The European Legacy, Vol. 17, No. 6, pp.

731–743, 2012

On Margins, Marginals, and Marginalities: A Conversation with Ramin Jahanbegloo


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ˆ tre Francais est une evidence: on n’en souffre ni on ne s’en rejouit . . . . Le paradoxe E ˆ tre Persan (en l’occurrence, Roumain) est un tourment qu’il faut savoir exploiter, d’e un defaut dont on doit tirer profit. —E. M. Cioran

Costica Bradatan: We would like first of all to thank you for kindly agreeing to take part in this conversation on marginality and its relevance for understanding trends and changes in our contemporary world. What has struck us—what, after all, has set this project in motion—is the elusive nature of this notion when it comes to understanding how humanistic knowledge is produced. I have in mind, for example, why an author who is first considered ‘‘marginal’’ becomes ‘‘mainstream’’ one day, sometimes long after his death (or the other way around). In the social sciences scholars have been working on marginality for quite some time. The topic is popular in sociology, obviously, but also in other fields such as international relations. I am thinking, for example, of Immanuel Wallerstein’s influential work in this area. However, in the humanities (and humanistic social sciences such as political theory), marginality is often perceived as something fuzzy, uncertain, and difficult to conceptualize. How are we to understand this situation? Is marginality here intrinsically mercurial and should we leave it at that? If not, how exactly should, or could, we handle it? Where should we start? Ramin Jahanbegloo: In his famous essay ‘‘Human Migration and the Marginal Man’’ (1928), Robert Park, one of the original members of the Chicago School of Sociology, defined marginality as a state of limbo between at least two cultural life-worlds. I propose here to revisit briefly Park’s theory in order to produce an intercultural analysis of marginality. Park’s formulation of ‘‘marginality’’ is directly related to Georg Simmel’s ˆ neur who has essay ‘‘The Stranger’’ (1908). For Simmel, a ‘‘stranger’’ is a potential fla the freedom of coming and going. The ‘‘stranger’’ is a detached person who comes in contact, at one time or another, with every individual, but is not organically connected with any single one. What characterizes Simmel’s concept of ‘‘stranger’’ is not only the act of detachment but also that of ‘‘nearness.’’ Talking in the context of the modern city,

Ramin Jahanbegloo, Centre for Ethics at University of Toronto, 6 Hoskin Ave., Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1H8, Canada. Email: Costica Bradatan, The Honors College, McClellan Hall, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409, USA. E-mail: Aurelian Craiutu, Department of Political Science, Indiana University, 210 Woodburn Hall, 1100 E. 7th St., Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. Email:
ISSN 1084-8770 print/ISSN 1470-1316 online/12/060731–13 ß 2012 International Society for the Study of European Ideas

weak (because that person does not fully belong to a dominant paradigm) and powerful (because not belonging to the dominant culture is precisely what enables him/her to engage in an intercultural experience. Such a person does not tend to fit perfectly into any one of the cultures to which he or she have been exposed. to a distinct culture is fully compensated through one’s gaining access to a richer and more refined sense of the self. As a member of the Chicago School of Sociology. Marginality is usually referred to as a transitional personality that is isolated and unprotected and is searching in vain for an opportunity to take roots in a dominant discourse or culture. Intercultural marginals tend to put their multicultural experiences to good use. is not a ‘‘schism in the soul.732 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. This intercultural in-betweenness suggests a form of constructive marginality that is able to move easily and powerfully between different cultural traditions. But. In addition. Not only does the notion of ‘‘constructive marginality’’ suggest an overcoming of the traditional dichotomy center-margin but it also presupposes a more nuanced understanding of the self—the self as a project. Marginality. Costica Bradatan: I find this notion of ‘‘constructive marginality’’ a very promising insight. at once. which is actually the peripheral position of a person in society. this is the paradoxical condition of someone who is. it bears repeating. . by keeping his/her critical distance from both. being culturally marginalized describes the experience of a person who has been molded by exposure to two or more cultural traditions. As Park affirms: ‘‘It is in the mind of the marginal man that the moral turmoil which new cultural contacts occasion manifests itself in the most obvious forms. acting appropriately and feeling at home in each. something we can start from and build on. In this manner marginality is somehow ‘‘avenged’’ and the marginal individual can even potentially become something of a model as someone who seems to be living a ‘‘desirable’’ life. who himself had to deal with migration and change of culture. in a rigid sense. It fails to comprehend the intercultural and the border-crossing essence of the marginal experience. in the margins of each.’’ One can share two cultures as part of the same soul. Simmel is aware of the fact that marginality is the outcome of urbanization and industrialization of modern societies. and so on. such an insight fits quite nicely with some of the basic principles that regulate life in a multicultural society. intercultural living will grow if we accept the challenge of marginality. It is in the mind of the marginal man—where the changes and fusions of culture are going on—that we can best study the process of civilization and of progress. a constant process of negotiation and renegotiation. It is by valuing and celebrating their intercultural marginality that they gradually become mainstream one day.’’ Aurelian Craiutu: Can we then adopt or use in some other way Park’s old notion of marginality? What are its strengths and shortcomings? Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 Ramin Jahanbegloo: The problem with Park’s conception of ‘‘marginality’’ is that it is one-dimensional. Park is more concerned with ‘‘marginality’’ as a process of internalizing a dominant culture and sacrificing one’s cultural peculiarities. What one loses by not being attached. which is something that enriches a human being). Intercultural transformation presupposes that an individual has to pass through the stage of marginality. on the contrary. as a matter of self-definition. If I understand you correctly. On the contrary. but may fit comfortably on the edge. That means that the world of the marginalized is not a challenge to intercultural living.

