Hope, wonder, humility…


Minima moralia: “August 14, 1982. Dear Olga, Orientation toward Being as a state of mind can also be understood as faith: a person oriented toward Being intrinsically believes in life, in the world, in morality, in the meaning of things, and in himself. His relationship to life is informed by hope, wonder, humility, and a spontaneous respect for its mysteries. He does not judge the meaning of his efforts merely by their manifest successes, but first of all by their ‘worth in themselves’ (i.e., their worth against the background of the absolute horizon).”– Václav Havel, “Letters to Olga,” 1982


Václav Havel a Olga Havlová



Multiple Identities

If I were to say who I am, my first response would be that I’m a democratic intellectual. In other words, one opposed to any form of collectivistic and totalizing “group thinking.” I’m proudly a non-belonger and I abhor all forms of regimentation. I enjoy and practice eclecticism. I dislike stigmas, labels, straitjackets, Procrustean beds. I don’t identify myself with abstractions such as tribe, nation, class, race, etc On the contrary, I regard them as insuperably and insufferably fallacious, conducive to ideological and political follies. They surreptitiously invade and cynically enslave our loyalties, allegiances, and emotions. I love the Republic of Letters, increasingly beleaguered and absolutely indispensable. I don’t idealize Reason, but I know that without it we are lost in the forest of superstitions, lies, and prejudices. So, I take Settembrini’s side in his struggle with Naphta. I dedicate this post to the memory of S. N. Eisenstadt (1923–2010), a great Weberian scholar, a mentor and a dear friend, the author of a most insightful essay titled “Multiple Identities”. I learned from him what it means to defend open spaces. Meeting Shmuel was one of the luckiest moments of my intellectual life. Blessed be his memory…


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Seminar on Stalinism: Hannah Arendt Invited by Zbigniew Brzezinski (1972)


For years, Zbigniew Brzezinski ran the Columbia University Seminar on Communism. On April 26, 1972 Professor Hannah Arendt (New School of Social Research) spoke on “Stalinism in Retrospect.” Members Present: Byung-joon Ahn, Joseph Maier, Seweryn Bialer, William E. Odom, Paul Borsuk, Grant Pendill, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jaan Pennar, Lenard Cohen, Alexander Rudzinski, Bogdan Denitch, Jane Shapiro, Felice Gaer, Sophia Sluzar, Charles Gati, David Wilson, Ki-shik Han, Alexei Yakushev, Russell Hardin, Sharon Zukin, Janos Horvath, Peter Ludz.

Professor Arendt explained that Nadezhda Mandelstam tells us details that we did not know, it is true—but that we hardly would have dared to hope were true: namely, that there must have been a certain number of people who at no time changed their values.17 At no time did such people believe that history moves forward, sacrificing victims in its inexorable path. These people did know what was and was not a crime even during that period. Professor Arendt reflected on how very difficult it must have been to “keep such integrity of one’s own mind” during those years. Other may have doubted during those years, but Nadezhda Mandelstam never doubted, Professor Arendt explained—she knew. She was able to distinguish among what she believed, what she had to do, and what was simply lying. Professor Arendt described “Hope Against Hope” as “one of the great human documents” of the century. The book is all the more remarkable, she continued, because this woman is not an artist; she is not a writer; “she is only a great moral personality.”

Răscrucile insângerate…


Dacă cineva mi-ar cere să numesc un intelectual critic român, un om care s-a aventurat in spaţiul ideilor, dar şi al politicului, in polemici de o mistuitoare şi periculoasă intensitate, şi care a apărat public valorile democratice, plătind cu viaţa pentru angajamentul său, l-aş numi pe Ioan Petru Culianu. Binecuvântată să-i fie amintirea!


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Memento: Adam Michnik and Mircea Mihaies…


25 years ago, April 1992, at the “Partisan Review” conference on “Intellectuals and Social Change in East-Central Europe” (Rutgers University, Newark campus) Among the participants: Doris Lessing, Joseph Brodsky, Czesław Milosz, Ivan Klima, Adam Zagajewski, Saul Bellow, George Konrad, Susan Sontag, Tatyana Tolstaya, Ralph Ellison, Richard Pipes, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Adriana Babeti, Vasily Aksyonov and the list goes on. I took the picture posted below and it remains one of those I cherish the most…


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Opium for the Intellectuals…


The author of “Das Kapital” was born almost two centuries ago, on May 5, 1818. He died on March 14, 1883. As a political religion, Marxism became the “opium of the intellectuals” (Raymond Aron). For Marx, the revolution is an apocalyptical act of liberation, a return to a long-forgotten state of unity of the human species. Marxism is an eschatology (a doctrine about the death and its aftermath, a vision of post-apocalyptical resurrection): a doctrine of ultimate rediscovery of human identity and liberty. It is also a millenarianism (it announces t the advent of the classless millenium), a chiliasm—a belief in the coming utopian age, the advent of Messianic time (Walter Benjamin),created through revolution.

Historical materialism is a phihilosophy of action: Marx refused mere philosphical speculation and contemplation. He considered ideas as means to change the world. The 11th Thesis on Feuerbach gave full voice to this belief: „Philosphers have only interpreted the world. The issue is to change it”. In this respect, Leninism (Bolshevism) was the loyal heir to Marx’s orginal doctrine. It fulfilled the three main postulates in the original doctrine: the postulate of revolution; the postulate of universalism; and the postulate of an anthropological mutation.

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Between past and future: On Karl Mannheim


Hungarian-Jewish born sociologist Karl Mannheim (March 27, 1893, Budapest, Hungary–January 9, 1947, London, United Kingdom) was one of the founders of the discipline known as the sociology of knowledge. His “Ideology and Utopia” has endured as a classic of social science. Mannheim’s contributions to the understanding of generations as social, political, intellectual phenomena are utterly timely. The transmission of cultural constructs, memories, and significant reference points (what Mannheim called “the accumulated cultural heritage”) is the guarantee that humanity can overcome oblivion and amnesia. Each generation has its differentia specifica, yet none is totally devoid of visible or invisible links to the previous ones.

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