Heroes: Václav Havel and Adam Michnik


One would have turned eighty on October 5. The other will turn seventy on October 17. One wrote “The Power of the Powerless,” the other one “The New Evolutionism.” These two essays defined the goals of East European dissident movements, their vision of liberty, and their ethos. They both deserve our gratitude. Their names: Václav Havel and Adam Michnik.


Image result for michnik havel images

Nietzsche and the Current European Crisis


130 years ago, Friedrich Nietzsche on Europe’a fatefullly fractured future: “Thanks to the pathological alienation which the nationalistic idiocy has established and still establishes among European peoples, thanks as well to the short-sighted politicians with hasty hands who are on the top today with the help of this idiocy and have no sense of how the politics of disintegration which they carry on can necessarily only be politics of intermission, thanks to all this and to some things today which are quite impossible to utter, now the most unambiguous signs that Europe wants to become a unity are being overlooked or wilfully and mendaciously reinterpreted.” (“Beyond Good and Evil,” 1886). This passage is one of the three epigraphs to the volume “Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink,” by Stefan Zweig, Foreword by John Gray, Pushkin Press, 2016.


What is populism?


I offer here a brief operational definition which I first put forward in a text titled “The politics of charismatic protest” which came out several years ago, together with pieces by Marc Howard and Cas Mudde, in the quarterly “East European Politics and Societies.”

Populism is a political strategy meant to generate mass mobilization and enthusiastic support for a leader and a party (or movement) among heterogeneous social groups by opposing the established political arrangements and pledging their fundamental regeneration, often at the expense of minority and human rights and liberties, social, economic, and political life.

Lessons from Brexit


Fatuous, irresponsible, autarchic, populism works. The more ridiculous the prophetic demagogue, the more successful in deluding his/her followers. Xenophobia masquerades as elitophobia. Lambasting the elites becomes a perfect springboard for instant popularity.

From Benito Mussolini and Juan Domingo Peron to Hugo Chavez, Marine LePen, and Donald Trump, populist mountebanks have exploited popular fears, uncertainties, neuroses. None of these anxieties vanished under the populist regimes. On the contrary, they exacerbated. Populism is a secular chilasm, it promises salvation hic et numc. In this respect, charismatic populism, Trump-style, is a form of fundamentalism. It indulges in cheap fantasies and turns citizens into subjects of abject manipulations. It does not recoli from blatant lies. On the contrary, it despises truth and cultivates illusions.

Populism is rooted in the myth of le bon sauvage, it exalts an uncorrupted, idealized “people” and demonizes the “soulless plutocrats” and the “rootless cosmopolitans.” In Hungary, the populists abhor Budapest (“Judapest”), in the US they detest New York, the East Coast etc The paleo-symbolic infrastructure of populism is a purifying utopia…

Memory, awareness, vision


Václav Havel’s address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, March 8, 1994. “I have come from a land that did not enjoy freedom and democracy for almost sixty years. You will perhaps believe me when I say that it is this historical experience that has allowed me to respond at the deepest level to the revolutionary meaning of European integration today. And perhaps you will believe me when I say that the very depth of that experience compels me to express concern for the proper outcome of this process and to consider ways to strengthen it and make it irreversible. Allow me, in conclusion, to thank you for approving the Europe Agreement on the association of the Czech Republic with the European Union two weeks after it was signed. In doing so, you have shown that you are not indifferent to the fate of my country.”



Totalitarismul sub lupa: Hannah Arendt si Sigmund Neumann


On his FB page, political scientist Marius Stan publishes a picture with two major students of totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt and Sigmund Neumann, accompanied by an excellent commentary: “Neumann’s groundbreaking book “Permanent Revolution: The Total State in a World War” (1942) deals with the structural framework which distinguishes modern dictatorship from the 19th century state. He was among the first scholars to discuss the role and the figure of the political lieutenant (or, in his own words, “the forgotten man”). SN was fully committed to the comparative study of politics (His credo: “To know thyself, compare thyself to others.”)  Nowadays, the city of Dresden, this powerful symbol of destruction and war, has the privilege to host two important institutions: Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism & Sigmund Neumann Institute for the Research on Freedom and Democracy. Neumann tackled the concept of “totalitarianism” quite early (“always on a march that never ends, incessantly at war with a world that it can not possess,” therefore its character of “permanent revolution”), Arendt added a much needed philosophical touch and turned it into a key-concept for the modern political science…”

Hannah Arendt and Sigmund Neumann, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.

Prea aproape de Rusia, prea departe de Vest