Lives Journal 3

Srechko Kosovel




Man’s history is being shaped

according to the difficulties it encounters.



War has washed out faith from our hearts, not just faith in a religious sense but generally faith in the fact that we are ethical beings, that we are inhabited by a soul, which is what makes us capable of living a life befitting of a human being. The values we acknowledge are hardly material. It is no wonder we have lost faith in the divine nature of a religion, which cooperated in so many different places to bring about a happy end to the war and preached loyalty and complaisance to Europe’s great leaders, in this way sending to their deaths millions of innocent victims and impoverishing further tens of millions. It is also no surprise that in war it was the more or less animalian side of man which came to the surface and that life was reduced to getting one’s daily bread. This was the voice of the millions. But Tagore says: »However, man must, if the hurdles (of life) are great, admit the existence of a higher world without which he can admittedly make some short-term achievements but without which he most certainly falls apart. For if man is to follow an instinct like a pack of hungry wolves, if he were not at the same time an ethical being, those hordes of marauders would long ago have overrun the whole earth.« The truth of this fact is proven by the way most soldiers had to be inebriated before they were prepared to attack the enemy with bayonets. This was so that they would lose their intellectual capacity for discernment and follow solely their instinct for robbery and murder. We know that the majority of soldiers killed only because they were forced to do so by the officer’s pistol, which would have been used in the case of failure to carry out the order. This proves to us that man is inhabited by hatred for acts of thievery, murder, arson etc.

A few years have passed since the end of the war. Humanity is disgusted by it and the consequence of this is that it is searching for a new orientation, which will lead it elsewhere. It wants to achieve the purest possible perfection. It does not wish to be deceived. That is why it is clinging to reality. But this reality has already been transformed into materiality and again man is filled with thoughts about how this life could be subjugated to the rule of the spirit. If we consider materialistic ethics, they are possible for as long as the thought that man is not just a product, or a lump of meat and bones, is still alive in him. But if this consciousness is completely erased, which is not possible, for it can only be concealed, let us see what humanity would be like. Instincts cannot bring him to perfection for instincts cannot be governed by the albeit great but in this case powerless intellect. Man is governed by the soul’s consciousness because it clearly points to that other world, which is higher, more beautiful and eternal.

Our orientation nowadays is purely economic because it is this topic which is appearing on the agenda more than before. Everyone is striving to recover; made drunk by the illness of war, they have taken possession of the nations in the east and in the west and are crying out: there are no differences between us, there are no borders, there is one thing that unites us, that is man. But it is clear that this high ethical cry can only be heeded if the economic situation helps it. Culture reflects life, which is embued with economic and political questions.

Beautiful is the cry for freedom and equality of nations, for the value of humankind, all the more beautiful because it comes from the heart. This is ethical socialism, this is no theory, this is life. This is the teaching of Christ and the teaching of Tolstoy. But those who are propagating it nowadays are propagating something completely different. Materialistic socialism and nothing more. This is socialism for which culture, art, science and education are only slaves of the stomach. If it is nothing more — then what goal is socialism pursuing on a materialistic basis with culture, art? These questions have unintentionally remained and failed to go away because despite all his present-day materialistic theories, man is still man, with a soul, as this call keeps on intuitively imposing itself on him. This socialism wants to organise power: let us see what Tagore says: »If the world is only perfect organisation of power, then there are few crimes which it is unable to perpetrate. Because material success is the object and justification of a machine, while goodness and beauty only are the end and purpose of man.« Materialistic socialism was also rejected by Tolstoy because of its purely materialistic aims. This man will appear to us too to be a man of »limited goals and meaning«, a man whose »human side will be outweighed by soulless organisation«.

