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    Nina Witoszek, The Origins of Anti-Authoritarianism

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 17048
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    Nina Witoszek, The Origins of Anti-Authoritarianism Empty Nina Witoszek, The Origins of Anti-Authoritarianism

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback Ven 24 Fév - 10:19


    " [In the late autumn of 1988, the leading Polish war correspondent and poet Ryszard Kapuściński] predicted that there would be three powerful cultural forces that would energize 21st century responses to multiple economic and political crises: religious fundamentalism, nationalism and racism. All three would be irrational and divide the world into “infidels and fidels”. Whether totalitarian or tribal, they would marshal the ideal of conformity and groupthink carried to the point where the interests of the individual would barely exist. But at the same time, Kapuściński insisted, there would be one revolution that would spasmodically defy the dehumanizing terror of the new tyrannical orders: the revolution of dignity. This revolution would be less motivated by economic predicament and more by oppressed people’s growing access to information and the possibility of comparing their daily humiliations with better and more dignified lives elsewhere. As soon as people reduced to the status of serfs realize that being human means being a free, autonomous agent, Kapuściński argued, a revolution of dignity was bound to erupt." (p.1)

    "Human striving for dignity – a predominantly cultural and ethical project often misunderstood by political analysts – has been inseparably tied to the ability for reason, empathy and desire for respect. The empathy shone through the words of Solon, who said that justice would not be achieved until those who are not hurt feel just as indignant as those who are. It electrified groups who gathered to listen to Christ of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. [...] In Kapuściński’s view, the quest for the acknowledgement of human worth has been relentless under all latitudes. In the 21st century it was bound to increase in force, if only because the information age opened up the world and would keep provoking –and seducing– the wretched of the earth with the alluring images of people who enjoy security, freedom and recognition." (p.2)

    "Solidarnosc did radiate the revolution of dignity to other members of the Soviet bloc. In the autumn of 1989, the term velvet revolution was coined to describe the peacefully negotiated regime change in Czechoslovakia. Twenty years later, in the summer of 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran staged a show-trial of political leaders and thinkers accused of fomenting an enheleb-e makhmali – i.e. a velvet revolution. And in 2011 in Cairo, the protesters at the Tahrir Square demanded that their rulers give them back their work and their dignity (Danahar 2015: 3). The non-violent movement that articulates the “power of the powerless”, and brings the authoritarian regime to the negotiating table, has become as durable an aspect of the 21st-century modernity as its counterpart, the Popperian “retribalization of the world” (Popper 1945). [...] The battle between the closed and the open society continues." (p.3)

    "There is evidence to the effect that, with all its hazards, non-violent and dignity driven opposition to tyranny has been more successful in changing regimes than either acquiescence or violent insurrections. According to a study that has assembled a historical data set of over 300 campaigns spanning the 20th century – from Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian independence movement against British colonialism (c.1919), to the protests that removed Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from power in 2006 – no act of social, economic or political oppression has prevented non-violent campaigns from emerging or succeeding. “From strikes and protests to sit-ins and boycotts, non-violent civil resistance remains the best strategy for social and political change in the face of oppression”, the authors argue. “Movements that opt for violence often unleash terrible destruction and bloodshed, in both the short and the long term, usually without realizing the goals they set out to achieve” (Chenowech and Stephan 2014)." (p.4)

    "Existing, influential studies of the anti-authoritarian mobilization in Eastern Europe have drawn attention to the pivotal role of the labour movement, the Catholic Church and the religious and political networks (e.g. Ascherson 1982; Touraine et al. 1983; Laba 1989; Ost 1990; Ost 2005; Falk 2003; Osa 2003). I argue that the true revolution of dignity happens as it were behind social movements and organized networks. Though the democratic paradigm shift ultimately needs the critical mass of protesters and a strategy of action, it is first contemplated and designed in the work of individuals and small prosocial groups. Their vision is often sung by single voices: intellectual savants, religious leaders, writers and courageous ordinary people who do not necessarily organize, but testify to the presence of conscience, compassion and humour in the midst of indignities [...] More often than not, these individuals, and the groups gathered around them, enjoy a dual reputation of heroes and pests. On the one hand, they are the source of an energizing, almost dizzying, delight that springs from watching ‘their’ protagonists make the impossible possible. But they are also perceived as moral blackmailers, provoking a guilty conscience in the mass of the “gratefully oppressed”. By building islands of individual empathy, autonomy and quirkiness within or outside oppressive structures, they are a constant reminder of how things could or should be. Modernauthoritarian regimes define them as “traitors” and “members of an anti-state conspiracy”, “enemies of the people”, “social parasites”. But in spite of –or maybe because of– their outsiderhood, these social outlaws are the true catalysts of change. They think and talk about the human capacity for unshackled and virtuous existence and name it even in “infrahuman” situations where there are no longer words for it. They are the bearers of polis in demeaning conditions." (pp.5-6)

