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June 13, 2021

Attacking Ponta by way of Pope Francis

Gabriel Liiceanu, Andrei Plesu and Horia-Roman Patapievici are philosophers. The former compelled recognition on the part of Romanian intellectuality for Constantin Noica, a philosopher who had been imprisoned for years and then marginalized by the communist regime. “The Diary from Paltinis” – a small mountainside locality near Sibiu, where Noica withdrew in old age – became a best-seller in the bleak 1980s, promoting the principle of “resistance through culture,” a principle not short of ambiguities. He was, at the same time, the one who more seriously introduced Martin Heidegger to Romanian culture, initiating a novel cycle of translations from his works. The second was a disciple of the philosopher from Paltinis, moving from art theory and critique to ethical essays. The latter, younger, joined them in the new post-communist context, leaving his mark through pronouncedly intellectualist essays, combining various themes from philosophy of science, theory of culture and political science. The three however have not been just philosophers. Plesu was minister, first of Culture, then of Foreign Affairs. He was a member of the board of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), but also President Traian Basescu’s advisor. Liiceanu has been, for a quarter of a century, director of the Humanitas Publishing House, the success story of the privatization of the most politicized of the communist publishing houses. Patapievici was a member of the CNSAS board of directors too, and he later led the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR). All three of them – as a matter of fact representing only the tip of the iceberg of a wider circle of intellectuals – have been in the privileged position of power-holding philosophers. Their “philosophy” books were not enough for them to maintain their influence, a vast publishing activity was also needed. Their taking of stands was often devoted to cultivating symbolic capital that allowed them not only access to various offices but also the concrete exercise of authority – an authority that mixed politics and culture, ideology and ethics, public opinion and intellectual exigencies.

Nonchalantly moving between these different universes, they managed to win extensive and constant popularity, much more resilient than that of politicians but also more wide-ranging than that of less politically-ambitious intellectuals. In brief, the three attacked the left wing in the name of firm anti-communism, appropriate coming on the heels of a totalitarian experience, while at the same time promoting conservative and spiritualist values. Legitimate options, of course, but with hegemonic pretences which used the anti-communist pathos in order to demonize and, to the extent possible, marginalize their opponents.

Andrei Plesu, having a more charming discourse than the others, is still an active opinion maker, through constant writing that has a very wide following. And so the moment has come, in his anti-left logic, for him to attack none other than Pope Francis. The occasion was represented by the “gift” that the Bolivian President offered to the Pope during the latter’s recent trip to South America – a representation of the crucifixion of Jesus which instead of a cross uses a sickle and hammer, the communist symbol. What Plesu does not mention – alongside the correct albeit too brief labelling of Che Guevara as “an efficient assassin” – are the crimes committed in the name of the “right wing” and of the Church in the countries of that continent (and not only there). The creator of the unusual crucifix was one of the priests killed. After John Paul II showed more sensitivity toward priests accused of being reactionaries or pro-Fascism – controversies remain, the truth being often distorted for ideological purposes –, beatifying, for example, Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac or Pope Pius IX, now Pope Francis is more sensitive toward those accused of pro-Marxism, such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, toward whom his predecessor had shown reticence both during his lifetime and after his assassination. Andrei Plesu continues to use a Cold War rhetoric that is not only untimely but also mystifying. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend – here is a possibility that such partisan standpoints want to ignore.

Surely such intellectuals are far too little interested in the Bolivian, Guatemalan or Paraguayan realities. What interests them instead is the ideological demonization of local opponents, for the perpetuation of their cultural hegemony. They attack the Romanian left wing not just to get rid of Ponta and his comrades, but mostly in order to maintain their status of necessary defenders of some “threatened” values. Pope Francis, in their opinion, allegedly wants to throw the world back in the arms of communism. But the most perverse argument is the one concerning the mission of the Church. According to them, Francisc has allegedly betrayed Christianity’s spiritual mission in the name of an ambiguous politicized message. For some rich, influential, honoured, privileged, high-life people it is in poor taste to invoke first of all “asceticism” toward the poor, the oppressed, the deceived, the exploited. Whether we like it or not, in front of such arguments Marxism will always have a moral upper hand – because it does not want to close its eyes to the world’s injustice. The “Christian” right wing on the other hand far too often displays a strange lack of empathy toward fellow human beings.

“It is not understood that love for the poor is at the heart of the Gospel,” this is Pope Francis’s comment. “I expect a bit of care for my confused soul… for the outdatedness of my inner life” – this is the argument of the Romanian intellectual who invokes the Gospel only in support of sophisticated narcissism. And, at the same time, in order not to lose his hegemony in a society that is so confused ideologically.

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