On Victor Zaslavsky’s Class Cleansing

David Ost’s review of Victor Zaslavsky’s Class Cleansing: The Massacre at Katyn appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full review online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here. Zaslavsky’s Class Cleansing is available for purchase here.

In this powerful short book on the horrific Soviet massacre of over 20,000 Polish reserve officers in 1940, Victor Zaslavsky utilizes recently opened Moscow archives to lay out what happened, and then argues that it was the result of a committed effort to wipe out a class. Unfortunately, that claim is not fully developed. Zaslavsky never specifies the identity of this class, and passes over the key role played by nationality. The fact that Ukrainian and Belarusian elite officers arrested from the same lands were spared—lands the Soviets were about to transfer from Polish to Soviet sovereignty—shows that not all elites were targeted equally, and that destroying those loyal to the now-dismantled Polish state (which in the pre-war period did constitute a genuine threat) was the primary consideration. The author’s equation of “classism” with “racism,” as just two different kinds of “discrimination,” is also challenged, on grounds that persecution based on the ascriptive characteristic of race differs fundamentally from efforts of class-based economic redistribution that most countries carry out, and that communist categories of class tended to be more fungible than Zaslavsky here allows.

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On “Traditionism” and Masorti Identity

Yaacov Yadgar’s “A Post-Secular Look at Tradition: Toward a Definition of ‘Traditionism'” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Building on the “post-secular” turn in the interdisciplinary study of society, culture, history, and religion, this essay aims at refocusing the investigative gaze at tradition and the attitudes toward it. Originating from an interest in Israeli-Jews who decline to self-identify as either “secular” or “religious” and instead choose “masorti” (deriving from masoret, Hebrew for tradition) as the label of their religious identity, the essay attempts to present an interpretative, phenomenological discussion of tradition, traditionalism, and what is suggested here as the proper translation of masorti-ness, “traditionism.” The essay first reconstructs an understanding of tradition that stresses its constitutive, dialogical, dynamic, and contemporary nature. Building on this understanding of tradition the paper then investigates what academic literature often refers to as “traditionalism,” commonly understood to be marking a rigid, ultra-conservative, and totalizing view of tradition’s authority over the individual’s as well as the community’s life. Contrasting “traditionism” with this traditionalist ultra-conservatism, the essay suggests an outline for interpreting and understanding traditionism as a (late-) modern, self-reflective, practical, critical, and selective adherence to tradition. The essay argues that traditionism thus offers a viable post-secular alternative to the predominant notion of an inherent antinomy between modernity and tradition.

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On the Paradox of Authenticity

Somogy Varga’s “The Paradox of Authenticity” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

The ideal of authenticity has become a prevalent ethical ideal with an immense impact on popular culture. Authenticity is no longer restricted to the periphery of philosophy, and prominent thinkers have recently reintroduced it as a central philosophical issue. However, contemporary accounts do not seem to pay sufficient attention to how the ideal of authenticity and certain practices in capitalism have shaped each other reciprocally. This essay attempts to make initial steps toward filling this gap.

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On the Problem of Governing Lifestyle-Related Risks

Pekka Sulkunen’s “Autonomy against Intimacy: On the Problem of Governing Lifestyle-Related Risks” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Most risk society analyses focus on external risks caused by production, neglecting internal risks produced by consumption. Tobacco, alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise, and other lifestyle-related causes are top global burdens of health, growing with emerging consumer society outside western capitalism. Modern societies have a poor track record in regulating these risks. Neo-liberal hegemony is a weak explanation of the failure. We must see the issue as a problem of justification. Modern social order is founded on individual biography, autonomy, and intimacy as principles of human worth. The twentieth-century modern state has guided the progress to make these ideals reality. Autonomy, the right to individual self-control, has supported the right to intimacy, experience of life as unique and separate from other lives. Today, only quite recently, these principles of worth are fully matured, but autonomy and intimacy are now conflicting. One person’s uniqueness—the pleasure of consumption or cultural identity—is felt to tax the autonomy of others. Vice versa, the autonomy of the majority cuts into the uniqueness of the few. The state has lost its pastoral role to lead the flock to progress, and become apostolic authority merely instructing the faithful on health, security, and well-being from a distance.

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On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar

Rusmir Mahmutćehajić’s “On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar: The Poet, the Road, and the Word” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

This essay investigates certain key ontological, cosmological, anthropological, and psychological aspects of Mak Dizdar’s Stone Sleeper, the best-known poetic work of the Slavic south. Written during the 1960s, the book was recognized immediately on publication as an authentic voice of perennial wisdom finding expression through major elements of Bosnian culture. Although distorted and obscured in modern ideological perspectives, the idea of “Bosnian Culture” preserves nearly all the vital elements of perennial wisdom. The poet’s confident expression of this wisdom is, in the author’s view, his witness to the need for dialogue between interlocutors of both the traditional and modern viewpoints that can assist our exit from confusion and ideological reductionism. In spite of its origins during the period of Communist totalitarianism, Stone Sleeper presents a clear picture of how human openness to the principle of existence, which transcends any and all ideological construction, is and remains irreducible to closed form. This book has been recognized as both a supreme achievement and a crucial moment in the poetry of the Slavic south, confirming Bosnia’s centrality to and rich impact upon that complex whole.

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The Lessons of Czesław Miłosz

Pedro Blas González’s “Czesław Miłosz: Old-World Values Confront Late-Modern Nihilism” appears in Telos 156 (Fall 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind is unrivalled by other theoretical and abstract treatises in its sheer ability to grasp the criminal essence of political reality under communism. The Captive Mind, which was published in 1953 by the 1980 recipient of the Noble Prize in literature, chronicles and dissects the mind and soul of Marxist intellectuals and their readiness to embrace communism. Focusing his attention on the life-trajectory of real writers and thinkers who were acquaintances of Milosz’s, the Polish writer is able to pinpoint the many rewards that communism offers the intellectuals who embrace it. In this and other respects, Miłosz keeps some very distinguished company, with writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Karl Popper, Leszek Kołakowski, Arthur Koestler, Jean-Francois Revel, and Paul Hollander, some who lived under communism. These writers have enlightened western democracies about the structure of realpolitiks and dialectical materialism, and the necessary outcome of what some naïvely like to call “praxis.” Miłosz’s formation as a writer and thinker took place during the 1930s, a time that saw Europe in the grasp of the two dominant totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century: fascism and communism. This historical context was to form the backbone of The Captive Mind. From a historical and humanistic perspective, this context remains very important today, for it gives us an opportunity to revisit the essential human qualities and virtues that have to be subsumed by totalitarianism in order for such governments to rule with an iron fist.

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