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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!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Remembering the post-war giants

Its gloomy and wet in the mountains these days - indeed right now its actually snowing outside - and so over the weekend I was looking at some documentaries on Scottish Independence – specifically a three-part series on STV late last year subtitled “the route to the Referendum” - this is the last part
The series exhausted the capacity which my internet supplier allows me - but brought back strong memories from the first 48 years of my life there. Its story started in the immediate post-war period, with some great shots of street life in those years. 

Characters I had known in my schooldays and university years flooded my mind – these were the days before television took over our lives and when, therefore, flesh and blood individuals standing before us could (and did) inspire.  For very difference reasons, five people who taught me at Glasgow University came to mind – Thomas Wilson benign Professor of Economics and well-known exponent of Keynesism, then the new religion of intellectuals; and Ronald Meek - a severe Marxist economic historian who worked with the Professor of Politics D Daiches Raphael on the editing and interpretation of Adam Smith’s papers

But the two who made the biggest impact on me in the last two years of my Master’s Degree were John Mackintosh (Lecturer in Politics) and Zevedei Barbu, Lecturer in Sociology and Social Psychology. Both had fascinating backgrounds and the sort of careers you don’t tend to see so often these days - Mackintosh had spent almost a decade teaching in Africa before he came to Scotland and quickly combined his career in academia (his book on Cabinet politics became a classic) with one as a prominent Labour Westminster politician (representing a seat on the eastern border of Scotland). He became a fervent proponent of Scottish devolution - his book on the subject inspired me and led me to visit him at the House of Commons by when I had taken a senior position myself in a Scottish Region – but he was to die in the late 1970s at the tragically young age of 50.
Barbu was Romanian and his central European presentations made his exposition of people such as Max Weber and Emile Durkheim really come alive for me. And he has remained in the magical repository of mind from which we all permitted to draw at later moments in our lives. 

Mackintosh is the better known figure – there is an active lecture series in his honour - with the chairman of the current Better Together campaign recently delivering one of the lectures 

I had tried once before to find out about Barbu and had drawn a blank – but there is now an entry on the University of Glasgow website. Even better Google Romania now directs me to a long article in his memory available on the site of the journal Apostrophe - one of so many literary journals with which Romania is blessed.
He was born in Reciu (Alba), a 700 year-old Saxon village near Sibiu, Romania, in 1914, son of Marcu, a farmer. He would become a world-renowned Professor of Sociology and Social Psychology and began his academic career at the University of Cluj, where he obtained a PhD in Psychology in 1941, and subsequently assisted Florin Ştefănescu-Goangă of the Psychology Department and the renowned Lucian Blaga (Romanian philosopher, poet and playwright) of the Department of Philosophy of Culture.

Arrested in 1943 accused of engaging in left-wing political activity, he spent2 years in prison and then became Nationalities Minister in the first post-war government before the Communists take-over happened in 1947. He became cultural attaché in the London Embassy before seeking political asylum in 1948 in the UK. 
In 1949, Barbu enrolled as a PhD research student at the University of Glasgow. His PhD, "The psychology of Nazism, Communism and Democracy", was one of the first comparative psychosocial approaches of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. After graduating, he worked on two books: "Democracy and Dictatorship. Their Psychology and Patterns of Life" (1956) and "Problems of Historical Psychology" (1960), before returning to the University of Glasgow in 1961, where he lectured in Sociology and Social Psychology until 1963, laying the foundations for the Department of Sociology. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Sussex, lecturing Sociology, and established the Department of Sociology there. 
In 1976, Barbu was invited to lecture at the University of Brazil by then principal, José Carlos Azevedo, where he died in March 1993.

Few in the present generation of young scientists, philosophers or sociologists, psychologists and historians, intellectuals (whether British or Romanian) have now even heard of him. One recent writer has tried to make up for this -
Zebedee Barbu was born the Reciu village. In 1914, at his coming into the world, the village belonged, in administrative terms, Sibiu. Reciu mentioned in documents as belonging since the XIV century in Alba county. In a list of the localities around Sibiu Saxons lived since the beginning of their settlement in Transylvania, The house in which Barbu was born was built by his grandfather, Andrei Barbu at the "top lane" of the village, near the church. Those who knew him in Cluj and Sibiu, the young professor, a man of elegant manners "townsman" all those who were left spellbound, physically or intellectually, by Professor gentleman as easily conquered the hearts of ladies and subsequent Anglo-Saxon academic colleagues would have hardly imagined his origin; with his inclination towards art and music
His leftist beliefs - accused of subversive activities against the Antonescu regime - led him to two years between 1942 and 1944 in prison Caransebes. Barbu Zebedee believed in a new world…… After the war, many of the young philosopher’s associates (he was only thirty years) became important figures in the new regime about to be set up in the country. 
The first PM, Dr. Petru Groza, whom Barbu had met in the war, was not a Communist and was used by the new regime as an easily manipulated puppet. Barbu was called immediately after his installation as Prime Minister on March 6, 1945, to serve as Secretary of State in the newly created Ministry of Nationalities.  His mission in this post was to help develop a constitutional status for all "nationalities" of Romania post - war settlement.During the six months as was involved in this project met Patrascanu Barbu, " a rara avis , the only intellectual in the Politburo of the Communist Party, "as he characterizes himself in his autobiographical pages. 
A few months later he was appointed to the post of cultural attaché in London. From here, he travelled often to Paris to attend the Peace Conference as a member of the Romanian delegation. For two years, Barbu increasingly worried about the deteriorating situation in his homeland.When he heard a new ambassador appointed by Ana Pauker was to arrive in London in the summer of 1948, Barbu request a leave for a month……. 
His book "Democracy and Dictatorship" presents an exhaustive discussion on the origins of democracy, against the backdrop of fine psychological analysis. But it does not stop here; the first part of the book, the author responds to questions and began to put them into the maze searching the exit. The second part of the paper is devoted to study the forms and substance of the various systems of dictatorial government, whether of the left or right, Communist or Nazi-fascist; Barbu has lived within a single decade both. It is very interesting to note the author's premise: "The transition from non-democratic to a democratic period" write Barbu, "is [...] closely connected with degree of flexibility Increasing year in the mental structures of man" ("The transition from phase nondemocrată at that democracy is intimately linked to an individual's mental development flexibility ") 

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