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Mostrando postagens com marcador The New York Review of Books. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador The New York Review of Books. Mostrar todas as postagens

domingo, 29 de março de 2020

A Peste: dos tempos medievais à atualidade - Spencer Strub (NYRBooks)

Illness & Crisis, from Medieval Plague Tracts to Covid-19

The New York Review of Books, March 25, 2020
Bridgeman Images
Gilles Le Muisit: Black Death at Tournai, 1349
When the plague arrived at Catalonia’s doorstep in April 1348, the learned physician Jacme d’Agramont wrote to address the “doubts and fears” rising around him. He laid out, in a treatise written in Catalan to the civil authorities in his hometown of Lleida, a set of reasonable preventative measures that anyone could take. The air was likely putrefied because of sin, so confession should be the first priority. The windows should be sealed shut, the fire stoked with juniper, and the floor sprinkled with vinegar. One should eat and drink very little, and it should all be as sour as possible. “Slimy fishes” like eel and “rapacious fishes” like dolphin should absolutely not be eaten, nor ducks, nor suckling pigs. A little bloodletting could help. Sex and baths must be avoided, because they open one’s pores and allow noxious airs to enter. A fearful imagination would only make matters worse.
D’Agramont’s 1348 letter was the first plague tract. Others soon followed, and reading these tracts today is instructive. The plague’s progress out of Central Asia and into Europe and the Middle East was heralded by rumors of its advance. Rulers and ordinary people alike knew it was coming; they wanted to know how to prepare and how to endure what they knew would be a profound disruption to everyday life. “Experience shows us,” D’Agramont wrote, “that when a dwelling catches on fire all the neighbors become afraid.” Tracts like his aimed to calm the neighbors—the literate ones, at least, who could share the advice with the illiterate—by giving them a sense of control over a collective predicament that was, in fact, in nobody’s hands.
D’Agramont’s advice was written without the benefit of direct observation. He drew on what he modestly calls the “little science” he’d gleaned from studying pestilences recorded in the Bible and Hippocrates. The plague tracts written subsequently, in the midst of the epidemic, struggled to describe a disease that physicians swiftly realized was not like the ones they had read about. Modern scholars debate the 1348 plague’s mortality rate (anywhere between 30 and 60 percent of the population) and the pathogen responsible (most historians agree that the bacterium yersinia pestis is to blame, but candidates from anthrax to hemorrhagic fever have been proposed). As the historian Monica Green has pointed out, “even its full geographic extent is still unknown.”
But all agree that it was unlike any earlier epidemic, killing tens of millions of people over the course of a few years. Medieval writers recognized this unprecedented quality: Guy de Chauliac, physician to the court of Pope Clement VI in Avignon, called it inaudita, unheard-of. While historians had long recorded pestilences, Guy wrote, “none of them occupied more than a single region, this one the whole world; they were curable in some way, this one not at all.” Others simply called it the “great mortality” or the “universal pestilence.” (Like the word “medieval,” “the Black Death” was a later invention, the coinage of a confused seventeenth-century historian.)
In May 1348, a week after d’Agramont sent his letter to the rulers of Lleida, the governing council or comune of the Tuscan town of Pistoia issued a set of ordinances intended to slow the spread of the disease. Travel bans were put in place and the transport of goods restricted. Polluting industries such as butcheries and tanneries were closed or strictly limited. Social gatherings like funerals and commemorative masses were banned, with some exceptions for people of rank: knights, lawyers, judges, and physicians could “be honored by their heirs at their burial in any way they please.”
Pistoia is now one of the centers of the coronavirus epidemic in Tuscany. Like the rest of Italy, it is under lockdown. Funerals and religious services are once again forbidden. The Florentine newspaper La Nazione reports that mass will be celebrated over Facebook and YouTube, while quarantined residents meet for an aperitivo over Zoom. Lacking such technological ingenuity, fourteenth-century “social distancing”—spurred by personal fear and collective regulation—severed the usual bonds of a close-knit society. In Avignon, France, Guy de Chauliac lamented that family ties had frayed in the face of the plague: “Fathers did not visit their sons, nor sons their fathers. Charity was dead, hope prostrate.”
Medieval scholars thought the plague arose from causes both universal (unfortunate astrological conjunctions) and particular (corrupted airs and humoral imbalances). One can’t control the stars, but one can control what Greek medicine called the six non-naturals, the mutable things like exercise and emotion that were thought to affect health. Across both the Islamic and Christian medical worlds, writers warned against sex and baths and commended sour food and strong smells. In a 1348 report, the Paris Medical Faculty warned that certain populations were more susceptible to the disease: those “bunged up with evil hu­mors”; “those following a bad life style, with too much exercise, sex and bathing”; “persistent worriers”; “corpulent people with a ruddy complexion.” Lifestyle changes might therefore improve one’s chances. Others tried to offer suggestions for the care of the sick. De Chauliac prescribed an ointment of figs, onions, butter, and fermented dough for the buboes; the polymath Ibn al-Wardi recorded the doctors of Aleppo anointing his compatriots with Armenian clay.
British Library Board/Bridgeman Images
An illustration showing plague victims being blessed by a priest, from Omne Bonum, by James le Palmer, 1360–1375
Much of this advice was meant for home use. Many early plague treatises were written in local vernaculars rather than Latin, as d’Agramont put it, “for the benefit of the people and not for the instruction of the physician.” After the plague returned, in 1360–1361, the audience for plague advice grew even larger. John of Burgundy’s De epidemia, a post-1361 bestseller in multiple languages, instructed readers to take dietary supplements—“a dose of good theriac the size of a bean”—and to sniff aromatics in cold weather, with shopping suggestions broken out by budget level: “ambergris, musk, rosemary and similar things if you are rich; zedoary, cloves, nutmeg, mace and similar things if you are poor.” Sometimes the plague sufferer was allowed a cheat day: in lieu of wine, a patient should drink vinegar in water, but “occasionally, however, he can be given, to cheer him up, white wine diluted with plenty of water.” By the fifteenth century, the English poet John Lydgate could sum up such advice with a cheerful jingle: “Drynk good wyn, & holsom meetis take, / smelle swote thynges,” he wrote, “walke in cleene heir, eschewe mystis blake.”
