The illusory perenniality of the present, accounts of two centuries – 06/10/2021 – Claudia Costin

In the coming weeks we will have two anniversaries worthy of mention: on June 18, Fernando Henrique turns 90 and, on July 8, Edgar Morin celebrates his centenary. Both lucid and in good physical health, they had privileged and active access to events spanning two centuries.

It is in this sense that their memoirs, released in 2021, are very welcome. They are, of course, different from each other, but both went through political militancy combined with acting in the academy and comment in their books on historical episodes that marked their long life.
Both in “Leçons d’un Siècle de Vie”, by the incredible French philosopher, and in the ex-president’s book, “An Intellectual in Politics: Memoirs”, the most remarkable facts of the 20th century appear, whether as reports from family members or in events experienced by each of the two.

Despite the different contexts, some of them coincide and deserve interesting analysis. Both refer to the impacts of World War II on their countries, its approximation and subsequent abandonment of a Stalinist perspective, the impact of Khrushchev’s declarations, in 1956, denouncing Stalin’s crimes or the pandemic itself.

But, of course, they are different lives, and Fernando Henrique’s dialogued more with past events in Brazil. Thus, it is not by chance that he refers to the tenentista movement, that, coming from a military family, he heard first-person accounts from characters directly involved. The election, after the War, of a transformed Getúlio and his subsequent suicide are already his memories. He also writes about his political activism and his academic trajectory at USP, together with other Brazilian intellectuals and French thinkers who played an important role in the constitution of our higher education, especially in the humanities. When thinking about the present, an important warning against “saviors of the fatherland”.

Morin, a Frenchman of Jewish-Sephardic descent, also very active in his country’s politics for part of his life, closely followed the German invasion and the ambiguous actions of Marshal Pétain, then joining the French Resistance, when he adopted Morin’s pseudonym.

But unlike Fernando Henrique, Morin did not run for elective posts. His short stint in the Communist Party was not associated with politics as a profession, in Weber’s terms.

In both works, an intriguing dialogue with recent history, summarized in a life lesson from Morin. “I learned never to believe in the perpetuity of the present. History always reserves for us unexpected facts”. Yes, including Covid.

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