?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 Do old-fashioned intellectuals and politics have a future? - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

Do old-fashioned intellectuals and politics have a future?

June 08, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

An interesting discussion took place in the Frankfurter Rundschau (September 26, 1992). When asked by his interviewer whether intellectuals will succeed in maintaining their social significance, the Spanish literary critic and author, Manuel Vazquez Montalban (who is famous especially for his detective novels), wittily replied that “the connection between CNN and Jane Fonda will be the only organic intellectual in the world.”

Montalban went on, adding that he has more confidence in intellectuals who appear in public collectively, rather than individually. And then he concluded that social criticism will survive into the twenty-first century, shaping new social movements. The only thing that we, in his own words, “individualist intellectuals,” are still good for is forming critically minded communities. According to the Spanish writer, the role of the intellectuals will decrease, but at the same time stronger critical collectives will emerge.

Without a shadow of a doubt, intellectuals have a future, although it may significantly differ from that role of the lonely Teiresiuses and Cassandras, dissenters, nay-sayers, and personifications of the conscience which we knew quite well in Eastern and Central Europe over the past fifty years. In our self-absorbed age, obsessed with consumption, intensity, attention seeking, self-exposure, and sensationalism, an individual intellectual can hardly avoid sinking into oblivion without becoming a victim or a celebrity.

Therefore, the fact is that we live in a world which increasingly leaves less room for people like Andrei Sakharov, Pope John Paul II, or Vaclav Havel. A seemingly unquestionable moral authority can be easily marginalized by assuming their name, yet changing the logic of their moral choices – in silence and even without noticing it. A safe bureaucratic practice and a well-established routine can be as dangerous for the authenticity of the defense of human rights as a selective approach to it.

For instance, there is something profoundly embarrassing, not to say ironic and even sinister, about the way in which the political groups negotiate and calculate their choices nominating human rights defenders for the Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament. What lurks behind a routinized Realpolitik practice is a legitimizing authority of the greatest human rights defender whose name is used for the self-establishing and self-aggrandizing purposes of politicians.
The anonymity and unaccountability of the political and bureaucratic groups is as destructive to the fate of great intellectuals and critics as is the political kitsch or the cult of celebrities within the media world. In fact, we live at a time when old-fashioned, or pre-Facebook-era, intellectuals are at the peril of being relegated to the margins of the public domain and politics. They are at risk of becoming a non-entity.

This is no joke; indeed, far from it. If you go to the public, you can make yourself heard and visible only through IT and public communication novelties or through TV talk shows. The rest is history. All in all, technology outpaced politics. Either you actively engage in the world of IT, or you don’t exist anymore. You can, therefore, you ought. You can be on-line; therefore, you ought to be on-line. If you are off-line, you cease participating in reality. As simple as that.

Yet it would be too early to play funeral music for intellectuals. They can survive by forming critically minded and interpretive communities, as mentioned by Montalban. Moreover, they can be instrumental in shaping new social movements, which becomes especially obvious in the Facebook era. And social movements, for their part, can fundamentally reshape our political life leaving little of what we knew thus far as conventional politics.

For all this looks like the end – or at least the beginning of the end – of Politics, with a capital P, in our contemporary world. Classic politics was always associated with the power to turn private problems into public questions as well as the power to internalize public questions and turn them into private or even existential questions. Today this political mechanism is out of tune. What we in our postmodern politics treat as public questions most often are private problems of public figures.
It is a public secret, then, that ours is a time when politics bows out. Look at numerous political clowns who are getting far more popular nowadays than any of the old-fashioned bureaucratic- or expert-type politicians. We are swiftly approaching the phase of political life when a major rival to a well-established political party will be not its fellow political party of different cut or shade, but an influential NGO or a social movement.

Russian and Chinese autocrats feel this quite well. As we all know, NGOs are not welcome in the tyrannical regimes; neither is Facebook, especially after a series of the Middle East Facebook Revolutions, or the Arab Spring, or even now during the Facebook Revolution of the young Spanish indignados in Madrid. In all likelihood, these acts of resistance and social unrest anticipate the era of virtual social movements which will be conducted or integrated by conventional or new political parties. Otherwise, political parties will be smashed by these movements from the face of the earth.

These events offer a timely perspective on politics in the Baltic countries, where it turned out, after the 1990s, to be more difficult to motivate society to vote in the democratic elections than to mobilize it against a threat to its political independence or linguistic and cultural identity.      

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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