Book Reviews

25 fevereiro, 2007

101) Religioes na atualidade: mais presentes do que nunca...

Sacred Causes
by Michael Burleigh

Misplaced Faith
Why no one questioned the implications of bringing large Muslim populations into a secularizing West.

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, February 22, 2007

Although many observers predicted that religion would enter a pattern of terminal decline in the 20th century, events took a different course. Religion not only revived but found expression in unexpected forms. The theologian Paul Tillich noted the way in which people invested worldly things, especially politics, with transcendent meaning. In a 1937 speech, Winston Churchill described communism and Nazism as "non-God religions" that aimed to reignite old religious wars. In "Sacred Causes," Michael Burleigh tracks the fate of religious and secular forces in the 20th century, registering their collisions and their effects on the culture we live in today.

By undermining European stability, Mr. Burleigh notes, World War I created a space for radical alternatives to the bourgeois norms that had gone before. He shows how the Protestant middle classes in Germany, for instance, distanced themselves from their churches, viewing traditional religious observance as the remnant of a discredited past. Science and culture, along with militant nationalism, filled the role that churches had once played, and the pattern replicated itself beyond Germany. A traditional outlook gave way to cultural pessimism, intensifying throughout the 1920s.

In such a cultural atmosphere, Adolf Hitler emerged as a prophet of neo-paganism. Mr. Burleigh highlights the sheer weirdness of dropouts in Germany who seized upon social disruption to make their fortunes, playing to an apocalyptic mood and crying for a purifying upheaval. Once Hitler took power, the Nazi Party became a new civil religion.

Marxist revolution marked a more direct challenge to the bourgeois order and traditional belief. Communism explicitly sought to destroy religion (an enemy to the new society) and enshrine itself as an alternative faith. Soviet leaders seized the property of the churches, including consecrated objects, and corrupted the church hierarchy by requiring political obeisance. With its Promethean faith in man's capacity for progress, the Communist Party made itself into a secular church, setting up its own "sacred" hierarchy and instituting its own rituals. Its opponents, though, were beyond redemption.

The 20th century's political religions, Mr. Burleigh argues, challenged the very existence of their God-centered rivals, and vicious anticlericalism often drove churches toward accommodation with brutal regimes. But he reveals a more complex reality. Churches that held fast to Christian teaching resisted corruption more effectively than their appeasing counterparts. Government reports on public opinion in the 1930s showed that many German Christians resisted Nazism. Opposing state control, some Protestant theologians insisted that "the Church must remain the Church." International ties gave Roman Catholics a stronger position from which to resist.

Mr. Burleigh defends the Catholic response to Nazism, noting that recent attacks on Pope Pius XII and the church's wartime role typically recycle anticlerical propaganda from the early Cold War and owe more to current anger over church teaching than to the historical record. The Vatican, he shows, regarded both Nazism and communism as alien ideologies opposed to Christian morality. It never saw Nazism as a barrier to godless Bolshevism.

Encyclicals denounced Nazi policies, and more than a few prelates and pastors openly resisted them. Catholics denounced the Holocaust and aided its victims; those like Slovakia's Father Tiso, who aided the Nazis, did so against Vatican instructions. Tiso faced the humiliation of being required to read a pastoral letter from the pulpit condemning his own actions. Mr. Burleigh contrasts the Orthodox hierarchy's accommodating response to Romanian anti-Semitism with Catholic actions elsewhere to show what collaboration really meant. Germany's Protestant hierarchy, it should be said, is much more open to criticism, often showing a willingness to truckle to its Nazi overlords and an eagerness to promote their racial views. Even so, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Niemoller provide examples of resistance noted at the time. Such opposition, Mr. Burleigh argues, gave churches moral credibility in the aftermath of defeat.

After the war, religion played a key role in stabilizing Western Europe. Christian Democratic parties gave a structure to political activity that went beyond confessional boundaries. They also helped to anchor Italy and Germany in the Atlantic alliance. Communist repression strained the churches in Eastern Europe, but eventually they survived as the only sphere for independent civil society. Rather than become fading anachronisms, the churches challenged communist regimes, especially when the material underpinnings of the Soviet order eroded. "We want God" became the opposition rallying cry in the 1980s. Dialectical materialism offered a weak substitute for transcendent belief.

