Charlottesville or the Betrayal of Enlightenment

Source: Keystone-SDA

The unprecedented events of recent days in Washington have struck at the very heart of the constitutionally guaranteed values of the United States. To what extent has the outgoing 45th president of the United States permanently changed the political discourse in the United States and shaken the foundations of the Enlightenment using the example of “Charlottesville”? Is the land of unlimited possibilities turning into the land of unlimited facts in the post-Trump era?

The devastating effect of the principle of presidential one-way communication became apparent just six months later on the occasion of the violent “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. When a conglomerate of racist and neo-Nazi groups demonstrated against the planned removal of an equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on August 11 and 12, 2017, fierce battles broke out with anti-fascist counter-demonstrators that erupted into intense violence and led to the violent death of a peaceful protester. The Charlottesville rally went down as the largest right-wing extremist demonstration in recent U.S. history. Trump’s half-hearted vindication of the right to freedom of expression on August 15, however, did not ease tensions between the camps, but rather acted as a rhetorical divisive mushroom that had provided the ideological foundation for the recent events in Washington in the first place (“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”).

Charlottesville as “Genius loci”

If we look back in terms of the history of ideas, however, Charlottesville was by no means a place of communicative division, but rather, since the early 19th century, a crystallization point of American social development and, so to speak, a “genius loci” of American constitutional history. With Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and 3rd President of the United States (1801–1809), the small town in Virginia had a trend-setting pacemaker in the spread of the achievements of the Enlightenment in the USA. In addition to the introduction of the separation of powers, the introduction of civil rights (nota bene while retaining slavery), Jefferson’s attention was particularly focused on the establishment of a civil society on American soil. In Jefferson’s vision, education was the central key to the development of an independent nation capable of successfully asserting itself against the colonial power England in the long term. Thus, on December 31, 1787, he had proclaimed his educational vision in a letter to Uriah Forrest, a Maryland representative in the House of Representatives:

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them.” (Thomas Jefferson to Uriah Forrest, Dec. 31, 1787)

Jefferson’s approach to establishing the “Ideal University” on American soil was to impart European educational standards that would cut the shackles of colonial oppression with Enlightenment ideals based on the theories of Francis Bacon, John Locke, or David Hume. Jefferson himself sent his daughters to Paris, while some of his countrymen preferred Geneva for the education of their offspring. When Geneva University was threatened with dissolution in 1794 in the wake of the turmoil of the French Revolution, he and his cohorts even developed plans – which were never implemented – to evacuate the entire faculty corps, including the renowned naturalist Horace Bénédict de Saussure, to America. Also serving during Jefferson’s presidency was Albert Gallatin, a minister of finance originally from Geneva who had strongly supported the financing of the university in Virginia.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia (UVA) ultimately stood at the end of Jefferson’s vision and the beginning of his goal of establishing an “Academic Village” where lively exchanges between students and faculty would take place. According to Jefferson, the most important task of the university was not only to prepare the future leaders of the republic for their tasks, but also to support the establishment of a dual education system that included three years of compulsory primary education for boys and girls. Public education was to become the engine of republicanism, with the goal of shaping non-academic citizens in terms of state policy.

In the long run, Charlottesville and its university provided decisive impulses for the further development of the United States. Let us be confident that with the upcoming transition period, the dialectical principles of the Enlightenment will return to political discourse, although the drift of the right-wing spectrum into the subcultures of “alternative facts” is probably unstoppable. Despite the irreconcilable viewpoints, freedom of speech must be preserved at all costs so that the new administration under 46th President Joe Biden has a chance to build on the values of the Founding Fathers. To conclude in the words of Jefferson in 1786: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Some Thoughts on Enlightenment facing COVID-19

When Johns Hopkins University, the leading institution of today’s COVID-19 statistics, was founded in 1876, it was America’s first research university which combined research and teaching on the model of German universities, in particular the renowned University of Heidelberg. Intererestingly, both institutions nowadays play a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 and are combined with swarm intelligence based research tools such as Nextstrain or the online map developed by the University of Heidelberg that shows the global research activities on coronavirus. Let’s delve deeper an have a look at their historical origins.

