The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe: Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings

The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe: Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings

The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe: Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings

The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe: Citizen Intellectuals and Philosopher Kings

Excerpt

In November of 1995 Jeffrey Isaac published an article for Political Theory which condemned political theorists en masse in the United States for failing to take seriously the revolutions of 1989 in Central Europe, through which "the face of world politics for five decades was transformed" (1995: 636). 1989 was a political milestone equal in scope and importance to both the French and American Revolutions, yet unlike these two previous watersheds which had sparked much debate among political thinkers, and indeed to some extent been provoked by them, the reaction of the professional mainstream had been minimal. Isaac was critical of the pervasive silence and lack of attention paid to both the events themselves, and the activists/theorists and ideas behind them. The statistics are tellingly damning: in the years between 1989 and 1993 in his review of the "major outlets of political theory" (that is, the academic journals Political Theory, Polity, American Political Science Review, Philosophy and Public Affairs, and Ethics) he found that only two out of 384 articles dealt with 1989, one of which was a review essay (1995: 637). This represents a "shocking indictment" of political theory, and sharply contrasts with the canon. After all, thinkers from Plato and Machiavelli to Hegel, de Tocqueville and Marx were profoundly engagé with the events and political realities of their day.

Isaac suggests four possible reasons for "the strange silence of political theory" but in each case finds the explanation unsatisfactory. First, he posits that it is the recency of the events themselves, but then adds that current political theory "itself is so intellectually faddish "that it can" hardly plead patience and caution when it comes to interpreting current events" (1995: 638). Moreover, as Isaac argues, it is hard to maintain such a position in consideration of the great "canonic" theorists, such as Locke, Paine, Kant, Hegel, or Marx, who made it their business to comment on and theorize about the great events, move-

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