By the 1960s, Mr. Burleigh argues, consumerism in Western Europe and the U.S. had become a substitute faith. The effect was the kind of debased popular culture that we are all familiar with. But Mr. Burleigh is more concerned about another postwar development. He describes sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland as a portent for Europe's future. In the 1960s and 1970s, rival gangs in Northern Ireland seized the mantle of community leadership with appeals to atavistic, religiously based quarrels. Violence and rhetoric borrowed from the civil-rights movement led the state to withdraw from the province, ceding authority to leaders who radicalized their communities. Religion became a marker for tribal identity in a struggle for power.

What might seem to be a mere local echo of conflicts from Oliver Cromwell's day, Mr. Burleigh says, has a current parallel in Muslim ghettos across Europe. Alienated youths find meaning in Islam, and governments leave such communities to their own devices, allowing radical subcultures to grow. The 9/11 attacks, of course, brought political Islam into focus for many who had not given the matter any thought before. Mr. Burleigh asks why no one questioned the implications of introducing large Muslim populations into a secularizing West.

Absolute tolerance, Mr. Burleigh believes, makes Western societies particularly vulnerable to those who play by other rules, particularly when self-doubt hobbles Western leaders. Mr. Burleigh ends his fascinating chronicle by suggesting the new "sacred causes" are no less potent than the old ones, a truly troubling thought.

Mr. Hay is a historian at Mississippi State University and the author of "The Whig Revival: 1808-1830." You can buy "Sacred Causes" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.

24 fevereiro, 2007

100) Milton Friedman, uma biografia


Milton Friedman
Too faithful a portrait

The Economist, Feb 22nd 2007

THE best word to describe Lanny Ebenstein's life of Milton Friedman, finished just days before he died in November, is economical. Its subject would no doubt count this a virtue. He was a man who stopped grading student exam papers after the first 1,000 words; who lived tidily within his means even during the Great Depression; and who once boiled down his capitalist vision to just three words: free private property.

Readers might have hoped for a bit more fat with their lean. John Kenneth Galbraith's biographer, Richard Parker, served up 800 pages, full of spit and crackle; Robert Skidelsky needed three volumes to take the measure of John Maynard Keynes. By those standards, Mr Ebenstein's biography lacks ambition and heft. But it is quite handy. It marshals lots of material, and to devotees the bibliographical essay at the end may be worth the cover price in itself.

Mr Ebenstein is not wholly to blame for this book's modesty. Unlike Galbraith, who reserved a good part of his genius for his life, Friedman's personal transactions add little dash or drama to his story. He liked woodwork. He met his wife, Rose, in an economics class. The book's only moment of romantic tension arrives when she refuses his kiss at the end of their first date. If Galbraith enters his biography like a character in a Graham Greene novel, Friedman is introduced in the language of a school report: “In addition to his intellect, he has a strong work ethic, an engaging personality, and an excellent sense of humour.” Mr Ebenstein too, it seems, likes working with wood.

The first third of the book gives an absorbing account of the making of an economist. Friedman's scholarship adhered to the carpenters' maxim: “measure twice, cut once”. Blessed with a quick mind, capable of the deepest of incisions, Friedman also had the patience for meticulous statistical labour. During the war he crunched numbers for his country, calculating the optimum number of pellets in anti-aircraft shells.

These twin virtues are apparent in the middle third of this life, which lightly glosses over Friedman's most celebrated insights, such as his refutation of the bleak notion that capitalism is doomed to underconsumption, and his reassessment of the Great Depression. Here too Mr Ebenstein's quandary becomes clear: Friedman was an open book, a fine expositor of his ideas and his life. This makes his biographer's job easier, but also less necessary.

Mr Ebenstein's footnotes contain almost 100 references to the memoir, “Two Lucky People”, that Friedman and his wife published in 1998. “What I say to one person, I say to everyone,” he told Mr Ebenstein in their first interview. The last third of this book, which should have been a fascinating account of his role as a public intellectual, instead recounts Friedman saying much the same thing to everyone, from American presidents to Chinese communists.

Given that Friedman has left his admirers nothing to expose, and little need to expound, what is there left for a biographer to do? Argue with him. This book tells of exhilarating debates, stretching late into the night, but it does not take part in one. The biographer does not share his subject's taste for playing devil's advocate.

