BOOK REVIEWS: RICHARD FALK MEMOIR: PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim
THE REMARKABLE LIFE STORY OF A
LEADING AMERICAN PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL
"In this 'political memoir', internationally respected scholar of international law, Richard Falk, at 90 gives a frank and personal account of his evolution to a 'citizen pilgrim'. Falk has made considerable contributions to international law. His notable four volume work The Vietnam War and International Law (1968–76) was central in the legal debates around the Vietnam War...His present book is not only of interest to those who lived through the same times as Falk, but also for those reflecting on the contributions of academics for justice, peace and environment...Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim is elegant, personal, relevant and thought-provoking..."
"This elegantly written autobiography elucidates the interfaces connecting the personal, professional, and political facets of the life of a leading international law expert, born in New York and educated at Pennsylvania, Yale and Harvard. The doctrine and concrete application of international law becomes animated in the life of this practitioner, provocateur, hands-on negotiator of prisoner of war releases, UN Rapporteur, and a member of commissions of inquiry and People's Tribunals. Richard Falk is the protagonist of this journey full of insights into the function of law as a means to promote peace and human rights through conflict prevention, the mitigation of suffering and reparation to victims.......Much more than just the 'memoirs' of a leading international law professor, this book tells a story of law in practice, addressing many issues of international relations, includingUN standard-setting and monitoring, which Falk explores, cogently discussing the interactions between politics and law, expressing his understanding that politics must be subordinated to law and not vice versa."
"Richard Falk is universally regarded as one of the top minds when it comes to international law. Yet his views are not only not welcome in establishment circles, but even among most left-leaning liberals. He was once the darling of liberals, someone whose left-of-center views were seen as important in "balancing" conservative and centrist views in debates, seminars, and TV programs. He was, in short, one of the establishment's favorite critics of American foreign policy. That is until he crossed several red lines. The most consequential of these red lines was moving from abstract legal critiques of Israel's policies in the Middle East to one of active sympathy with the Palestinian people's struggle, and especially when he had the temerity to call Israel's fundamental strategy of governance by its name: "apartheid."
Richard Falk is one of the most authoritative contemporary International Relations scholars. A very prolific author, he has contributed to almost all relevant world issues of the last 60 years and has published, edited and co-edited several dozens of books. The book reviewed here, however, is totally different from his previous works, most of which will be very familiar to any student in the field of international affairs: it is a fascinating intellectual autobiography in which, among many other things, Falk narrates the opportunity he had to interact with the Vietnamese leadership, to challenge Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, to try to decipherAyatollah Khomeini's intentions and to advise President Nelson Mandela.
The academic discussions in the book are linked to a direct engagement with events of world politics, often marshalling the author's personal experience. Falk is probably the top frequent flyer in academia; none of his intellectual contributions are purely deductive, all being based on extensive fieldwork carried out on the five continents. Perhaps Falk's most formative experience—as for many other American intellectuals of his generation—came during the Vietnam War. The US was deeply divided between those who supported the war and those—led by students and intellectuals—strongly opposed to it. As one of the leading anti-war campaigners of the 1960s, Falk tried to use the tools of international law to undercut the justification for the American invasion and, even more, to condemn the methods used in waging the war....
... Falk's unique intellectual and political career poses a profound challenge to anybody working in International Relations: is it possible really to understand the dynamics of world politics without also participating passionately in its events? Many scholars argue that there should be a responsibility of objectivity in the social sciences; but Falk has never tried to be 'neutral'. All his works were consciously born from a partisan attempt to change reality and to take a side. Nobody else is likely to be a witness to so many world events as Richard Falk; but he is teaching us that, to understand International Relations, and indeed the social sciences more broadly, scholars should be brave enough to enter the political arena.
"The 2008 global meltdown spotlighted America's own legions of greedy wolf warriors, feeding at the trough. Neither America's nor China's wolf warriors offer happy returns, but only our best deep thinkers, it seems, know this. One is Richard Falk who, in his just-published political memoir Public Intellectual, is as successful as anyone in making the point that what's needed is not simply a course correction but a new course."
"In his memoir, Richard Falk, one of the most prominent yet controversial experts on international law and relations, unravels many secrets of both the academic world and global affairs. It's a rare privilege to publish a memoir at the age of 90. Richard Falk, an American-Jewish scholar and one of the top experts on international law, is among the blessed ones. A fierce member of academic discipline, Falk has earned a reputation for speaking on behalf of victims and the weak. He believes in the idea of being a 'citizen pilgrim', which means taking up a "life journey to build a better future by addressing the injustices of the present wherever encountered."
"The real takeaway from Falk's memoirs is what the life of an honourable man looks like as the world around him crumbles, who at 90 believes we can still take joy from our life long beliefs, which must be burnished constantly, wiping away dirt and the deeper rust. Israel represents the great, final betrayal of western civilization, our Titanic. Falk is one of the crew, and prefers to go down listening to Mozart, rather than compromise to stay afloat for a few more 'happy hours'.."
"The account of Richard Falk and his life is a gift to the world! The 90 years of pilgrimage from New York to Turkey is full of riveting experiences, reflection and choices, a truth-seeking love story with life and the world. It should inspire us all to see that law, used in honest service to fairness and justice, is a tool for peace both at the national level and among nations. No wonder Prof. Falk has received multiple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize."
"This intimate and penetrating account of a remarkable life is rich in insights about topics ranging from the academic world to global affairs to prospects for a livable society. A gripping story, with many lessons for a troubled world."NOAM CHOMSKY
"Richard Falk is one of the few great public intellectuals and citizen pilgrims who has preserved his integrity and consistency in our dark and decadent times. This wise and powerful memoir is a gift that bestows us with a tear-soaked truth and blood-stained hope." CORNEL WEST
Whether you are a peace activist or researcher, or you care about the earth and fellow human beings ,Public Intellectual will enrich you intellectually and politically."
"Richard Falk recounts a life well spent trying to bend the arc of international law toward global justice. A Don Quixote tilting nobly at real dragons. His culminating vision of a better or even livable future—a 'necessary utopia'—evokes with current urgency the slogan of Paris, May 1968: 'Be realistic: demand the impossible.'" DANIEL ELLSBERG
During forty years at Princeton University, Falk was active in seeking an end to the Vietnam War, a better understanding of Iran, a just solution for Israel/Palestine, and improved democracy elsewhere. He also served as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. His books include This Endangered Planet, A Study of Future Worlds, Power Shift, Revisiting the Vietnam War, Palestine Horizon,
and On Nuclearism
His publications and activism describe various encounters with embedded American militarism, especially as expressed by governmental resistance to responsible efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and his United Nations efforts on behalf of the rights of the Palestinian people.
In 2010 Richard Falk was named Outstanding Public Scholar in Political Economy by the International Studies Association. He has been nominated annually for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.