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The "Desaparecidos" (Missing) and the Moral Indifference of an Argentine Intellectual Elite. The Halperín Donghi Case.  
by Eduardo R. Saguier
    Senior Researcher (CONICET)

In a previous message I authored entitled "Mutar los Silencios en Lenguaje" [Muting Silences in Language], published in the Pol-Cien Electronic Discussion List (Buenos Aires), on July 9th of the current year, I stated that Tulio Halperín Donghi, due to his celebrity as a scholar, had the moral obligation of articulating, during the Military Process (1976-1982), “...public accusations and press conferences in Washington, advocating for human rights and for the defense of his own fellow citizen- colleagues and students who were in prison or had disappeared”. Furthermore, I disclosed that “...his prudent silence and self-censorship really obeyed his stingy eagerness to succeed in keeping his passport, regularly visit his family and control ties with institutions such as the Instituto Di Tella and CEDES/CISEA/PEHESA". I also underscored the fact that Halperín’s “low profile” during such Military Process "...was not replicated by other colleagues who, as in the Ernesto Laclau case, in spite of having his family in Buenos Aires opted for not coming back during those long years".

I must make it clear that this is not the first time I mention such moral surrender --for I had previously pointed that out-- but only in reference to a “…reputed Argentine historian residing in Berkeley". As my critique was reproved by some colleagues, saying it was the result of chicanery, ingratitude, personal resentment, or a parricide zeal and extreme cruelty toward human miseries, and that who was I to question Halperín’s moral integrity, I preferred not to insist on the issue. But today, vis-à-vis the great moral crisis we are experiencing, and faced with the new political instance of a just and redressing hope that seems willing to reopen with the fall of the Neoliberal Model, science and humanities must also stop living on their knees and stand up. That’s why I decided to rehash on that bitter controversy, with all the professional risks this might entail, and certain that the apothegm “dogs will not eat dogs” can only be applicable to morally collapsed intellectuals, severed from all personal dignity.

Many might ask themselves why Halperín and not some other of the many  who, like him, lived abroad and also kept quiet? Simply because, contrary to other colleagues who livened up the fire of an anachronistic and opportunistic adventure (see Pasado y Presente editorial entitled La "Larga Marcha" al Socialismo en la Argentina, 1973) [The ‘Long March’ to Socialism in Argentina], Halperín didn’t show signs of a guilty flank or political reproach whatsoever, neither could anyone, in good faith, doubt that by then Halperín personified the summit of Argentine and Latin American intellectual elite, that his work in such historiography is unparalleled, and that its content will live on probably forever in continental records. But then, if the one who climbs to the summit “is silent and consents”, what can be expected of those who ride on the hillside? Not to mention those who pasture in the deep valleys. How impressive must the Halperinian mirror have been and how many may have thus justified their silence?

Now then, how is it possible for an intellectual so sensitive and aware of the past and of the consequences of an unfortunate recurrence could have kept silent when such an unpromising and gloomy tragedy took place? A tragedy which Halperín himself had predicted in some of his writings (Argentina en el Callejón, 1964) [Argentina in the Alley], and whose antecedent had premonitorily portrayed it as a "concealed civil war" (Myers, 1997, p.160).

We may be told that fear numbs people, constrains the keyboard and paralyzes the most daring of wills [Avellaneda, 1986), and that its syndrome self-transfers itself, even in the most remote of exiles, and in spite of enjoying guarantees and free press devices (Foster, 1987, 97). Indeed, there is no doubt that terror has the power of breaking all consciousness and is able to turn a hero into a coward, and even into a traitor, as in fact has historically happened in many instances (Bodei, 1995, 163-165). Undoubtedly, Halperín’s case is not one of treason, nor can one attribute ignorance of the cruel reality taking place in Argentina. But then, what brought about so much omission and self-censorship, and so much forgetfulness, so much scorn or contempt at others’ defeat and tragedy (politically speaking)? Can you be a man of science, an artist or an
internationally renown intellectual, and be blind and deaf to a pervasive secret such as the Argentine holocaust? Is this about a selfish, narcissistic and/or cynical attitude, the result of a psychological, social and/or national identity crisis of someone who no longer cared to go back to his homeland, or as a warlock’s apprentice who felt “...had lost control of his own product and heritage”? Or of someone who was unaware of the international weight of his own political opinion (Bauman, 1995)? Or, rather, was it not a matter of an ironic pessimism, the same thinking some authors practice to first understand fear and war and then condemn it (González, 1997, 122), a mental strategy that has nevertheless led certain current American intellectuality (Richard Rorty, Michael Walzer, Bernard Lewis, etc.) to encourage the Iraq War? Or are we simply faced with an emotional distress inflicted upon oneself, a kind of slow and lengthy suicide of someone who was never a keen political activist nor intended to be a moral example or symbol whatsoever?