This is a pity. Friedman has now been laid to rest, but his ideas have not. Should Catholic adoption agencies be allowed to turn away gay couples—a debate now raging in Britain? Friedman would have had a view. Many people now back his proposal for school vouchers, as a way to get the most out of state schools. But Friedman was keen to get the state out of schooling altogether. No one seems to like big government any more, but Friedman wanted a state so small it would cost less than 15% of national income. Even in his 80s, this book reports, he would occasionally hop onto his grandson's skateboard. It is easy to think that he never learned how to stop.

Of one of his early Chicago mentors, the great economist once wrote: “He taught us that an objective, critical examination of a man's ideas is a truer tribute than slavish repetition of his formulas.” This biography will do for now. But Friedman still awaits a truer tribute.

Milton Friedman: A Biography.
By Lanny Ebenstein.
Palgrave Macmillan; 272 pages; $27.95 and £16.99

22 fevereiro, 2007

99) Maldicao dos recursos naturais na America Latina?

------------ EH.NET BOOK REVIEW --------------
Published by EH.NET (February 2007)

Daniel Lederman and William F. Maloney, editors, _Natural Resources: Neither Curse nor Destiny_. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. xx + 369 pp. $30 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8047-5709-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Stanley L. Engerman, Departments of Economics and History, University of Rochester.

This collection of eleven essays is published in a series sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the World Bank. The manuscripts selected were to "represent the highest quality in each institution's research and activity output," and these include papers authored by scholars at universities in the United States, Europe and Latin America. All essays are concerned with answering questions about the so-called curse of natural resources -- the presumed effect of rich resource endowments in lowering rates of economic development, particularly for Latin America. The essays employ different analytical methods, different samples of countries, and different sets of independent and dependent variables.

There are several explanations offered for the argued-for putative negative correlation between resources and growth. One with a long intellectual history relates to the question of whether it is better for growth if things are easy, based on the presence of ample resources and favorable climate, or are difficult, because of limited resources and thus the need to labor hard to get adequate output. Does the easy availability of food- stuffs make for a limited labor input and does a relative absence of resources lead to the drive for labor-saving innovations, so that lower incomes at first lead, in the long-run, to higher incomes and more rapid growth? More recent arguments concerning the negative relation between resources and growth present more specific economic relations -- the relatively slower advances in productivity for resources and agriculture, compared to manufacturing and services, and the relative long-run price declines in agriculture relative to manufacturing. At issue, also is the ability of resource-based economies to diversify over time, due either to public policy or to the behavior of private firms, and their ability to develop the necessary complementary capital stock, physical and human.

The volume is divided into three sections, primarily on the basis of method. After the introduction by the two editors, the next three essays entail the use of econometric evidence. The next section has four essays described as "lessons from history," which involve less quantitative and statistical evidence than those in the first section; and the third section is similarly also less statistical, and deals with some broader theoretical issues of trade theory and public policy. All told the essays include considerable quantitative material, with some 105 table and figures. There are extensive bibliographies. Works such as Sachs and Warner (1995, 1997, 2001), Prebisch (1950), and Auty (1998, 2001) are generally the main centers of attack. The general conclusion of most essays is that there is no evidence that natural resources provide an economic curse. This is, in part, because of the specific relationships tested, which relate economic growth to resources as well as the levels of human capital and the capacity to innovate. Resources in conjunction with human capital and appropriate technology will generally lead to rapid economic growth, whereas resources without human capital and technology will produce only limited growth. And, as earlier argued by Kuznets and others based on the case of Japan, the absence of resources with the appropriate institutions and high levels of human capital and technology can generate modern economic growth. Several studies point to the changes in the empirical basis of the "curse" argument. In recent years the developments in technology and the rate of productivity change in the agricultural and mineral sectors have been greater than in the manufacturing and service sectors, while there has been no strong evidence of a relative decline in prices in the resource sectors. Their findings, plus the successful past experience of several economies during times of resource expansion cast some doubt on the traditional arguments.

