La Multi Ani, Andrei Pleșu!


He embodies brilliantly three gifts: the gift of friendship, the gift of love, and the gift of wisdom. Happy Birthday to Andrei Pleșu, a noble citizen of the European Republic of Letters!

Image: Launching my book “Fantasies of Salvation” at the Embassy of Romania, Washington, DC, November 1998.

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Sapere aude!


In our dark times, let’s remember Immanuel Kant’s enlightening words, a manifesto for moral and political autonomy: “Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another. This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! [dare to be wise] Have courage to make use of your own understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment.

It is because of laziness and cowardice that so great a part of humankind, after nature has long since emancipated them from other people’s direction (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remains minors for life, and that it becomes so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor! If I have a book that understands for me, a spiritual advisor who has a conscience for me, a doctor who decides upon a regimen for me, and so forth, I need not trouble myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay; others will readily undertake the irksome business for me. That by far the greatest part of humankind (including the entire fair sex) should hold the step toward majority to be not only troublesome but also highly dangerous will soon be seen to by those guardians who have kindly taken it upon themselves to supervise them; after they have made their domesticated animals dumb and carefully prevented these placid creatures from daring to take a single step without the walking cart in which they have confined them, they then show them the danger that threatens them if they try to walk alone. Now this danger is not in fact so great, for by a few falls they would eventually learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes them timid and usually frightens them away from any further attempt.” (Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, 1784)

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Habent sua fata libelli: Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Macron


Paul Ricoeur, “Memory, History, Forgetting,” Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, The University of Chiacgo Press, 2004, “Preface,” p. XVII): “… and finally, Emmanuel Macron to whom I am indebted for a pertinent critique of the writing and the elaboration of the critical apparatus of the work.” Elaboration of the critical apparatus! This is quite an acknowledgement! Paul Ricoeur was one of the most penetrating, most profound thinkers of our times. Such a recognition for Macron is for me a ,ajor, idelible recommendation for a critical intellectual. In the times of moral idiots and cultural barbarians like Trump, Putin, and Orban, I don’t need to justufy my support for Macron…


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Cosmopolis: Leszek Kołakowski, CEU, and the Traditions of 1989…



On October 26, 2006, Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, one of the main intellectual inspirers of the independent, self-governed movement Solidarność, an emblematic citizen of the European Republic of Letters, received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the Central European University in Budapest. I was invited to deliver the Laudatio. For personal reasons, I could not be there, but the text exists, I hope. A crisis had occurred regarding the status of a close friend of mine, a Romanian historian who had served as the CEU academic vice-rector. He was supposed to introduce both Leszek Kołakowski and me, but, the day before the event, he resigned. My book “The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century” came out from the University of California Press in 2012 (the paperback was published one year later). It is dedicated to the three scholars whose ideas have influenced me immensely: Tony Judt, Leszek Kolakowski, and Robert C. Tucker. The attack on CEU by the new Horthy and his minions is an onslaught on the values Kolakowski stood for–trust, truth, and tolerance. It is an aggression against the revolutionary tradition of the annus mirabilis 1989 and its legacies…

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A tomb for the muses…


A tomb for the muses:world to the first speaker and hearer.The etymologist finds the deadest to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry.” (From the Hannah Arendt Papers at the Library of Congress, the conclusion of the Emerson-Thoreau Medal lecture, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1969). We discovered this text, Marius Stan and I, while doing research at LoC, in January 2016, on our various book projects.

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The lecture starts addressing Lionel Trilling, the great literary critic and Columbia University professor, at that moment a fellow of the academy who read the argument for the philosopher to receive the medal.

Pentru Marta Petreu, cu dragoste și admirație


Mă leagă de Marta o prietenie indestructibilă. Este un om de o onestitate fierbinte și de un curaj intelectual cu totul ieșit din comun. I-am citit, cred, toate cărțile. Ii iubesc literatura (poezie, roman, eseuri), ii prețuiesc pasiunea pentru istoria ideilor, pentru nuanțe, pentru adevăr. Intr-o cultură in care, vai, nombrilismul provincial si lăutărismul steril fac ravagii, Marta Petreu stabilește criterii, le respectă, le sustine persuasiv. Marta nu este nici iconodulă, nici iconoclastă. Este un spirit liber care se opune, cu informatii verificabile, apologiilor de orice fel. Cu ani in urmă, i-am spus că imi aminteste de Marthe Robert, biografa lui Kafka. Aș adăuga, aici și acum, că imi amintește si de Alice Voinescu, Monica Lovinescu și Mariana Șora. Politic vorbind, este o aroniană. Ori, daca vreti, o camusiană. Detestă orice formă de totalitarism. La Mulți Ani, buna mea prietenă, cu noroc, bucurii și sănătate! Este un noroc pentru cultura română că ești aici, demnă, verticală, inebranlabilă…


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Un fragment din eseul-recenzie al Martei Petreu apărut in “Apostrof” in 2011 (e vorba de cartea mea “Despre comunism. Destinul unei religii politice” publicată in acel an la Humanitas): “Autorul are o memorie a numelor şi a faptelor extraordinară. Dintre oamenii pe care i-am cunoscut, numai Mircea Zaciu mai avea o asemenea ţinere de minte, el – pentru familiile transilvănene, ceea ce ne şi făcea pe noi, ascultătorii săi, să-l îndemnăm să scrie romanul marilor familii din Ardeal. Ei bine, cu o asemenea memorie de prozator, Vladimir Tismăneanu reconstituie, adesea cu bogate detalii, istorii şi portrete din lumea comunistă internaţională şi românească. Istoria, pare el a ne spune, nu s-a ţesut numai pe axa marilor idei faste şi nefaste, ci şi prin „accidente“ interumane, prin înrudiri, invidii, trădări, promovări etc. Iar ca să înţelegem ce-a fost, avem nevoie şi de carnea vie a trecutului, de personajele umane. Personaje istorice reale, cărora autorul le acordă sau le retrage stima şi afecţiunea sa în funcţie de răul – zero, mai mic sau mai mare – pe care l-au făcut.” Marta a scris superb si despre volumul “Dosar Lenin. Vraja nihilismului” de Marius Stan si de mine, publicat la Curtea Veche in 2016.

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.