The case is complex because Halperín did not remain idle in USA, he would frequently travel to Buenos Aires, he went to Mexico to share academic events with exiled Argentine intellectuals, he had phone contact with the cultural elite of the Di Tella Institute and CEDES/CISEA, and he probably intervened off the record to rescue Emilio de Ipola from his kidnapping. We therefore ask ourselves, no one from Di Tella (Botana, Gallo, Cortés Conde), or from the CEDES/CISEA (Romero Jr., O'Donell, J. Sábato, Caputo) or those exiled in Mexico (Puiggrós, Jitrik, Aricó, Assadourian, Chiaramonte, Portantiero, Pucciarelli, Constantini, Giardinelli, Borón, etc.), Canada (Nun, Murmis), France (Saer, Garavaglia), England (Tandeter, H. Sábato, Míguez), Brazil (Pomer, González), Ecuador (Roig), or Venezuela (Plá, Calello), demanded he then take on a public attitude in the US consistent with his liberal and humanitarian ideas and with his previous dignified resignation from the University of Buenos Aires [UBA] (1966)? No one reproached his silence nor hinted what his mentor José Luis Romero (deceased in January 1976) would have done under such circumstances?  For what reason or reasons didn’t these hints or insinuations occur? It could be said, then, that in exile there was no political friendship whatsoever nor did its members know or visit each other but, why did his closest colleagues hide or consent to his moral weaknesses? Why is it that his most notorious critics, among which were Carlos Altamirano and Jorge Myers, haven’t mentioned any of these painful absences?

As far as Halperín’s political behavior, why was he not consistent with the commitment displayed during the struggle against Peronism prior to ‘55 (Contorno, Sur), or when the Argentine Revolution (1966) took place, at which time he gave up his chair at the University and opted for exile? Or is it that the tyrannical change of events we suffered during the Military Process was less cruel or bloody than those endured during the times of well known torturers (Lombilla, Amoresano and the Cardozo brothers, 1950-54), or in the time of the Argentine Revolution (1966)? Or is it that the Military Process victims (1976-82) didn’t deserve an advocacy similar to that of those who were tortured and murdered during the first Peronist period (Bravo, Ingalinella)? If, as a result of the Noche de los Bastones Largos [Night of the Long Sticks] (1966), Halperín resigned from his university chair and futilely looked for the protection and shelter of our Nobel Prize and CONICET President Bernardo Houssay, what leading attitude should he have taken ten (10) years
later, when in his long exile the Videla Coup (1976) and subsequent “disappearances” of colleagues and former disciples occurred? Was it right for him to have judged these crimes against humanity under the Theory of the Two Demons or with Guariglia’s doctrine (1987)? (Report to Tulio Halperín Donghi by Felipe Pigna, 2002:

We will be told, then, that this Halperín was not the same as he once was, that circumstances have changed, that those twenty (20) years gone by from the fall of Perón (1955); can change anyone, and that Halperín never alleged having been exiled nor did he try to come back or be a moral symbol or paradigm whatsoever, but that he no longer could bear the northern winters or loneliness, and that he was skeptical, unconscious of his own moral power, nostalgic and tired. That same recurrent tiredness that overwhelmed our Asturias Prize Ernesto Sábato when he refused to go into exile and visited Videla instead to beg for the “disappeared” poets (Urondo, Bustos, Santoro, etc.). Or our Nobel Prize Houssay when he accepted to continue with the CONICET Presidency during Onganía’s Dictatorship (1966-71), in turn emulating Mariano R. Castex’ “moral fatigue” in giving up when accepting the post of Vice-Chancellor of the UBA in the time of Uriburu dictatorship (1930). The latter emulating the exhaustion of Juvenilia author Senator Miguel Cané and that of the author of "The National Tradition" and Minister of the Interior Joaquín V. González when the Ley de Residencia (Residence Act) or the expulsion of “undesirable” foreigners was imposed (1902). And the latter in turn copied the capitulations practiced in times of Rosas (1836-1852) by the later reputed codifier Dalmacio Vélez Sársfield. But, can moral fatigue reproduce itself in the intellectual elites as just another cultural pattern, and can the spiritual resignation this entails be accepted without demanding any right of inventory at all?  Can this reflex mechanism be accepted, that of a “perpetual  return”, of someone who paradoxically devoted his life to probe into the behavior and “pathetic miseries” of patrician elites?