Detailed econometric analysis by Lederman and Maloney and by Manzano and Rigobon use the data from the Heston-Summers database to estimate the effects of trade structure and of resource production on growth. Both conclude that there is no direct evidence of a "resource curse." Manzano and Rigobon argue for an indirect effect, via borrowing when resource prices are high, attributing problems found in cross-section estimates (but not in panel data) to debt overlay. These problems they attribute to "credit market imperfections," not to resource-associated difficulties as usually argued. On the basis of some historical examples and with the use of over ninety nations from the Heston-Summers database, Bravo-Ortega and de Gregorio conclude that natural resources are a "hindrance" to growth only "in countries with very low levels of human capital," (p. 92) and that "abundant human capital" can offset any problems due to natural resources (p. 93). This essay by two Chilean economists is perhaps the clearest presentation of the central message of these studies.

A detailed econometric analysis of resource price data for the twentieth century by Cuddington, Ludema, and Jayasuriya draws upon the numerous studies undertaken by the World Bank and others. The authors conclude that there has been no clear downward trend in natural resource prices, with there being only a break in 1921. There are three detailed historical studies of different parts of the world to examine the impact of natural resources on growth. Maloney argues that the failure of Latin America to develop as rapidly as others reflects difficulties in human capital and innovative capacity and the failures resulting from protectionist policy. He notes the impact of immigrants upon the industrialization of Latin America, and the importance of engineers and technical education in Sweden, Australia, and the United States. Wright and Czelusta provide more historical detail in studying the cases of the United States, Australia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Botswana, indicating the many examples of "successful resource-based growth" (p. 207). They argue against accepting a belief in the resource curse to preclude a growth policy based on taking advantage of the resource endowment. Blomstrom and Kokko demonstrate Swedish success based upon exporting natural resources (mainly from the forest industry), accompanied by an expansion of education, human capital, and technological and institutional changes. Sweden also benefited from an open economy which led to higher level of exports, to lower-priced imports, and to more foreign direct investment.

In the final part, Venables describes the endogenous characteristics of comparative advantage, with the roles of transport costs, externalities, and agglomeration effects. It is a useful survey of the geographic approach to international trade and development, and he comments that "natural resource endowments are not an important part of the story in the context of the theoretical models discussed" (p. 283). Lederman and Xu, using the Heston-Summers dataset, argue that economic growth is positively related to exports, except for tropical agricultural exports. The key point is, again, the crucial role of "endowments of human capital, knowledge, and infrastructure" (p. 314). Martin shows that over the last thirty years of the twentieth century the share of merchandise exports from developing countries that were manufactured goods rose sharply, while the shares of agriculture and mineral goods declined. He advocates an open economy, as well as encouragements to technological change and human capital investment to promote growth.

This volume in the Latin American Development Forum Series, a co-publication of Stanford Economics and Finance, the Stanford University Press, and the World Bank, represents a very high-quality publication of essays that all generally point to the same policy conclusions. Works pointing to different conclusions are frequently cited, but there is nothing included by those scholars who argue in a different direction. The basic arguments that the key variables for growth are education, innovation, and human capital remain critical for understanding the nature of, and prospects for, economic development. Resources alone cannot necessarily lead to success, but in appropriate circumstances, they do not provide a "curse" limiting the achievement of success.

Stanley L. Engerman is John H. Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History at the University of Rochester.

Copyright (c) 2007 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (; Telephone: 513-529-2229). Published by EH.Net (February 2007). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

-------------- FOOTER TO EH.NET BOOK REVIEW --------------
EH.Net-Review mailing list

98) Fanatismo, a peste das almas

Uma resenha por Omar Barros, de 30.06.2006, neste link original.

Fanatismo, a peste das almas
Por Omar L. de Barros Filho

A peste das almas – histórias de fanatismo / Marcos Antônio Lopes, Marcos Lobato Martins. – Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2006. 116 páginas

A mistura de religião e Estado já provocou julgamentos arbitrários, guerras, invasões, crimes em massa e progroms. Os ataques terroristas às torres gêmeas e a violenta resposta norte-americana estabeleceram um novo patamar para a luta entre muçulmanos fanáticos e os cruzados de Bush. O mundo ainda pode mudar para melhor?

“O mundo civilizado” que, a cada dia, acumula novos avanços científicos e tecnológicos e caminha para sua completa digitalização, recebe também o impacto de ondas de choque originadas no fanatismo religioso e secular. A expressão máxima desse fenômeno, na atualidade, são as atividades terroristas da Al Qaeda e outras organizações similares que, em nome dos livros sagrados, provocam banhos de sangue transnacionais. Seria o fanatismo algo novo, produto do mundo contemporâneo e suas contradições?

