Michael Pollak (by way of t byfield <tbyfield@panix.com>) on Sun, 30 May 1999 00:35:14 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Bourdieu on Kosovo (English)

     [orig posted to lbo-talk <lbo-talk@lists.panix.com>, trans.
      by michael pollak, if that's not clear. --cheers, tb]

[My French is sketchy, but perhaps someone will take up Bourdieu's call to
collective work and polish it up :o)  By the way, does anyone know what
meeting he was addressing, or what paper originally published this?]

May 18, 1999, Op Ed

The Intellectuals and the War

by Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologist

Professor of the College de France*

I would like first of all to acknowledge the work done by Catherine Samary
in editing the text "Stop the Bombing, Self-Determination" which may be
associated in some minds with my name.(1)  Today, I would like essentially
to propose a working program, and a method of work to go with it.  My hope
is that this meeting will have a future.  I think that we can find, here,
in the emotions that these events have aroused, the point of departure for
an enduring collective project, not only about the war, but about the
ensemble of questions that are bound up with it -- a collective
intellectual enterprise in the service of the victims.

My first remark is in the form of a warning, addressed to all of us, but
first of all to myself.  I believe it would be good if we could avoid the
passionate and emotional approach, bound up as it is with the kind of
exhibitionistic narcissism that leads each of us to want his own little
opinion-column, his own little opinion, his own little response -- in
short, to show off how clever we are.  I would say instead "Let us work
collectively," knowing full well this is very difficult.  Each of us has
his own ideas and contradictory thoughts, and often we just prefer to be
silent, sometimes even out of modesty.  But working collectively in a
network will at the very least permit us to combine our competences.

Secondly, I believe that we must keep to the spirit of our initial
text(2), which can be read without embarrassment a month later, even
though many things have happened since.  It is important to preserve this
orientation of refusing false alternatives, which function like a trap,
constantly reinforced every time we listen to the media.  There's a big
risk in talking about the war in Kosovo, because it means that journalists
will probably reduce our words to a caricature.  Lord knows what will be
said about our meeting today, despite our warnings.  But I'd like to quote
Karl Kraus: "If I must choose between the lesser of two evils, I choose
neither."  I think we must demand the right not to choose, the right to
refuse to excuse either the crimes of the Serbs or those of NATO.  We must
refuse to let the problems be posed in these terms.

What can the intellectuals assembled here do?  They can work intellectually,
of course.  They can function as a sort of "think tank."  This is a word
that is generally employed in a very different context and is associated
with the domination of the powerful.  But why can't we make a "think-tank"
without financing, without capital, without an address, on the basis of the
good will of all?  Why can't we meet as a sort of international and
interdisciplinary working group, with each putting his intellectual arms at
the service of the collective?

What would be the programme for this working group?  First off, there's
the work of inquiry and the dissemination of information.  It would make
sense to use the Internet to make contact between people, etc, as sort of
an Agence-France Presse of immediate history.  Our ideal would be what
you'd get if you had several copies of Pierre Vidal-Naquet all going at
once. Secondly, there is the work of critique.  An observatory of the
media, with perhaps Henri Maler among them, would make a critique of the
language utilized in this war.  How can one speak for example of a
"humanitarian catastrophe?"  How can an expression this absurd be repeated
without any self-consciousness by the majority of journalists?

Thirdly, there is the work of critical analysis, bringing together
researchers of different disciplines, e.g., economists, historians, legal
scholars, in order to reflect, for example, on the connections between the
movement against neoliberalism in general and this war in particular.  
One might get a grasp on the relation between the concentration of capital
and the fragmentation of ethnic groups and nationalist movements (taking
as a foundation, for example, the work of Catherine Samary on the role of
the IMF in Bosnia).  Doesn't the break-up of Yugoslavia have something to
show us about the policies of the IMF? Or one might work on the situation
in Russia, which strikes me as agonizing.  It would be necessary to
assemble a whole range of political and economic analyses.  And it would
be necessary to investigate the outside interests who are working and have
worked towards the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and in particular to
investigate the different roles played by Germany (and Austria) and the
United States.

Another working group could organize around the history of the Balkans and
the responsibilities both past and present of the nations of Europe.
History is not an instrument of fatalization.  On the contrary, it can be
the instrument of defatalization.  It is never too late -- even if we had to
wait 10 years before starting this enterprise -- to try and establish the
genesis of the various nationalisms, not to say the racisms, and especially
that of the Serbs.  Especially because we know this last one had
intellectual origins.  Serbian nationalism is the marriage of academic
historians (it might be necessary to re-read Danilo Kis's _The Anatomy
Lesson_) and television.  Milosevic is their armed offspring.

Fifthly, there is the work of research on universal rights.  Can one
continue to accept the role of the United States as the world's policeman?
How can we define intervention, and the limits of sovereignty that
implies, and the limits of those limits?  And how to discuss all this in a
rational manner rather than passionately?  This group, perhaps gathered
around Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, would work towards giving a juridical
content to our ethical mental states.  At the moment, people on the Left
are denouncing "human rights-ism."  Ten years ago, it was an insult hurled
by the Right at the Left.  Now, one side of the Left is hurling it at the
other.  Is it not possible for us to give a serious political, juridical
and philosophical content to the idea that all people have rights?

And then there is the work of prognostication, in the sense not of
predicting the future, but of getting a grasp on the probabilities and
tendencies of the present.  It is necessary to look beyond Kosovo and its
neighbors, notably toward Russia . . .

And finally there is the question of Europe.  It seems that one of the
effects of the war in Kosovo will be the death of social Europe (to the
extent it ever existed) to the profit of military Europe.  I personally
think the death of social Europe is not nothing.  If one proposes a grand
Balkan federation, it would have a completely different meaning as part of
socially deepened European federation.

Clearly, I think that we can all agree to call for an international
conference under the aegis of the UN.  And from this perspective, why
shouldn't intellectuals act a little bit like legislators in an area when
legislators have been shrinking from the task?  This is why is seems to me
so important to start this collective work, on a European level -- a
cumulative work, capable of constructing new responses.

* His most recent work was _La Domination masculine_ by Editions du Seuil,

(1) This refers to the public appeal published in Le Monde on March 31st --

(2) Ditto.

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