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Rob Riemen at ESADE: “Studying humanities enables you to be free, to love, to create, and to nurture collective decency”

“A society can’t be based solely on mercantilist criteria and assess everything according to its utility or benefit. We must nurture our spiritual side,” said writer Rob Riemen during the opening lecture of the 2018-2019 academic year


Rob Riemen, writer and founder of the Nexus Instituut, started his inaugural address for the opening of the 2018-2019 academic year at ESADE with a quote by George Orwell, who said that “to fight fascism is to defend the collective decency of society,” a concept that was central to his speech, entitled “Intelligence, ignorance and the inflation of higher education,” which he delivered before a large audience of ESADE students and professors.

Taking this concept as his starting point, Riemen reflected on the importance of education, especially in the field of humanities, to train free citizens with a deep sense of justice. For Riemen, the humanities stand out when it comes to developing this collective decency, above other fields of study that are channelled more towards utilitarian and practical aspects, such as the pure sciences. According to the Dutch writer, the pure sciences are the area most promoted by the capitalist society in which we live, which gives priority to utility and benefit rather than feelings and beauty. “A society based on utilitarianism is more likely to engage in behaviours associated with fascism,” he observed. “The humanities enable us to move on from a mass democracy to a democracy in the full sense of the word,” he concluded.

Caring for the spirit

“Socrates and Van Gogh shared an interest in the humanities,” he argued, “aware as they were that what makes us different from other creatures is that we have a spiritual side which we must cultivate and develop.” For Riemen, what matters most is to nurture our soul, as wisdom is what enables us “to maintain friendships, to love, to create beauty, and to answer our most intimate questions.” In particular, he considers that poetry, music and painting are the best ways to express what we feel and to understand others.

For the Dutch essayist, it is essential to seek greatness of spirit. “For the good of humanity, to prevent the return of fascism and for the good of Europe and our soul, we must ensure that the humanities prevail,” he stated.

The role of educational institutions

Koldo Echebarria, inaugurating his first academic year as ESADE Director General, stressed in his speech that “ESADE must contribute to the common good and work for a fairer, freer and more decent society,” and along the same lines as Riemen in his address, he added that “corporate profits should not be an end, but a means to build a better society.”

In this respect, Echebarria defended the need to question the paradigms of today’s society, by asking ourselves if they are really fair and whether they benefit everyone. “Our success or our failure will depend on the extent to which we are able to convey collective decency to our students and nurture values like dignity, solidarity and social justice.”

At the academic year opening ceremony, Rob Riemen was accompanied by the Director General of ESADE, Koldo Echebarria; the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the ESADE Foundation, Joaquín Uriach; and the Rector of Ramon Llull University, Josep Maria Garrell.