Joxe Azurmendi on the 50th anniversary of the magazine Jakin (2006)
|Alma mater||University of the Basque Country|
|Modernity, Age of Enlightenment, Romanticism, social philosophy, political philosophy, philosophical anthropology, philosophy of language, ethics, nationalism, Basque literature|
|The State as secular church, morality as a political weapon|
Joxe Azurmendi Otaegi (born 19 March 1941) is a Basque writer, philosopher, essayist and poet. He has published numerous articles and books on ethics, politics, the philosophy of language, technique, Basque literature and philosophy in general.
He is member of Jakin and the director of Jakin irakurgaiak, a publishing house which has published over 40 books under his management. He also collaborated with the Klasikoak publishing firm in the Basque translations of various philosophical works and was one of the founders of Udako Euskal Unibertsitatea (The Basque Summer University). He is currently a Professor of Modern Philosophy and a lecturer at Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (The University of the Basque Country). In 2010 he was awarded the title "honorary academic" by Euskaltzaindia (The Basque Language Academy).
Azurmendi is an intellectual who studies the problem more than the solution. Azurmendi's essays cover modern European topics in great depth and knowledge. He has incorporated the philosophy and thinking of European thinkers, especially German ones. He often adopts a polemic tone.
Joxe Azurmendi is, in the opinion of many, one of the most prolific and erudite thinkers in the Basque Country.
Joxe Azurmendi studied philosophy and theology at The University of the Basque Country, Rome and Münster.
At the beginning of the 1960s he joined the cultural movement which grew up around the magazine Jakin, and was in fact the director of the publication when it was prohibited for the first time by Franco's regime. He has collaborated closely and uninterruptedly with the magazine since its restoration. In that publication he has raised the problems of Basque society in the context of European thinkers. During the early 1970s he focused his attention on disseminating basic literature in the Basque language on subjects which were being hotly debated at the time in the Basque Country: nationhood, socialism, internationalism, etc. In the 1980s he began teaching at The University of the Basque Country, and in 1984 he submitted his thesis on Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, the founder of the Mondragon cooperative movement, in which he argued that Arizmendiarrieta's project aimed to unite individuals and society under an organisation which combined both socialism and French personalism.
In 1992 he published what was to become his best-known work: Espainolak eta euskaldunak (The Spanish and the Basques). The work, published by Elkar, was written in response to a text by Sánchez-Albornoz which claimed that "The Basques are the last people to be civilised in Spain; they have a thousand years less civilisation than any other people ... They are rough, simple people who nevertheless consider themselves to be the children of God and the heirs to his glory. But they are really nothing more than un-Romanised Spaniards." Azurmendi's essay refuted and dismantled the stereotypes maintained about the Basques by certain Spanish intellectuals.
It was on the threshold of the new millennium, however, that Azurmendi's work reached its height. During the early years of the 21st century he published the trilogy formed by Espainiaren arimaz (About the soul of Spain) (2006, Elkar), Humboldt. Hizkuntza eta pentsamendua (Humboldt. Language and Thought) (2007, UEU) and Volksgeist. Herri gogoa (Volksgeist. National Character) (2008, Elkar). In this trilogy, Joxe Azurmendi reveals some of his most significant thinking.
His work emerged and developed during a period marked by a crisis of culture, politics and values. But it was a crisis that he understood not as something negative, but rather something that opened up a whole new range of possibilities. Consequently, all his thinking is centred around the defence of freedom in every field, but especially in relation to conscience and thinking.
Far from fleeing the crisis, then, his work tries to outline how we can live in this situation. To this end, he adopts a relativist perspective, and given that modernity has left us with no solid base, he fights against the last vestiges of the dogmatism towards which our society tends to lean when in crisis:
" The proclamation of relativism is provocative. ... I am not particularly interested in being an apostle of relativism. But as I come from a dogmatic culture [Franco's regime], I'm allergic to some things. Truth, Reason and absolute correction were Catholic in that culture. Now I hear that postmodern relativism is the cause of the moral misery and the loss of values. It is seen that there is a nostalgia of dogmatic culture, disguised with some democratic and enlightened discourse. That dogmatic culture has relativism as its enemy, for that reason I claim this convicted relativism. But it is not an absolute relativism."
In this sense, for example, he is critical of the modern state, which he accuses of being the new church seeking to control our consciences. He also criticises the exploitation of morality, or in other words, how politicians, instead of solving the problems facing them in their various areas or fields, flee instead to moral ground in order to hide their responsibilities under the cloak of supposedly absolute moral principles:
"In the mean time, what is the point of repeating the old tale as to what the state is becoming? Once the sour critical analysis of sometime ago (Herbert Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man), the dark negative utopias (Aldous Huxley, George Orwell) and the protest cries (May 68) are forgotten, and with a near lack of the slightest sense of resistance in civil society, the cobweb of power spins peacefully over our heads, all over the place. Even the dressing room."
He has also made an important contribution in questioning the canonical interpretations which have been constructed regarding different issues. Of particular interest, due to his erudition and training in Germany, is his interpretation of the German Enlightenment. In this context he deconstructs the apparent opposition between the French Enlightenment and German Romanticism and proposes a new way of thinking about the different aspects which stem from this opposition. In this way, he defies certain Spanish and French intellectuals (Alain Finkielkraut) and argues that nationalism in fact arose in France (Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Ernest Renan) and was later reinterpreted by the German thinkers and romantics. By doing this, he questions the way in which authors such as Goethe, Schiller, Herder or Humboldt are viewed as the fathers of metaphysical nationalism. In this field, the opposition between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism is deconstructed. Thus, Azurmendi criticizes the essentialist basis of Spanish nationalism and French nationalism that operates under these nation states.
Some of the topics Azurmendi deeply develops in his essays first appeared in his poetry of youth. Azurmendi is within the Basque poetry of the 60s which shows the fight against the tradition, the old faith and the dogmatic certainties:
But we wish to be free
is that my fault?
They tried to give us a tree from Gernika,
a false blank check,
as if the desire to be free were a sin,
but despite that, we, quite simply, wish to be free.
That is what we want, that is all.
This is the latest deception:
they have led us to believe
before from outside and now from within
that it is our responsibility to justify our wish to be free.
Manifestu atzeratua (Belated Manifesto) (1968)
He also dedicates a large part of his work to recovering and reinterpreting Basque thinkers, breaking through and dismantling numerous stereotypes. Of particular interest is his research into Jon Mirande, Orixe, Unamuno and others. He is an author who has worked from within and for Basque culture. He claims to have been influenced by Basque authors from the post-war period, for example, in questions of language. In this field, he has researched other authors also, including Heidegger, Wittgenstein, George Steiner and Humboldt. The fact that his vast oeuvre is all written in the Basque language is clearly consistent with his thinking.
In his language Joxe Azurmendi combines an educated register with colloquial expressions, and his prose is fast, incisive, and ironic. Azurmendi's Basque is modern and standard and he demonstrates great knowledge of the language, and richness and variety of expression.
The Inguma database of the Basque scientific community contains over 180 texts written by Azurmendi.