Category Archives: Volume 7, no. 1 (2012)

“Karlson” – A Stasi “Kontakt Person”. An episode of Iceland’s Cold War legacy

Iceland’s geographical position gave this small nation a special strategic importance in the political and military chess game between East and West during the Cold War era. Iceland constituted an important post for the NATO defence forces and surveillance activities. The military base and the NATO alignment created stark divisions among the population. The political discussion was framed in terms of the Cold War and the press in Iceland continuously suggested that the political motives of their opponents were conspicuously linked to or derived from either the interests of Soviet or Eastern European communism or US capitalist imperialism. It was in this circumstances that in the fifties and sixties young left wing people sought to undertake their university education in the Eastern block. The legacy of heated feelings of the Cold War has in many ways survived the Cold War itself. This article wants to contribute to the objectification of the debate by presenting the files from the archives of the East German secret service on one Icelandic student cooperating with it while studying in East Germany.

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Beyond Subjectivity. Levinas, Kierkegaard and the Absolute Other

The relation between Levinas and Kierkegaard is controversial. In his writings, especially Difficult Freedom and Proper Names, the former strongly criticizes the latter: he goes against the submission of ethics to religion of Fear and Trembling and the view of subjectivity coming out from the Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Singularity and relation to God are then the principal points of collision between the two philosophers. Since Kierkegaard, for chronological reasons, has never replied to Levinas, one only knows the opinion of the latter. One will never know what the former would have said on his own behalf. Maybe he would have exacerbated the debate or maybe he would have tried to solve it. Perhaps he would have done both with two different pseudonyms, ironically making a fool of Levinas.

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The idea of University in a Cosmopolitan Perspective

The aim of this paper is to show why the humanities are more necessary than ever as part of the university education in our contemporary cosmopolitan age. We need the humanities if our educational institutions are to overcome the threats from narrow-minded politicians and business people to reduce education in schools and universities to simple instruction in management without guidance from the cultures of the world as expressed in art and literature, knowledge of languages, history and philosophy.

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George Hinge and Jens A. Krasilnikoff (eds.), Alexandria: A Cultural and Religious Melting Pot (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2009)

The Canopus region of Egypt on the Mediterranean coast was already inhabited and a port prior to Alexander’s founding of his city. Pseudo-Callisthenes reports that Alexander awaited “an oracle from the god as to where he should found a city bearing his name” (Krasilnikoff, “Alexandria as Place,” 26).[1] According to this account, Alexander was visited in his sleep by the god who spoke thus to him: “King, to you I speak. the god of the ram’s horn. / If you wish forever to flourish in youth eternal, / Build an illustrious city above the island of Proteus/ Where once Aion Plutonius first took his throne as ruler… (Krasilnikoff, “Alexandria as Place,” 26-27).

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Aðalheiður Ámundadóttir & Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Mannréttindi í þrengingum: Efnahagsleg og félagsleg réttindi í kreppunni (Akureyri-Reykjavík: Háskólinn á Akureyri og Mannréttindaskrifstofa Íslands, 2011)

For years Iceland had been one of the most prosperous countries in the world, even scoring number one in the United Nations Development Report in the year 2007. In the fall of 2008 the Icelandic population faced great changes to the national economy; the country was on the verge of national bankruptcy.

Herman Salton, Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010)

Explanatory Note: Due to the controversial nature of the book reviewed, Nordicum-Mediterraneum is taking the unusual step of seeking two reviews from contrasting perspectives. The first is a review by an Icelandic citizen and the second by a Chinese citizen who is resident in Iceland. (The editors)

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Tra utopia e realtà: Olof Palme e il socialismo democratico. Antologia di scritti e discorsi, (ed. and trans.) Monica Quirico (Rome: Editori Riuniti university press, 2009)

Swedish statesman and political thinker, Olof Palme (1927–1986), was a remarkable individual. Known for his intellectual capacities and culture as well as his passion and commitment, this visionary left behind a rich political legacy.

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Cornelius Castoriadis: A Society Adrift. Interviews & Debates 1974-1997 (translated by Helen Arnold; New York: Fordham University Press, 2010)

Cornelius Castoriadis (1922-1997) was not only a powerful political thinker, economist, and psychoanalyst. He was also a militant activist, who in the late 1940s founded, along with Claude Lefort, “Socialisme ou Barbarie”, a French revolutionary group that had split from the Trotskyist Fourth International. Castoriadis and “Socialisme ou Barbarie” were influential on the far left for two decades, although splits and disagreements among the group’s members and followers characterized it.

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Dogancan Özsel (ed.), Reflections on Conservatism (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011)

In the foreword to his The Ancien Régime and the Revolution (1856) Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “No nation had ever before embarked on so resolute an attempt as that of the French in 1789 to break with the past, to make, as it were, a scission in their life line and to create an unbridgeable gulf between all they had hitherto been and all they now aspired to be. …in a word, they spared no pains in their endeavour to obliterate their former selves.”

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Joseph Femia (ed.), Vilfredo Pareto (London: Ashgate, 2009)

All contemporary textbooks in the social sciences hail Vilfredo Pareto (1848—1923) as one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, alongside celebrated classics such as Auguste Comte, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. Moreover, Pareto’s contribution extends to the field of economics as well, which is an accomplishment that none of the other great sociological minds can boast for himself.

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Maurice Hamington and Maureen Sander-Staudt (eds.) Applying Care Ethics to Business (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011)

Care ethics is a relatively recent development in ethics, originating in Carol Gilligan´s book In a Different Voice, published in 1982 and pointing out flaws in Kohlberg´s theory of moral development, specifically in choosing only boys for the experiments, in using moral dilemmas to measure moral development, and in his idea that morality only consisted in universal rules.

