"Rich, egoistic, and self-centred"

19 June 2007
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"Samtiden" punctures Norwegian hubris; "Esprit" looks at France's place in the new world; "Le Monde diplomatique" (Berlin) features a dossier on the Six Day War; "Fronesis" watches the fall and rise of the bourgeoisie; "Cogito" (Greece) poses a big question to philosophy; and "Magyar Lettre Internationale" remembers the taste of unfreedom.

Samtiden 2/2007

In recent years, the United Nations has had to face harsh criticism that it is corrupt and inefficient. In a fiery defence of the UN as a creator of peace and security published in Oslo-based Samtiden, former UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, acclaims the organization as both cost-effective and successful.

When Egeland took up his post in 2003, the brutal conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone had just been ended with the decisive help of the UN; since then, the organization has helped end or limit the wars in Liberia, east Congo, southern Sudan, north Uganda, Nepal, and Lebanon, as well as mediating in several other minor conflicts. “The resources available to the UN to mediate, send peacekeeping troops, and save millions from conflict and atrocities in all these cases amount to less than 10% of what the US have spent per year in one single country, Iraq, since the invasion in 2003”, writes Egeland.

However, even though he strongly believes in the potential of the “only global organization that has the mandate and the legitimacy to realize conflict solution and prevention”, Egeland cannot help but criticize the rich part of the world (not least his fellow Norwegians) for not doing more: “It is the level of ambition of this generation rather than the tools that needs to be improved.”

“Norwegian hubris”: In a very critical article on Norway as an actor in global politics, foreign correspondent Sten Inge Jørgensen accuses the Norwegians of being rich, egoistic and self-centred. One has taken pride in the work of globally committed Norwegians like the first UN Secretary-General Trygve Halvdan Lie or the afore-mentioned Jan Egeland. However, says Jørgensen, this is nothing but “Norwegian hubris”. The role of Norway in the past has been exaggerated, and as a new world order that better represents non-Western interests now develops, the 4.5 million country will become even more marginalized. It is time to face up to these realities, argues Jørgensen, who draws the conclusion that Norway’s “foreign policy priorities are best served under the umbrella of the EU”.

The full table of contents of Samtiden 2/2007

Esprit 6/2007

“Globalization”, writes economist Daniel Cohen, introducing a focus on the topic in Esprit, “can be spelled out in at least four different ways. Foremost, it marks the arrival of the great civilisations of China and India to the worldwide game of capitalism. Then, it can be interpreted as the emergence of a shrinking world where the new communication technologies have brutally reduced distances. At the same time, it signals a new international division of labour between the rich and the poor countries, but also within rich countries themselves. And finally, it can be seen as the emergence of a truly planetary ecological problem, marked, among other things, by the consumption of energy sources upon which the industrial economies have relied throughout the twentieth century.”

The focus assembles notable texts on these aspects of globalization and the challenges France faces in the “new industrial world”. Lionel Fontagné writes that Europe’s advantage lies in specialization in advanced manufactured products — such as bags from Vuitton or Mercedes cars, products that require a lot of savoir-fair and manufacturing experience. However, a lack of economic momentum is exposed in Europe in comparison to the US where specialization focuses on advanced technology.

Also to look out for: By 2050, when the world population will have increased by 50% to 9 billion and the number of rich people will have increased by 300% to 3 billion, the problem will not so much be the scarcity of natural resources, but rather their ecological costs and the massive investments necessary to develop “clean” sources of energy, writes Joel Maurice. And a study in a clothing factory conducted by Isabelle Rapin shows that redundancies do not just affect those workers that are laid off but also destabilize those who stay on.

The full table of contents of Esprit 6/2007

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 6/2007

With the so-called lustration laws, the rightwing nationalist government in Poland has tried to use the processing of history to remove its political opponents from public life. However, the Polish Constitutional Court was able to prevent this — a decision that marks a clear victory for Polish democratic institutions, writes Christian Semler in the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique.

Semler reminds us that such investigations were no invention of the Kaczynski brothers; they only made use of these methods. He reports on the political debate about police informants and democratic values that need to be defended against the violations through Poland’s current government.

Six Day War: LMD presents a dossier on the Six Day War of 1967 including articles by Henry Laurens on how the Arab states and Israel got mixed up in the war; Meron Rapoport on the changes in Israel since 1967; and Bassma Kodmani on how the Palestinian conflict prevents reform in the Arab world.

The Six Day War retrospectively proves to be a decisive turning point in the history of the conflict in the Middle East, write the editors. The quick victory put Israel in the role of occupying power, which it comfortably holds to this day. Palestinian identity was strengthened through the experience of occupation, but Palestinians were not able to realise their goal of an independent state. Furthermore, the unsolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict is responsible for the fact that an inner reform had no chance.

Also to look out for: Pierre Micheletti, chairman of the international aid organization “Médecins du Monde”, writes about the changes that humanitarian aid has faced in the last 30 years; Eric Toussaint and Damien Millet describe why six countries in Latin America are establishing their own “Bank of the South”; and Jean-Christophe Servant unveils the dubious deals of prominent Afro-Americans with government representatives in Africa and the Caribbean.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 6/2007.

Fronesis 24 (2007)

In an ambitious issue on the “bourgeoisie”, Swedish journal Fronesis sets out to tackle several aspects of this notoriously vague concept: the political (the conservative, non-socialist group), the sociological (the middle class), and… well, the “bourgeois” (the entrepreneur and small-scale capitalist).