empathy is necessarily a matter of sharing life with others. contributes to the discovery of a common voice in different traditions of thinking. It is the cominginto-history of a human destiny that is common to us.ON MARGINS. living in a tradition of thought is accompanied automatically with a sense of shared values with other members of the same community but it has also to do with what we might call a universal impulse. As such. In today’s world the relationship between the center and the margin has changed. Secondly. However. We can say. AND MARGINALITIES 733 Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 Ramin Jahanbegloo: The idea of ‘‘constructive marginality’’ is an effort to overcome the traditional dichotomy between center and margin. by giving voice to the elements of solidarity and togetherness which underlie the civic life of each tradition. the center has been fragmented so that it is no longer possible to conform to one absolute subjectivist ontology as was the case in modern philosophy. Marginality as a broken perception of the world replaces the linear and monolithic discourse of reality with a dialogical vision of civilization. MARGINALS. by seeing at the same time something common and something that is distinct to each. there is still a space of dialogue which could be strengthened in the absence of a culture of dialogue. what can make this state of interconnectedness authentic and practical is neither the work of rationality nor our use of language but an empathetic perception of togetherness. This idea of a shared life binds members of different communities together in various ways. and vice versa. discussed and revised. This common history stands before us as our common destiny and through its presence our shared fate is called forth. we can witness new creations emerging from the sidelines towards the center. or only in a particular society? Ramin Jahanbegloo: Even in a closed and dogmatic society where citizens are discriminated and divided. Through this ‘‘give and take’’ something comes into being that had not existed before and that exists from this shared destiny. But it goes without saying that our situatedness in a specific culture or tradition is indistinguishable from an effort to subsume one’s individual history in a common history of humanity. the claim that dialogical citizenship rests on the authority of tradition in general denies the possibility of critical self-reflection and its ability to break with the dogmatic elements in every tradition of thought that work against any effort of dialogue. though this bind is not the result of a recognition that other communities and cultures are or must be like each other. . We can see from this that. then. there can be no phenomenological process of civilization making without a strong sense of caring for and sharing with other human beings as citizens of human history. put into play. It is the recognition of the fact that in the context of human life certain others are similar to us as humans though different from us as members of another tradition of thought. Dialogical understanding as the true matrix of the hermeneutical encounter always generates a logic of ongoing differentiation and negotiation that seeks to authorize a new approach to civilization as a process of human self-consciousness. that the discovery of a common fate is a productive result of the dialogical process of cultures and traditions. Aurelian Craiutu: Would that be the case in any type of society. Each culture discovers itself in other cultures. in the sense that its orientation toward its own life experience is based on the understanding of other communities as different experiences of the same shared life. That is to say. One needs to add that the hermeneutical understanding of traditions (both religious and cultural) inscribed in a phenomenology of dialogue. In other words. First. We are witnessing a double shift of focus.

