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August 10, 2022

Exceptional memoirs of an American intellectual

By Ioan Voicu*

It is a great honor for me to present in Romania the memoirs of my professor Richard A. Falk  from the Hague Academy of International Law, who in 1966 gave an interesting and instructive special  course on new states and jus gentium.

He is now professor emeritus of public international law  at Princeton University and has published over 50 books (alone or as co-author) and many scientific  studies and articles in the large field of international relations. Among his favorite topics two  have an obvious prominence :  the relevance of international law and the United Nations and possible  prospects for transforming world order in the direction of peace, justice, and ecological viability.

The structure of his memoirs of 465 pages is good reading by itself.The volume  is entitled Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim and was launched in February 2021 by  Clarity Press, Inc.

The book  consists of six parts as follows: Beginnings, Within the Academy, Professional Life, Engaging the World: Citizenship, Witnessing, Activism, Explorations of a Citizen Pilgrim, Quixotic or Prophetic: Seeking Light.

A few  examples from the 19 chapters suggestive titles will automatically attract readers attention. Here they are : A Reluctant Chronicler;   Childhood Revisited; Growing at Yale Law School; Experiencing Harvard ;  Princeton for 40 Years; Life: Students, Careers, Service; America’s Bloody Footprint in Vietnam;  Establishing a Jewish State in Palestine ; The Turkish Enigma ; Engaging the World Intellectually: Fears, Desires, Hopes ;Transformative Proposals; The Citizen Pilgrim as a Public Intellectual;  Personal Hotspots: A Credo.

To whom  can this book be addressed  in 2021, when the attention of public opinion in Romania and the USA is now focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic?

Even on the current devastating pandemic Richard A. Falk is highly vocal. On p.429 the readers will find the  following assessment: ” The U.S. fared worse than any other major country during the COVID-19 pandemic, exhibiting the features of a failed state in the context of world health, failing miserably to protect its own citizenry or cooperate with other governments, defunding and withdrawing from WHO while demeaning UN attempts to fashion a global approach, and forfeiting the last fragment of any claim to provide constructive world leadership in response to global crisis conditions that impacted upon the lives of people everywhere”.

In our opinion, the book is meant by its diverse content  to attract the attention of journalists, professors, teachers, students, politicians, diplomats, historians and philosophers, as well as a large mass of readers from the younger generation.

Romanian readers should know that professor  Richard A. Falk visited Romania in 1971 as a distinguished participant in the “Conference on the United Nations of the Next Decade” hosted in  Sinaia by the prestigious Stanley Foundation.

From this rich in ideas book let us consider the way in which the author  treats solidarity as a universal value by quoting some thought-provoking examples. His view is: ” On reflection, I consider myself an ‘intellectual worker’ inside and outside of the academy, bearing witness through solidarity and writings with all those victimized by the brutality of states and violent societal adversaries”.

In the same spirit, he asserts: ”I built my academic identity on the basis of visionary and progressive ethics, beliefs, desires, and solidarity with social movements, liberation and empowerment struggles, and victimized peoples, whether in America or elsewhere”. Even in more specific terms he writes:  ”I never weakened my resolve to stand in public solidarity with a friend and uphold the values of a free society in concrete circumstances.”

As to international life nowadays, Richard A. Falk shares categorical opinions. He says: “Without examining the post-Cold War political realities in detail, it seems clear that the verities of the Cold War era have lost their ability to offer reliable guidelines for either thought or action in the third decade of the 21st century”.  In the same manner he deals with the process of globalization:”… with the collapse of fascism and Communism, the absence of political challengers has pushed neoliberal globalization to its predatory utmost, and has contributed to the rise of a series of illiberal democracies exhibiting autocratic tendencies in many of the world’s most important countries…” .

  As far as the future is concerned , the author shares many critical or controversial  views. One consideration expressed in his memoirs is fully realistic: ”There is no destination or resting place, only the ceaseless search for a better future that is kinder, more satisfying, with less suffering brought about by hunger, war, disease, greed, oppression, and various cruelties ”. The same  realistic but conditional  approach is present in the author’s view also while dealing with current events. He says: ” If nonviolent geopolitics went forward in collaboration with China, that stressed ecological values, a bio-ethical vision of human identity, a strengthened UN, and renewed respect for international law, it could make one readier to believe that a peaceful world is within human reach”.

What is the final conclusion of this exceptional  book,  written with great literary talent ? We will not summarize it, but give the floor to Richard A. Falk  who states: ” I conclude with the fervent public hope that the several revolutionary pathways traveled by citizen pilgrims will be more often and urgently chosen by my sisters and brothers throughout the world, and so widened in scope, extended in meaning, and deepened in influence”. He is optimistically  envisioning a future of world order that is humane and sensitive to ecological limits. Understanding  and  putting into effect this credo demands the attentive  full reading of the book.

In this regard, a Romanian translation of Richard A. Falk’s book  Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim would be most welcome.


*Dr Ioan Voicu was a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok (2000-2019).

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