Such instructions provided a way to wrest agency back from a traumatic experience of collective vulnerability. The past few weeks have seen similar efforts on social media, which has begun to feel like a live-updating plague tract. Reminders to stay in, to wash our hands, to “#flattenthecurve” mark earnest attempts to conform individual behavior to the needs of collective well-being. But they do little to remedy our sense of powerlessness. They certainly don’t allay the chief concern of the young and asymptomatic, which is the risk of infecting the vulnerable people around them. Harvard, where I teach, shut down classes and evicted undergraduates from the dorms. (When plague hit medieval Oxford, the scholars scattered into the countryside, too.) During our last meeting in person, my students worried that they might unknowingly carry Covid-19 home to their parents and grandparents. I could think of no real reassurance to offer them.
So we search for everyday commodities to assuage our anxiety: rice, cleaning supplies, toilet paper. As I’ve been writing this piece, I’ve found myself besieged by scammy Internet ads for masks, which our government begs us not to buy. Before the pandemic was widespread in the United States, an email purportedly written by a distinguished scholar of coronaviruses was widely shared on Facebook. It said the usual things—wash your hands and sneeze into a tissue, etc.—but also suggested that zinc might impede the infection. Zinc lozenges suddenly became the theriac to cure all ills; masks and hand-sanitizer, the ambergris and zedoary to ward off infection.
Of course, putting faith in the efficacy of our actions is also meant to stave off despair. Even as Covid-19 took hold, doctors, nurses, and quarantined patients recorded music videos and dance-offs to raise people’s spirits. As the pandemic has spread, people under lockdown in Italy have taken to their balconies to sing. As d’Agramont put it, “in such times, joyfulness and gaiety are most profitable.” 
Not long after finishing his letter, d’Agramont himself contracted the plague and died. Ibn al-Wardi succumbed in Aleppo in 1349. Guy de Chauliac caught it in Avignon in 1348; for six weeks, he languished with a fever as a bubo swelled in his groin. He recovered and slipped a memoir of his experience into a chapter on ulcers of the breast in his Chirurgia magna, a compendium of knowledge—written because “not everyone can have every book, and even if they could, it would be tedious to read them and godly to retain it all in mind”—that was copied, translated, and used as an authoritative reference for centuries to come.
This book’s fifteenth-century English translation includes one of the language’s earliest examples of the word “crisis.” In Middle English, the term referred to the determinative phase of an illness, the point from which one either recovers to health or declines to death. Its etymological origins can be traced back to Greek κρῐ́σῐς (krisis)—also related to modern English “critic” and “critique”—a word that denotes separation, dispute, decision, and judgment. De Chauliac’s English translator explained the term with a Middle English gloss: “determynacioun.” The crisis is the moment of decision, the place where individual and collective suffering meet.
Plague and crisis thus entered Anglophone consciousness hand in hand. Histories medieval and modern still reflect that association. Monastic chroniclers recorded the pestilence as just one aspect of a general calamity in the 1340s, heralded by earthquakes and an unusually warm winter, accompanied by war and famine. A longstanding grand narrative holds that the Black Death was the hinge of a larger “crisis of the fourteenth century”: the pandemic sent the European feudal order into disarray, and eventually modernity emerged from the pesthouse.
The coronavirus may be remembered likewise—as an indelible historical dividing line, but also as a symptom of a broader crisis. In their 1348 bulletin, the Paris Medical Faculty observed that the “winter was not as cold as it should have been.” The faculty attributed the problem to Mars, which was “looking upon Jupiter with a hostile aspect.” We know that our warm winters are not the product of astrological misfortune but of two centuries of fossil-fuel extraction and consumption. The effects of climate change will likely spur more pandemics. As this one continues to spread, pulling down the world economy with it, more people will suffer and die. The poor and vulnerable will suffer more, as they already do, in disasters that unfold routinely beyond public attention.
There is no reason to think that our governments are equipped to address the social ramifications of these disasters. In fact, we risk repeating the worst mistakes of the past. As the historian of science Hannah Marcus recently pointed out in The New York Times, “foreigners, prostitutes, Jews and the poor were blamed for outbreaks of plague.” Some medieval physicians, clerics, and rulers rejected such hate and superstition, but others encouraged it: d’Agramont warned that someone was poisoning wells; the French poet Guillaume de Machaut attacked “shameful Judea” and celebrated the anti-Semitic pogroms that took place across Europe. Such retributive violence followed the cues of what the historian R.I. Moore labeled the medieval European “persecuting society.” There is no evidence of similar treatment’s being meted out to religious minorities in the equally plague-stricken Islamic world. America has met the coronavirus with racist scapegoating and politically opportunistic Sinophobia. As most nations retreat behind their borders, our shared descent into authoritarianism, nationalism, and xenophobic violence may well accelerate.
Against division, medieval plague tracts aimed to serve what d’Agramont called “the common and public good.” But the advice they offered emphasized a personal regimen that could scarcely slow the spread of the plague or diminish its effects. Their prescriptions reveal the limits of individual action in combating such a shared predicament as a pandemic. As we wait in quarantine and under lockdown, we should join together in whatever forums are available to us to ask ourselves what kind of future we can make together when we emerge.

