Gonzalo Sánchez Gómez*
Intellectuals are a difficult category to pinpoint. A decisive debate in the struggle for democracy, marked intellectuals as "public figures", a collective actor whose views were expressed not only through writings, but also through activism. Appeals —the emblematic means of protest employed by intellectuals against oppression and war— are, it is said, the equivalent of what the strike is to the worker. I would like to enunciate an historical framework of the relationship between intellectuals and politics during the Republican Era, centered on Colombia but in constant dialogue with the subcontinent's history. I will refer to five moments and modes of this relationship: a) Illustrated intellectuals b) The professors c) Anti-establishment intellectuals d) Citizen intellectuals or intellectuals for democracy and d) Mediating intellectuals.
Regardless of the normative or sociological definition adopted, there would be three constitutive elements of the original relationship: entreaties to public opinion, detachment or disengagement as regards state power, and resort to collective action; all with the clear-cut goal of re-establishing broken-down justice, beyond any other consideration.
As of the standpoint presented herein and from this tribune, I would like my presentation on the political history of Colombian intellectuals to be considered as an invitation for our American colleagues to re-politicize their view regarding their role and subject. Since the fundamental topic here is Latin America, a second train of thought tied to the first would be pertinent: Latin America can be approached, by academics, as a case or as a deviation from a model, or as an illustration of a hypothesis, with measurements which might or might not include politics, but which do not necessarily so demand it. Comparatively, for intellectuals, questioning would be intricately tied to ethical-political values such as democracy, human rights, economic reforms and the effects of war. The day that it is generally and fully assumed that being a scholar on Latin America implies unavoidable ethical engagements, that day the relationship center-periphery will have started changing, at least within one specific domain. That day, the awareness and collective identity of North American scholars will also have started changing.
If initiatives, which cover integrated efforts at analyzing and acting become the common mark of research on Colombia and if we are able to universalize the Colombian crisis —relating it to the traumatic experience of other peoples— then Colombia would cease to be considered a rare exception in Latin America. Instead there would come to fore, on the one hand, the "forecasting" role played by Colombia of the evils to be avoided elsewhere, while on the other hand, Colombia would have signaled the opportunity to rediscover the basis of a new and enriching Inter-American dialogue. That day, will be the greatest legacy to the late distinguished anthropologist and humanist Martin Diskin, who dedicated his thoughts and actions precisely to surmounting that which keeps apart the two Americas, by working to build a new relationship and a new regard on Latin America. Time perhaps will also allow us Latin Americans to view the United States from a new outlook.
[complete article (in Spanish)]
* Tenured professor
and researcher of the Institute of Political Studies and International
Relations (IEPRI) National University of Colombia.
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