"Blueprint for a life together"

8 August 2006
Only in en
Esprit provides a blueprint for Lebanon's future; Merkur sees Polish tradition invent itself; The New Presence asks why 13 per cent of Czechs vote Communist; Akadeemia tracks the history of conservative revolution; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) sees political potential in "mass self communication"; Zeszyty Literackie focuses on the international Czeslaw Milosz; and L'Homme seeks a new discourse of ageing.

Esprit 8-9/2006

Not so long ago, when the ruins of the civil war started to disappear, it was still possible to believe in a political future for Lebanon. But today, when the bombs again destroy buildings and crush hope, how could one, once more, imagine the reconstruction of this afflicted country? One possible answer is hinted at in a “Call for dialogue on the renewal of the social contract between the Lebanese”, published in the August/September issue of Esprit.

In this document, a number of Lebanese citizens – politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, industrials, and unionists – try to formulate the basis for “a life together”. Among the main conditions: a truly sovereign and secular state. The initiative was taken before the recent events, but the conception of this utopia seems more important than ever.

A perpetual war? In a short but brilliant introduction to a bulging section on “Terrorism and counter-terrorism”, editor Marc-Olivier Padis views the current military conflict at the border between Lebanon and Israel as one of several examples of “the return of geopolitics”. In recent years, all international relations have been interpreted solely in terms of the American “War on Terror”. Now, the logic of states seems to be coming back to haunt us.

However, the menace of terrorism remains and, as Dominique Linhart shows in this issue, the complex way in which it undermines the distinction between the internal and the external has a major impact on international relations.

Among many highly interesting articles in this section: Fernando Savater returns to the case of Spain and ETA; Kishore Mahbubani describes how in Asia the US must develop an international strategy contrary to that of the “War on Terror”; and Michaël F¦ssel warns of the danger of using security as the general point of departure in thinking about everything from peace between countries and stability within nation-states to human development and the welfare state.

Also to look out for: Olivier Mongin praises Serge July (founder of the paper Liberation, which he later was forced to leave) for his aestheticization of journalism and the utopia of a “total newspaper”.

The full table of contents of Esprit 8-9/2006

Merkur 8/2006

In Merkur, Stephan Wackwitz, director of the Goethe-Institut Bratislava, finds that the Polish national culture represented in the national museum of nineteenth-century art is a perfect example of “invented tradition”. The Tuchhallen, originally a complex of run-down warehouses and workshops, does not represent a real past but the ideas of a group of conservatives from the last century. For contemporary Poland, however, it has become the authentic image of the past.

“At the beginning there was neither art nor the building, nor a city like today’s Cracow, but the consciousness of a need.” This need was realized through art, “in which the power of the idea reigns over the material, which wants to change not only the viewer’s soul but also history and the world.”

Wackwitz continues: “Preserving the Tuchhallen in its original state of existence would have meant preserving a symbol of aesthetic dilapidation and national powerlessness.” Its restoration was, like the art inside, an entirely modern phenomenon: “To bring a building into being that, in all its perfection and completeness, did not previously exist.”

John Stuart Mill: That “ideas have consequences” was a major principle of John Stuart Mill, who warned that short-term solutions could become the cause of future problems. “At the centre stands freedom” is the title of Richard Reeves’ article on the work of the great Liberal, whose intellectual bequest has been argued over by politicians of every stripe up to the present (“which would have delighted him”). Mill’s approach towards freedom of speech and the freedom to act in the context of national security and religion are still highly relevant. On Mill’s bicentenary, Reeves describes him as a liberal eclecticist whose demand was always to combine different ways of thinking in order to approach his most important concern: the achievement of individual freedom, which, more than being free from outer constraints, meant being able to make decisions.

The full table of contents of Merkur 8/2006.

The New Presence 2/2006

The Czech government is facing a crisis after the collapse of the coalition between the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Greens formed following the parliamentary elections of June 26. New coalition talks are underway between the Civic Democrats and Social Democrats, the runners up in the election. But the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which came in third place with 13 per cent, has been sidelined from all coalition talks.

In the latest issue of The New Presence, politologist Jiri Pehe asks why the KSCM attracts votes despite subscribing to an ideology that is clearly unfeasible. After the downfall of the Czech Republican Party in 1998, he writes, the KSCM shifted its rhetoric to the Right, aiming at the sizable sector of the Czech population dissatisfied with mainstream politics. The result: a party of protest unencumbered by political responsibility closely resembling the Front Nationale in France or the Freedom Party in Austria.

The polarization of the Czech Left goes back to the Prague Spring, after which the KSCM took a neo-Stalinist course, unlike its counterparts in Poland or Hungary, which at that time were undergoing reform. While the mainstream social democratic parties in Poland and Hungary are directly descended from the pre-1989 regimes, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) formed independently. Thus, while the CSSD gains political legitimacy, a situation remains where an independent party with no coalition potential retains a large number of seats in parliament.

But this is not the whole story, writes Pehe. “A key problem presented by the KSCM is the simple truth that Czech society as a whole has not yet come to terms with its communist past. The militant anti-communism of many of today’s Democrats only masks the fact that a significant part of Czech society was entangled in a web of support for the old regime.” Putting aside moral reservations, a coalition between the CSSD and the KSCM would have minimal impact on policy, Pehe concludes.

Also: Journalist Ondrej Aust reports from a debate on the future of public broadcasting in the Czech Republic, where vehemently free-market views clash sharply with criticisms of commercialization. And William A. Cohn of the American University in Prague reviews “The growing clout of international law”, which many argue is facing its newest test of resolve in the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

The full table of contents of The New Presence 2/2006.