terça-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2020

Maquiavel era maquiavélico? - Livro de Patrick Boucheron (traduzido do francês)

A New Book Asks: Just How Machiavellian Was Machiavelli?

The term “Orwellian” has always struck me as curiously Orwellian — a mild example of doublespeak that ties an author’s good name to the dystopia he so memorably depicted. (See also “Dickensian” and “Kafkaesque.”) Instead of referring to George Orwell’s crisp prose or moral clarity, “Orwellian” is like the doctor’s name that ends up anointing the terrible disease he discovered, forever yoked to the affliction he abhorred.
“Machiavellian” is another shorthand that inverts its namesake, even if the Renaissance statesman and writer Niccolò Machiavelli still gets cast in the popular imagination as a cynical proponent of ruthless power politics. In “Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear,” the French historian Patrick Boucheron joins an estimable list of scholars who have been trying to debunk the crude stereotype of Machiavelli as a fascist enabler and tyrant whisperer.
This energetic little book started out as a series of talks for French public radio in 2016, and it offers a knowing guide to Machiavelli’s life and work. The tone, in Willard Wood’s translation, is playfully conspiratorial. Boucheron invites us to think through how Machiavelli became synonymous with unscrupulous despotism when the real man suffered for his republican allegiances.
Boucheron’s breezy use of the first-person plural keeps his argument humming amiably along, though some English-language readers might feel buffeted by the occasional gusts of cultural presumption. “We are familiar with Guy Debord’s prophetic 1967 work ‘The Society of the Spectacle,’” Boucheron declares in passing. (We are?) “We have therefore been warned about the pernicious effects of commodity fetishism and the frenzied acclamation it generates.”
What Boucheron is talking about is the Florence of Machiavelli’s birth in 1469 — a republic in name only, “swollen with pride” and “gradually settling into oligarchy,” where officials were elected to office every two months, thereby ensuring the de facto rule of wealthy families like the Medicis. In 1498, after a coup and a strange, four-year reign by the Dominican friar Savonarola, the 29-year-old Machiavelli ascended to a government post that put him in charge of Florence’s foreign affairs.
Over the next 14 years, Machiavelli gained political experience, observing up close how power worked. As the envoy from a tiny state who met with both adversaries and allies, he was sometimes subject to contempt and humiliation, and accordingly learned certain lessons. Boucheron makes a clever case that travel was “an exercise in disorientation,” allowing Machiavelli to see Florence and its position in the world anew: “Is this not what the painters of the Renaissance called perspective?”
When the Medicis returned in 1512, due not to popular demand but to foreign support, they had Machiavelli arrested and imprisoned, stringing him up by a pulley to force him to scream out a confession of wrongdoing, which he didn’t do. A year later, Machiavelli was living in exile on his farm, writing “Of Principalities,” the book that would become better known as “The Prince.”
Never officially published in his lifetime, “The Prince” would become his most popular work, and the one most likely to be misread. It’s an irony that wouldn’t have been lost on Machiavelli, whom Boucheron deems an inveterate dramatist and irrepressible trickster. The standard reading of “The Prince” views it as Machiavelli’s attempt to ingratiate himself to the returning Medicis by offering them what amounted to a book-length job application: a treatise filled with underhanded tactics for seizing and maintaining power.
“It is much safer to be feared than loved”; “people should either be caressed or crushed”; “the new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict,” and “must inflict them once and for all.” This is the Machiavellian Machiavelli: amoral, conniving and cruel, responding to whatever the situation demands. A 16th-century Catholic cardinal was so horrified by “The Prince” that he said it was written by “the finger of Satan.”
But it has always been hard to square such a literal reading with the facts of Machiavelli’s life, and with the republican theories he developed in books like “Discourses.” Some critics have insisted that Machiavelli’s advice was so brutal and outlandish that the depraved ruler who actually dared to put his precepts into practice would make his people hate him and inevitably bring about his own ruin; this was “The Prince” as Trojan horse or poison pill, crafted by a former political prisoner intent on bringing down the Medici clan. Still others decided Machiavelli was a satirist, while Rousseau read “The Prince” as a warning: Machiavelli, by dissecting the mechanics of power, was telling people what they ought to fear.
“Machiavelli is the master of disillusioning,” Boucheron writes. “That’s why, all through history, he’s been a trusted ally in evil times.” It’s not so much the content of “The Prince” as its approach, with its “theatrical energy” and “sure and rapid pace,” that offers a way to think about politics not as static and immutable but as stubbornly contingent. Cultivating republican institutions and the rule of law requires certain techniques; sheer political survival requires others. In a capricious world, Boucheron writes, intentions only count for so much: “He lets us see how the social energy of political configurations always spills out of the neat constructs in which it’s meant to stay put.”

Boucheron thinks the United States is currently grappling with what the historian J.G.A. Pocock called the “Machiavellian moment,” when instability puts the future of a republic at stake. A resurgence of Machiavelli suggests something has gone awfully awry. “If we’re reading him today,” Boucheron writes, “it means we should be worried.”
But just as his subject had a “taste for paradox,” Boucheron refuses to leave it at that. If we’re reading Machiavelli today, we might also learn something from his “lucidity, the weapon of the despairing.” In other words, there’s still some hope.

domingo, 16 de fevereiro de 2020

‘Les Temps Modernes’: End of an Epoch - The New York Review of Books (2019)

