In his second Odes, Horace invites Licinius to seek happiness in the middle ground; satisfaction is to be found in an “aurea mediocritas” that allows us to enjoy the pleasures of life without the risks of excess.
This middle way is a characteristic also found in France. The Encyclopédie of 1762 describes Pierre Contant d’Ivry’s architecture for the Louvre as the “ideal compromise” between the solemnity of classical antiquity and the frivolity of Rococo. The July Monarchy, personified by Louis Philippe I and his ministers, Thiers and Guizot, similarly sought to preserve a political “juste milieu”, a balance between the two extremes of absolutism and restoration, and revolutionary, almost anarchistic demands.
Examples of mediocre individuals at the head of important companies, public authorities or cultural institutions are so numerous it would be impossible to choose but one.
Thus it seems safe to say that Horace’s “mediocritas” embraces qualities such as wisdom, moderation, consideration and respect for the opinions of others. A notion which has apparently fallen from grace in these times of extremisms and barbaric horrors that bear the mark not of “mediocritas” but mediocrity; a rampant mediocrity that must be banished and scrupulously opposed. Meanwhile, examples of mediocre individuals at the head of important companies, public authorities or cultural institutions are so numerous it would be impossible to choose but one.
Nor has luxury been spared: while talk is of “excellence”, often mediocrity prevails. We need only see how true competencies are denied the consideration they deserve, including in our sector, to understand that mediocrity has seized power. The world and his wife are all too willing to express opinions they believe make perfect sense, founded on curious notions and information that appears out of nowhere, in complete disregard for the individuals who have devoted endless time and resources, studies and investigations to achieving nothing less than a “competency” that is anything but mediocre.
Mediocrity and extremism go together, as do ignorance and pedantry. These are worrying and reductive aspects of a so-called information society which, paradoxically, has chosen exaggeration over meditation, and carefully avoids ideas that challenge our beliefs. Luxury should be a place for genius, not mediocrity. Such genius could express itself without limit in the “aurea mediocritas”, instead of which it is so often stifled, held in contempt by modern-day mediocrity. Today’s mediocrity is too far removed from this “golden mean” of the past. Cicero wrote that “history is life’s teacher”, but who wants to relive history? A pity, indeed.