A word from our president
1. The idea for this institute was born of a number of intellectual experiences that seemed to me—they still do—disturbing or stimulating enough to arouse reflection and debate within a circle of intellectuals and scholars. The first of these experiences was verifying everywhere that the academic establishment finds it difficult to assimilate and profit from the highest and most remarkable expressions of the philosophy of the second half of the twentieth century. Many decades having passed since their chief works were published, the greatest philosophers of that period still remain practically unknown to the academic universe in general. Here I am referring specifically to Eric Voegelin, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Xavier Zubiri, and Bernard Lonergan. This could never have happened, in the first half of the twentieth century, to an Edmund Husserl or to a Karl Jaspers. Something, in this lapse of time, has seriously debilitated the intellectual fiber of the great universities—kindred institutions in peripheral countries having suffered an even greater depauperation. The making of the university apparatus into an instrument for political propaganda had something to do with that, to be sure, but what is of interest here is not to fathom the causes of the said phenomenon but rather to foster attitudes that counterbalance it on the scale of smaller circles of intellectuals and scholars. This institute is one of these circles.
2. The general feeling that we live in an era of “globalization” automatically disseminates the expectation that the interchange of information and ideas is richer and more intense today than it was in other times. Quantitatively, it is. But since I moved to the United States in 2005, I have observed that, at least in one particular domain, that of international politics, communication gaps between the many countries seem to have widened instead of narrowing down. I noticed, for example, among American political analysts, a huge ignorance or incomprehension of the worldwide revolutionary movement, whose actions affect American internal politics every day and end up being explained by causes of a local nature which not even by far can account for them. I tried to imagine, for example, whether a dialogue between American and French or, say, Italian “conservative” thinkers was possible, and I realized that, practically, it was not. Their Weltanschauungs, their vocabulary, their focus of interest were so disparate that, without first laying the groundwork for the dialogue, all would risk ending up in misunderstanding and in missing an opportunity for a mutually fecundating interchange.
In my own country, the situation was even more catastrophic. Both media commentators and university experts who ventured to voice an opinion on matters of international politics were radically ignorant of the conservative tradition in American thought. An ill-fated “Critical Dictionary of Right-Wing Thought,” a work having the pretensions of being a kind of summa universalis, composed by no less than 140 university professors, mentioned neither Albert Jay Nock, nor Russel Kirk, nor William F. Buckley, nor Irving Kristol, not even Leo Strauss. There, ineptitude and purposeful debasement were so mingled that it was impossible to distinguish the one from the other. But that did not prevent the book from becoming the standard work on the subject in political science departments and law schools across Brazil. This case exemplified a kind of lunatic Anti-Americanism whose existence American experts on Latin America either ignored or completely denied at that time. My perplexity at this mutual ignorance reached an apex when I saw historian Kenneth Maxwell, the Council on Foreign Relations’ supreme authority on things Latin American, peremptorily deny the existence of the São Paulo Forum, which, at that point, was already the wealthiest and most powerful political organization that has ever emerged throughout the history of that continent. At that moment, I could no longer avoid the sensation of living in the midst of a debate between lunatics in the courtyard of a mental institution.
3. On the other hand, personal experience had repeatedly confirmed to me the possibility of forming scholars, in the context of an informal pedagogical activity developed on the margins of all academic institution, who were more capable and more attentive to cognitive gaps between nations. By means of private courses and lectures, and later on, through the Seminário de Filosofia’’s online philosophy program, I managed to gather around me a wide circle of students—in fact, some thousands of them—who are now the only guarantee that something will survive the period of darkness that has descended upon Brazilian intellectual life in the last thirty years. The success of such experience suggested to me that something similar could be tried in the United States (not taking into account the Spanish-speaking audience that lives in the United States).
These three experiences generated the idea for our institute. Its first initiative will be to make available for interested Hispanic and American students translations of the huge amount of Portuguese materials originated from the Seminário de Filosofia’s online philosophy program and from courses that I taught in several institutions in Brazil and abroad. The second goal is to stimulate, among American and Hispanic intellectuals, discussion and serious study of the topics I have been working on for many years now. For example, I am sure that my studies on “cognitive parallax,” “the four discourses,” “triple intuition,” etc., can infuse some vigor into philosophical studies—especially those in political philosophy—and stimulate an infinity of profitable investigations.
The markedly informal and personal style of this investigative and pedagogical activity is based upon my conviction that a mere debate between “university professionals” is just a dialogue between predefined social roles, sometimes leaving out the real persons who perform them, whereas knowledge of the least and most modest truth presupposes, in my understanding, the activity of a real and personal human consciousness, understood in the full measure of its most extreme responsibility toward life. The phenomenon that I called “cognitive parallax”—the displacement between the axis of a thinker’s real experience and the axis of his theoretical construction—, a phenomenon that has become endemic in modernity, will not be defeated without a strong appeal to personal sincerity above—or below—functional identities and politico-bureaucratic pressure. At some moments, I even felt that the only propitious atmosphere for philosophical dialogue is that of group psychotherapy, much more than that of a university classroom. I even came to develop a whole theory about “a continual state of confession” as being the only state propitious to philosophical investigation, drawing inspiration for this from the person of Socrates and of St. Augustine, as well as from Miguel de Unamuno’s summons of “the man of flesh and bone” as a witness in the philosophical court. It seems to me that, both in the Platonic dialogues and in St. Augustine, a whole technique for converting personal confession into philosophical statements of universal value is already implicitly formulated. In each class of the Online Philosophy Course, I have put this technique into practice—without mentioning that it is a technique—with amazing results. There, the teaching of philosophy becomes something like a medicine of the intellect, arousing in each student intellectual possibilities that he never suspected he possessed. Even those experienced scholars who may do us the honor of collaborating with us in our experiment will find, I hope, something stimulating and reinvigorating in it. Our institute’s fundamental goal is to afford students and professional scholars access to this experience, making it the foundation and inspiration for a clearer and more lucid interchange of ideas between Brazilian, American, and Hispano-American scholars.
Olavo de Carvalho
President of the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought
June 4, 2010