DEBATES ON POLITICS AND CULTURE
The main theme linking most of the articles in NZ No. 27 is that of the condition, self-understanding, options and strategies of intellectuals in the modern world. The issue opens with a text by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman entitled Legislators and Interpreters, presenting a cogent vision of the changes in Western intellectuals’ view of themselves and their tasks over the past centuries. In our editorial introduction, we take Bauman’s ideas as a starting point for rethinking our own role as cultural interpreters between different countries, generations, social groups and academic or intellectual disciplines.
In our first thematic section, entitled Intellectuals in Quasi-Democracies, four different authors write about how intellectuals have fared, and acted, in their respective countries over the past decades. Ricardo Dominguez Guadarrama, a specialist on international relations and Latin American studies, reviews The role of intellectuals in the transformation of Mexican politics: 1994-2002, but also gives an overview of relations between intellectuals and the PRI regime over the whole period of the latter’s existence. In similar terms, political scientist Hasan Bülent Kahraman assesses The historical predicament of intellectuals in Turkey, looking at the generations that have succeeded each other since the Tanzimat reforms of the 19th century, and particularly since the inception of Kemalist Turkey. In The Serbian Mandarins and war, Obrad Savić, acting president of the Belgrade Circle, an independent group of intellectuals who spoke out against Slobodan Milošević’s warmongering throughout the 1990s while refusing to join the Serb nationalist opposition, relates the part his organisation has been playing in Serbian politics and intellectual life, and analyses how nationalist intellectuals contributed to the bellicose atmosphere of the Milošević years. Finally, literary scholar Zaza Shatirishvili takes stock of the differences and similarities between two generations of Georgian intellectuals (“Old” intelligentsia and “new” intellectuals: the Georgian experience). Most of the articles in this and the preceding section also contain brief biographies of important intellectuals in the countries under examination.
In Morals and Mores, the same topic is taken up by two writers: Georgian poet Dato Barbakadze expresses a pessimistic view of intellectual and cultural life in his home country, which he sees as dominated by material interests and a conformist attitude that stifles originality and innovation (Between Nothing and Something: Observations of a Georgian writer), while Serbian novelist Svetislav Basara, in three short essays from his book The Illusion Machine, creates a series of metaphors to describe and explain the nationalist folly of the Milošević era.
The second thematic section is devoted to reflections On Liberty and “Liberty”. It contains a long conversation On Liberty between anthropologist Svetlana Boym and philosopher Boris Groys, who debate on their highly divergent understandings of the concept of liberty, the scope for a free life in the modern world, and the amount of freedom that authors and their readers exercise in their relations with each other. This is followed by a translation of Gerald C. MacCallum Jr.’s classic article Negative and positive freedom, where he argues that the no less classic distinction between “negative” and “positive” liberty collapses on closer scrutiny, and confuses the issues distinguishing different philosophies of freedom, rather than helping to understand them.
Our columnist Alexei Levinson devotes his Sociological Notes to an analysis of the divergences between Russians’ ostensive wariness of democracy and their practical acceptance of many values and types of behaviour characteristic of democratic societies (People’s Democracy).
Igor Klyamkin, another sociologist, argues in a similar vein in his article The Modernist Project in Russia, featured in our rubric The Culture of Politics. Klyamkin shows that, upon close inspection, most Russians favour institutional reform and modernisation of the state apparatus, although a large section of the political elite continues to justify its call for a nationalist ideology, a strong state and heavy-handed policies through appeals to “the people”.
In our third big topic, the topic of intellectuals’ place in society is taken up from a different perspective, that of Intellectual Publishing Houses. Its main feature is the text of a round table debate on Intellectual publishers in Russia and the world organised by NZ in November 2002 following a wave of discussions on André Schiffrin’s book “The Business of Books”, which recently came out in Russian translation. Our debate brought together a number of influential Russian (and one French) publishers, sociologists and public intellectuals who exchanged views on the problems involved in defining, translating, publishing and distributing books that are more demanding than the average. A complementary view is presented by two eminent French editors, Eric Vigne and Jean-Luc Giribone, respectively of Gallimard and Le Seuil publishing houses, who, in a conversation entitled The publishing world and intellectual work, try to make sense of the changes in publishing techniques and strategies in, and readers’ expectations of, the humanities in contemporary France.
This issue’s helping of The Politics of Culture features a lecture by the eminent Polish theatre director and classical scholar Erwin Axer entitled Between historical tradition and the search for an identity: a return to the liberal arts. Addressing a Russian audience, Axer reflects on his experience of creating a number of new interdisciplinary educational institutions in the humanities which draw upon the tradition of the Classics.
Our own New Institutions section describes the Russian-German College in Karlsruhe (Germany), an educational joint venture blending the study of philosophy with that of ecology and other natural sciences.
The Review of Journals features our traditional survey of recent Russian intellectual intellectual journals. The New Books section includes an overview of New US books about post-Soviet Russia and detailed reviews of four recent works trying to make sense of the contemporary Russian political system and economy.
The photos used in this issue are the work of the Belgrade-based photographer Andrija Ilić.