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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Indifference to our European Neighbours

A post in September last year drew attention to the scandalously superficial treatment which Europeans get of their neighbours. Michael Lewis’s detailed articles (in Vanity Fair) on German, Greek and Irish aspects of the global financial crisis a few years back was an exception which proved the rule. The London Review of Books (belying its name) is about the only publication which gives us in depth coverage of issues and (occasionally) countries. 
France and Germany, whose traditions would lead you to expect such intelligent treatment of other societies, disappoint - despite Die Zeit, for example, being a weekly, with the additional liberty that offers.
In desperation I have now added New Left Review and a new-look New Statesman to the list of journals which now wend their way to my mountain retreat. Already I feel a difference!! 
Time perhaps to revise the assumption about non-intellectual Brits? 

And also to ask a simple question - there are tens of thousands of journalists and academics churning out articles in (hundreds of) thousands of journals in the general field of politics and social policy. Can we not think of a way of making the better of these pieces more accessible - in various European languages?? That's the Eurozine concept - but they're selecting from a rather precious bunch of cultural magazines whose language doesn't take many prisoners! 
There are a few other titles which are trying this idea - eg Project Syndicate but from a rather narrow ideological base ; and Le Courrier International which gives us articles from a variety of (global) newspapers - but these ARE newspaper articles and suffer from the limitations of that genre. 
Time for more experimentation!

One of the factors which gets in the way of even this simple idea is the specialisation of political, professional and academic silos - just have a look at the lists of academic magazines at publishers such as Elsevier,Sage or Wiley. Twenty- odd years ago journals such as Parliamentary Affairs, Political Quarterly, West European Politics and Government and Opposition offered civilised reading. Now, with the exception of Political Quarterly, you get highly specialised  topics with boring technocratic prose.

In my days, we had the magazine Encounter (Der Monat in Germany) which gave me stimulating articles by renowned French, German and Italian writers, for example, but was then discovered to have been funded by the CIA and soon folded. Where is its equivalent these days? Le Monde Diplomatique and Lettre International perhaps - except there is, sadly, no English version of the latter - and only a short version in English of the former (whose language is, in any event, a bit opaque). 
In 2004 Carl Fredrikkson wrote an article about the need for a proper European public space where ideas were exchanged across national boundaries and Jan-Werner Muller returned to the issue earlier this year with an important article entitled The Failure of European Intellectuals?
But I am actually asking for something simpler - clear and insightful writing about different European societies. The recent publication on The Inner lives of Cultures could give us only one European system!

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