 

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Michel Chossudovsky and Andrew Gavin Marshall (eds.), The Global Economic Crisis / The Great Depression of the XXI Century (Montreal: Global Research Publishers, 2010)

This book is a comprehensive critical analysis of “the most serious economic and social crisis in modern history”.

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Ove Torgny, Hundra procent Roma: en njutbar källa för sköna dagar i Rom (Ängelholm: SkåneFörlaget, 2006)

Guide books are in many ways a curious type of books. All of them promise to some extent the same promise – to introduce the reader to some place (a town, a country or even a whole continent). In doing so the guide book aims to draw out the essence of that place its true core and presents the reader with the highlights, the ‘best of’. It is somewhat unusual for guide books to spell this out as clearly as is the case with Hundra procent Roma by Ove Torgny. If the title in itself is not clear enough, this promise is also taken up on the back cover which declares that the book picks up the thread where other guide books end.

 

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Johann P. Arnason & Kurt A. Raaflaub, The Roman Empire in Context: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Chichester: Wiley & Sons, 2011)

Arnason and Raaflaub’s edited volume, The Roman Empire in Context: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, is the fifth volume in a series entitled The Ancient World: Comparative Histories. The overarching aim of the series is to bring a comparative perspective to studies of ancient histories, and earlier titles focus either on content or geography. This is the only volume to date that focuses on a specific civilization, and Rome is of course significant enough to merit its own volume.

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Kristina Kappelin, Berlusconi – Italienaren (Stockholm: Brombergs, 2010)

From the point of view of an Italian reader – particularly if female – the book in ten chapters by the Swedish journalist Kristina Kappelin (who has been living in Rome for many years and works as correspondent from Italy for Swedish media) is perhaps interesting more because of what it shows about Sweden than because of what it tells about Berlusconi’s political career. The latter, nevertheless, is summarized in a detailed and effective way, starting from Berlusconi’s mysterious beginnings (chapter two, Hur allting började) and commented with no irony, but rather with a sort of resigned incredulity.

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Göran Greider, Ingen kommer undan Olof Palme (Stockholm: Ordfront, 2011)

In 2011 within the Swedish labour movement many activists dissatisfied with the Social Democratic Party (SAP) – who in 2010 suffered from the second electoral defeat in succession and fell into a never-ending crisis – turned to the legacy of Olof Palme (whose XXV death anniversary was celebrated on February, 28) as a flag of the true Social Democratic tradition, to which it is urgent to come back before the centre-right government achieves a full “paradigm shift”, deregulating further the labour market and privatizing the Welfare State.

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Christian Joerges and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann (eds.), Constitutionalism: Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law (Hart Publishing: Studies in International Trade Law, 2011)

Constitutionalism, Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law is a second issue of a 2006 text of the same name. It brings together an impressive collection of international scholarship exploring international economic law in light of constitutional theory with many well-established experts in the field alongside some relatively junior and highly promising scholars.

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Ingerid S Straume and J F Humphrey (eds.), Depoliticization: The Political Imaginary of Global Capitalism (Malmö: NSU Press, 2011)

Capitalism’s constancy, despite the global economic crisis, prompts this topical nine essay volume to examine the present status of politics and its relation to the economy. It follows the analytical line of theorists like Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas and especially Cornelius Castoriadis, arguing that since the seventies, a separation of politics and economy has been nurtured by a neoliberal agenda.

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Michael Reid Trice, Encountering Cruelty: The Fracture of the Human Heart (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011)

As many violence scholars, I have not found myself to be greatly interested in cruelty, for the simple reason that instances of cruelty are relatively rare, if we accept its usual definition as “willful indifference to suffering, or taking pleasure in inflicting such suffering upon sentient beings.” Most people do not actively wish harm to others, and for this reason, the harms that keep our societies running smoothly and in ordered fashion must be kept in concealment, far from our direct vision, if we are to be asked to tolerate them—cruel punishments, executions, exclusions of minorities from the full benefits of the society, etc. However, Michael Trice’s new book, Encountering Cruelty, renews a fresh interest in this dark topic by redefining cruelty as an ordinary, common occurrence, infecting the everyday in ever more subtle forms. Trice reveals how a too narrow definition of cruelty may grant us the comfort of believing its occurrence to be minimal, but it robs us of the opportunity to track its traces writ large across the landscape of the human world. We cannot hope to understand, and ultimately heal, the rebounding effects of suffering across the broader social terrain, unless we are willing to admit the cruelty that underlies modern institutional life.

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Montesquieu in Hungary

The interest of the great philosopher, jurist, and political thinker of the French Enlightenment, Charles-Louis de Sécondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu (1689–1755), turned after having published the Lettres persanes (1721) to the study on premises of the lives, customs and laws of different nations, ethnicities. When his friend, Earl James Waldgrave (1684-1741), was appointed as emissary, ambassador to Vienna, to the court of Emperor Charles VI, King of Hungary as Charles III, King of Bohemia as Charles II (1711–1740), Montesquieu accompanied i.e. escorted him.

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Some impressions after a quick visit to Iceland

When I write a title such as the one you have just read, I cannot help remembering the severe critique I once wrote on an article from a colleague of mine (and certainly not of  secondary importance) who, after travelling through all of Latin America during a fortnight wrote and published an extensive article on the continent, its problems and even possible solutions to those problems. I have only been for little more than ten days in Iceland.  I am not aware of the problems of the place and I have of course no solutions whatever to suggest. The following pages only intend to express what the title says. “some impressions” and nothing more. However I dare say that perhaps some impressions at least may be interesting to other readers and also to a certain extent also useful to the Icelanders themselves.

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