Source: Genomic epidemiology of novel coronavirus – Global subsampling

While Heidelberg has a long tradition of medical research dating back to 1386, Johns Hopkins University is about 500 years younger, as it was founded in 1876. Based on the antique-medieval model of the “Septem Artes Liberales”, Heidelberg offered his students a common philosophical ground, which then led to specialization in one of the three faculties theology, jurisprudence, and medicine. On the contrary, the ethical foundations of Johns Hopkins can be found in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was pronounced by Thomas Jefferson, the later 3rd President of the United States.

The Declaration itself states that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Facing COVID-19 and the different situation considering health insurance systems in Europe and the United States, the question is, how can health care not be covered under Life and the pursuit of Happiness?

Source: National Archives, The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson’s original approach in creation the Ideal University was to bring in European education to the United States that could break the chains of colonial intellectual oppression with the ideals of enlightenment based on the theories of Francis Bacon, John Locke, or David Hume. Jefferson himself sent his daughters to Paris, while some of his compatriots preferred Geneva for their boys’ education. In his vision, education was key in order to develop an independent nation that was capable to successfully persist against England:

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States.

The 1819 established University of Virginia (UVA) stood at the end of Jefferson’s vision and the beginning of his goal of an Academical Village. The campus ground was based in Charlottesville and was not only revolutionary in the area of medical education but also offered the first college in the United States to teach economics. Jefferson’s primary mission was to prepare the republic’s leaders, and second, helping to establish a primary and secondary system in order to educate citizens. In the long run, UVA played an eminent role for developing medical research in the United States and was vital for the formation of Johns Hopkins University, too. Let’s hope that in the spirit of the Enlightenment, with all the research expertise in the United States, Europe and the rest of the world, we will defeat COVID-19 together: “The Free Spirit shall never die!”


For further reading: John A. Ragosta / Peter S. Onuf / Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy (Editors): The Founding of Thomas Jefferson’s University, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville / London 2019 (Jeffersonian America). Amazon

He measures the «Groove» of a Company

Daniel C. Schmid_Boeblingen
Boeblingen Business Weeks, Copyright: Markus Schwarz,

This article is the English translation of an Interview with Guy Studer, editor-in-chief, INLINE, FH SCHWEIZ 02/2020

When things do not go as well as desired in companies, Daniel C. Schmid’s services are often called upon. He feels the pulse of an organization, measures its groove. He is particularly fond of the references to jazz. Even the agreement to talk to Daniel C. Schmid is untypical. After the mail inquiry to him, the phone rings minutes later. He spontaneously agrees to a meeting, uncomplicated and soon. With a lecturer and sought-after speakers, one would hardly expect such prompt feedback. A few days later, during the conversation in the café, Schmid will explain in another context:

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«Take the Long Way Home» – A Brief Guide to Traveling in the Digital Age

"Baedeker", ancestor of the "Loney Planet Guide"

(Original article in German, published in NZZ, 24/25 August 2019).

Was it the same before your holiday? You spent hours browsing through various online catalogs, virtually tracing your itinerary with Google Maps and booking your hotel directly after ensuring that it was in the best location with Street View. Of course, Tripadvisor or Holidaycheck rankings provided all relevant insider information regarding service quality and menu, so that your stomach was well prepared for what awaited it at its destination. And finally, did you also get the dull feeling that you had already experienced everything before you started your journey?

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«What is Groove, Yaron Gershovsky?» Lessons in Organizational Development from Jazz

This post is an adapted an extended version of the paper “Twelve-Tone Music Reloaded”: 12 Lessons in Rotating Leadership and Organizational Development from Jazz by Daniel C. Schmid and Peter A. Gloor, MIT, and founder of

Recently, Jazz improvisation has become a part of the “Holy grail” in Organizational Development, above all under so-called VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) conditions. Effective leadership of the future will be based on relationship building, understanding complex group work, and diverse workforces. For future leaders, it will be key to gain a deeper understanding of the constantly evolving complexities of interpersonal, group and even intergroup relationships.

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