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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!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Missing intellectual fare

Where do we go for a journal which speaks to the increasing number of people who are alienated from politics, corporate power and the media; who want more than empty slogans; and who are keen to read well-written pieces by those whose reading is extensive enough to make them aware of their own limitations?

Not to newspapers whose deadlines make the required quality of writing and scope of reading impossible – although Le Monde and Die Zeit (a weekly) try hard. 
Sensible people go to the New York. London and Dublin Reviews of Books. While preparing this post, I came across this helpful list of the 50 “best literary” journals but they are American and limited to magazines judged to be literary. The Nation makes the cut but, for some reason, The New Republic and The Boston Review don’t. Not literary enough?

Over the past few years, I have several times commented on the lamentable choices for those of us looking for deep, non-partisan and well-written coverage of key issues facing Europeans. In 2011 I talked about “gated communities” 
The barrier to our understanding of development in other European countries is not just linguistic. It stems also from the intellectual compartmentalisation (or apartheid) which universities and European networks have encouraged in our elites. European political scientists, for example, have excellent networks but talk in a highly specialised language about recondite topics which they publish in inaccessible language in inaccessible journals. What insights they have about each other’s countries are rarely made available to the wider public. The same is true of the civil service nationals who participate in EC comitology or OECD networks – let alone the myriad professional networks. We talk about gated communities – but they exist virtually as well as physically.

In 2012 a blogpost talked of a “european failure of knowledge management” and blamed journalists - although it is clearly publishers who are at fault. Later that same year a post tried to express the need more clearly 
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!

 And, at the beginning of this year, a post entitled Indifference to European Differences posed 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!
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.

Of course, the weekly Courrier International and Project Syndicate bring us syndicated pieces from around the world – but these are from newspapers and therefore suffer from superficiality.
Perhaps I’ve been missing something….I google “lists” and come up with an interesting table of about 150 political magazines covering key countries. But nothing I didn’t already know.
By the way, the current edition Government and Opposition – on The Power of Finance - can be downloaded free – article by article (until mid-August). And the journal Governance does have a useful blog which picks out worthwhile articles.

I liked the way the original editors of The Nation expressed its philosophy way back in 1835
The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.
But where is the political equivalent of Granta?

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