Selections from The Notebook, May 7: José Saramago on the cultural revolution for peace


In celebration of the new paperback edition of José Saramago's The Notebook, Verso is pleased to present another of the acclaimed author's elegant and astute observations on contemporary culture and politics. The publication of excerpts from his much beloved blog began on April 20 in lead-up to the release of the new edition and to commemorate Saramago's passing on June 18, 2010.

On May 7, 2009, Saramago published a short blog entry in which he reflects on the contradictory (mis)use of peace as a justification for war, suggesting a cultural revolution—the education of men (and women) for peace rather than war—as a far more logical and revolutionary approach.

May 7: New Man

Culturally, it is easier to mobilize men for war than for peace. Throughout history, men have been brought up to consider war the most effective means of resolving conflicts, and those in power have always made use of any brief interludes of peace to prepare for future wars. But wars have always been declared in the name of peace. The sons of the homeland are always to be sacrificed today in order to secure peace for tomorrow.

This is said and written and believed to let it be known that man, however traditionally educated for war, nonetheless bears in his soul a perpetual longing for peace. This is why it is so often used as a means of moral blackmail by the lovers of war: no one—but no one—admits to making war for its own sake. Instead everyone—but everyone—claims to be waging war for peace. This is why every day, in every part of the world, men still go forth to war, even to wars that threaten the destruction of their own homes.

I mentioned culture. Perhaps it would be clearer were I to speak of cultural revolution, although we know this is really an outworn expression, frequently lost in plans that distort it, become consumed by contradictions, or led astray into adventures that end up serving interests that are radically opposed to it. Nevertheless, its stirrings have amounted to more than merely this. Spaces have been created, horizons expanded, even though it seemed to me that it was more than high time to realize and proclaim that the one cultural revolution truly worthy of the name would be a revolution for peace, capable of transforming a man trained for war into a man educated for peace, because peace requires a proper education. This indeed would comprise the great mental, and therefore cultural, revolution of humanity. And this would mean, finally, the advent of the much discussed new man.

Watch the Verso blog for more excerpts from The Notebook leading up to June 18.

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