‘Les Temps Modernes’: End of an Epoch

The New York Review of Books, May 17, 2019, 10:11 am
Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, circa 1945
On December 6, 2018, five months after the death of its long-time editor, Claude Lanzmann, Éditions Gallimard announced that Les Temps Modernes, the legendary intellectual journal, would cease publication. Its editorial committee had earlier proposed changing to a digital format and holding public forums, but Gallimard wasn’t interested. As the editors wrote in Le Monde on May 2, “the review created by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 1945, and led by Claude Lanzmann starting in 1986, now belongs to history.”
Its disappearance, the editors admitted, would not “change the face of the world,” its latest issues having failed to inflect the public debate, and even its closing barely having been noted in the press. The shuttering of Les Temps Modernes is significant not simply as the end of a review that had lived seventy-three years—a short life, compared to other intellectual journals in France, like the staid Revue des Deux Mondes, which has been around since 1829; the Mercure de France, appearing in its present form since 1890 and in an earlier incarnation since 1692; and Esprit, founded by the Personalist philosopher Emmanuel Mounier, which first published in 1932—but as the last symbol of an epoch, what Bernard-Henri Lévy called “Sartre’s century.”
As Annie Cohen-Solal wrote in her biography of Sartre, already in its youth “Les Temps Modernes had become the meeting place, the refined club where every month could be found the prestigious signatures of everyone that the left-wing intelligentsia in Europe and America counted among its leading lights.” Reading old issues is to reexperience the intellectual life of the postwar world, when France set the tone and Les Temps Modernes set the terms for every debate of any importance, not just in France, but around the world.
Until its death, the review remained stubbornly faithful to the project Sartre elaborated in his “presentation” in the review’s first issue in October 1945. He wrote that though “all writers of bourgeois origin have known the temptation of irresponsibility… our intention is to assist in producing certain changes in the society around us.” In what was perhaps a dig at the Christian leftists of Esprit, Sartre continued that “we do not mean a change in souls.… For we who, without being materialists, have never distinguished the body from the soul and who know but one indecomposable reality, human reality, we line up on the side of those who want both to change man’s social condition and his self-understanding.” On the political issues of the day, the review, he promised, would “take a position in every case.”
Few publications remained as true to their initial goals as Les Temps Modernes, and few demonstrated the rigor and openness and bravery it did in fulfilling it. Fewer still could boast of contributors of the caliber of those who wrote for the journal, especially in its early days, and the quality and durability of their contributions.
It was in the pages of Les Temps Modernes that we first find Sartre’s “Portrait of the Anti-Semite,” his “What is Literature,” and political writings like his fellow-traveling “The Communists and Peace,” and his post-Hungarian invasion rethinking of communism, “The Ghost of Stalin.” His co-director Simone de Beauvoir was of course also a regular contributor, and in May 1948 we find “Women and Myths,” described in a note as an “excerpt from a work to appear on the situation of the woman”—what would be The Second Sex.
Literature held a prominent place in its table of contents. Jean Genet’s Funeral Ritesappeared in the third issue, The Thief’s Journal in July 1946, an issue which also included fiction by Samuel Beckett, who would later also publish poetry in the magazine. Richard Wright’s Black Boy was serialized across six issues in 1946 and 1947, and Boris Vian’s Froth on the Daydream, a satire of the Sartre cult, was excerpted in 1946.
It was a journal of combat, both political and intellectual, and no battle was more famous than that surrounding the May 1952 negative review of Camus’s The Rebel by staff member Francis Jeanson, who volunteered for the task when no one else at the review would do so. Camus did not take the criticism well, and responded in a letter whose tone was set by its salutation: “Monsieur le directeur.”
Private Collection/Archives Charmet/Bridgeman Images
Issue three of Les Temps Modernes, December 1, 1945; click to enlarge
Though Sartre has been presented as the cold, rational member of the Camus-Sartre pair, and Camus the warm Mediterranean, it is Sartre’s response to Camus, which begins “My dear Camus,” that betrays human feeling. Sartre emphasizes the human side of their difference: “Our friendship wasn’t easy, but I will miss it. If you end it today it is probably because it had to be ended.” Though Sartre shared Jeanson’s opinion of The Rebel, he did not despair of Camus: “For us you were – and tomorrow you could be again—the admirable convergence of a person, an action, and an oeuvre.” He continued, “But whatever you might say or do in return I refuse to fight you. I hope our silence will cause the polemic to be forgotten.”
Despite Sartre’s hope, their falling out has never been forgotten, and the success and popularity Camus has continued to experience stands in marked contrast to Sartre’s fall from philosophical grace. As recently as June 2012, Les Temps Modernes dedicated three articles over nearly sixty pages to refuting the anti-Sartre bias in the current philosophical media star Michel Onfray’s book on Camus, L’Ordre Libertaire.
However important it was as a forum for philosophy and literature, it was in the realm of political activity that Les Temps Modernes most stood out during its heyday. In March 1947 it dedicated nearly an entire issue to the Vietnamese fight for independence. Then, at great risk to its continued existence, the review took an uncompromising position during France’s war in Algeria, regularly publishing articles in support of the Algerian FLN’s struggle and on the crimes—the tortures and disappearances—committed by the French. The result was censorship of the magazine, blank pages in place of articles, and the seizure of entire issues. Sartre’s apartment was bombed, and Francis Jeanson went underground to run a network of support for the Algerians, the porteurs de valises, who transported guns and money for the freedom fighters.
Les Temps Modernes frequently published articles on Jewish matters, and in July 1967 it printed one of its landmark issues, a thousand pages of analyses of the conflict in the Middle East, an issue organized by future editor Claude Lanzmann at the suggestion of Israeli leftist and peace activist Simha Flapan. Contained within it, divided in two sections, were articles by both Palestinian and Israeli activists.
Nineteen sixty-eight, the highwater mark of the world left, saw the review covering and championing the Prague Spring, while the student and worker uprising of May 1968 in France saw it fully engaged in the fight in the streets, factories, and universities: “We now know that socialist revolution is not impossible in Western Europe,” asserted the editorial note of the May–June 1968 issue. Leftist thinkers as diverse as André Gorz, Ernest Mandel, Philippe Gavi, and the Italian Rossanna Rossanda appeared in its pages in the following period, and Sartre and Beauvoir provided the far left with their active support.
By the late 1970s the radical project had run out of steam—the restructuring of society it envisioned no longer seemed likely. Les trente glorieuses, the thirty glorious years of economic expansion in France that followed World War II, were paradoxically—or perhaps not—the years in which political change seemed most possible, during which the left flourished and Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes dominated. What Claude Lanzmann wrote in 1981 after François Mitterrand’s victory in the presidential election defines the period in which Les Temps Modernes thrived: “May 1968 marked much more the end of the time of the absolute than it announced real actions to inscribe in history.”
In the decades that followed, the centrality of the review, headed by Beauvoir after Sartre’s death, and then by Lanzmann from 1986 until his death in 2018, began to slowly then precipitously fade. It still embraced important causes and issues, but times had changed. Thinkers at antipodes from Sartre, Beauvoir, and company came to dominate intellectual discourse, and the voices that reached foreign countries were now intellectuals such as Derrida and Barthes, epitomes of the withdrawal of the intellectual from the political world that Sartre and Les Temps Modernes had condemned. Michel Foucault, who for many assumed Sartre’s mantle, dismissed his massive Critique of Dialectical Reason as “the magnificent and pathetic attempt by a man of the nineteenth century to think the twentieth century.” Modern times, indeed.
The death of Les Temps Modernes can be put down to the general problem of the press, to the death of print. That’s just a part of the answer. France has no shortage of celebrity philosophers today, men like Lévy, Onfray, and Alain Finkielkraut, but their ideas are no longer principally shared through books. Rather, they are stars of many media, appearing regularly on TV and radio, running podcasts, and, in the case of Onfray, leading until September 2018 a free university in Caen in his native Normandy  and selling audio recordings of his lectures. They take advantage of means of celebrity that Sartre never enjoyed. But it is worth noting that, unlike Sartre, of these three thinkers only Lévy has much of an audience outside France—less a testament to the value of his ideas than his Trumpian gift for manipulating the media. 
The public reputation of Les Temps Modernes was influenced, too, by its editor, Claude Lanzmann, who was accused of sexual violence in Israel (where he was briefly arrested), Germany, and Holland. In the age of #MeToo this was a stain difficult to expunge, and it harmed the reputation of the review he led. Le Monde defined Lanzmann, in an article published upon his death, as an “insatiable seducer,” calling him “faithful in friendship, unfaithful in love.” Sartre, too, was known as a serial seducer. But Sartre’s affairs were part of his well-known pact with Simone de Beauvoir. Their agreement that they were free to be with others while maintaining their partnership was perfectly consistent with the ethos of Les Temps Modernes, and even came in some ways to symbolize it.
To finally understand its demise, we must go back to the journal’s first issue. Les Temps Modernes mattered because it dealt with grand issues in a world where change not only seemed possible but was thought to be imminent. Political and intellectual decisions had to be made, and the stakes felt high.
All these years later, many of the review’s political choices strike us as wrongheaded at best, delusional at worst. Socialist revolution did not occur in the West, nor was it ever really possible. Sartre’s fellow-traveling seems unconscionable now, and his support of the far-left puerile. Yet difficult as it may be from our perspective, it is important to see that the review was, within its historical moment, making honest attempts to break out of the closed, bourgeois world it rebelliously grew from in order to seriously engage in changing society. If its call for radical action sounds hollow today, more’s the pity for us.

