Responding to my interview with Danny Postel about Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism, Lindsay Waters writes in an email note (quoted here by permission):
The situation he talks about is same one I know from talking to people about Rawls in US/UK versus the Maghreb and China. For my friends in West, Rawls is as evil as Bush. I don’t buy it, because I have talked to people who live under totally unliberal regimes.
(Yeah, well, never underestimate the lingering appeal in some quarters of the doctrine of social fascism, which led to such exciting results in 1933.)
Not a disinterested comment, maybe: Waters isn’t a Rawlsian, but he is an editor at Harvard University Press, which is bringing out Rawls’s Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy next month. He mentions that he thinks the book will do well internationally—“especially in China, for example” (in part because of the chapters on Marx’s critique of liberalism).
Duly noted. But now I want to turn the conversation back around to where it started. The single most interesting section of Postel’s booklet is the long interview with Ramin Jahanbegloo about the extradordinary audience for philosophy and social criticism in Iran. (The exchange is available here.) The journals publishing critical work there are in a precarious situation, of course, especially now, and Jahanbegloo himself spent part of last year in prison.
So how about if Harvard University Press—or some other institution with comparable visibility, clout, and depth of pockets—puts some resources into creating a website to feature translations of work by oppositional intellectuals from Iran?
Such a project can be justified on a number of fronts. For one, there is the value, at this point, of any gesture of solidarity; morale means something. That’s why such an effort really ought to happen sooner than later. But most of the benefit might come over the long term—simply from making contemporary Iranian thought more available to people who don’t read Persian (most of us, of course).
For what it’s worth, I notice that C. Wright Mills endorses the idea. Very far-sighted of him, what with being dead for about 45 years now. The passage appears in some notes for an unfinished work he was going to call The New Left:
We must become fully comparative on a world-wide scale….We must do so with all the technical resources at our command, and we must do some from viewpoints that are genuinely detached from any nationalist enclosure of mind or nationalist celebration. We must become internationalist again. For us, today, that means that we, personally, must refuse to fight the cold war. That we, personally, must attempt to get in touch with our opposite numbers in all countries….With them we should make our own separate piece. Then, as intellectuals, and as public men [sigh: it was 1962 remember], we should act and work as if this peace—and the exchange of values, ideas, and programs of which it consists—is everybody’s peace, or surely ought to be.
No doubt they read C. Wright Mills in Tehran, too, along with John Stuart Mill. They are probably wondering if we’ll take him seriously about this.