Beauty will save us

  • Italiano
Liu Xiaobo

The beauty will save the world, Dostoevsky said, offering us the best of his thought. Yet, what is beauty? True beauty? And why is it so important (especially today)? Verona even hosts a Festival of Beauty, inviting the cultural elite to talk about it.

So, what is beauty? A body, a look, a smile? A church, a square, a palace? A seacoast, a mountainside, a landscape with fields or vineyards? A music, a poem, a sculpture, a fresco? Is beauty something material and tangible then? Or we see all these things, which are undoubtedly beautiful, as such because – like mothers – they are carrying beauty under their heart, and what we see is nothing, but the reflection of something that is actually beyond matter both in depth and height?

The relationship between appearance and essence, between form and substance, between aesthetics and ethics, between the good and the beautiful: these questions were born together with the human kind and will only die when man dies. Probably, without a definitive answer in this earthly dimension. But it would not be a defeat. All the great questions of humanity – the existence of God, afterlife, love, the meaning of life – remain unanswered. We do not stop interrogating ourselves about these extremely important things. If we could have certain answers to those questions, our life would have no meaning.

Life, since the origin of the universe till its end, if there will be an end – for the Christian philosopher Emanuele Severino, it is impossible to have been nothing and go back to being nothing – is in itself a mystery. The charm of mystery, its beauty, lies precisely in its being mysterious. If we managed to solve it, its time and value would be doomed; it would end up in the wastebasket of human history, useless as a finished mind-bender. Certainly, I am not the one who has the key to the great mystery of life, beauty. Nevertheless, I have a proposal: considering life itself to be beauty. Not every single existence, which can be good or bad, beautiful or ugly, but life itself is beauty. The element that gives life to the living.

When, in our heart, we feel that we do not like our life the way it is, it happens because deep inside, we know that it is different from how it should be, that is, that we have strayed from our existential project. God has written beauty in our “DNA”. Deep down we know it, even if we are unable to define it. Just as we know – without anyone’s explanation – the difference between good and evil, we distinguish also between beauty and ugliness. The latter judgment, according to the philosopher Kant, does not boil down only to what we like ore do not like.

People have identified beauy with good (kalos kai agathos, the Greeks said), and ugliness with evil. Hence, good is true beauty. The effort of the human being – difficult, but unavoidable – is to liberate life from ugliness, to make it finally beautiful, that is, the way it should be.

This commitment to beauty concerns all of us, at all times and in every sphere of our lives. Also – and especially – in politics. Let us imagine a dusty painting, ruined by the ravages of time and the manipulation of men, which have made it almost unreadable. The image can be barely seen, in filigree, disfigured by so many ugly things. We cannot see it perfectly, but we sense that it is beautiful. Well, our life is like that image. Our mission as human beings is to liberate beauty from things that disfigure and suffocate it, to restore its original splendor, giving everyone and ourselves the beauty that is proper to “nature.” That is the beauty that will save us.

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