In “The European middle class”, German historian Jürgen Kocka tries to find the reason for this conceptual vagueness. What he describes is the decline and fall of a distinguishable bourgeois culture. According to Kocka, the middle class has taken over bourgeois culture and universalized its ideals. What used to be the privileges of the upper classes — the right to vote, higher education, travelling, etc. — has become available to everyone. Having lost its boundaries, middle class culture has thus become almost impossible to distinguish.

A highly interesting historical section on the development of capitalism features three texts from different periods of the twentieth century: Werner Sombart’s “The Bourgeois” from 1913, Max Horkheimer’s “The authoritarian state” from 1940, and Luc Boltanski’s and Eve Chiapello’s “The new spirit of capitalism” from 1999.

The creative class: Via the entrepreneurial atmosphere around 1900 and the era of mass reproduction and clear promotional structures in the middle of the century, Boltanski and Chiapello end their historical survey in a description of today’s world of projects, flexibility and creativity. This is one of several contributions that deal with “the flight of the creative class”, a term coined by Richard Florida. (The creative class works hard and sees no conflict between the bourgeois virtues — working ethics, organization — and amusement.)

American geographer Jamie Peck takes Richard Florida’s theories as his point of departure but ends up on a much more critical note. Peck shows how contemporary policies of urban development aim at attracting this new urban and mobile middle class. Long-term planning and redistribution have been abandoned as belonging to an outdated Keynesian model. The result: gentrification. Art, culture, and tolerance are reduced to economic factors and the creative class becomes the norm to which all other social groups must adapt.

The full table of contents of Fronesis 24 (2007).

Cogito (Greece) 6 (2007)

Cogito (Greece) poses some big questions to prominent British and US philosophers. The biggest of all being: Should philosophy have something to say to non-philosophers about the world? According to US political philosopher Raymond Geuss, not necessarily:

“When Bush Junior claimed at various points to be invading Iraq in order to bring ‘democracy’ to the Middle East, it did not require complex conceptual analysis, historical knowledge, or any form of philosophical theorising […] to see that there is no reasonable sense […] in which bringing ‘democracy’ to Iraq had anything to do with the decision to invade.”

Geuss, then, remains sober: “Being philosophically clear about concepts, theories and arguments […] is probably of great value to most human individuals, but political and social change depends on institutional actions that are by and large outside the control of individuals.” British classicist Myles Burnyeat’s reply contains a similar mix of realism and resignation. Burnyeat remembers a bygone era when philosophers were household names:

“On 24 April 1993 I took part in a popular weekly BBC radio programme […] in which people in odd professions talked about what they did. Once upon a time […] the BBC would regularly broadcast interesting philosophical talks by the likes of Gilbert Ryle, David Pears, and Bernard Williams […] Then we were mainstream, not an odd profession. But now the BBC had reclassified us as an oddity. We did not complain. For a moment, queer as we might be, we had the attention of the whole country.”

British historian of philosophy Jonathan Barnes, on the other hand, is downright cynical:

“Surely, you will cry, moral philosophy must impinge on Real Life? After all, we do ethics — as Aristotle says — in order to become good, don’t we? And surely logic must impinge? Isn’t it the science of reasoning? And don’t we all want to reason as sharply as we can? Well, glance about at our colleagues. There’s Professor W, who has written some brilliant pieces on ethics: is he more honourable in his philandering than my neighbour Bernard? And there’s Professor D, the most competent logician of the age: are his practical reasonings better regulated than those of my neighbour Brian? The answers are: No, and No.”

The full table of contents of Cogito (Greece) 6/2007.

Magyar Lettre Internationale 65 (2007)

In Magyar Lettre Internationale, Hungarian and German authors approach post-totalitarian memory in both the individual and collective sense through a combination of literary and essayistic form.

“I don’t want to say that [memory] has nothing in common with politics (the administration of the collective), but it does have more to do with felt experience, sensory perception,” writes Hungarian poet Endre Kukorelly. “Scents, the air in certain places, the movements of a forever youthful girl, the colour of the sea, the taste of mother’s chicken soup and suchlike. And of course, also the taste of the lack of freedom. But not the lack of freedom, just its taste.”

Novelist László Márton regrets that historical research and politics fail to acknowledge one another in Hungary; yet it is as much amnesia as politicized memory, he writes, that prevents Hungarian society coming to terms with its past:

“Collective forgetting is proceeding with surprising speed. Not only have ‘we’, the members of a non-existent community, forgotten the events of 1956 (they were already repressed during the Kádár era and thus passed unnoticed into oblivion), no, we, ‘we Hungarians’, no longer even remember the fall of the Kádár regime […] What’s even more astounding is that we apparently lived in it and for the time being suffer neither from senile dementia nor Alzheimer’s.”

Among the German contributors, novelist Thomas Lehr argues that the postwar generation of German authors failed to produce a significant work of literature about Nazi Germany: “It seems that the actionist, hedonist, musical, and perhaps also theoretical strength of this generation corresponds with an inability to deal with fascism, world war, and the Holocaust in a form that would rank as world literature.”

These texts are the result of a Bipolar collaboration between the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and the Belletrist Society, Budapest, and will appear in German in the journal Spritz later this year. The project, entitled “Kreatives Vergessen” [Creative forgetting], has been sponsored by the German Kulturstiftung des Bundes.

Elsewhere in the issue: translations of Andrzej Tichy “The scream of geometry” and Bernard Magnier The presence of African literature”.

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 65 (2007).

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Published 19 June 2007

Original in English
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