Though they are made for their own cultures.’’ In other words. Therefore. Paris. This general sense of what binds cultures to each other emerges also through an awareness of the particular ways that cultures are bound to each other. This awareness is not only based on knowledge of the Other but also on a reciprocal empathy. Therefore. But they are a remarkable paradox. or Ukrainian. In fact. But how about the Moroccan. This is the ideal case. humans are also able to radically rethink cherished ideas about humankind. In other words. where the living conditions are so harsh that there is hardly any culture left. ‘‘There is no such thing as human nature independent of culture. reproduce and alter individuals by transforming them into culturally fabricated human beings. Madrid or London. This is why cultures are more than cultures. However. human beings are culturecreating beings. Aurelian Craiutu: What is the upshot of all this? And how can the rediscovery of the dialogic nature of social life help us reflect on the nature of marginality broadly defined? Ramin Jahanbegloo: A sense of solidarity is created not only because of the awareness of similarities but also because of the dissimilarities and differences that exist between human cultures. If we succeed we will be helping to create an era of constructive marginality where intercultural bordercrossing and learning would replace global mass culture. I guess marginality is not the path given to us. especially when talking about educated individuals who—more or less deliberately—participate in the rituals and protocols of more than one culture. The dialogue with the Other is a dialogue with the self. they have the capacity Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . I cannot want to be the trouble-fe help asking myself. but I wonder about its conditions of possibility. The solidarity that emerges from a dialogue of cultures will always be accompanied with a horizon of a shared life and what we have in common as humans. every culture sees the other culture as an event and an openness. As Clifford Geertz affirms. Living on this kind of margin. for example: How operational is this model? What is its scope of applicability? Isn’t there something utopian about it? I can certainly agree that the model works in any number of individual cases. or Chinese laborer who lives—maybe illegally—on the outskirts of Rome. So the theoretical frame to think of our complex and controversial world would be ‘‘many marginalities. it goes without saying that human beings produce cultures and are produced by cultures. The work of culture is to create. dissimilarities potentially bring every culture to an awareness of solidarity with other cultures. Humans are created by cultures in the image of their societies. I do not ˆte here. How can we convince them to use their marginality constructively? Ramin Jahanbegloo: There is nothing ‘‘utopian’’ about using one’s marginality in a constructive way.’’ We have no choice but to learn more about each other’s marginality if we intend to protect our shared fate. but the path we choose for ourselves. segregation and ultimately rejection.734 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. they cannot experience any form of cultural sharing but only forms of separation. The presence of the other culture is vital for creating new possibilities and so a new horizon of truth is brought forward by the encounter with other cultures. each culture can serve as a corrective to other cultures. Costica Bradatan: The anatomy of such an encounter is indeed fascinating. It is a cultural process. let alone cultural blending? There is something almost physical about the marginality of these people who often go without food or shelter. they are what give meaning to humans as members of the human race. one humanity.

ON MARGINS. Human societies find the raison d’e survival in culture. As you suggest. Cultural values that are established in history as universal are not only for the present but also for eternity. This is the ability to choose to go beyond one’s marginality in a given set of inhuman circumstances. partners in an inter-marginal dialogue end up engaging in a process of questioning rather than intimidating or patronizing each other. What time delivers to us is never stale. They are the continuously evolving products ˆ tre of their of people interacting with each other. Cultures are not the product of lone individuals. Our humanity is measured not only by our belonging to our own culture but also by our attitude to other cultures. this means facing the dialogue with marginality. When portrayed in this way. It is engaging in an empathic relationship where ‘‘the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Madrid or London. or Chinese laborer who lives—maybe illegally—on the outskirts of Rome. While human societies and cultures are not the same. His/her boundaries of marginality may change as he/she encounters other marginal characters. Human beings can bring humaneness out of the inhuman. Culture is not as Matthew Arnold thought just ‘‘the best that has been thought and said in the world. marginality is always relational and must be interpreted as an open-ended and fluid concept that changes with time and place. because what time creates has eternity in it. To me marginality is rich and large and many-sided. Ramin Jahanbegloo: Human societies produce culture to find permanence in time and history. does not constitute a hermetically-sealed form of marginality. Importantly.’’ culture is what gives individuals the critical capacity to exit their marginality. as they can bring beauty out of ugliness and peace out of war. Ukrainian. but it is also a fragile phenomenon because it is constantly changing and easily degraded and destroyed. It might be useful then to try to delineate a few types of marginality. to honor and to protect. The relevant question. What they can learn from this cross-marginal dialogue is to be profoundly responsive to their shared fate. So culture is a powerful human tool for survival. It also makes ‘‘culture’’ a highly ambiguous term. for it could refer to a particular social or collective lifestyle or to an aesthetic sensibility.’’ Responsibility moves the individual to respond to the suffering of the other. Aurelian Craiutu: One of the conclusions thus far is that there are several types of marginality and that we should avoid the temptation of using it as a one-dimensional concept. This is the formidable ability to show tolerance in the face of intolerance. even the Moroccan. therefore. not avoiding it. This reminds us that culture has a spiritual dimension and a dimension of reverence towards life. The word cultura derives from the verb colere. AND MARGINALITIES 735 Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 to reach out to other cultures. Paris. does not concern why we are marginal but what we do with our marginality. which also means to inhabit. Costica Bradatan: Because culture is both the offspring and the victim of time. it connotes the constitutive features of humankind. MARGINALS. they are inextricably connected because culture is created and transmitted to each individual in a society. compassion in the face of indifference. As a result. The question then is whether we are at the point in history when we should lose our faith in marginality or whether we must work towards understanding how an inter-marginal dialogue can forge new norms of solidarity in a plural world. The most obvious type that first comes . But who says ‘‘response’’ says also ‘‘responsibility.’’ as Tagore says in his poem. In any case. indicating those qualities that humans have in common and also those which constitute many of their differences.