    "I call my protagonists the humanist outliers: people who do not fit because they first help their neighbour and then study their soul. Or people who have a mythogenic talent for forging stories which give power to the powerless. Or, alternatively, people who are like ancient Celtic bards, or more precisely, filid: the species of homo ludens with the ability to satirize their authoritarian opponents to death. What are their motives, blueprints and sources of inspiration ? How do they evolve and mature as the revolution matures ? What stories do they read and what new narratives do they concoct to imagine and bring about a social transformation ? What constraints do they impose on their own ideas and actions while redesigning a “dignity script” for their contemporaries? What role does human friendship play in their success ? And, last but not least, how is the passage to dignity influenced by women ? What are the strengths and weaknesses of female altruism in the life of revolutions ?

    Aware of the ongoing philosophical and religious controversy around the concept of humanism (Düwell et al. 2014), I define it, broadly, as a worldview which emphasizes the indelible value of humans, cherishes altruism and cooperation, and demands respect for the Other: a mindset which we find not just in the Western Renaissance and Enlightenment but in the cultural archives of many world traditions. According to the latest evolutionary biology, altruism – as much as its selfish twin – has always been latent in human nature and, as such, functioned as a permanent constitutive factor in the cultural evolution of human species (Wilson 2016; Griffin 2012). And although humanism exists in many (religious and secular) versions – each of them modified by a particular cultural context – both its biological moorings and ongoing, global cross-pollination turn it into a transcultural project." (p.7)

    "The anti-authoritarian role of the humanist outliers differs from society to society because the forms and degrees of authoritarian oppression differ. But their status and their strategies of resistance show a number of common characteristics.

    Firstly, they do not necessarily define themselves as “revolutionary” or “political” ; their work is more often the effect of moral instinct rather than the outcome of political calculation. Their importance is not measured by the number of followers, electors or congregations; rather, their actions constitute what Jan Skórzyn´ski in a different context called “the fifth column of social consciousness” (Skórzyn´ski 2012: 20). Whatever their self-perceptions, they feed and sustain the community’s vision of itself as a “virtuous community” in a world of often harrowing existential constraints. The ways they manage to keep their humanum undamaged despite the inhumanity around them, remains a riddle that has fascinated psychologists, evolutionary scientists and generations of writers from Cervantes to Albert Camus and Zbigniew Herbert. To mention but one example among many: the Chinese dissident Liu Quinn, who served 11 years in No. 2 Prison in Shaanxi Province, was forced to sit on a stool 8 inches high, from 8.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. and then again from 1.30 p.m. to 7.00 p.m., for four years. If he moved, he was beaten. He tried to kill himself by playing mental games, he conjured visions of food, counted minutes, and speculated about astronomy and black holes (Hillman 1994: 49).

    The psychologist, James Hillman, has argued that what keeps individuals like Liu going is a voice of conscience, a higher “shadow self” that listens – and talks to – a chorus of voices from the past and present. “Imagine them as an interior platoon, a secret society, a tribal unit, an initiation group, a company of martyrs, an inner city of ancestors and descendants”, Hillman writes (Hillman 1994: 50) This interior platoon is the source of the humanist outliers’ extraordinary strength: they are part of an atemporal alliance of –and dialogue between– the living and the dead: mentors, pedagogues, heroes, jesters and iconoclasts who had preceded them and prefigured their fate." (pp.8-9)

    "The mechanisms behind humanist outliers’ moral intransigence have been illuminated in the work of another Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl. Frankl insisted that being truly human involves directing all efforts to something or someone other than oneself. The more one forgets and transcends oneself – by devoting life to a meaningful, prosocial cause or to persons in need – the more complete human self-realization is. Frankl goes even further than Pawełczyn´ska ; his anthropology redefines the true meaning of human life as voluntary acts of self-transcendence [...] The problem is that such acts are both rare and spectacular in those savage regimes, where the dominant, widely accepted goal of life is survival and compliance with imposed rules. It is little wonder, therefore, that “self-transcending” groups and individuals tend to be in the conspicuous minority. Or, conversely, the idea of heroic self-transcendence that Frankl so eloquently depicts, needs some qualification.

    As I will show in the chapters that follow, Frankl’s narrative, while making partial sense of the people’s motives in resisting authoritarian pressure, does not capture the often messy and tragic complexity of their choices. Adam Michnik, one of the leading humanist outliers in Eastern Europe, talks about the “stained purity” of 20th-century dissidents. (Michnik 2011). “No one can live under a dictatorship without being somehow compromised”, he argues. Even “Mickiewicz, the greatest national anti-tsarist bard in the nineteenth century … signed an oath of loyalty to avoid prison”. He “duped the despot by crawling like a snake”. Michnik talks about the “wounded generation” of anti-authoritarian fighters, one that carries an eternal burden of guilt.

