Saturday 1 September 2012

Human rights as the only real source of power

In 1998 I undertook the travel to the university of Haifa to give my first Conference Lecture. In the story I give a link to you can read how by the grace of God I still was able to give my lecture in spite of all kinds of odds, and it was an unforgettable experience to see a pretty young lady from Slovenia writing down notes about Louis A. Bähler, someone not at all known in the Netherlands itself. (This is the lecture she and others were attending and taking notes about). "Count your blessings", a professor said to me when I told this. Well, I was invited to come along when in Slovenia but have not been there yet, and now it is all a memory. Just like the rest of the story from 1998 - someone with whom I shared a student flat around there asked me how it felt after doing this first lecture. Giving a speech in public is different, I can say, I had experience with that. One of the differences is that the conference will still be going on but you did your thing and... - I said that I felt like an animal triste. Fortunately she did not need further explanation which I will not be giving here either.

The feeling came over me last week when I completed my text for a presentation at the Anarchist Studies Network Conference in Loughborough, next week, more precise the ASIRA-part of it (as I would like to call it). "Is that all there is?" after all. I suppose so. And then there will the pressure to speak loud and clear on a subject you do not quite understand (it is no use talking about a subject you understand) in a language which is not your mother tongue and finish within twenty minutes. Great. Call me animal triste any time now.

A part of my presentation is meant to be about a Dutch Christian anarchist I only came to study after his death in 2006. He lived above the place where I worked about fifteen years ago, I only spoke to him when he moved out. His written legacy amounts to a eulogy of Human Rights which will prevail above Evil and Statism and power that cannot be real power. Thinking of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo/Serbia, Syria probably and the PussyRiot hype I do not particularly feel comfortable about the idea.

I am giving here my first and last personal notes for the conference on this Christian anarchist, Ernst Stern, and maybe you can understand my Conference Blues In Advance. I will probably have to skip these bits because of lack of time anyway.

As a political scientist I grew up in my studies with a simple and effective definition of power as "coercive influence". Since power is the central theme in political science it may be helpful to have a definition, even though defining may be anathema as being undialectical.

I must say I have difficulty with the idea of power of another Dutch Christian anarchist I turn to now, Ernst Stern. He was a theologian and I only realized he was a Christian anarchist when he died at the age of 80 in 2006. Amazingly, then I had to conclude that he was responsible for copying my first “political” article as an activist in the review he edited, Militia Christi, journal of radical or pacifist ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church. I remember my mixed feelings of the time: proud and at the same time dismissive because the paper had to be associated with the Church and I did not like that. The idea or the discovery of Christian anarchism for me was far away still - it was 1970 to be exact. Stern calls himself an anarchist, he should as a minister be considered as a Christian but the word Christian-anarchist seems unknown to him.
I have not read an assessment by him of the bombing of Serbia, Afghanistan or Iraq in the name of human rights as we have witnessed in the recent past. Detaining Chief Geronimo was already excused by the white invaders of North America with the story that he kept on beating his wife. Both Stern’s estimate of the legitimacy of power and the liberatory force of human rights can be seen as very optimistic and maybe he was - and optimism, I read with Ursula LeGuin is the most important quality of anarchists.

Which brings me to my personal final note - the article that Stern copied in Militia Christi, his review, in 1970. In it I wrote that we should forget about the apologists who applauded the genocidal quick kill against Biafra. I have not forgotten the names of these apologists though, but I know that from the media-administered public memory the genocide and the call for a quick mass murder have been banned and properly removed. I cannot ask Stern any more if this state of affairs for him is reason to remain optimistic. I know I still am, otherwise I would not have given this introduction.

What is in between I will try to squeeze in at the ASN Conference.
See some of you next week, or else God willing back on this site...