Unlike many previous French writers.’’ In the same manner. but because they are laws. rare writers like Genet experience through their own auctorial marginality the possibilities and limits of imagining or representing marginal individuals and their strategies of survival as subaltern heroes. writing is a matter of being an outlaw of French official culture. . marginality is a refusal to obey or recognize the law.’’ Like Genet. in Jean Genet’s novels and theater. . . This means that marginality exposes this violence and transcends it. . We beg you . . prostitution. Querelle of Brest. the official discourse of hierarchical bureaucracies is always perverted and transformed by the deviant narrative of the characters that are socially marginal (i. Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau contextualized Genet’s marginality within a tradition of legendary poetes maudits like Villon and Verlaine. then. can be turned into a cultural asset that helps us understand new universes and explore new horizons.’’ they write. ‘‘tears him from a past of glaring misdeeds . despicable mind might inhabit a puny body. to mind is authorial marginality. This leads us to consider auctorial marginality as the literary manifestation of a singular sensibility in contradistinction to the collective experience of narrative. As Michel de Montaigne writes: ‘‘Laws are now maintained in credit. In his autobiography. prostitutes in Le Balcon). ‘‘If I wanted my policemen and hoodlums to be handsome. it was in order that their dazzling bodies might avenge the contempt in which you hold them. to save a man whose whole life will now be devoted only to work. Genet’s writings derive their most striking marginality from the juxtaposition of a radical political discourse and erotic elements which brings into crisis the conventional sense of bourgeois liberal societies. an amoral sailor and murderer. The Thief’s Journal. . Genet lived as a marginal and celebrated marginality is his writings. . however. the main character. For Genet. Can you think of some relevant cases and. if so. Therefore. Genet describes his youth as a ‘‘forbidden universe’’ of opium-rackets.’’ In their letter to the president of France supporting the cause of Genet. . proclaims: ‘‘My wife is the sea. But how do we move on from here without merely collapsing into violence? This is where we can soften the political edge of Genet’s revolutionary theory of marginality into a merely transformative one. I would tremble at the thought that he might be high-minded.e. As such. what do they teach us about marginality in general? Ramin Jahanbegloo: I think the most relevant case of authorial marginality can be found in the works of Jean Genet. in his work. though I tolerated the idea that a petty. not because they are just. the marginality of an author in relation to the mainstream. obeys them not justly the way as he ought.’’ Costica Bradatan: Being a marginal. while continuing to make visible what Gordon Marino described as the ‘‘invisibility’’ of marginality. Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . they have none other . and the withdrawal of legal rights and protections. my mistress is my captain. speaks of French literature as his ‘‘enemy. begging and stealing. Ramin Jahanbegloo: From his perspective. It is the mystical foundation of their authority. Montaigne thus distinguishes the law from justice. Whosoever obeys them because they are just. Whenever I met a goodlooking kid. Hard muscles and harmonious faces were meant to hymn and glorify the odious functions of my friends and impose them upon you.’’ Genet. ‘‘All of Genet’s work.736 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. The law’s only ‘‘real’’ legitimacy is the authority established by its violence. Genet is the best representative of marginality within contemporary French literature.

to do that. You grew up reading Tagore and Nehru. It means simply that one places one’s thought at the cornerstone of one’s life and at the same time takes the theme of human life as the main axis of the process of thinking. How did you find the right balance to be able to live ‘‘here and now’’? Ramin Jahanbegloo: Yes. MARGINALS. you produced a wonderful book of your conversations with Isaiah Berlin (it was this book. If thinking and being alive become one. Two decades ago. As such. How do you view your own trajectory from the point of view of our discussion of marginality? What have you learned from living for two decades in what used to be the cultural center of the world.’’ Being exposed to the meaning of life is to be gripped by the idea and the passion that life and thought are one. Paris? What have you learned from India? What have you learned from Isaiah Berlin? Ramin Jahanbegloo: As Nietzsche says: ‘‘Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.’’ But as St. AND MARGINALITIES 737 Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 Aurelian Craiutu: You claimed earlier that ‘‘the theoretical frame to think of our complex and controversial world would be ‘many marginalities. life is not only something which is ‘‘already there’’ (ein Vorhandenes) but something which is ‘‘its own externality toward itself. It is a kosmos koinos (common world) in which each of us has his/her own kosmos idios (private world). it might be good to change gears and explore for a moment your own case of ‘‘marginality.’ We have no choice but to learn more about each other’s marginality if we intend to protect our shared fate.’’ At this point. is a difficult task. So there is never any possibility of a tabula rasa or a radical search for the conditions of thinking and acting. However. Costica Bradatan: This is far from being an easy task. You once said that you like to think of yourself as an Indian. who spent two years in India. since we think and we act in history and with history. thinking is an opening up to the world that goes hand in hand with participating in a common world. this process of thinking has always been in relation to the simple fact of being born in a world where life has no other goal than living among others. But. that philosophy has to do more with being a friend of thought than with having a love for wisdom. before writing on Gandhi.ON MARGINS. For me. No one who is in it can take a detached view of it. it is within the socio-historical institutions of the world that one can think and talk. I’m using Hegelian philosophy here in saying that the idea of life becomes the idea of cognition. as rational social and political agents we cannot help asking questions about the meaning of our times and our relation to it.’’ Your own background—an Iranian philosopher. while others prefer to imagine a radiant future rather than live in the present. That is to say. And one cannot be a friend of the world without being a friend of one’s time. that convinced me to study political philosophy and made me an avid reader of Isaiah Berlin). .’’ In other words. which I first read in French. as a philosopher. being a friend of thought cannot go without being a friend of the world. educated in France. and who taught in Canada—is a fascinating case in point. Yet. then certainly one can conclude that human history is a meaningful process of life and thought. the Spirit of one’s time. has an Indian’s metaphysical view of the world. Some of us seek refuge in the past and idealize it. Jerome adds: ‘‘True friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks. to attempt to understand one’s Zeitgeist. one has to expose oneself to what Hannah Arendt calls ‘‘the junction points of life. who without being an Indian citizen.’’ I believe. one humanity.