domingo, 15 de dezembro de 2019

Is Another Dose of Peronism the Cure for Macri Economics? - David Rieff (NYRBooks)

On Monday we published David Rieff’s deep analysis of Argentina’s recent general election, “Is Another Dose of Peronism the Cure for Macri Economics?” That dose of Peronism comes by virtue of a return to power, though this time as vice-president, for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who ruled as president from 2007 to 2015, after the presidency of her husband, Néstor Kirchner.
Living part of the year in Buenos Aires makes Rieff a truly embedded reporter—an acute observer who is able to explain not only why the previous, non-Peronist president, Mauricio Macri, had failed so badly to live up to his own boast of economic competence, but also the complex dynamics of Peronism, that uniquely Argentine form of populism. The article includes some choice examples of the delicious, wry details for which David has a special eye—such as the publication of an open letter of protest from 800 Lacanian psychoanalysts (only in Argentina!).  
But why Buenos Aires, was my first question to him when we caught up this week via email. “I went there about ten years ago for a conference, I found it fascinating, and kept returning,” he said. “Now I’m finally beginning to write about it. But I also spend time every year in Johannesburg and Dublin. Philip Roth used to tease me, saying that I came from an intellectual somewhere but an ethnic and geographical nowhere,” he went on. “I’m not sure that’s right but I am at ease—not at home: that’s a bridge too far for me—in many places.”
Roth and Carlos Fuentes were two of the many writers David edited during a decade at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “I’m not sure how useful I was to either of them,” he told me. “With Roth, I acted as a sounding board as he revised and revised drafts of the novels I helped him edit. I think the book on which I was of most use was The Counterlife.”
Quite an item to have on one’s curriculum vitae. But David’s résumé also includes hundreds of articles as well as more than a dozen books of his own. Most of them are based on his reporting from foreign parts—the book of journalism he’s most proud of is Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (1995), about the war in the former Yugoslavia. He was just back in Sarajevo last week to participate in a conference on art and politics. 
“It’s always interesting and disconcerting to go back in peace time,” he said. “And of course, the young, unsurprisingly and quite rightly, don’t want to hear about the war.” This time, he was struck by the way Bosnia has become part of a new and entirely different story of human struggle and suffering—as a staging post for migrants trying to enter the EU.

Is Another Dose of Peronism the Cure for Macri Economics?