Em busca de uma resposta, os historiadores e professores Marco Antônio Lopes, da Universidade Estadual de Londrina, e Marcos Lobato Martins, da Universidade do Estado de Minas Gerais, escreveram o ensaio A Peste das Almas – Histórias de Fanatismo, recém publicado pela FGV Editora. O eixo da obra é uma pesquisa sobre o fanatismo e suas raízes históricas, que remontam, na cultura Ocidental, às cruzadas medievais e à intolerância religiosa européia manifestada cruelmente nos séculos XVI e XVII.

A volta ao passado, quando política e religião alimentavam êxodos e perseguições, segundo os autores, permite entender as razões e palavras de ordem dos modernos cruzados, tendo o presidente George Bush à frente. Para os pesquisadores, o caldeirão ferve com a resposta norte-americana contra a Al Qaeda – “uma idéia aggiornata de guerra religiosa que não encontrou seu lugar”- em seqüência aos atentados de 2001, que destruíram as torres gêmeas de Nova Iorque e deixaram milhares de mortos.

“Nos dias que correm, ações do terrorismo internacional desencadeadas pela rede Al Qaeda possuem como traços norteadores uma mescla de princípios políticos, questões econômicas, defesa de espaço geográfico estratégico, e, também, fervor religioso”, afirmam Lopes e Lobato Martins. “Atualmente, entre outros sentidos possíveis, como, por exemplo, um apego mais literal à letra das tradições religiosas, fundamentalismo islâmico passou a significar uma luta armada pela defesa do mundo islâmico, por oposição às interferências inaceitáveis do Ocidente em assuntos vitais do mundo árabe: o controle do petróleo, a ocupação de terras, as restrições ao desenvolvimento tecnológico”.

Assim, os historiadores identificam também a modernização do conceito de jihad pelo radicalismo islâmico contemporâneo, antes visto apenas como elemento de defesa. Na atualidade, jihad significa também ataque e produção ideológica de cunho místico. “Nas sociedades tradicionais afetadas por contatos com o Ocidente, onde ocorreram a destruição de conjuntos culturais e institucionais seculares e o enfraquecimento das formas locais de solidariedade, sem que essas sociedades tivessem logrado uma inserção apropriada na nova ordem mundial, um conjunto crescente de indivíduos experimenta condição terrível: não é parte do novo e nem vive à sombra protetora da tradição”, descrevem Lopes e Lobato Martins. O resultado é visível na extensão de ações terroristas incompreensíveis aos olhos ocidentais, que resultam, com freqüência, no suicídio dos visionários e fanatizados militantes. “Desesperançados e, não raro, desesperados, esses indivíduos deixam-se seduzir por aqueles que oferecem a causa do retorno à tradição” – analisam os pesquisadores.

Atraídos pelo radicalismo fundamentalista, homens transformam-se em sinônimos de martírio não somente para os povos do Ocidente, como foi observado nos atentados aos trens dos subúrbios de Madri, mas também em outros locais do mundo, qualquer um deles ao alcance da mão pesada e traiçoeira da rede Bin Laden e outras franquias em busca de um lugar nas trevas do terrorismo global.

Ao extrapolar todas as fronteiras nacionais, o fanatismo ganha cores e matizes diferentes, como os que são encontrados nas seitas fundamentalistas da Nova Era, reveladas ao mundo pelos pastores Jim Jones e Koresh. Tantas outras surgiram apoiadas em citações do Velho Testamento, cerrando fileiras sob a bandeira de um evangelismo cristão protestante (mas não luterano) e sectário. São eles que, ao praticar uma religiosidade áspera e coercitiva, entopem emissoras de tevê, rádios, estádios e avenidas, assim como milhares de frágeis igrejas no interior da alma da América, África e, em breve, Ásia. O Brasil, em sua docilidade católica, também já sente os sintomas da intolerância. Em Brasília, um grupo de estátuas doadas por um artista baiano, que representam divindades da umbanda, expostas em via pública, são freqüentemente atacadas e danificadas por evangélicos exaltados e puristas.