inhabit the earth. The idea has special interest for me and has led me to teach and write on Hegel. in Mark Lilla’s evocative phrase. We can interpret this phenomenon as the emergence in society of the possibility and the demand for freedom.’’ As you know. But I am sure that Berlin himself would have preferred to be remembered as what the eighteenth-century philosophers called an animateur d’idees. as Arthur Schlesinger said. That is why modernity is a world that continuously has to re-invent itself. His commitment to clarity ¨ hlung. I was lucky to have known him. was ‘‘a beacon of wisdom and humanity in the most terrible century in western history. many philosophers. I turn to Isaiah Berlin’s celebrated doctrine of ‘‘value-pluralism. it remains a world without foundation. ‘‘reckless minds’’ who fell prey to the temptation to try to cure the world of its radical ills. have proved to be.’’ says Arendt. Costica Bradatan: I attain a sense of who I am—and what my freedom is—only as a result of my encounter with others. from Plato to Heidegger.’’ Costica Bradatan: What kind of person was he? Ramin Jahanbegloo: Isaiah Berlin had a serene. in Hegel’s model the dynamic of modernity is an ongoing process even if it is socially and politically arranged in the trinity of the family. but mainly a sphere where there is a constant struggle of opinions against one another. Aurelian Craiutu: Yet. but men. joyous and secular personality. Ramin Jahanbegloo: Let me go back to Arendt and underline with her that sovereignty and freedom are not the same. The paradox of freedom is maintained here as a living paradox: the modern state is supposed to constitute freedom. civil society.’’ He saw his task as one of contributing to the Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . but it is supposed to be founded itself on the idea of freedom. and the state. political thinking belongs within the sphere of opinion. however went hand in hand with what he called ‘‘an unavoidable effort at Einfu precarious and difficult and uncertain. What interests me in this Arendtian definition of politics is that if we understand by politics not the space where the dream of an ideology is realized. for Isaiah Berlin. ‘‘because not one man. comic. modern politics is a public space where individuals can meet as equals and find their relative positions only by the merit they gain in the eyes of their fellow humans.’’ In other words. there is something paradoxical about freedom because it is a foundation that does not found anything. which is why so-called ‘‘public opinion’’ is where each individual requires the surrounding environment of the multitude of other opinions. Therefore. Here. given the freedom and plurality of those who engage in it. politics is the exercise of plurality. opinion is both inescapably individual and intrinsically linked to a world that the individual shares with others. Therefore. Ramin Jahanbegloo: Under these conditions the primary problem of any philosophy of praxis is that humans have the potentiality to give their individual and collective life a signification that they have to make. I was quite close to Sir Isaiah. That is to say. ‘‘No man can be sovereign. That is to say. Now.738 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. the first modern philosopher who realized that modernity is the sole world that is not destroyed but is maintained and revitalized by the ongoing dialectical process. Since the modern world is based on freedom. Maybe this is why action is inherently unpredictable and disorderly. (our book of conversations has been translated into 14 languages).

