Humanitarianism is a philosophy. It´s also a way of life. And it makes you feel amazing. The way you choose to engage with the world is always your own. But great inspiration can also come from outside.
Baudelaire on the Political and Humanitarian Power of Art
Baudelaire was a French poet who lived during the 1800s. He wrote an open letter to those in power and of privilege. He says: “Art is an infinitely precious possession, a refreshing and warming drink that restores the stomach and the mind to the natural balance of the ideal.”
A generation before Walt Whitman wrote about why the humanities are essential to democracy, the great poet, essayist, and critic Charles Baudelaire made what remains the most elegant and increasingly timely case for why those in power and those of privilege should use their resources to support art and embrace it as an invaluable political and humanitarian tool.
In “The Salon of 1846”—the sequel to “The Salon of 1845,” the critical debut that launched 24-year-old Baudelaire’s career as an art reviewer—a piece called “To the Bourgeois”, appeared. It was later included in the indispensable 1972 Penguin anthology Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature.
Baudelaire essentially issued what was essentially an open letter to the ruling class. He defined the bourgeois as “king, law-giver or merchant” — urging the privileged and the powerful to acknowledge and advance the project of art as essential to a healthy society.
Baudelaire begins with a clear awareness of the power of flattery in persuasion:
“You are the majority, in number and intelligence; therefore you are power; and power in justice. Some of you are “learned”; others are the “haves.” A glorious day will dawn when the learned will be “haves,” and the “haves” will be learned. Then your power will be complete and nobody will challenge it.
Until such time as this supreme harmony is ours, it is just that the mere “haves” should aspire to become learned; for knowledge is a form of enjoyment no less than ownership.
The governance of the state is yours, and that is as it should be, because you have the power. But you must also be capable of feeling beauty, for just as not one of you today has the right to forgo power, equally not one of you has the right to forgo poetry. You can live three days without bread; without poetry, never; and those of you that maintain the contrary are mistaken; they do not know themselves.
Enjoyment is a science, and the exercise of the five senses demands a special initiation that can be achieved only by willingness to learn and by need.
And you need art, make no mistake.
Art is an infinitely precious possession, a refreshing and warming drink that restores the stomach and the mind to the natural balance of the ideal.”
Baudelaire appeals to the self-serving tendencies of the powerful, pointing out art’s concrete usefulness in their daily lives and casting it as a domain of knowledge and experience that is rightfully theirs. With a sort of reverse psychology, he tickles the power-hungry impulses of the bourgeois and rallies them to reclaim art from the “monopoly” of the artists in order to reap its benefits in their own lives:
“A keener desire, a more active reverie, will at such moments prove a relaxation from your daily strivings. But the monopolists have tried to keep you away from the fruits of knowledge, because knowledge is their counter and their shop, to be guarded jealously. If they had denied you the power of creating works of art or of understanding the techniques used in their creation, they would have been proclaiming a truth that you would not have taken offense at, because public business and trade absorb three quarters of your day. As for the leisure hours, they must therefore be used for enjoyment and pleasure.
But the monopolists have decreed that you shall not have the right to enjoyment, because you lack the technical knowledge of the arts, although possessing that of the law and business.
Yet it is only right, if two thirds of your time is taken up by techniques, that the other third should belong to feeling, and it is by feeling alone that you are to understand art; — and that is how the balance of your spiritual forces will be built up… Just as you have extended men’s rights and benefits in your political life, so you have stablished in the arts a greater and more abundant communion.”
Having appealed to how art will serve them, he ends by appealing to their altruism in how they can serve art:
“You are the natural friends of the arts, because some of you are rich and the others learned.
Having given society your knowledge, your industry, your work, your money, you demand payment in the form of bodily, intellectual and imaginative enjoyment. If you recover the quantity of enjoyment necessary to restore the balance of all parts of your being, you will be well filled, happy and kindly, just as society will be well filled, happy and kindly when it has found its general and absolute equilibrium.”
The Zulu Philosophy, Ubuntu
Have you heard of the Zulu Philosophy, Ubuntu?
Ubuntu: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (Zulu Philosophy)
Ubuntu means: I am what I am because of who we all are. Or I am a person through other persons. A single straw of a broom can be broken easily, but the straws together are not easily broken!
Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly to the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks of our ultimate interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself! When you have the Ubuntu quality, you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another. But you are connected because what you do affects the whole world. When you do go deeds, they spread out. You act for the whole of humanity.
Desmond Tutu says: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
Whereas Nelson Mandela says: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
The following humanitarian quotes are from well-known humanitarians who shared their wisdom for helping others, and are designed to inspire:
- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights activist and clergyman
- “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” Mother Teresa, founder of The Missionaries of Charity
- “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Mahatma Gandhi, Indian nationalist and civil rights leader
- “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa
- “The destiny of world civilization depends upon providing a decent standard of living for all mankind.” Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and credited with saving over one billion people from starvation
- “The fact is that ours is the first generation that can look disease and extreme poverty in the eye, look across the ocean to Africa, and say this, and mean it. We do not have to stand for this. A whole continent written off – we do not have to stand for this.” Bono (Paul David Lewis), lead singer of U2 and international philanthropist
- “Since the world has existed, there has been injustice. But it is one world, the more so as it becomes smaller, more accessible. There is just no question that there is more obligation that those who have should give to those who have nothing.” Audrey Hepburn, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
- “When we live in a world that is very unjust, you have to be a dissident.” Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian feminist, writer, and psychiatrist
- “To say that on a daily basis you can make a difference, well, you can. One act of kindness a day can do it.” Betty Williams, Irish activist and founder of the Irish peace movement, Community of Peace People
- “The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet….Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places….We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” J.K. Rowling, author, philanthropist, and founder of the children’s charity, Lumos
So, how will you use philosophy in a humanitarian manner? If you are going to study this fascinating subject whatever it takes, and use it to change the world, good for you. We´d like to support everyone who is headed in a humanitarian direction, no matter how small they deem their contribution to be. Get in touch to get the ball rolling.