Dr. Richard Bernstein has not only been a generous supporter of our nonprofit Democracy Cafe, but is the organizer and facilitator of one of our longest-running Socrates Cafes, at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck, New Jersey.
He related in a New York Times feature about Socrates Cafe in 2004 that he became ''hooked'' by the fact that ''it was a community of people that are passionate about ideas and people who really see that ideas make a difference.''
Dr. Bernstein, who studied philosophy at Yale, and had attended the original Socrates Cafe in Montclair, New Jersey, before starting one of his own, makes the compelling case that the kinds of philosophical exchanges our nonprofit promulgates, our flagship Socrates Cafe endeavor in particular, are arguably more needed than ever.
(I also invite you to read an exceptionally insightful essay about the bounties of Socrates Cafe written by Dr. Bernstein. You can access it via this blog post on our nonprofit website: https://www.socratescafe.com/?p=1127 )
Anyone who has read any of my books (e.g. Six Questions of Socrates, Socrates Cafe, A Child at Heart, among others) knows that no one played more of a pivotal role in my decision to dramatically change my life in 1996 and establish Socrates Cafe philosophical inquiry gatherings the world over than the late philosopher and scholar Walter Kaufmann, longtime professor at Princeton.
Kaufmann, who died at age 59, led an incredibly productive, meaningful and somewhat iconoclastic professional life. I am far from the only person whose own life has been forever altered by Kaufmann's works and deeds, imbued with a decided Socratic sensibility.
Now, 37 years after Professor Kaufmann's untimely death in 1981, Dr. Stanley Corngold, Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton, has written a sweeping and majestic book -- 'Walter Kaufmann: Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic.'
I had the honor to speak for nearly an hour with Dr. Corngold, a celebrated Kafka scholar, about his tour-de-force work on Kaufmann, whom he knew personally. I encourage you to delve deeply into this book and relish every insight. And for those who haven't yet read any of Walter Kaufmann's original works, I hope that Dr. Corngold's book will serve as your port of entry to one of the most extraordinary yet under-appreciated philosophers and humanists of the 20th century.
If ever a book was crying out to be updated and re-issued, it's Stephen Duncombe's timely and timeless guide to creating a far more imaginative, inclusive and (dare I use the word) progressive politics in all its dazzling array of colorful manifestations.
Steve talks with me about the new issue (also out in Spanish) of "Dream or Nightmare: Reimagining Politics in an Age of Fantasy." (Here's a link to where you can purchase it post haste: https://www.orbooks.com/catalog/dream-or-nightmare/ )
A longtime, revered professor (by students and colleagues, if it not by the more establishment-grounded deans) at New York University and co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, Steve has walked the walk like few others I know when it comes to putting his values into concrete deed.
Listen in as Steve shares some of his experiences gallivanting the globe these last years working with activists to help them become more like artists -- and hence become more effective at achieving more desired outcomes -- and artists to channel their work in ways that can drive greater activism.
Steve also has high hopes for remaking the world of academia itself in ways that better enable it to live up to its potential far more than it does now: "It's wonderful to think of an academy where knowledge wasn’t an abstraction but was something you actually use to figure out what to do in your life. That’s the dream."
Our latest podcast is with Noor Al-Hajji, organizer and facilitator of the Socrates Cafes in her hometown of Al-Hassa, Saudi Arabia, as well as at Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain, where both men and women from a number of countries in the Middle East take part. In her latest exchange with us, Noor shares in a most passionate and eloquent way how the version of philosophical inquiry she and I both seek to advance the world over via Socrates Cafe connects us to the past (including to Socrates) and the future, and how it cultivates an all-important ethical dimension that ideally drives a keener social conscience. Noor, a graduate student in the field of Geographic Information Systems, makes a remarkable comparison between her studies and philosophical inquiry, and how the unseen dimensions -- whether a band on the spectrum of an image, or an abstraction of a philosophical concept -- should drive our everyday actions, and in ways that in turn cultivate individual and societal excellence.
Listen in. (I'm very excited that my firs book 'Socrates Cafe' will soon be published in Arabic, and we'll also soon have an Arabic version of our facilitators guide.)
Ron Nirenberg, who in June 2017 became Mayor of our nation's seventh largest city, believes that a blend of pragmatic, progressive and visionary bottom-up governance stands the best chance of having a kind of spillover effect that can make our world more vibrant and inclusive on national and global scales.
To that end, besides an array of pioneering environmental, housing, education, transportation and education initiatives that he seeks to implement at the local scale in San Antonio, Mayor Nirenberg also is Chair of Sister Cities International, created in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, such is his commitment to building diplomatic bridges the world over in an era of increasing nationalism.
"It's extremely important, especially in these days, that people understand who it is that lives next to them," says Mayor Nirenberg, who has attended our thriving annual Conversation with the Constitution in San Antonio.
"And we must all strive to understand the differences between us and the importance of finding common ground and harmony with those people who are not like us. Because we all breathe the same air and drink the same water."
As Mayor Nirenberg eloquently puts it, "It's extremely important," now more than ever, that we strive to find such common ground, "whether it's with the person who lives across the street from us, across the city or across the world."
