Category Archives: Volume 14, no. 2 (2019)

An introduction to the proceedings of the conference “‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’: The rhetoric of ‘othering’ from Aristotle to Frank Westerman”

An introduction to the proceedings of the conference “‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’: The rhetoric of ‘othering’ from Aristotle to Frank Westerman”, held at the University of Genoa, Italy, last November (2018), organised by the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in order to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Prof. Flavio Baroncelli (1944-2007).

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Us and Them: The Logic of Othering from Pink Floyd to Populists

The us/them divide seems the topic of the day in the era of international populism. Its story, though, runs much deeper than we could imagine and deals with some issues which have marked Western public sphere. In this short paper I will start out with a remarkable peace of popular culture and move on, at first, to present a concise sketch of the development of the aforementioned dichotomy in the realm of political theory since the 18thcentury. I will subsequently highlight the changes undergone by the same within contemporary populist ideology and discourse in order to reappraise its inner logic and impact.

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Conversion and Inclusiveness

Is the current notion of religious freedom compatible with the current notion of tolerance? In this paper I will try to prove that this problem exists and that the setting given by Baroncelli to the problem of tolerance, i.e. by way of the revaluation of the virtue of indifference, is the only way to set it correctly. I try to prove this thesis through the analysis of the notion of conversion elaborated by William James in his classic The Varieties of Religious Experience and especially of his notion of ‘being reborn’.

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Diversity, Otherness and the Politics of Recognition

Baroncelli’s essay “Recognition and its sophistry” shows how communitarians’ ethical and political theories are based on a rhetoric that can be traced back to two strategies: to accredit the poverty of the image of the liberal adversary; to present oneself as a champion of cultural minorities that the adversary cannot and does not want to defend. Starting from the discussion of the relationship between the whole and the part and its ethical and political implications, the article analyzes and develops Baroncelli’s theses focusing on the reflection about otherness, the incommensurability of cultures, their translatability and their being open systems. The result is a critique of communitarians’ positions based on the idea of plural and mobile individual and cultural identities. The recognition should, therefore, primarily concern what unites us, that is, as our belonging to the same species and inhabitants of the Planet, and, at the same time, in taking on the challenge of cultural otherness. On this basis, which poses the need for a planetary ethics, the social imaginary of Western modernity can be reconsidered in the light of globalization, keeping one of its greatest legacies firm: the non-reducibility of the part to the whole and, therefore, of the individual to the community.

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In Lightning Memory: A Philosophical Dictionary à la Baroncelli

The definitions listed in this text combine insightful personal memories and personally memorable insights that I recall from, and associate with, Flavio Baroncelli (1944–2007) qua eloquent and witty teacher, brilliant and ingenious writer, fast and sharp conversationalist, generous and kind human being, and committed promoter of the teacher- and student exchange programmes linking together Iceland, my adoptive country, and the University of Genoa, my alma mater. Not all of them must be taken literally or too seriously; besides, I would not agree with some of them myself! All of them are, however, sincere tokens of gratitude, friendship and love to a truly remarkable individual, who enjoyed entertaining and shocking his audiences, but above all liked making them think, debate, and think some more. Furthermore, these definitions are a creative and inevitably poor attempt at exemplifying for the Anglophone public the sort of pithy and humorous style that, inter alia, made Baroncelli famous in Italy in his day.

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The Other

“Your Christ is Jewish. Your car is Japanese. Your pizza is Italian. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your numbers are Arabic, your alphabet Latin. Only your neighbor is a foreigner”. Thus it was written on a German manifesto of the Seventies. Words that highlight how those we call “others” are often the product of our construction and not an objective reality. Why then build the other? Because it is essential to define “us”. We are what the other is not and that is why we often, too often, configure the other as an icon of all evil. We need bad guys to think about them.