2019 Getty ImagesA homeless man sleeping under posters of newly elected President Alberto Fernández and his running mate, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Buenos Aires, October 28, 2019
Buenos Aires—There is an old Argentine wisecrack that says: a person who leaves Argentina for six months, and then returns, finds the country completely transformed, but someone who returns after an absence of ten years finds that things are more or less as he or she left them. It is a joke but one whose accuracy would seem to be borne out by the results of the October 27 general election that repudiated the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri and his Cambiemos (“Let’s Change”) party that had been in power since 2015, and instead made Alberto Fernández president and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner the new vice-president. Thus restored to power were the Peronists who have ruled Argentina for nearly twenty-three out of the thirty-six years since the restoration of democracy in 1983.
The outcome seemed to confirm, then, what remains the conventional wisdom for a large part of the Argentine population, Peronist and anti-Peronist alike: that Peronism is Argentina’s natural party of government. This conviction helps explain why Macri’s election in 2015 was seen as a political earthquake: here was a neoliberal, albeit one of the softer type, elected in profoundly corporatist Argentina. But the same belief also accounts why Macri’s repudiation by voters now seems a reversion to the political norm in Argentina and consigns Macri to being the exception that proved the rule—since he has become the only sitting president in modern Argentine history to have stood for re-election and lost. 
Such meta-political considerations aside, there were sound practical reasons for Argentine voters to return the Peronists to power. Macri had promised much, from the curbing of inflation to a “business-friendly” modern economy and financial system freed from the shackles of the currency controls imposed by de Kirchner—usually known as Cristina. Argentine politicians increasingly go by their first names, in fact, but not Macri, which is testimony in itself. Macri had also vowed to the rampant corruption that first Néstor Kirchner, who had preceded Cristina as president of Argentina (and died in 2010), and then Cristina herself and her cronies, had indulged in—to an extent outrageous even by Argentine standards. As the former Peronist politician turned political commentator and novelist, Jorge Asís, put it to me recently, compared to Cristina, Carlos Menem, a notoriously corrupt Peronist president of the 1990s, had been “little more than a pickpocket on the subway.” 
Most daringly of all, Macri ran in 2015 on a platform to reduce poverty to zero. As president, he never repeated that promise, but Macri did encourage the Argentine people to judge him on whether or not he had successfully reduced economic hardship. And they did. 
In short, although there have doubtless been worse governments in Argentine history, not to mention the six times in the twentieth century the military has seized power, none has failed to live up to its promises quite so spectacularly and ineptly as Macri’s. All politicians are narcissists, granted, but Mauricio Macri was an incompetent narcissist: headstrong, unwilling to take advice from all but a small circle of sycophants, and given to mistaking his wishes for reality. Corrupt as Cristina is, even her enemies acknowledge that she’s highly intelligent, whereas even many of his supporters concede, at least off the record, that Macri is not all that bright. More important, the distance between the radiant economic future Macri promised and the havoc his administration wrought is all but immeasurable. As Federico Sturzenegger, who headed the Argentine Central Bank during the first two-and-a-half years of Macri’s term, wrote in the immediate aftermath of Fernández’s election: “With a fall in per-capita income of close to 10 percent and cumulative inflation higher than 300 percent in his four years, it would be easy to declare his [Macri’s] presidency a failure—which, in terms of economic results, it was. Alberto and Cristina could hardly have said it better themselves.
Vastly rich himself, besotted by fantasies about the wisdom of the global markets, Macri often came across as a left-Peronist caricature of a neoliberal—utterly out of touch with the way poor Argentines lived. So much so that the inhabitants of Buenos Aires slums into which the Macri government had poured money—notably Villa 31, a sprawling immigrant area in the shadow of an expressway—voted overwhelmingly for Alberto and Cristina last month. This dumbfounded the Macri people I spoke with after the August primary election: they had been expecting gratitude, but as polls showed, and as reporting in La Nación, a conservative newspaper that had supported Macri, confirmed, his team were thinking like technocrats not politicians: people might accept the government’s largesse but since they perceived it as offered with disdain, they were, if anything, less favorably disposed to Macri than ever.
The disdain, in fact, flowed both ways. There was a snobbery toward Macri throughout his term, particularly from the political elite, that it’s important to distinguish from the resentment toward Macri so common among poor Argentines. In Argentina, this elite traditionally goes to high-powered public high schools and public universities, whereas Macri’s circle largely went to private Catholic schools and universities, institutions more noted for their rugby prowess than their academic rigor. Indeed, one of the dismissive terms for Macri and his close advisers was “Newman Boys,” after the prep school Macri attended. As José Natanson, the left-leaning editor of the Argentine edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, who was then writing a book trying to explain Macri’s victory, told me in 2015: “For the most part, we quite simply don’t know many of these people. They come from a quite different world from ours.”
But if the political elite was dismayed, the cultural and artistic elite, which, as in most countries, overwhelmingly breaks left, was appalled and outraged. Both in private and in the pages of the “Cristinista” daily, Página/12, there was much hysterical talk about Macri’s victory representing a return of the military dictatorship. This Buenos Aires-based intellectual circle, always jealous in guarding its privileges, is inordinately full of itself—the only other country that comes close is France. This can be picturesque. Argentina, after all, is a country where 800 Lacanian psychoanalysts can issue an open letter protesting the overthrow of Evo Morales in Bolivia and violence against the anti-government demonstrators in Chile. During the presidential campaign, another such open letter supporting the Alberto–Cristina ticket attracted many, if not most, of the nation’s leading writers, artists, musicians, and theater and film people. In contrast, an open letter in support of Macri garnered the support of only a handful of cultural notables, though it did slightly better with economists.
For all that lopsideness of signatories, a number of the best-known on the Alberto–Cristina side were not Peronists in any traditional sense, but had rather been won over by the Kirchners themselves. The gospel of these Cristinistaswas not the writings of Juan Perón or even the cult of Evita, but rather the left-populist theories of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, combined with Bolivarian fantasies of the sort that Fidel Castro once succeeded in schooling the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. Their enthusiasm could become so extravagant that Horacio González, a distinguished sociologist and head of the National Library of Argentina during Cristina’s second term, could tell me in all sincerity that reports of the Kirchners corruption were wildly overstated. “Were they true,” he said, “one could not breathe.” He paused and, after a histrionically deep breath, added, “but you see, I’m breathing!” In a less defensive vein, the Argentine political theorist Ricardo Forster, who, along with González and a few others, had founded in 2008 the pro-Kirchner Carta Abierta” (Open Letter) group of intellectuals, told me that his support for Cristina was based partly on his conviction that she was “the most transgressive” of all political leaders in the Americas.
