You and I, let’s go get coffee, shall we?
I am not kidding; this perhaps is the most powerful conversation starter, pretty much capable of spawning new cultures, or catalysing capitalism, liberalism or what have you. Social capital, fascinating as it is and equally controversial, has grabbed my attention and given me a world view I can not afford to discard. Culture, norms and networks are fascinating, more so for the revolutions they may bring. Or, have brought about in history. One deep dive in history and we know what this truly means.
This brings me to the book I have read in the past week and been thinking about. Shachar Pinsker’s ‘A Rich Brew’ puts the spotlight on Jewishness yet again, more as a matter of culture than religion, and how arch-filled cafés in Berlin might have spurred on an irresistible fusion that could transform societies. Cafes of the yore, often a world lost to the present day world we inhabit, were places where writers and intellectuals raised a cup of coffee from Warsaw to New York and grew hungry for democracy! Such a hugely entertaining and well researched book, an empirical study really, of an abstract political theory associated with German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, which postulated that the coffeehouses and salons of the 17th and 18th centuries helped lay the foundation for the ‘’liberal Enlightenment’’. In other words, evolution of clan society into cosmopolitan society via the coffee cups! Democracy wasn’t the child of street revolutions but fine chatter in the coffee houses! Social spaces created outside the periphery of state control construct a thriving civil society beyond apparent imagination, as historical evidence suggests. Café life in European cities in the 19th century and afterwards facilitated a free exchange with strangers and clansmen alike which set the basis for social habits among Jews of self-expression that eventually led to a hunger for democracy. Wonderful book, can not recommend enough.