The Aesthetic Olympic Visions of Baron Pierre de Coubertin


  • Jeffrey O. Segrave


This article discusses the Olympic aesthetic visions of the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The purpose of this paper is to both question Coubertin’s concept of beauty as well as to identify and elucidate some of the philosophical ideas that served as historical precedents to this highly idiosyncratic formulation. During such a process, we hope to further analyze and dissect Coubertin’s particular aesthetic Olympic imperative, an axiology well understood to have stemmed from Coubertin’s reverence for the aesthetic vision of ancient Hellenism, but one that also ran through the idealist thinking of a wide variety of philosophers ranging from Shaftsbury to Goethe, from Leibniz to Humboldt, and from Weiland to Schiller. Of particular significance were the ideas of British theoretician of aesthetics John Ruskin, whose ideology inspired Coubertin to seek to beautify the entire Olympic edifice, to accomplish what Kruger calls “a noble Gesamtkunstwerk.” Grounded in the history of ideas, we argue that despite Coubertin’s attempt to develop a cultural theory of sport which would complement his ideology of the Olympic Games, ultimately his moral reform agenda floundered not only because it was, as Brown rightly notes, “masculinist, paternalistic and conservative . . . a bourgeois discourse of art and culture where the pleasure of physical activity was necessarily abstracted to the level of the intellectual perception of beauty,” but also because the very notions of ‘moral beauty,’ or ‘moral progress,’ or the ‘beautiful soul,’ lost favor in European thought because they tended toward exclusivity, elitism, and the atomization of self.


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