[Note:I caught up with Mayor Nirenberg on his cell phone just as he returned from Mexico City, where he attended the inauguration of Mexico's new President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- and there are a few technical hiccups on this podcast recording, due to a weak cellphone connection from time to time.]
About a year ago, Tobiasz Budzyński, who is from Poland but is living in Berlin, started a Socrates Cafe at a Polish-German bookstore there. He first learned about our gatherings through a childhood friend who has a Socrates Cafe in Krakow. He decided it could be, among other things, a great way to create a greater sense of connection and commonality, "especially because the meeting takes place in a non-virtual world," and explores questions that are as timely as they are timeless, including ones on identity, nationality, and how language shapes our thinking
"I think that’s a very important aspect," shares Tobiasz, who considers himself, more than anything, a "European citizen" and "part of this global village". He is pleased that German citizens have also taken part, and that a group might soon start in the German language as well.
"It takes an effort to come to a meeting," Tobiasz shares. "Then we can talk, we have time for listening to one another, and actually to get to know each other."
In this latest episode of 'The Openist,' Chris is joined by the towering public intellectual and human rights activist Cornel West, an Honorary Board Member of the nonprofit Democracy Cafe (democracycafe.org) of which Chris serves as Executive Director.
To agree or disagree with Brother West is almost beside the point; he aspires to make us think deeply, critically, compassionately. Chris and Dr. West chart their way through sundry timely and timeless issues that have to do with maintaining and evolving open hearts, open minds, open societies in times of rising absolutism and fundamentalism.
Brother West lauded Democracy Cafe's efforts to make our world more thoughtful, understanding and lovable -- he is wowed by what we accomplish with no philanthropic funding but with several generous individual donors. He urged Chris to hurry and finish up his newest book, so he could write the forward to it.
Listen in to Cornel West.
And as an extra, here is a link to a video interview with Brother West:
Rock and Latin music writer and curator Isabela Raygoza has opened my world to an array of artists and great music that I otherwise would not be privy to. She provides vistas, contexts and perspectives that help me and many others see how this rich artistry both stems from and drives American democracy, identity, and greater gender equality at this critical moment.
I once had the honor of having Isabela as a student of mine when I was professor of the graduate Thesis Writing course for the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. She has gone on to do great things, including writing regularly for publications like Rolling Stone, Remezcla and VICE.
Listen in as Isabela shares her compelling take on the music and democracy scene.
Can religion be allowed to control us? What is country? Why is it that some of us don't believe in God? What makes women strong?
Such are the timely, timeless and incredibly bold questions explored so far at the newest Socrates Cafes, started by a young women in the Middle East.
Socrates Cafe has taken off in a big way there (my book "Socrates Cafe" soon will be published in Arabic). It now has expanded in Saudi Arabia (which already has thriving groups in Saihat and Qatif) to Al-Ahsa, a major city in the eastern province, as well as to nearby Bahrain, where participants hail from from Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia -- thanks in large measure to Noor Al-Hajji, a graduate student at Arabian Gulf University who has an abiding passion for philosophical inquiry the Socrates Cafe way.
Listen in as Noor eloquently relates why she believes Socrates Cafe must become an ever more vital mainstay in the Middle East at this critical crossroads. It was thrilling and humbling to me that she believes Socrates Cafe will serve as a lasting legacy, and hence continue to thrive long after my mortal moment is done. "I am so thankful for the brilliant idea of Socrates Cafes," she tells me with palpable enthusiasm, "that I will spread it everywhere I can."
In 1998, 'Civic ideals: Conflicting Visions of citizenship in U. S. History,' was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History. If anything, the comprehensively insightful award-winning book -- authored by Rogers Smith, who until 2001 was Alfred Cowles Professor of Government at Yale University before then becoming the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science -- is more relevant today than ever.
As Yale University Press, the publisher of 'Civic Ideals,' notes, it "traces political struggles over U.S. citizenship laws from the colonial period through the Progressive era and shows that throughout this time, most adults were legally denied access to full citizenship, including political rights, solely because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Basic conflicts over these denials have driven political development and civic membership in the U.S., Smith argues. These conflicts are what truly define U.S. civic identity up to this day."
And as Rogers Smiths shares in our thoughtful podcast give-and-take, 'Civic Ideals' "does focus on dimensions of American life that I would like to see eclipsed, including the impulses to exclude and subordinate some and privilege others. But I’m afraid we do see those impulses today."
While these impulses may not be on a more pervasive scale than ever today, Professor Smith believes "there is a significant uptick. The concerns about immigration in this country and also economic inequality, as well as cultural trends away from traditional forms of life, all these have created a mounting longing on the part of many Americans for their vision of an older America that they regard as a better America."
"Unfortunately," he continues, "that is an America that privileged whites, and especially white Christian men, over all others— and we’re seeing renewed efforts to try to reconstruct to some degree that predominately white-governed and -dominated America."
While Dr. Smith, an expert on civil rights and constitutional law, goes on to assert that "we’re not going to recreate that vision as true as it was in the past," he considers it nonetheless "disturbing to see that vision of America on the rise again.”
Listen in as I explore this phenomenon of civic ideals and identity, and much more (including the President's pardoning powers -- and whether he can pardon himself), with Professor Smith.