Monthly Archives: December 2011

On liberalsm and subversive facts

Another  random choice from Downtown Carnegie Library’s shelves that proved to be quite a smart  one:  Timothy Garton Ash – Facts Are Subversive .

The author is a well known historian and political author , currently teaching European Studies Studies at Oxford University, who wrote in the past for two prestigious newspapers – the Independent and the Guardian. The book – he calls it a feuilleton, you may call it a collection of political essays – is centered on the premise that beyond the postmodernist claim – that everything is subjective and therefore to be interpreted – there are indeed facts and it is our duty to establish them. His point is that no matter what ideology we embrace and in spite of our biases and idiosyncrasies, we  have to consider the facts – and we shall consider the facts with an open mind and critical eye. Because, in the end, it is the reality – facts – that may prove to be subversive and not other people and/or their ideologies.

Timothy Garton Ash makes a very good case for subversive facts. Whether he writes about post-communist East Europe, Islam , Aung San Suu Kyi’s  NLD or George Orwell , all essays are well documented and researched , explicit on the matter of personal bias – up to the requirements of solid academic work. His style however is crisp and clear and he makes sure that each essay is accessible to a broad, very diverse group of readers – well beyond the Academia.

However, at times his own point of view raises qestions about the honesty of an objective approach to facts – the author is himself, subject to personal and cultural bias. He cuts straight lines between the west and the rest , lines that might cause some readers feel – to put it mildly – uncomfortable. But he notes, in a honest way, that democratic societies and countries will only be built from within the not-so-Western cultures and nations. Referring to post-Milošević Serbia he notes that it  …”poses a great challenge to the West, but above all to Europe – and specifically to the European Union”(p. 24, Ash T.G. 2010) [1] .

From a personal point of view , Facts Are Subversive, was an opportunity to get familiar with major political events that occurred around the world ( and in East Europe in particular) during 2004- 2009 – a period in which I was working hard on adjusting to U.S. culture and therefore I ignored most events that hadn’t  much to do directly with the U.S. – events such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. I had also the opportunity to verify my own opinion according to which liberal/liberalism is a bad word in the United States [2]. ” Liberalism has become a pejorative term denoting – to put the matter a tad frivolously – some unholy marriage of big government and fornication” (p. 252, Ash T.G. 2010).

Yet one of my favorite essays is not about the US or East Europe, but about Islam. In Respect?  Ash articulates, and he does it  so much better than I do, the rationale beyond my religious choice ( I am a practicing Christian ) and my political one ( I am a progressive liberal). It is not silliness or the outcome of a confuse mind, but a rational position. I was raised as a Christian and I firmly believed that  Christ was the Son of God , begotten and not made, and that He died in order to redeem humankind.  As a rational person I am very much aware of the shortfalls and misdeeds  of Christianity during the history, as much as I am aware about its core role in the development of the modern state under a secular law – a law that protects our freedom to utter loudly our opinions about religion and government. As a liberal  I do respect (and I demand respect for) any religious  belief  as well as the lack of it, as long as it does not become ideology. And it is because  Ash ( an agnostic or atheist?)and I ( a Christian) are both liberals that we are at odds with those who dismiss religious belief as a mere system of superstitions and claim that any chance for a country to become a democracy is for its people to embrace atheism.  An ideology that does not respect everybody’s freedom to choose what is that they believe in and to speak freely about it and gather with those among their peers who share the same beliefs is not a liberal ideology. And, argues Ash , it will not lead to a democratic ruling as it is to be considered a fundamentalist ideology in its own right.



[1] As a former citizen of  the Balkans , I consider the fact that he mentioned  the West  first (and often as separate entity from Europe) as “that British bias” – because they might’ve got it right before the East , they think they have to teach the rest of the world how to do it as if we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves (given the right amount of time, resources, national independence and cultural freedom)

Quotes are from this edition:

Ash, T.G. – Facts Are Subversive, Yale University Press, 2010.