Akadeemia 8/2006

Peeter Helme writes on the history of the concept of “conservative revolution”. The apparent oxymoron, known to have been used by Dostoyevsky, first appeared in German political rhetoric in the late nineteenth century, writes Helme. In a famous speech in 1927, Hugo von Hofmannsthal defined it as such:

“All dichotomies into which the spirit has polarized life are to be overcome by the spirit and transformed into a spiritual unity […] the process of which I speak is nothing other than the Conservative Revolution with a compass unknown in European history. Its goal is a new German reality in which the whole nation can take part.”

Thomas Mann, who endorsed the idea of conservative revolution for a time, regretted that Hofmannsthal, the aristocrat, had provided the mob with a battle cry against the Weimar democracy. Other thinkers associated with conservative revolution included Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, and Oswald Spengler. In the postwar period, the term was resuscitated by rightwing publicist Armin Mohler, and continues to influence thinkers on the New Right including Alexander Dugin and Alain de Benoist.

The revolution continues in Markus Lattik’s essay on Paul Gaugin. “The refined, restricted, civilized Frenchman was to be replaced by the liberated savage, a human being in its primal, unmoulded state. Gaugin’s aspirations would be similar in today’s society. But though he is praised for his artistic achievements, there are fewer who would be willing to undertake or understand his personal transformation.” Lattik’s article is accompanied by a translation of Thoreau’s essay “The Walk”.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 8/2006.

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 8/2006

According to the UN, two-thirds of the world’s citizens do not feel represented by their governments. In a speech delivered this summer at a conference organized by the World Political Forum, Manuel Castells linked this global crisis of political legitimacy to the medialization of politics and the fascination of established medias with scandals and personalities. At the same time, alternatives are developing: blogs, “street television”, and political mobilization via SMS and email. Castells calls it “Mass Self Communication”.

The explosion of these new forms of social communication indeed seems to bring with it new political forms, writes Castells in an edited version of the speech published in the Norwegian edition of Le Monde diplomatique. Though still too early to say where this will lead us, one thing is certain, concludes Castells: the struggle will take place in the field of communication. This is the oldest struggle of all – the freeing of minds.

The Oslo-based paper also continues its controversial focus on 9/11 five years after. This time journalist Kim Bredesen‘s article is accompanied by a prominently placed disclaimer stating that that this series of articles is solely the initiative of the Norwegian edition and that the French mother paper has nothing to do with it. The current article reports about FBI agents who say that they were ignored or obstructed when they wanted to follow up on information on the impending terrorist attacks.

Also to look out for: diplo editor Truls Lie interviews French philosopher Jacques Rancière. “It’s fascinating how easy it is to bring something into existence that does not exist at all.”

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 8/2006.

Zeszyty Literackie 94 (2006)

This year’s third issue of Warsaw journal Zeszyty Literackie focuses on Czeslaw Milosz. Placing Milosz in his international context, his biographer Clare Cavanagh writes on his presence in US literary life (Milosz resided and taught in California from 1960 to 1990), and on his influence on poets including Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and Robert Hass (who translated his poems into English).

Cavanagh goes on to point out that the vitality, power, and seriousness of Milosz’s poetry are indebted to T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Karl Shapiro, and Hart Crane. These poets, she writes, saved him from the influence of nationalistic, patriotic, and romantic literature. However, though Milosz’s horizons were international, Lithuania, his native country, remained a point of reference.

Also: An essay by Swiss philosopher and psychoanalyst Jean Starobinski finds echoes of the violence of the French Revolution in the works of Mozart’s followers; and an excerpt from the new novel by reporter, novelist, and former Solidarity spokesman Mariusz Wilk.

The full table of contents of Zeszyty Literackie 94 (2006) .

L’Homme 1/2006

The latest issue of L’Homme bypasses the nightmare vision of an ageing society and the “better ageing” discourse of the advertising industry by forging a new relation between the sociocultural construction of age(ing) and the biological process. Contributions approach the subject from the perspective of feminism and gender history.

L’Homme interviews 86-year-old historian Gerda Lerner on her personal experience of age(ing), and about taboos, the social framework, and “good ageing”. She draws a picture of age(ing) that diverges from mainstream opinion: “Ageing is a dance on uneven ground with weakened limbs, trying out various steps, occasionally gathering momentum and experiencing the dance as it used to be, and, better still, as it is now. Because being old is all about the experience of the present. We’ve come this far, and what is here is all that there will ever be. So one continues to dance as best one can.”

Angela Groppi writes on social welfare before the welfare state, comparing care for the elderly in Papal Rome between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries with institutional care and inter-generational solidarity in the modern period. Groppi works on the assumption that private charity and public relief are not contrary principles, with one replacing the other over time, but complementary and belonging to the same cultural and social fields.

Age, knowledge, and gender: Beate Wagner-Hasel enquires into the place of the elderly in ancient societies. The article refutes the reading of Roman elegists’ laments about the loss of sexual attractiveness with age and suggests instead that they be read as projections of the social order onto the body. The article concludes with reflections on the part elderly women play in the inter-generational transfer of genealogical knowledge.

Also: Pat Thane on women and ageing in the twentieth century; Hans-Georg Hofer on the history of “andropause”; and Barbara Asen on age, gender, and identity in feminist cabaret.

The full table of contents of L’Homme 1/2006

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Published 8 August 2006

Original in English
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