stock markets through insider trading, playing casino at commodity markets, pilfering a nation's natural wealth through "privatization", adamantly keeping the booty of centuries of imperialism, pretending it is tabula rasa for theft, exploiting the weak through new forms of economic colonialism, keeping bonuses and tax breaks given to TNCs as incentives to open businesses and then relocating elsewhere where labour costs are lower, extorting interest from poor nations once induced to take unnecessary loans they could never repay. 

In his Sonnets to Orpheus Rilke gave wings to his feeling that: “Gesang ist Dasein” which approximately translates as “singing is being”.  Maybe the converse is even truer:  Being is serenade, symphony, opera, rhythm, dance!




1-2-3 Impromptus

Jeux de mots do not always find the mot juste .

Marriage functions best after you learn your partner's mode d'emploi .

Gender equality will be achieved when the Peter Principle applies equally to men and women.

To be lonely and to be left alone are distinct states of being.

Mankind's faith in progress is but a residue of the child's striving for growth.

The child's first lesson in Latin philosophy: lacrimo ergo sum.

The child is always part of the adult. Being adult entails hiding that child.

Pathos is for adolescents.

Talking just happens. Thinking takes brains.

A suspicion of guilt radiates more guilt than undisputed culpability.

A relic is a hyper-concentration of memory.

Conspicuous absence highlights one's presence.

Politics is a form of religion with its own secular demons and deities.

Camus imagined Sisyphus a happy man, because, after all, he had a goal in life. By contrast, one could imagine Prometheus woefully bored in his chains, notwithstanding Shelley's romanticising him as proudly defiant and confident of the ultimate triumph of his cause.

Too much of a good thing is just about right.

Development and decline can be measured empirically. Political pundits make a living out of manipulating empirical facts into dogma.

Consciousness of death enhances the sense and the immediacy of life.

Chaos never generates art, but art can tame chaos into form and beauty.

Yearning for immortality is thirst for an unending, ever-evolving melody.

Vanity ages badly.

Going on a diet is like taking farewell from our youth in the hope of regaining it.

It takes many decades to take farewell from youth.

Power is its own justification, but it will invoke philosophy – any philosophy – to sound more respectable.

Mundane philosophies are necessary for getting a grasp on life. Fancier philosophies can be amusing mental gymnastics until they become the excuse for power.

When the reporting of news events becomes entertainment, truth frequently loses out.

“Yes” and “no” are absolute categories. “Maybe” is a third, more sympathetic option.

Selfish persons have little time to gossip about others.

Happily married couples have learned the art of harmonious fighting.

Jealousy is a nasty, vulgar emotion. Yet, for the theatre and the opera, it has been a notable generator of art since antiquity.

Self-confidence entails believing in your abilities even beyond what your best friend would.

New spelling rules are the editor's aphrodisiac.

To be forgiven is not quite as gratifying as to forgive.

Some of the largest social gatherings take place in “Hermitages”.

Whoever has taken the New York subway finds merit in becoming a hermit.

It is clever not to display one's cleverness.

It takes expertise to make believe one is just a beginner.

I cherish many errors I have made.

It is better to judge and to err in good faith than not to judge at all.

Revolutionaries evolve into conservatives as soon as they have usurped power.

The dead are quickly forgotten by other mortals who soon after join them in oblivion. Only the names of a few artists and politicians attain a vague form of immortality, and the memory that remains seldom corresponds with their true achievements .

Feelings are ultimately more decisive than logic.

A bad conscience is often the source of good deeds.

Having it all is a curse.

Moses had such a rough time bringing the Jewish people across the Red Sea because half of them were busy picking up pretty shells.

Lucky people enjoy good health and a bad memory.

A bachelor's vocation is to look and not to find.

Boredom generates amusement.

Art should not just imitate life, but transform it.

Quantity and quality are mutually exclusive.

Love requires respect. Passion doesn't.

The past is finite. The now timeless. The future infinite..

As the future will become present and past, better move with the now.

Only in youth do you think you understand the world.

A child needs to see things as good or bad; an adolescent thinks he knows the difference; an adult experiences more trouble with black and white categories and in concrete cases often cannot even decide who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.

Love can be exhausting. Respect is a more comfortable attitude (adapted from Sir Peter Ustinov on 7 November 2002 at the Palais des Nations).

Humour is the voice of paradox.

If you are not in possession of yourself, you can hardly pretend to give yourself to someone else.

Pure truth, like pure light, can blind.

A day without emails or faxes, without phones or newspapers …What a garden of Eden! If it could only last!

Change in little doses is delightful.

Identity is knowledge of the stable core of the evolving soul.

Identity is consciousness of the self.

Home is ultimately one's language.

Poisonous mushrooms and venomous humans frequently appear quite harmless.