    The other distinctive feature of the humanist outliers – one which is the focus of this book – is their role as cultural innovators. As moral and practical visionaries, they cross the chasm between the old and the new, promoting a novel stance, habit or mindset and “massaging it” into the social fabric. This is often an agonizingly long process, sometimes taking generations before their vision is embraced by an early majority. The thrust of such innovation is less a Schumpeterian “creative destruction” and more what Daniel Bell called a cultural ricorso (Bell 1991: 32), forging the new through the selective return to the old. As I will show, while they critically inspect a community’s shared history and its founding narratives, the humanist outliers tend to first weed out polarizing stories and reframe the insular and the particular into a more inclusive moral vision. To mention but one example on which I shall elaborate later, the two Polish writers and members of the Workers’ Defence Committee, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik, re-cast the workers’ protest against low wages and increased food prices into a story that spoke, not just about economic injustice, but read the communist state’s treatment of the workers as an offence against their dignity. The insertion of dignity into what would otherwise be an economic demand was as simple as it was groundbreaking: it transformed an introverted, class-related project into a humanist one. It is this enlarged, dignity driven vision that was embraced by an early majority led by Lech Wałe˛sa during the Polish Solidarnos´c´ revolution in 1980. Similarly, by focusing on the shared “humanist commons” of the agnostic or atheist Left and Christian ethics, Kuron and Michnik showed how traditional adversaries could imagine themselves as potential partners in a dialogue about the future of Poland.

    My attempt to re-read modern revolutions of dignity as part of a universal moral project highlights the importance of cultural actors and programmes in the advancement of humanity towards a “good society”. Without underestimating the role of institutions in codifying the principles of this rite of passage, I wish to better understand the role of humanist values as the engine of this progression. To take but one example, in 1977 there were just 242 signatories of the Charter 77 in former communist Czechoslovakia, and their total number never transcended 2,000. But this small group had an incalculable impact on the future of the country. Thanks to Charter 77, a mighty oppositional structure emerged, one which represented the humanist “solidarity of the oppressed”, to use Jan Patocka metaphor, and developed a strategy to challenge the regime when the time was ripe. The question is thus not just functionalist –how did this happen– but phenomenological: what did the main protagonists feel, learn and unlearn ? And how did they use existing moral traditions to break the contract of mutual indifference which dominates in authoritarian regimes ? While not dismissing the importance of political and economic scrutiny, this book is about the search for cultural origins of the anti-authoritarian resistance." (pp.9-10)

    "Yuri Lotman’s historical semiotics has drawn attention to small groups as transformative actors in a cultural semiosphere, which both stores up a community’s memory and contains programmes prefiguring its future [...] According to Lotman, more often than not, the world-changing narratives and ideas are the work of creative outsiders challenging the dominant cultural centre and operating at the borderline between what is approved and what is perceived as “foreign” or “deviant”. Such groups of liminars are both us and them: real or imaginary “Jews”, “Masons”, “parasites” who are part of us and yet do not belong and do not fit. My contention is that humanity’s cultural and moral advance owes much to these groups’ patient, groundbreaking work at the cultural margins. As social and ethnic suspects – the anomalous, the bizarre, the heretical – they are equipped with creative distance to their habitat, and hence more likely to reimagine and defy the cultural centre. In this volume, I shall inspect the ways in which their civilizational critique and compelling visions of a more dignified life gradually colonized the oppressed community’s perceptions of the world, its self-images, and, in the long run, reimagined its shared identity.

    There is a body of sociological literature on the role of small groups as propellers of social change (e.g. Olson 1971; Putnam 2000). In his classic Logic of Collective Action (1971), Mancur Olson argues that small-scale groups are more easily organized than large ones, better at tackling the free-rider problem, and do not overshadow individual members; on the contrary, they recognize each other’s individual identity. Admittedly, this is not always the case. Small social groups have the ability to act efficaciously, but they can also be pockets of intolerance and prejudice, imposing stifling surveillance and control of individual members. But, as my examples will show, if united by friendship, talent and the ideal of improving the welfare of others, they can be exuberantly creative. When the time is ripe and conditions less oppressive, their audacity becomes the disempowered community’s audacity. Their ability to cooperate is projected on the community’s ability to work together. This is how prosociality begins to blossom in a community where man is a wolf to man ; it starts from groups that radiate their unselfish codex to others. The humanist outliers unite what has been divided, make bridges and forge alliances. And, as they gradually expand their communication channels, they boost social confidence and a sense of empowerment in a divided and atomized mass of human meteorites." (pp.11-12)
    -Nina Witoszek, The Origins of Anti-Authoritarianism, London / New York, Routledge, 2019, 182 pages.

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. » -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

    « Rien de grand ne s’est jamais accompli dans le monde sans passion. » -Hegel, La Raison dans l'Histoire.

    « Mais parfois le plus clair regard aime aussi l’ombre. » -Friedrich Hölderlin, "Pain et Vin".

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