ON MARGINS.’’ His defense ¨ hlung made him an antiof Herzen’s ‘‘sense of reality’’ and Herder’s concept of Einfu utopianist with an intuitive appreciation of the plurality of lived human experience. His contacts with his subjects are usually direct and full of psychological sensitivity. Berlin was vehemently against the shaping of human society according to a blueprint. clarifying and criticizing the master ideas that lie behind the foundations of Western civilization. but rather an art of understanding people’s relationships to each other and to their institutions. Berlin’s anti-teleological approach to history and his advocacy of pluralism are perfectly consistent with his comprehensive perspective on ideas and his experience of liberal humanism as a Russian Jew living and flourishing in England. Are there any other important concepts in his work that remain relevant for us today? Ramin Jahanbegloo: Many people are familiar with Sir Isaiah’s famous distinction between the two concepts of liberty. Costica Bradatan: Nonetheless. Nor is he prone to the temptation of trying to minimize the enigmatic quality of the writers. He believed that human beings should be given the chance to find out what kind of world they live in and what kind of world they are making. fear. while painting in an exemplary manner the atmosphere of hope. excitement and disturbance that surrounded the development of these ideas. while Berlin’s work ranges across many disciplines and embraces a varied cast of concepts and ideas. Hence. there is one principal leitmotif behind all his concerns and convictions. Herzen. This task required the rare gift of understanding historical events and figures in all their variety. but not too many people know about his original Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . otherwise they would walk in darkness and be governed by a single set of rules. As such. he was not exactly a systematic thinker and even his famous distinction between the two concepts of liberty (positive and negative) has been criticized by more analytically-minded philosophers. or Maistre. Hamann. Aurelian Craiutu: It is likely that his origin (he was born in Riga and understood the Russian mind quite well) fostered his passion for ideas and gave him a keen eye for political ideas as well as for unconventional (perhaps even marginal) thinkers. Ramin Jahanbegloo: It would be difficult to approach Berlin as a systematic thinker and philosopher or to reduce his writings to a systematic statement. That is the reason why Berlin never gives the impression of seeking to conceal or mask these thinkers beneath a deceptive surface of ordinary and flat exhibition. Berlin’s commitment to pluralism and moral humanism was born out of his experience of violence in the Russian Revolution and was forged by the Kantian respect for the individual as ‘‘the sole source of morality. AND MARGINALITIES 739 history of ideas by displaying. On the contrary. Herder. Ramin Jahanbegloo: Berlin’s portraits of thinkers. Yet. Aurelian Craiutu: You have mentioned Berlin’s conception of freedom. he shows himself to be acutely attentive to the visionary character which informed the thinking of thinkers like Vico. Such perspicacity is hardly found among philosophers and historians of ideas. politicians and artists are not a way for him to exercise the art of exegesis but an effort to present them from the inside. For Berlin the history of ideas was not a way to analyze the belief-systems of the past or to portray the progress from one idea to another. MARGINALS. Berlin has this exceptional ability to reveal to his readers the concepts and categories that inspired these thinkers.

The idea of moral perfection is an illusion. pluralism accepts a basic core of human values.’’ This horizon sets limits on what is morally permissible and desirable. DC. Cross-cultural dialogue has been one of the central ideas of my philosophical research during the past twenty years. but has no status as a value at another. as an end in itself. The fact remains that we do live in a world of conflict. Relativism is the view that things have value only relative to particular situations and that nothing is intrinsically good—that is. Pluralism.740 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. and from a pluralist point of view. So for Berlin (and I agree with him on that). I was born in Iran. values fall within a ‘‘common human horizon. Pluralism is ‘‘the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational. as Berlin defines it. diversity cannot be reconciled with utopian ideals but will only be realized under a system that accepts value-pluralism as a fundamental fact of ethical life.’’ Relativism. In other words. It is impossible for one life to contain all combinations of values and virtues. I did my post-doc work at Harvard and worked for a year in Washington. The diversity of ethics that is put forward by Berlin is what we can call ‘‘cultural pluralism. After finishing my PhD at the Sorbonne. So. A slightly different way of putting this would be to maintain that there are no such things as values that are always valid. What is your position on this issue? Ramin Jahanbegloo: This is the basic pluralist dilemma: we live in a diverse world that is unable to accommodate all human virtues and values into one life. Aurelian Craiutu: Berlin’s emphasis on the incompatibility of values is at the core of an agonistic form of liberalism that seems to better fit the multifarious contours of our world than those theories of justice that avoid taking seriously the permanence of these conflicts between irreconcilable values and principles. holds that communication and understanding of moral views are possible among all people. I traveled and lived around the world with my parents until the age of seventeen. it would be curious if this were not so. indeed. I am myself in a way a product of cross-cultural encounters. there is a difference between pluralism and relativism. in Berlin’s definition. liberty may be a value at one place and time. then it would seem important to recognize value-pluralism as the matrix of our cross-cultural dialogues. If the purpose of political life is to reach some sort of reasoned compromise over our divergent beliefs. would make moral communication impossible. Many in this world find value-pluralism difficult to accept. valuable in and for itself. minimum.’’ Now the question to ask is: What type of relationship exists between the acceptance of value-pluralism and cultural diversity? Does value-pluralism give unlimited license to diversity? The recognition of the truth of pluralism necessitates the recognition of the need for diversity. Berlin is correct in saying that fundamental human values are in conflict and that when they collide with each other they engender hard choices. capable of understanding each other and sympathizing and deriving light from each other. values and lifestyles. but not others. fully men. relativism is a form of moral irrationalism. universal human nature beneath the widely diverse forms that human life and belief have taken across time and place. whereas pluralism facilitates moral communication. values are valid in some cases. before going to . For instance. Therefore. while the core of shared or universal values allows us to reach agreement on at least some moral issues. Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 idea of pluralism. while pluralism aims to facilitate moral communication. This view rests on a belief in a basic. studied and worked in France for twenty years as a philosopher and as a political scientist. After that I lived.

