2019.04.12 | By Muriel Rouyer
Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos aînés n’y seront plus
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leur vertu
Aux Armes, etc.
La Marseillaise, French Anthem, interpreted by Serge Gainsbourg in his reggae song “Aux Armes, etc.”
I am a professor of political science (teaching two courses at the Harvard Kennedy School, on Global Europe and Green politics and Public Policy in a Global World).
Within the space of two days, I discovered the existence of the Tree Corps, founded by Roosevelt during the New Deal in 1934 (see the accompanying pictures) and the Oath of the Ephebes, kindly revealed to me by Gregory Nagy, met by chance on the campus while plotting with Nicolas Prevelakis some exciting green projects.
Coincidence or sign of destiny? We’ll see…meanwhile, this encounter has inspired me to compose this little piece, kindly hosted by Classical Inquiries. I hope it conveys the deep concern I have, as a citizen of a warming planet, mother of two, and professor of political science, for the world we live in and leave in share to the newcomers, but also the strong hopes and moral resources found in the example and the philosophy of the Ancient, to address our world’s most pressing issue.
When Greed is grand, as it has been, lately in the US, we can always use a bit of Ancient virtue, to redress economic vice. Not that we have much taste for it, since, as Benjamin Constant warned us, we the “Modern” like our liberty individual and non-restraining, “shaken, not stirred” light, unlike the Ancient, corseted in their well-ordered Cosmos. We’ve also lost the habit of it, that collective freedom that sounds like an obligation. But it remains, like a beacon of light, as a distant democratic ideal that we rarely can embrace—which fills us with melancholy. Until, in rare moments, by great bursts—and they are big, and important—we break the mold of our sorrow and act as one, into the world, to become free again.
Today is the time to do so. Today, we all have a big reason to burst: it is the state of our planet, the trees, the oceans, the little sea-pups and their mommies, holding them tenderly, until, finding no spot of ice that looks like eternity, they err endlessly, break their necks onto the rocks, and die, sinking in blood, drowning by numbers.
We have been put on earth, and we have devastated it. We are—no longer slowly, but surely—killing it, for our greed and comfort, which we impose onto others, causing a pain we don’t see. This has become the safest way to kill our children, by the way… But they know, now, and they start to speak for the trees—for themselves.
If you watched a particular popular documentary on a popular streaming platform (and I recommend you do), you’ll see… this round blue ball of sea, lost in the cosmos, so tiny, beautiful, and fragile. Like us. And once seen, you can’t un-see. And you’ll be very angry. You might want to do bad things, kill some people or yourself, get depressed, and desperate.
That’s when virtue comes handy. Because, the anger and the rage, your wounded sense of justice, are strength, a precious form of energy, renewable, infinite, and pure, springing from the fountain of your youth. And the duty that we have, those who came a bit earlier than you in this world (your parents, your elders, your professors), is to help you channel it, figure a way through the past, to the future, in the way the Ancient knew, which is that freedom demands rigor, force, and commitment—sometimes fight. This is the way of the Pledge, from the youth, to the world; from the world to the youth. We promise when we know it won’t be easy. And this one won’t be easy. We’ll help you keep your promise, that’s what grown-ups are for! We can do it, at least try, we must, together. Some virtuous Ephebes have already taken the Oath, to do whatever it takes to save the planet, marching out of their schools, in Europe; fighting for their rights against the Climate inaction of the US government, children of Oregon; calling out, like Greta, the massacre of climate, in Davos. Their example is humbling, difficult, and comforting. We must receive this Oath, that obliges us all, Modern, Ancient, together—“Fighting for survival”.