It is characteristic of materialism that it is dominated by the intellect and the theory. Tagore wrote eloquently on this: »Our life is one with us, also our heart, but our mind can be detached from the personal man and then only can it freely move in its world of thoughts. Our intellect is an ascetic who wears no clothes, takes no food, knows no sleep, has no wishes, feels no love or hatred or pity for human limitations, who only reasons, unmoved through the vicissitudes of life. It burrows to the roots of things because it has no personal concern with the thing itself. — The grammarian walks straight through all poetry and goes to the root of words without obstruction. Because he is not seeking life’s truths but law. When he finds the law he is able to teach people how to master words. This is a power, which fulfils some special usefulness, some particular need of man. However, reality is the harmony which gives to the component parts of a thing the equilibrium of the whole. You break it, and have in your hands the nomadic atoms fighting against one another, therefore unmeaning. Those who covet power try to get mastery of these aboriginal fighting elements and through some narrow channels force them into some violent service for some particular needs of man.«

The international movement aims to do away with the exploitation of the masses. However, as this economic orientaion is undoubtedly founded on a highly ethical equality of all people and nations, and it has nowadays strayed into completely materialistic waters, two concepts have become confused, namely the Nation and nationality. I will now try at least vaguely to define what either concept means. But at the end of my introduction I would like to present a thought, which is similar to one I read somewhere and which in fact helped me develop my later thoughts.

»Is not man constantly looking for himself, first of all in himself, in his interior, then in humanity, and he goes past this as only in the eternity of the human soul does he perceive his true face.«

This question has also reached us. Socialist materialistic ideas that the Nation and nationality are one and the same thing no longer hold true. I know it is difficult for a small nation like us Slovenes to take up such a viewpoint in this chaos of ideas because so small a nation struggles for its existence, defending it or at least that which is immaterial, which cannot be removed, like the last flowers that the child holds in his hands and which he took from the coffin of his dead mother. That is the soul, that is the path along which nations will have to go to eternity.

What brought about the world war, why do some nations have to be subjugated and unfree, why must some non-European regions be colonised? Were not the last world wars terrible enough, leaving a million invalids to roam the world without legs, without hands, with the most terrible of wounds, without teeth, blind? Is this the civilisation and the culture of the twentieth century? Is this what we call culture and civilisation, that nations are subjugated on European soil, and which nations? Large ones — no! This is so vile: these small nations can hardly breathe for fear of drowning in the oceans of foreignness. European militarised nationalism has grabbed the half-dead child by the scruff of the neck and wants like Kantor to suggest that it did not do the evil deed, that the gun with which he killed Max was not in the corner, that it was the rod. Of course, this child is writhing, writhing and going mad from feverish fear because Kantor is giving him orders. But hundredfold is the recompense for having fought for the truth and having defended it with his weak body... And what are the colonies but an unnatural deed that serves the egoism of production. When Columbus discovered America, the Indians who were still as natural as children fell in love with glass and glass jewellery. They were more than happy to give gold in return but the Europeans cheated them. They gave them glass in exchange for gold, gold chains for golden freedom. This is the ethics of nationalism which we nowadays justifiably call militarism and capitalism.

But is this militarism and capitalism really all bad? No, because it provides and looks after, provides for its own little circle, often looking after it very well. But only for its own little circle. For those who work for it. And its mistake, says Tagore, is the following: »The truth is that the spirit of conflict and conquest is at the origin and in the centre of Western nationalism; its basis is not social cooperation. It has evolved a perfect organisation of power but not spiritual idealism. It is like the pack of predatory creatures that must have its victims. With all its heart it cannot bear to see its hunting grounds converted into cultivated fields. In fact, these nations are fighting among themselves for the extension of their hunting grounds.« And if we come in this way to ask ourselves what is nationalism, Tagore answers:

»The nation is this phenomenon of all the people as an organised force, i.e. the people organise themselves into power under the heading of nation. This organisation always strives to make the people strong and to enable them to show the products of their work. But this lasting aspiration for power and accomplishments draws man away from higher morals, which lead man to selflessness and creative power.« This sets a clear definition: nationalism is a collectivity of organised forces, i.e. something material, while nationality is the sum total of all the elements of a nation’s culture, values and character. Tagore tells us this openly and clearly when he talks about the British whom he likes because they have a great cultural history and because elements of their mentality include a pure love for truth and hatred for lies etc. He says: »We have felt the greatness of this people (here he means nationality) as we feel the sun; but as for the Nation, it is for us a thick mist of a stifling nature covering the sun itself. However, it is clear that culture can develop only when the economic situation is satisfactory. The economic situation has an effect on culture. Also, to consider nationalism as just a materialistic economic desire to unite forces into one strong entity means not to see all its implications. This only results in small nations being threatened and this purely materialistic egoism, when it surpasses a normal level, desires to consolidate its power or the power of the nations united in their political tactics. Its pure materialism is evident for example in the affinities between states and the alliances which are built solely on the principle of self-serving egoism.«

What is nationality? Does nationalism have anything to do with it? Not really. It is just that nationalism often makes use of nationality as a kind of legitimate foundation for its organisation while its goals are different. Nationality is part of the human soul, it is the sum of all the primary elements which make up its particular character. And from nationality develops the nation’s culture, which carries on its shoulders all the special features of that nation. But is nationality maybe too narrow a concept to be used for differentiation of nations, does nationality too not lead down the wide road of national egoism? I do not think so. All nations are heading towards perfection. What that perfection is cannot be defined. We can only have an inkling of it being like some unknown beauty from distant millennia. And nature demands of every man that he reaches this perfection. Sooner or later — at some point these nations must meet at the point of perfection and even if this perfection is only an ideal thought of God, whom we consider to be such, and even if we had not already had this thought on our road to perfection. And there are different travellers walking this road — different nations. If we consider this we certainly won’t think of egoism; altruism will be the variety of all the acts coming from our souls, and if the soul attained this perfection it would be unable to develop any further. Maybe eternity exists precisely because we are approaching it? But of course we must nurture this altruism inside ourselves.


National particularities play no role in this if we consider them from the point of view of the soul. And that is what I wanted to discuss today. Altruism originates from some higher revelation, namely that our corporeal life must be in harmony with our spiritual side: altruism, which is completely opposed to instinctive egoism is only possible if we admit the existence of the soul. And it is said that nowadays there are few or hardly any people who do not admit the existence of the soul. Even materialists are worried by phenomena which they cannot explain by physical laws.

Nationality is in the domain of the soul and it is on its foundation that culture grows. Culture is the work which does not encompass solely the spiritual life of a nation but grows to infinity, and if we look and ask ourselves what is the meaning of culture, we find that culture is the result of a desire to draw closer to that spiritual beauty, goodness, the perfection whose existence we can see and feel. This aim is therefore generally common to all human culture and the reason it is somehow different in the case of positive work, such as art, philosophy, some sciences, education etc, is that certain elements of human spirituality prevail.

While civilisation is in fact international and aspires to use human knowledge and discoveries to make life easier, its aim is to make man capable of understanding culture.

Culture is not an end unto itself, neither is nationality; the difference could be compared with the differences between different faces which are essentially the same but for which we often cannot say that they resemble each other. However, nationalism is an end unto itself, its goal is the benefit which comes from itself, which comes from its organised power that thirsts for conquests.

Is nationality an element, which can be overlooked in education? I do not think so.

We must not overlook it if we recognise the existence of the soul.





The above article was first published in Kosovel’s lifetime in Uchiteljski list, journal of the Zveza slovanskih uchiteljskih drushtev v Trstu, 1 and 10 March 1923. Quotations of Tagore are from his book which at the time was available in Slovenia in either German (Nationalizmus, 1921) or Croatian (Nacionalizam, 1921). Even if only a month after the article’s publication Kosovel’s friend and fellow pupil from secondary school Vlado Martelanc (marxist, communist, 1905-1944) published in the same journal a sharp critique of this article (see. S. K., ZD, 3, com. pg. 1010), Kosovel’s thought even nowadays, in a time of globalisation as an »equivalent« of colonial imperialism, is still relevant today with a principal, direct ethical passion regarding the matter in hand. (Comment by editor I. A.)



Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich




Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)