June 22, 2007

The Political Thought of Oliveres: No Moral Compromise

Arcadi OliveresA social-democrat and humanist of the purest kind, Arcadi Oliveres opinionates that we cannot allow to blur the line between clean and dirty when talking international politics and economics.

He was beyond a shade of doubt the most famous and probably most interesting professor that taught me here at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Even though an idealist, dreamer, and somewhat disorganised, he never allows compromise when denouncing corruption or nepotism in the international scene. He has faced the excesses of fascism and the oppressive nature of the totalitarian state when it deals with its opposition – he was there when prisoners were executed by the Franco regime during the early 1970s, an experience which, according to his book Contra la guerra y el hambre (Against War and Hunger), stills causes him nightmares.

For Oliveres, people and their rights come first, and however absurd it might seem at times, he tries to look beyond the official economic figures. He asks: how is it possible that rich countries demand ongoing trade liberalisation when they themselves liberalise and protect their markets just as it suits them, and calls this the starkest hypocricy. He notes that no rich country claimed to have the money to provide the entire world with basic water supplies, while months later these nations spent five times as much on the war in Iraq. He points out that the South actually sponsors the North through costly trade and international relations, sending each year four to five times more to the North through profits and debt relief, than the North sends to the South through official aid. He resents the fact that only three or four countries in the world have been committed to the 0,7% rule of development aid (set up in the 1970s!), calls this a total lack of solidarity, and notes that by now the percentage should really be around 3,5% to have any real effect. He questions immigration policy and cites Leontieff that only a sustained break of economic growth in the North can help the South out of misery. He is a realist, in the ideological sense. Perhaps more radically realistic than other thinkers that call themselves realists.

First Conference of Nations Without State
In November 2005, the First Meditterranean Conference of Nations Without State was held in Barcelona, on this photo Arcadi Oliveres to the far right.

Ideal types in order to make a point
Oliveres envisages a better world, or at least, the right direction towards it. The power of his thought is that he remains fixed towards that goal, without allowing the ideal to be watered down. When he proposes to be harsher with corporate tax evasion in Spain in order to pay the South back what the North took from it through unbalanced trade relations, he knows this will not happen today or tomorrow. Nonetheless, it does not prevent him from saying that it should if we want the entire world not to die from hunger and thirst, if we want to be the solidary “world citizens” that we call ourselves. He knows the army will not disappear anytime soon, still he feels the moral need to denounce it as a failing tool of social improvement.

All of this has with me at varied moments called up heavy protest from within: he is a dreamer, this is not real, this is a senseless comparison. Yet it is exactly the power of Oliveres’ political thought: he matches reality with his ideal types, does not avoid explaining what he thinks is just, and thus makes us ponder what is necessary to move towards improvement in this world which is far from being the best of all possible worlds.


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