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The Rhetoric of Identity in Right- and Left-wing Populism: A Brief Survey

The branch of studies that analyses the shapes in which populism finds its way into contemporary political parties has largely revealed how this phenomenon is much more than a fleeting symptom of disease affecting Western citizenship (Eatwell and Goodwin 2018). The picture is much more complex and rich if we think of the many different aspects that scholars underlined in order to reach a minimum consensus towards a definition of the term ‘populism’, each one referring to a different feature of the topic and each one indispensable to grasp the meaning of it. This short paper focuses on the process of establishing populism as a political style and communicative strategy; from this perspective, my aim is to show how the tools provided by populism, with a specific focus on identity rhetoric practices, can appeal on very distant categories of players, ideologically speaking. This paper tries to highlight, in the meantime, how a shared discoursive approach could produce different outcomes, due to the diverse ideological premises and values of the actors who choose to rely on populist-style strategies. In so doing, I will offer a quick reading of the French case.

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Polarization and the Role of Digital Media

Group polarization is a dangerous phenomenon developing in democratic societies. It occurs when extreme views arise inside a group after deliberation. This mechanism leads to strong fragmentation on political and social issues and, in certain cases, to extremism and fanaticism. How have the Internet and social media shaped group polarization? This article is a review about the current state of the art, referring particularly to Cass Sunstein’s works and mentioning many empirical studies about polarization on social media. Online polarization will be analysed at three different levels: individual, social, and technological.

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Flavio Baroncelli: A Personal Recollection

The present paper was written for the third regular issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum, published in 2008 and dedicated to the memory of Professor Flavio Baroncelli (1944—2007), a friend of Iceland and a lively contributor to Italy’s philosophical life and public debate for many years. It was part of a special section included in that issue, which contained the Icelandic translation of a chapter selected from Baroncelli’s best-known book, Il razzismo é una gaffe. Eccessi e virtù del ‘politically correct’ [Racism is a faux pas. Excesses and virtues of political correctness; Rome: Donzelli, 1997] and many additional tokens of gratitude, friendship and intellectual fascination vis-à-vis Baroncelli’s acumen and wit. The essay is hereby republished on its author’s request as an integration of the the other contributions included in this issue, all of which aim at keeping the memory of Flavio Baroncelli alive, both as a scholar and as a remarkable man.

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Us vs. Them: Ideology and Discourse

The us/them polarization in public discourse is not really a contemporary phenomenon: just think of Aristotle and oi barbaroi. But today it is at its closest to the racist ideology, as van Dijk says. In this paper, Mirella Pasini uses the same tool, i.e. the ideological discourse analysis, to clarify the connection between polarization and racism, through a particular case-study, that is, the construction of prejudice and stereotype about the Southern Italian “race”  in the Reports of the Immigration Commission (Washington 1911). This past case is a model to analyse the political and the ordinary language of our time, in order to define a not discriminatory approach to the differencies.

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Political Cohesion, Friendship and Hostility

The article’s main question arises from the return to friendship in current political thinking, communitarian as well as liberal: can friendship be the emotional foundation of social-political cohesion in a modern state? The article examines the radical normative approach to civil friendship proposed by Saint Just, Carl Schmitt’s thesis on friend/enemy and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction thereof. The article searches backwards, returning to modern thought, and reformulates the initial question by examining Spinoza’s concept of friendship. Rather than proposing other emotional relationships for uniting and directing a political community, it is essential to ask how to fight the “sad political passions”.

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The Changing Feelings of Otherness: Surprise, empathy, hostility as evidenced in Frank Westerman’s El negro and me

Can we adapt to the changes that are going on? Can we absorb the changes that are coming? Or are these changes too massive to be bearable for many of us? If these changes are involving our identities, is the plasticity of human identities sufficiently elevated to render these changes possible? Indeed, the plasticity of identities is at the core of any change and specially of those that involve mixing people of various origins as it has been already noted by thinkers of identity  (see, for instance, Charles Taylor). One of the ways to address these questions is to examine, not the change itself, but the feelings associated with that change. Indeed, although this change has new features, it involves also traditional forms of feelings that can be analyzed through many ways. Among these ways, I chose to take a careful look to a book from Frank Westerman called El negro and me because it describes very vividly a large array of feelings that persons can experience from each other when a change in their vicinity occurs.

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