"Stay Out of Politics": A Philosopher Views South Africa
As a lifelong radical and political activist, Ronald Aronson accepted an invitation to lecture in South Africa only after two years of deliberation. "Stay Out of Politics," which begins with the moral questions that Aronson confronted in his decision to go, is a reaffirmation of the necessity for majority rule and the abolition of apartheid. Amidst the pressure of widespread talk of an academic boycott of South Africa, Aronson decided to lecture there as a contribution to the struggle for majority rule. He decided to become mobilized as a philosopher and activist by engaging in the effort close at hand rather than settling for a distant and comfortable protest by avoidance.
Along with his visa, Aronson was given the following warning by a consular officer: "Stay out of politics!" Believing that philosophy not only has a role to play but that it can, and must, involve itself in the vital social and political issues of our time, Aronson equally discovered that in South Africa politics is everywhere and inescapable. The lectures Aronson delivered focused on the meaning of progress and hope, on the threat—and experience—of disaster today, and on our responsibility to join the struggle for a humane and rational world. Two of the most provocative lectures are included here, the first a discussion of the Holocaust that has direct and intentional applications to the current situation in South Africa. The second lecture, in memory of the assassinated political philosopher Richard Turner, is a sketch of Aronson's philosophy of hope as seen from within the South African context.
Despite the limitations of teaching under possible surveillance in a revolutionary situation, Aronson witnessed the social reality of apartheid and heard the voices of its victims. Aronson's love for the South African people motivated him to write this powerful account. He presents a lecturer's tour of South Africa: the experiences that both confirmed his belief in the urgent need for majority rule but also revealed the complexities of the society that seeks to continue apartheid through all reforms; and his philosopher's reflections upon returning to the United States on the irrationality of apartheid and the ambiguities of the struggle to end it.
"Stay Out of Politics" is not only a powerful encounter with South Africa today, it is a provocative statement about philosophy—its nature, its tasks, its duty to understand and change the world in which we live.
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