Instigante obra de intervenção, que ultrapassa os limites universitários, o ensaio produzido por Lopes e Lobato Martins entra no debate sem medo de opinar. De acordo com os dois historiadores, “é preciso aceitar a presença do ‘outro’, escutar seu próprio entendimento e anseio, dar-lhes oportunidades reais, ainda que isso pareça desterrar-nos do lugar que julgamos merecer”. E receitam como cura da “peste das almas”, o mesmo remédio proposto por Theodor Adorno (1950): “colocar em presença e convívio os que discriminam e o que são alvo dessa discriminação, esclarecendo e ensinando sobre si mesmos no cotidiano. Tarefa difícil, demorada, prova de paciência e tolerância. Exercício de compreensão e de razão”.

A peste das almas – histórias de fanatismo / Marcos Antônio Lopes, Marcos Lobato Martins. – Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2006. 116 páginas

Mais sobre Omar L. de Barros Filho

14 fevereiro, 2007

97) Manual do Perfeito Idiota Latino-americano, II

O livro deve estar saindo em espanhol e proximamente em português...

El regreso del idiota
Diario El País, 11/02/2007

Hace diez años apareció el Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano en el que Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner y Álvaro Vargas Llosa arremetían con tanto humor como ferocidad contra los lugares comunes, el dogmatismo ideológico y la ceguera política que están detrás del atraso de América Latina. El libro, que golpeaba sin misericordia, pero con sólidos argumentos y pruebas al canto, la incapacidad casi genética de la derecha cerril y la izquierda boba para aceptar una evidencia histórica -que el verdadero progreso es inseparable de una alianza irrompible de dos libertades, la política y la económica, en otras palabras de democracia y mercado-, tuvo un éxito inesperado. Además de llegar a un vasto público, provocó saludables polémicas y las inevitables diatribas en un continente "idiotizado" por la prédica ideológica tercermundista, en todas sus aberrantes variaciones, desde el nacionalismo, el estatismo y el populismo hasta, cómo no, el odio a Estados Unidos y al "neo liberalismo".

Una década después, los tres autores vuelven ahora a sacar las espadas y a cargar contra los ejércitos de "idiotas" que, quién lo duda, en estos últimos tiempos, de un confín al otro del continente latinoamericano, en vez de disminuir parecen reproducirse a la velocidad de los conejos y cucarachas, animales de fecundidad proverbial. El humor está siempre allí, así como la pugnacidad y la defensa a voz en cuello, sin el menor complejo de inferioridad, de esas ideas liberales que, en las circunstancias actuales, parecen particularmente impopulares en el continente de marras.

Pero ¿es realmente así? Las mejores páginas de El regreso del idiota están dedicadas a deslindar las fronteras entre lo que los autores del libro llaman la "izquierda vegetariana" con la que casi simpatizan y la "izquierda carnívora", a la que detestan. Representan a la primera los socialistas chilenos -Ricardo Lagos y Michelle Bachelet-, el brasileño Lula da Silva, el uruguayo Tabaré Vásquez, el peruano Alan García y hasta parecería -¡quién lo hubiera dicho!- el nicaragüense Ortega, que ahora se abraza con, y comulga con frecuencia de manos de su viejo archienemigo, el cardenal Obando. Esta izquierda ya dejó de ser socialista en la práctica y es, en estos momentos, la más firme defensora del capitalismo -mercados libres y empresa privada- aunque sus líderes, en sus discursos, rindan todavía pleitesía a la vieja retórica y de la boca para fuera homenajeen a Fidel Castro y al comandante Chávez. Esta izquierda parece haber entendido que las viejas recetas del socialismo jurásico -dictadura política y economía
estatizada- sólo podían seguir hundiendo a sus países en el atraso y la miseria. Y, felizmente, se han resignado a la democracia y al mercado.