and this good is the source of ethics. So. he was a friend and a mentor. and holds the promise of a harmonious coexistence among world citizens and a broader thinking and conversation among cosmopolitan subjects. but also by having a critical intervention against an uneven and unequal global design. Costica Bradatan: How did you become interested in Gandhi and what did his philosophy teach you in particular? Ramin Jahanbegloo: My interest in Gandhian philosophy is related primarily to the concept of self-realization as a process of enforcing civic engagement and empowering ` -vis the state. responsibility moves the individual to respond to the call of the world and to create a future which would otherwise not happen. Therefore. hospitable and empathetic dialogue which takes otherness (Fremdheit) seriously could be a genuine civilizational encounter. but a moral enterprise which shows to us the path of being human. But who says ‘‘response’’ says also ‘‘responsibility.’’ but it means also building a character for oneself by living one’s life as a moral project. civilization is not just Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . transforming a culture of irresponsibility into a culture of responsibility goes hand in hand with a philosophy of nonviolence. Emmanuel Le ´ vinas for a year at the I knew both personally and intellectually. for the disclosure of the good.ON MARGINS. As for Ricœur. only an open-ended. thinking. By ‘‘civilization’’ I do not understand progress in science. MARGINALS. I was a student of Le Sorbonne back in the 1970s. What I have learned from this cross-cultural dialogue is that one has to be profoundly responsive to the sense of belonging that human beings experience in different cultures. technology and industry. to whom I have dedicated my book on Gandhi. to be a ‘‘critical cosmopolitan’’ in a world that prides itself on being more and more without borders and in which information circulates so quickly? Ramin Jahanbegloo: It means the need to reformulate and to restructure cosmopolitanism from the perspective of a peripheral and marginal world. from the viewpoint of marginality. I would say that I am a critical cosmopolitan and a constructive marginal.’’ Responsibility is not the attribution of guilt to an agent for his/her acts or failure to act. My philosophical marginality and proximity with Iranian civil society took me to solitary confinement for 125 days. Aurelian Craiutu: What does it mean. I join here ´ vinas and Paul Ricœur. Today. During the past ten years. but I spent two interesting years in India and five years in Iran. violence has to be negated. Le For him. AND MARGINALITIES 741 Canada and teaching at the University of Toronto. For Ricœur. My aim is to get a better sense of solidarity and empathy among cultures by celebrating and respecting the idea of diversity. This means that ethics presupposes the freedom of the good. With the Jewish background of his philosophical ´ vinas could not accept the primacy of the ontological subject over the other. In other words. not violence. That is to say. The dharmic nature of civilization brings Gandhi to civil society vis-a compare his concept of Swaraj to a house with its windows and doors open. It is a counterpart and a corrective to the pan-European cosmopolitanism. whom the thoughts of two French philosophers. Swaraj means essentially ‘‘being open to others. the ethical response to the other is also a reaction against violence in society. In this sense. I have been traveling and lecturing around the world. ontology is the philosophy of injustice because it is an understanding of Being over an understanding of the relationship among persons. if I have to describe myself.

