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Archive for January, 2010

The Tragedy of Afghanistan

“Those who should hear, they’ll hear nevermore / Destroyed, dispersed is the proud host of yore / With thirteen thousand their trail they began. / Only one man returned from Afghanistan.” On the eve of the 2010 Afghanistan conference in London, The Berlin Review of Books publishes a new English translation, by Gabriele Campbell, of Theodor Fontane’s poem ‘Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan’. First published in 1848, it tells the story of the sole survivor of a massacre suffered by the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) in January 1842.

The Possibility of Disinterested Action

Is it possible for a human being to act in a truly disinterested manner? Do disinterested actions have a psychological unity or are they the mere product of circumstances? Is disinterestedness an individual or a collective phenomenon? These are the questions that Jon Elster tackles in the first volume of a trilogy dedicated to a thorough critique of classical conceptions of Homo Economicus. But, asks reviewer Gloria Origgi in light of Elster’s taxonomy of forms of disinterestedness, if so many different motivations may underlie the phenomenon of disinterestedness, are we still talking about one and the same thing?