The recruitment of these intellectuals’ moral support was carefully planned, in fact, by the Kirchners. According to Julio Bárbaro, an old-line Peronist who had been secretary of state for culture during Menem’s presidency, and served under the Kirchners on the agency regulating communications, Néstor came into office in 2003 by something of a fluke, with only a small share of the popular vote. A governor from the deep south of the country with little recognition in Buenos Aires, he saw that he needed to legitimize himself. Undoing the impunity that the Argentine military had enjoyed since the end of the dictatorship in 1983 was an obvious way of gaining favor with leftist intellectuals, particularly an older generation of writers and artists such as Luisa Valenzuela and Mempo Giardinelli, and leading human rights activists like Horacio Verbitsky and Hebe de Bonafini (of the “Mothers of Plaza de Mayo” group). 
Another such move, in 2008, was a trust-busting initiative to break up the media empire of the Clarín Group (with which the Kirchners had been on good terms until then). Bárbaro’s view is a jaundiced one: he believes the left intelligentsia was flattered by the Kirchners’ attention and their willingness to appoint some among them to senior roles in the cultural apparatus of the Argentine state. Such outreach cost the Kirchners little, he says, but gave them the moral high ground, as well as support from circles outside of Peronist ranks, even as they robbed the country blind. 
This helps explain why many Argentines accepted, for a surprisingly long time, Macri’s claims that their hardships were caused by the mess Cristina had made of the economy. There was some justification for this—or surprisingly little way of proving it either way. For during the last years of Cristina’s government, Axel Kicillof, the then-minister of the economy (now the governor-elect of the Buenos Aires province) ordered the national statistical bureau to stop publishing its research relevant to poverty. As a result, it is difficult to know by how severe the increase in poverty has been during the Macri years, providing at least some room for Macri’s supporters to defend his record. 
From the beginning of 2018, however, this position became unsustainable: as inflation and interest rates rose sharply and the value of the Argentine peso plummeted, poverty spiked—most of all in and around Buenos Aires. Leaders of left-wing social movements—notably, Juan Grabois, a charismatic young activist from a Peronist background widely seen in Argentina as having the ear of Pope Francis—report there is now a nutrition crisis, particularly for children, in poor areas of the city and the surrounding province. Grabois is often accused by his critics of being an alarmist, but statistics gathered by the Catholic Church, as well as testimony from the priests who run emergency food centers, largely bear him out.
Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty ImagesThen-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at an unveiling a bust of her husband and former president, Néstor Kirchner, on her last day of office, Buenos Aires, December 9, 2015
Voting patterns in Argentine presidential elections have been fairly stable since Néstor became president: the Cristinistas can count on about 35 percent of the vote, and Cambiemos on about 32 percent. So, as in so many democratic countries, the voters in the middle are the prize. Argentina’s singularity, though, is that many, maybe most, of these voters in the middle are Peronists, just notKirchnerists. In other words, they are more narrowly Argentine nationalist and less Third Worldist—albeit that Cristina’s actions in government have rarely, if ever, matched her more militant rhetoric, what might be called “Maduro Lite” (some of her supporters are a different story). In electoral terms, this means that when Peronism is united, it is likely to win; when divided, likely lose. 
In 2015, it was divided, with another senior Peronist leader, Sergio Massa, opposing the Cristina-anointed Daniel Scioli in the first round of elections. Under Argentina’s somewhat Byzantine electoral system, this entailed a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes: Macri and Scioli. Playing on Cristina’s widespread unpopularity, Macri won—but by a vote margin of less than three percentage points. From this can be inferred that, as Argentine political opinion now stands, a Peronist can win in the first round, but an anti-Peronist can’t. The challenge for Cambiemos, then, in 2019 was to secure enough votes in the first round to thwart an outright Peronist victory, and then to hope to repeat its winning strategy of 2015. 
A year before the election, Macri and his people were relatively sanguine about their chances. Cristina was thought to be as hated as ever by wide swaths of the population, so much so that old-line Peronists made no secret of their opposition to her running again and their quest to find someone who could stand in her stead. In the Macrista scenario, Cristina would stand and a center-right Peronist, Massa again or perhaps Alberto Fernández, who had been Néstor’s and then briefly Cristina’s chief of staff but, like Massa, became a fierce critic of her corruption, her economic policy, and her authoritarianism. For his part, Macri and his surrogates would turn to the one weapon remaining in their ideological arsenal: the fear many Argentines, particularly among the middle classes, felt when contemplating the prospect of Cristina’s returning to power. 
So this was the Cambiemos plan: Macri would come in second in the first round, and then go on to defeat Cristina in the run-off. It all seemed to make sense, until, one day in May, it didn’t.
For Cristina was way ahead of them. For all her fiery rhetoric, Cristina has shown herself to be a canny politician. She saw just as clearly as the Macri people what Peronism’s challenge would be in the 2019 election, she first assented to a reconciliation with Alberto, which some commentators claim was brokered by Pope Francis (himself a devoted Peronist as a young man). Then came Cristina’smasterstroke: on May 18, she announced via a YouTube video and on social media that she had asked Alberto to run for president while she would run as his vice-president. Peronism was united in electoral alliance baptized, with some justice, as El Frente de Todos (The Front of Everyone).
This left the Macristas’ strategy in shambles—made worse when Sergio Massa, having reportedly turned down feelers from Macri’s team to become Cambiemos’s vice-presidential candidate, rallied behind Alberto and Cristina. Meanwhile, there was nowhere to hide from Macri’s catastrophic stewardship of the Argentine economy, after the Argentine president Macri had been forced, in September 2018, to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund to secure a $57 billion loan, the largest in the IMF’s history. It was clear from the start that Argentina could not honor its repayment terms and economic conditionalities and that these would have to be renegotiated after the election, whoever won. 
The Macristas soldiered on, as though the iron law of electoral politics in any country not in the grip of a war, environmental disaster, or refugee emergency—“It’s the economy, stupid,” in James Carville’s phrase—somehow did not apply to Argentina. Never wavering in their defense of radical individualism, they would tell you that Argentines did not want to go back to the corporatist past. Only when the results of the primaries that Argentina holds two-and-half months before the general election showed Alberto and Cristiana winning by 47 percent of the vote to Macri’s 32 percent—a margin of victory so crushing that there was no realistic chance of Macri making it to a runoff—did the Macristas realize the delusion of their “It’s Cristina, stupid” strategy. “They tricked themselves,” Grabois, the activist, suggested to me. 
