A story of freedom


When the Greeks explored the coasts of the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean around the 6th and 7th centuries BC, they noticed that every people worshiped their own gods and represented them according to their natural reality. Thus, for example, it was clear that there were no gods of crocodiles in Italy or equine deities in Egypt.

The awareness that this plurality of religious expressions adapted to the traditions of each place has opened the door to a new cultural relativism. If until then what seemed to be eternal and universal truths were, in reality, local and impermanent expressions, new questions were needed, such as what were the unifying principles of this enormous diversity that characterizes human life. And starting from this question, the Greeks laid the foundations of philosophy, because they discovered the love of knowledge.

At the end of the 6th century and at the beginning of the 5th century BC, scientific and political thought was born and developed, respectively, in Miletus and Athens. It is, without a doubt, one of the fundamental and most splendid moments in human history. Thales predicted for the first time when a solar eclipse would occur. Aristarchus claimed that it was the Sun (and not the Earth) that was at the center of the Solar System. Democritus spoke of the atomic structure of matter. Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of our planet with great precision. The Sophists have said that humans are "the measure of all things". Socrates established dialogue as the foundation of knowledge. And Aspasia (partner of Pericles) directed the cultural policy of Athens and promoted the work of Fidia to the Parthenon.

To a large extent, these contributions were made and were the result of a social, political and scientific context that, with all the limitations of time, was characterized by the space for freedom and pluralism. Freedom and pluralism threatened by Persian imperialism and swept away by Macedonian authoritarianism.

Macedonian absolutism (and, later, that of Rome) led philosophy to largely abandon political, social and scientific reflection and took refuge in the internal psychological sphere of cynics and epicureans. Meanwhile, more or less simultaneously, the first emperor in the history of China burned all Confucian texts and ordered the execution of all teachers of this philosophical tradition at the end of the 3rd century BC. A few centuries later, religious ultraconservatism destroyed the library of Alexandria and led to the death of its director, Hypatia. And, in 529, the bishop of Athens ordered the closure of the Academy of Plato, after almost a millennium of existence, in the belief that philosophy had nothing new to contribute to the world of knowledge: all that was needed was already written in the sacred texts of Christianity. Curiously, in the same year the first Benedictine monastery was founded in the history of Europe, in a coincidence that provided proof that the cultural activity had changed its seat and left the public squares of the cities to take refuge in the cloisters of the monastic centers. , built on purpose, as far as possible from urban life.

Ultra-conservative and totalitarian interpretations are not exclusive of any religious tradition or of any specific ideology, so no one can be vaccinated against them in a definitive way.

Thus, for example, Venice has been enriched by welcoming all those who have fled from a Constantinople in the process of being conquered by the Turks. And, on the contrary, about a century later, it became impoverished because of the flight of Jews and Protestants, persecuted by the new Roman Inquisition, which had just forced its entry into that Serene Republic.

And, in another example, immortalized by Stefan Zweig in his work Castellio gegen Calvin [The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin], Miguel Servet, persecuted by the Catholics, was eventually executed by the Calvinists.

Even in tolerant Holland, a philosopher despised by Jews, Catholics and Calvinists, was buried in a pit where someone wrote the following epitaph: "Spit on this grave, because here is Baruch Spinoza".

For its part, modern Hispanic absolutism has implemented a new Inquisition, burned Bibles translated into Catalan, Jews expelled and died, prevented Protestantism from taking root, laws and institutions centralized and persecuted any sign of internal diversity

The interest in diversity and respect for pluralism and love for freedom have had to follow uncertain and sinuous paths in search of new places to take shelter and prosper.
States obsessed with uniformity and imposed unity impoverish "their" societies from a material, spiritual and cultural point of view. At the same time, they contribute to drying up the creativity of children and the critical spirit of youth in schools and universities.

From this perspective, it may be particularly suggestive and relevant to ask how often the repression was, in fact, a symptom and cause of weakness and decadence.

Also, some other questions may be inspirational. When the Roman Empire closed its borders to the peaceful immigration of Germanic peoples in the 3rd and 4th centuries, it consolidated its political power and economic prosperity, or accelerated its disappearance as a state in the 5th century and an unprecedented economic collapse in the Mediterranean world in the 6th century? When China destroyed its ocean fleet in the fifteenth century, in order not to corrupt itself with contacts with the outside world, did it manage to protect itself, or did it condemn itself to a very long decay that would have lasted half a millennium? Who became richer, the Hispanic monarchy who expelled Jews and Moors, and France who expelled the Calvinist Huguenots or the countries that welcomed them? When Japan closed its borders in the 17th century, it became stronger or weaker? When the United States established quotas on free immigration and adopted protectionist measures at the beginning of the 20th century, they laid the foundations for a long period of economic growth and social progress or condemned themselves to the worst crisis in their history, known as the great depression?

I am convinced that a rigorous response to these questions (and to many other issues that appear more or less implicitly in this article) can help us make useful and courageous decisions in the current very complex context we are facing. And, therefore, to build a better future for all of us. Above all if we understand this "we" in the broadest and most generous sense of the word. With this ambition and a sustained effort, Catalonia and Barcelona must be an open and welcoming space for different knowledge, in order to contribute to a better Europe and a better world. This is the republican enterprise.


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