La "izquierda carnívora" en cambio, que, hace algunos años, parecía una antigualla en vías de extinción que no sobreviviría al más longevo dictador de la historia de América Latina -Fidel Castro-, ha renacido de sus cenizas con el "idiota" estrella de este libro, el comandante Hugo Chávez, a quien, en un capítulo que no tiene desperdicio, los autores radiografían en su entorno privado y público con su desmesura y sus payasadas, su delirio mesiánico y su anacronismo, así como la astuta estrategia totalitaria que gobierna su política. Discípulo e instrumento suyo, el boliviano Evo Morales, representa, dentro de la "izquierda carnívora", la sub-especie "indigenista", que, pretendiendo subvertir cinco siglos de racismo "blanco", predica un racismo quechua y aymara, idiotez que, aunque en países como Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Guatemala y México carezca por completo de solvencia conceptual, pues en todas esas sociedades el grueso de la población es ya mestiza y tanto los indios y blancos "puros" son minorías, entre los "idiotas"
europeos y norteamericanos, siempre sensibles a cualquier estereotipo relacionado con América Latina, ha causado excitado furor. Aunque en la "izquierda carnívora" por ahora sólo figuran, de manera inequívoca, tres trogloditas -Castro, Chávez y Morales- en El regreso del idiota se analiza con sutileza el caso del flamante presidente Correa, del Ecuador, grandilocuente tecnócrata, quien podría venir a engordar sus huestes. Los personajes inclasificables de esta nomenclatura son el Presidente argentino Kirchner y su guapa esposa, la senadora Cristina Fernández (y acaso sucesora), maestros delcamaleonismo político, pues pueden pasar de "vegetarianos" a "carnívoros" y viceversa en cuestión de días y a veces de horas, embrollando todos los esquemas racionales posibles (como ha hecho el peronismo a lo largo de su historia).

Una novedad en El regreso del idiota sobre el libro anterior es que ahora el fenómeno de la idiotez no lo auscultan los autores sólo en América Latina; también en Estados Unidos y en Europa, donde, como demuestran estas páginas con ejemplos que producen a veces carcajadas y a veces llanto, la idiotez ideológica tiene también robustas y epónimas encarnaciones. Los ejemplos están bien escogidos: encabeza el palmarés el inefable Ignacio Ramonet, director de Le Monde diplomatique, tribuna insuperable de toda la especie en el viejo continente y autor del más obsecuente y servil libro sobre Fidel Castro -¡y vaya que era difícil lograrlo!-; y lo escolta Noam Chomsky, caso flagrante de esquizofrenia intelectual, que es inspirado y hasta genial cuando se confina en la lingüística transformacional y un "idiota" irredimible cuando desbarra sobre política. La Madre Patria está representada por el dramaturgo Alfonso Sastre y sus churriguerescas distinciones entre el terrorismo bueno y el terrorismo malo, y los Premios Nóbel por Harold Pinter, autor de espesos dramas experimentales raramente comprensibles y sólo al alcance de públicos archiburgueses y exquisitos, y demagogo impresentable cuando vocifera contra la cultura democrática.

En el capítulo final, El regreso del idiota propone una pequeña biblioteca para desidiotizarse y alcanzar la lucidez política. La selección es bastante heterogénea pues figuran en ella desde clásicos del pensamiento liberal, como Camino de servidumbre, de Hayek, La sociedad abierta y sus enemigos, de Popper, y La acción humana, de von Mises, hasta novelas como El cero y el infinito, de Koestler, y los mamotretos narrativos de Ayn Rand El manantial y La rebelión de Atlas.
(A mi juicio, hubiera sido preferible incluir cualquiera de los ensayos o panfletos de Ayn Rand, cuyo incandescente individualismo desbordaba el liberalismo y tocaba el anarquismo, en vez de sus novelas que, como toda literatura edificante y propagandística, son ilegibles). Nada que objetar en cambio a la presencia en esta lista de Gary Becker, Jean François Revel, Milton Friedman y (el único hispano hablante de la selección) Carlos Rangel, cuyo fantasma debe sufrir lo indecible con lo que está ocurriendo en su tierra, una Venezuela que ya no reconocería.

Pese a su buen humor, a su refrescante insolencia y a la buena cara que sus autores se empeñan en poner ante los malos vientos que corren por América Latina, es imposible no advertir en las páginas de este libro un hálito de desmoralización. No es para menos. Porque lo cierto es que a pesar de los casos exitosos de modernización que señala -el ya conocido de Chile y el promisorio de El Salvador sobre el que aporta datos muy interesantes, así como los triunfos electorales de Uribe en Colombia, de Alan García en el Perú y de Calderón en México que fueron claras derrotas para el "idiota" en cuestión- lo cierto es que en buena parte de América Latina hay un claro retroceso de la democracia liberal y un retorno del populismo, incluso en su variante más cavernaria: la del estatismo y colectivismo comunistas.