It takes consummate diplomacy to point out the obvious to an imposed superior who ought to know better and doesn't.

Creation needs silence.

Even Paradise gets boring at times.

Art can germinate in apparent lethargy.

Only the goddess of fate makes a bright person a brilliant comet.

Since life is a moving target, you'd better stop and aim calmly before shooting.

Longing with hope of fulfilment is better than fulfilment with fear of loss.

Wisdom entails living with injustice and coping with it.

Comparison is good for the soul: upward for challenge, downward for consolation.

One should measure one's fate not only against the blissful but also against the wretched of the earth.

One should not die encumbered by thoughts unsaid.

Silence, space and solitude are necessary solace to the urban soul.

The wise man knows when to quit, lest perseverance lead him to disaster.

A sound defeat may ultimately be more productive than a transitory victory.

The question before us is not why there is injustice, but how to deal with it.

Absent persons live quietly in our memories, waiting to be called -- deceased persons live on in our memories, restlessly, and call on us when least expected.

Not showing emotion can be a sign of respect.

It's the residual value, not the added value, that determines the worth of an individual.

Invoking fate is a way to avoid addressing the question why.

Sometimes it is wiser not to know.

Life never cared for the merit system.

If you do not have an umbrella, it's not the rain's fault that you get wet

A friend is a guardian of one's solitude.

Duelling is not honour. War is not glory – only waste.

A good conscience is better than a brilliant reputation.

Spectatoring political events without being able to influence them stresses the soul.

Post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself after lost elections.

To be understood by others one must understand them first.

The good news of the gospel is not “you must” but rather “you can”.

As deep joy and sorrow eventually mellow into nebulous memory, so will new emotions arise and fade again – unless time kills us first.

It may take an elaborate strategy to attain fame, but a single tactical error suffices to lose it.

No one with sound judgment would aspire to fame.

The memory of the fragrance of hyacinth fields in April, like a sensuous caress, helps us relive dormant fancies.

Head wind on the dunes, sheep peacefully gracing, rabbits springing in the sun, a careless pheasant in the fields – and a golden fox around … ephemeral memories of cycling through Holland.

Animals tend to reciprocate friendship better than humans.

One must imagine heaven as a vast spectrum of colours and sounds, not as some nebulous nirvana, rather a continuation of life with its smiles and tears, ecstasy and melancholy, dissonance and resolution.

Beauty, like life, is naturally ephemeral, and it is precisely this cycle of blooming and fading that renders both life and beauty so eminently human, so stimulating, so worth living.

Even wise men have a history of errors.

The path to wisdom is littered with foolish mistakes.

Who needs Panem et circenses (bread and circus games), when we have “freedom fries” and bombs over Bhagdad on CNN ?

Aggression remains aggression, as murder remains murder, irrespective of the arrest and punishment of the perpetrator. Calling the operation “liberation” ist just another item in the growing list of political obscenities of the 2lst century.

State terrorism is worse than private terrorism, since the State's raison d'être is to uphold the law -- not to break it.

A patriot is not a chauvinist who shouts “my country right or wrong” but an honest citizen who wants to be proud of his country, and having a conscience and a sense of proportions, acts to do justice and speaks out when government is being unjust.

To protest is a democratic duty. Remaining silent only encourages futher abuse.

The right to peace and the right to identity are higher values than a claim to foreign riches.

The “New World Order” is 1984- light .

If hypocrisy is the homage that vice renders to virtue (La Rochefoucauld), then cynicism is the tribute that the itellectual dandy pays to Zeitgeist values.

Cynicism is often truth spiced up with malice.

Cynicism can ultimately be a cry for help.

True Christianity has no use for fire and brimstone, for it lives for compassion, forgiveness and love.

God needs no bribes.

Law resembles mathematics in that it has rules, principles and logic. An important difference, however, is that law is often broken with impunity, particularly international law.

A breach of law cannot the source of new law.

Justice and law have never been synonymous.

Law is a half-way house between justice and chaos.

Lethargic persons can hardly be evil, for it takes stamina to be unjust, and even more energy to do serious injustice to others.

A just person is one who can be unjust with impunity but deliberately abstains.

Not every one gets the opportunity to be unjust.

A true scoundrel is blissfully free of such things as conscience – good or bad.

Embarrassing the arrogant can be an ecological exercise.

Humiliating enemies is a sport that may be practised with gusto , but should be enjoyed in due moderation.

The right to be wrong is non-derogable.

Aphorisms are a bargain-basement form of philosophy.

© AdeZ

and now some of my favourite borrowed aphorisms:

H.L. Mencken once observed: "Patriotims is not only the last refuge of scoundrels; it is their nursery and breeding pen."

Copyright ©2004-2011 Alfred de Zayas. All contents are copyrighted and may not be used without the author's permission. This page was created by Nick Ionascu.