But if defeat in the presidential election did indeed prove to be inevitable, the Macristas could derive some comfort that their leader managed to claw back 2.2 million voters in the second leg, and that in the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, Cambiemos won only one seat fewer than the Peronists. This mattered because any constitutional change Alberto and Cristina might propose would require a two-thirds majority, so Cambiemos have an effective veto over any measure they deem too radical. A closer look at the vote, though, confirms that when Peronism is united, it wins.
Eitan Abramovich/AFP via Getty ImagesA mocking portrait of then-Argentine President Mauricio Macri after the peso had tumbled in value against the US dollar, Buenos Aires, August 31, 2018
In Alberto, the voters have elected a sort of Peronist everyman. In Spanish, there is a distinction between the words “persona” (person) and “personaje” (meaning a personage or important figure). Cristina was the latter; so was Macri. But as one of Alberto’s friends put it in a documentary by La Nación, “Alberto is a person, not a personage.” 
Alberto also reflects the protean nature of Peronism: it can be anything: right, left, corporatist, capitalist. Carlos Menem’s government in the 1990s represented rightist Peronism at its apogee. Néstor Kirchner veered rightward during his presidency, while Cristina flirted with left-populist Bolivarian rhetoric but—unlike Maduro in Venezuela or Evo Morales in Bolivia—remained on excellent terms with most multinational interests, most controversially awarding the US oil giant Chevron, for example, a sweetheart deal over the development of the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas fields in northern Patagonia. In this, Cristina often seemed to live up to another favorite Argentine joke in which Juan Peron’s motorcade arrives at a red light and his chauffeur asks, “My general, what should I do when it turns green?” To which Peron replies, “Turn on the left indicator—and make a right.”
For all her formidable qualities, though, Cristina is no Perón, and once Alberto is sworn in on December 10, it seems highly unlikely that she could force him to do her bidding, let alone stand down in her favor—as some Macristas continue to predict will happen, even though it has done so only once in Argentine history (in 1973, when the left-Peronist politician Héctor José Cámpora was elected president but resigned in order to clear the field for Perón himself, newly returned from his Spanish exile, to run and win). This is not to say that Cristina will not be the most powerful vice-president in modern Argentine history, not least because of the influence—her enemies would say, the control—she exerts over the Peronist deputies and senators in Congress. 
It is far from clear, though, that Cristina still wants to be president. She has an adult daughter who is extremely ill and being treated in Cuba. She is also under pressure from numerous pending court cases charging her with corruption, though it is improbable that she will be convicted let alone incarcerated. (In Argentina, indictments tend to rain down on the party that is out of power, not on the incumbent leaders. As the great investigative reporter for La Nación, Hugo Alconada Mon, has documented in his book La raíz de todos los males(The Root of All Evils), the Argentine political system is organized around “corruption and impunity,” and whatever else divides them, both the Peronists and their adversaries are enthusiastic backers of winners thanks to this system. Alberto is no exception to this, and shortly before the president-elect’s inauguration, Alconada published an article linking a close adviser of Alberto’s to one of the worst corruption scandals of Cristina’s second term.
Alberto will certainly need to revise the unfavorable terms of the deal Macri concluded with the IMF. But this may not be as difficult as some observers think given that, if Argentina is on the hook, so is the IMF. It is far from clear that the institution’s new director, Kristalina Georgieva, can afford the political and institutional ramifications of yet another Argentine default, which could be as catastrophic as the one that occurred at the end of 2001, not to mention the effect such a default would have on any future political ambitions she may have, most importantly, or at least so it is widely rumored, either at some point becoming head of the European Central Bank, the job her predecessor at the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has just assumed. 
It is easy to wax apocalyptic about Argentina. Most, though not all, of its industries are uncompetitive; it is too dependent on exports of agricultural commodities—above all, soybeans; its labor unions are wildly corrupt and exert too great an influence; the public sector is bloated and phantom jobs are commonplace; education is underfunded and overstretched; and social mobility has ground to a halt. The country may indeed be a very “unfinished utopia,” as the political commentator Ignacio Zuleta once called it, but it’s hardly on the brink of collapse—as much as alarmism is a national neurosis in Argentina.
The country remains a highly desirable destination for immigrants—not only from Andean countries and the disaster that is Venezuela, but also from East Asia and, in smaller but growing numbers, Africa. The higher education system may not be what it once was but Argentine universities continue to turn out extremely well-qualified and motivated young people. And the country’s cultural prowess, above all in literature but also in music and the plastic arts, remains a jewel. There are even some industries, nuclear energy being the most obvious, that can compete with the world’s best. Perhaps most important, Argentina is coming to seem an oasis of calm and stability in Latin America, compared to what is already happening in Chile, Bolivia, and Venezuela, and what may occur in Brazil with Lula’s release from prison galvanizing opposition to the Bolsonaro government.
Argentines themselves often complain bitterly about the country’s being riven in two ideologically. Yet that divide, which they call “la grieta,” the crack or the rift, does not seem worse than what one sees in the United States, the UK, or France, let alone Brazil. Rather unwisely, though, Alberto has promised as president to close la grieta. That scarcely seems likely; the fault line simply goes too deep. And according to some who know him, his flaws are uncomfortably close to Macri’s, most notably an inability to delegate. 
Let’s assume Alberto successfully renegotiates the IMF loan. The four major trade union federations—which are Peronist, after all—as well the social movements led by people like Grabois will surely give Alberto some months’ grace, perhaps even a year. This will be very good news, but what will he do for them, and what will happen after? 
Sooner or later, though, Alberto’s status as the anti-Macri will pall just as surely as being the anti-Cristina palled for Macri. The economist Simon Kuznets once joked that there were “four kinds of economies in the world: developed countries, underdeveloped countries, Japan, and Argentina.” He meant this in the most negative sense imaginable—and one might be mistaken for thinking that Guillermo Nielsen, one of Alberto’s chief economic advisers, agreed with him when he insisted during the election campaign that “Argentina today is not a feasible economy.” But the emphasis was on “today,” and what Nielsen implied was simply the conventional wisdom of the Argentine political establishment that, Peronist and non-Peronist alike, prefers to blame that the country’s economic travails on opponents’ policies, rather than on any permanent structural problem. 
But Kuznets had a point, and economic success in Argentina has been the exception, not the rule. Menem’s government in the 1990s, for example, stayed afloat on monies accrued from the privatization of state industries. The prosperity coinciding with Néstor Kirchner’s first government owed much to a vertiginous rise in the prices of agricultural commodities in world markets. No such deus ex machina is likely to smooth Alberto’s passage as president. Even if he defies the expectations of both his neoliberal critics and the radical social movement activists, and turns out to be a much better president than Macri, it is difficult to see him extracting either the economy or the polity from the morass in which Argentina finds itself.