Aurelian Craiutu: In what sense has your identity as a ‘‘constructive marginal’’ been enhanced by your Indian experience? Ramin Jahanbegloo: Let me just say a few words about the Iranian-Indian dialogue. conquered and reconquered many times. As members of the global periphery. keeping in mind that today’s Romania used to be part of the Ottoman Empire. they will be always dependent on the West. What I believe we can learn from Tagore’s experience in Iran is that there is a great need today in both countries for a deeper mutual understanding and mutual appreciation. So. dialogue—as the power of communication entailing both ‘‘speaking’’ and ‘‘listening’’—can contribute to the survival and growth of civilizations. in order for civilization to be an ongoing moral progress it has to combine the dynamic and innovative characteristics of the dialogue. Ottoman Turkey had a wonderful word for ‘‘hospitality’’: it was musaferperverlik. the dialogue of cultures can help generate fresh impulses of creativity in human societies. Together. Alone. religious fundamentalisms and ethnic and racial prejudices. starting from the Achaemenid period and going through the medieval period. but also as two great Asian countries. which from my point of view is important for the expansion of cooperation between two Asian countries which are both as old as history. we become . the dialogue of cultures can be a well trusted means of laying the groundwork of a new cosmopolis. newly awakened to a sense of national self-sufficiency. Iran and India need to take a greater interest in each other. plus a Persian noun (perver). the idea of a ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ is suspicious of man’s capacity to engage in dialogue and of civilization’s possibility to evolve as a living organism. The deep interest of Tagore in the Persian poet Hafez and Persian poetry in general and his unforgettable visit to Iran in 1936 brings to our attention the significance of the common heritage that has shaped the historical destinies of India and Iran.742 RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO ET AL. This is what will help resolve the dichotomy between the old and the new. a compound that included an Arabic noun (musafer). I believe sincerely that by promoting a better understanding of the other and by drawing on the best in human cultures. continuity and change. and one Turkish suffix (lik). Now. attempting to fulfill her own destiny freed from the deadly grinding-stones of two European powers. Costica Bradatan: As a very brief parenthesis. My multiple encounters with India have brought me to understand that the texture of life in India is in many respects similar to the texture of life in Iran. in Romanian musafer became musafir. ‘‘I have also seen Iran. In other words. they can hope to have at least some impact on the future of relationship between center and periphery. True freedom is not merely the freedom to do what one desires. but the ability to ensure that what one chooses is the result of a sense of duty and human solidarity. The cross-cultural dialogue between Persia and the Indian subcontinent. somehow preserving the original meaning (in Arabic musafer means traveller and in Romanian musafir means guest).’’ writes Tagore in his last essay ‘‘Crisis in Civilization. At a time when mankind is confronted with a grim scenario involving clashes of national self-interest. Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 a self-proclamation of freedom. I believe that the peoples of India and Iran must become conscious of their common cultural roots and once again practice musaferperverlik with each other. tradition and modernity. appears in a new intellectual and political framework in the twentieth century.’’ three months before his death in 1941. Therefore.

AND MARGINALITIES 743 almost nostalgic about that ‘‘golden age’’ of hospitality when even an invading army would be considered nothing other than an innocent group of guests. It is not because one has lost the freedom of thought that thinking freedom becomes impossible. or have led me already. as an attitude of mind and as a moral orientation.’’ To my mind. developmental and dialectical process of Bildung. It is only then that thinking freedom and freedom of thinking can go together. but the search for the basic human values that are shared by all cultures. MARGINALS. more than ever. for Kant the public use of Reason is the condition of an Enlightened mind. Because today the most pressing question is: how to preserve—not only in theory. The main aim of this global civil society is not a common search for truth. Bildung is the process by which an individual is inscribed within the process of ‘‘togetherness.’’ Aurelian Craiutu: Ramin Jahanbegloo. ‘‘democracy’’ comes to mean ‘‘a way of learning to live together. Kant is concerned with moving the subject out of a context of heteronomy into the context of autonomy. It goes without saying that the celebration of cultural diversity and philosophical border-crossing are the very prerequisites of a global civil society.’’ What we can call ‘‘education for democracy’’ is what Kant calls the courage of using one’s own reason in public. how do you see the role of intellectuals in creating and cultivating a new culture of cosmopolitanism? Ramin Jahanbegloo: I have no doubt that the future renaissance of Asian values will be led by India. I have dealt with it in my own work as an Iranian intellectual. It would be an error to consider this as a European expression. Thus. where we all become potential enlighteners of each other. All joking aside. and a life of thought makes a person conscious of his/her capacity of being free. then maybe we could embrace part of our human heritage from the Kantian motto of the Enlightenment in order to defend critical thinking. If enlightenment means the liberation of humanity from any self-imposed dependency. Downloaded by [University of Notre Dame] at 06:39 23 October 2012 . and wish you the best of luck in consolidating your identity as a ‘‘constructive marginal’’ in a world that needs. I believe thinking is the greatest gift human beings have. We are very grateful to you for finding the time to answer our questions. As you know. These comments lead me. Iran. we would like to thank you for what has been a wonderful conversation on a topic—marginality—that unites us beyond space and time. What Kant shows us clearly is that thinking is a way of life oriented toward working on our own judgment by working on the common judgment that we share with the others. but concretely—the courage of each individual to form and defend a personal judgment. to use the German expression. This brings me back to my point of departure which is the relation between life and thought. but it comes to life only among human beings. lucid and courageous voices like yours. But there can be no real freedom without a life of the mind. Here I am not talking about a vertical enlightenment but more about a horizontal or democratized enlightenment. The Czech ˇ ka once wrote: ‘‘A life not willing to sacrifice itself to what makes it philosopher Jan Patoc meaningful is not worth living. This is an educational. Let me just point out that this has also been a topic of my research for the past fifteen years. and China. democracy concerns not only the question of governing institutions but also the question of citizenship as a form of participation. because thinking life makes life more exciting. deeply into my last point which is the question of democracy and the role and responsibility of intellectuals in promoting and defending democratic life.ON MARGINS. Therefore.