At the end of his life,
observing Europe’s fall from his exile in Brazil, Stefan Zweig, wrote
one of his most appealing books, “The world of yesterday”
poignant book is dominated by his despair to see European culture,
destroyed by Nazism, after it had just reached a climax . A “no future”
situation: Zweig had already decided to commit suicide before writing
The main topic is the unique atmosphere in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th
century: Vienna “world capital of culture,” where everybody fulfilled
his life with artistic emotions: everyone was eager to spend his
evenings attending a concert or a
theatrical performance , with a passion for any new artistic creation,
and for all information about the life of singers, dancers, performers,
maestros. It was a world dominated by an endless confidence in the
beauty of life: ”our world was the golden age of the security” .
And the thirties came. With the upsurge of the Nazism, preparing “Anschluss”.
fact is that the Austrian people turned a blind eye to danger: one went
on attending operas and theaters until the last minute, minimizing
dangers associated with Nazism, the weakness of its politicians and
the cowardice of the international community towards Hitler. They tried
to preserve their private happiness in the middle of a collective
disaster, until dictatorship made it totally impossible, by oppressing
and killing artists, closing theaters, destroying books, introducing
misery and devastation everywhere. They didn’t know that they were
dancing on a volcano.
Zweig witnessed the collapse of his beloved city, the most vibrant of the world, with a poignant despair.
was never involved in political affairs: he even refused to vote for
any election. He couldn’t change his mind during the upsurge of the
Nazism: the only way out was to leave the country, flying to London,
Paris, Rio, trying to rebuild a new life far from this nightmare.
belongs to a long list of thinkers reluctant to take any political
stance as developed by Epicure and, in a moderate way, by Seneca when
the latter (ce dernier) develops the concept of “retreat”: “nous ne
poussons pas le sage à prendre part à tout gouvernement” (“we do not
advise the wise man to take part to every government” (Letter to
Lucilius 68), even if Seneca was in general in favor of an involvement
in politics, except for artists.
Zweig seems to share Dostoïevski’s vision of politics, much clearly
assumed: Dostoïevski was of the opinion it was not possible to improve
anything in the political and social organization, as the human being,
dominated by negative instincts, would develop negative forces in
political affairs: political leaders cannot change the world, as they
cannot influence human nature. The social framework is secondary: the
only way to improve the world lays in the efforts of each person in
his private life.
fact, the tragic end of Zweig’s road illustrates the failure of his
vision of the world: in Rio, he reached a deadlock, as the “fatal
attraction” of suicide took a dominant hold on his life
How do you assess the position assumed by Stefan Zweig ? Does it reflect a pure egoism?
we stay out of politics, because no one politician can improve anything
in the society? Or should we enter in politics just to diffuse
something positive around us? Should we limit our involvement in special