Ésa es la angustiosa conclusión que subyace este libro afiebrado y
batallador: en América Latina, al menos, hay una cierta forma de idiotez ideológica que parece irreductible. Se le puede ganar batallas pero no la guerra, porque, como la hidra mitológica, sus tentáculos se reproducen una y otra vez, inmunizada contra las enseñanzas y desmentidos de la historia, ciega, sorda e impenetrable a todo lo que no sea su propia tiniebla.

04 fevereiro, 2007

96) The best in crime... with fun...

The four finest mystery anthologies, and one vital guide.
The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, February 3, 2007

1. "A Catalogue of Crime" by Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor (Harper & Row, 1971).
Say you want to read a novel by a prolific crime author such as Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr, and you don't know which to read in which order, and which to avoid. Let Barzun and Taylor be your guide. Revised and enlarged several times since it was first published in 1971, "A Catalogue of Crime" is the single best annotated compendium of mystery and espionage literature ever assembled. There are more than 5,000 entries in this work of heroic scholarship by emeritus Columbia Prof. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, Barzun's late partner in crime-fiction criticism of the most practical kind. The editors render their generally reliable judgments succinctly and with a suitable amount of caprice. Nicholas Blake's "Thou Shell of Death" has "complex situations and killings" and, oh yes, a "good use of snow." The book proves once and for all that the murder mystery is, in Barzun's words, "a highbrow enterprise, inescapably."

2. "The Book of Fantasy" edited by Jorge Luís Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo (Viking, 1988).
The great Argentine writer Borges wrote stories--he called them "ficciones" ("fictions")-- unlike anyone else's. Some masquerade as literary criticism, such as one that argues that a version of "Don Quixote" by the nonexistent Pierre Menard is, though identical word for word with the original, superior to it. The distinctive Borges story contains an ingenious mix of mental puzzles and labyrinths, ironies and surprise endings, and "The Book of Fantasy" reflects his sure feel for the uncanny. Among familiar favorites, Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" can still scare, and Kafka's "Before the Law," a chapter of "The Trial," can still perplex. Two wonderful surprises are "Macario" by B. Traven, the mysterious author of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and "Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched" by the little-known May Sinclair. They enchanted me.

3. "The Book of Spies" edited by Alan Furst (Modern Library, 2003).
On a Caribbean cruise I found this book in the ship library and whiled away the most pleasurable hours on the balcony overlooking the sea, reading expertly chosen excerpts from the greatest spy novels, including Eric Ambler's "A Coffin for Dimitrios," Joseph Conrad's "Under Western Eyes," Somerset Maugham's "Ashenden" and Graham Greene's "The Quiet American." Most fun for a reader is encountering something new, and I hadn't realized that Anthony Burgess had written, in "Tremor of Intent," a send-up of the spy genre that transcends its satiric aims and becomes an ironic version of the very thing it mocks.

4. "A New Omnibus of Crime" edited by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert (Oxford, 2005).
This recent anthology boldly evokes the title of Dorothy Sayers's classic anthology of 1920. The editors aim to showcase the work of the four-score-and-seven years since. Here you'll find the whole gamut, from the tough-guy patter of hard-boiled Raymond Chandler ("He looked tough, but he looked as if he thought he was a little tougher than he was") to the more decorous detection practiced by Miss Sayers. Among the writers in between: The underrated Fredric Brown, representing the down-and-out world of noir, in which temptation can't be resisted, failure is inevitable and well-educated family men can become bums overnight, "suddenly, for no reason you can define."

5. "Triple Pursuit" by Graham Greene (Viking, 1971).
Once you get hooked on Graham Greene, there's no turning back. Here we have three of his titles--"This Gun for Hire," "The Third Man" and "Our Man in Havana"--that superbly convey the Greene world, in which the eternal poles of good and evil trump the merely secular rules of right and wrong. Greeneland is a place where an ordinary man or woman can become a spy-master capable of large-scale deception, as happens to a vacuum-cleaner salesman in the sardonically funny "Our Man in Havana." A few years ago I read three or four Greene novels in rapid succession and it hit me with the force of an epiphany that the whole genre of espionage, with its assignations, codes and betrayals, serves this author as an overarching metaphor for his true subject: romantic infidelity, in which the partners necessarily behave like secret agents. Newcomers to Greene who read "Triple Pursuit" straight through will likely be, for any number of reasons, similarly thunderstruck.

Mr. Lehman is the author of "The Perfect Murder: A Study in Detection" (2000) and the editor of "The Oxford Book of American Poetry."