What is the responsibility and ethical virtues of a modern intellectual elite in dull and drab times?  Aren’t they justice, truth and truthfulness, without which “...the corrupting power of institutions couldn’t be resisted”   [MacIntyre, 1984)?  What are the roles members of an elite should serve under gruesome circumstances? Aren’t they those same “stable fly or sting” roles (Todorov, 1991), or those of  "legislator and guide" which Halperín himself refers to constantly in his work (Altamirano, 1997, 21)?  Wasn’t this the attitude adopted during the Military Process by David Viñas, Osvaldo Bayer and Gregorio Selser? and in times of the Nazi threat, María Rosa Oliver, Victoria Ocampo and Renata Donghi de Halperín (mother of Tulio Halperín Donghi), and even more remotely Echeverría, Mármol and Varela (Generation of 1837), issues Halperín spoke about in depth more than a decade ago (Halperín Donghi, 1987), and upon which he also narrated one of the most beautiful and memorable pages of Argentine historiography [A Nation for the Argentine Desert]? Can an intellectual elite relinquish moral responsibilities? Can it stop telling the truth to everyone and at all times? Can it remain indifferent, motionless and disciplined vis-à-vis tragedy, whatever the ideology? Can such intellectual leadership, in case of deserting, pretend to continue setting itself up as an elite and demand acknowledgment as such? Shouldn’t it provide some explanation or self-criticism?

This is the issue we should address now. Those who serve and have served Halperín as a complacent and subservient court, and have even reproduced in its shadow a kind of patron-client network at an international scale, pretend to go on holding the academic power, as if nothing at all had happened in the country, as if the surrenders of the past  –even those that took place during the times of Afonsín, Menem, De la Rúa and Duhalde-- had been for free, and no one had to pay a price for them, as if all this disciplining were a title of honor to seek when, the truth is, they
deserve the harsh treatment of a critique which is lacking till this day, and why not also the treatment of some moral tribunal?


Altamirano, Carlos (1997): Hipótesis de lectura (sobre el tema de los intelectuales en la obra de Tulio Halperín Donghi), en Roy Hora y Javier Trímboli, comp., Discutir Halperín. Siete ensayos sobre la contribución de Tulio Halperín Donghi a la historia argentina (Buenos Aires: Ed. El Cielo por Asalto), 17-29;

Avellaneda, Andrés (1986): Censura, autoritarismo y cultura: Argentina, 1960-1983 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, Biblioteca Política Argentina, nos.: 156-158);

Bauman, Zygmunt (1995): Legislators and Interpreters (Polity Press);

Bodei, Remo (1995): Geometría de las Pasiones. Miedo, Esperanza, Felicidad: Filosofía y Uso Político (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica);

Foster, David William (1987): Los Parámetros de la Narrativa Argentina durante el "Proceso de Reorganización Nacional", en Daniel Balderston, et. al., Ficción y política: la narrativa argentina durante el proceso militar (Buenos Aires: Alianza), 96-108;

González, Horacio (1997): Culpa y escarmiento. Cómo habla la historia en el terror, en Roy Hora y Javier Trímboli, comp., Discutir Halperín Siete ensayos sobre la contribución de Tulio Halperín Donghi a la historia argentina (Buenos Aires: Ed. El Cielo por Asalto), 113-124;

Guariglia, Osvaldo (1987): "La condena a los ex-comandantes y la ley de extinción de las causas: un punto de vista ético", Buenos Aires: Vuelta Nº9, 9 a 13 pp.

Halperín Donghi, Tulio (1987): El Presente transforma el Pasado: El Impacto del Reciente Terror en la Imagen de la Historia Argentina, en Daniel Balderston, et. al., Ficción y política: la narrativa argentina durante el proceso militar (Buenos Aires: Alianza), 71-95;

MacIntyre, Alasdair (1984): After Virtue (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press);

Myers, Jorge (1997): Tulio Halperín Donghi y la historia de la Argentina contemporánea, en Roy Hora y Javier Trímboli, comp., Discutir Halperín Siete ensayos sobre la contribución de Tulio Halperín Donghi a la historia argentina (Buenos Aires: Ed. El Cielo por Asalto), 155-178;

Todorov, Tzvetan (1991): Les morales de l´histoire (Paris: Ed. Grasset y Fasquelle);


Posts: 0 | Posted: 10:39 PM on August 8, 2003 | IP

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Collaborationism with State Terrorism in Argentine Culture during the last Dictatorship (1976-83)

                      by Eduardo R. Saguier
               Senior Researcher--CONICET

In a previous article of my authorship, I centered myself exclusively around the "moral indifference" figure, a sort of intermediate point between resistance and collaborationism extremes.[1] I would like to point out now in a deeper way over collaborationist connotations and nature, and over the complicity of de facto governments which practise state terrorism.

It is old as the world collaboration with despotic regimes, as the Egyptians pharahons can attest, Roman emperors, medieval popes, absolute monarchies, nineteenth century dictatorships and modern totalitarianism (fascism, nazism, stalinism). But it is also true that not all collaborationist regimes were of the same entity, as through human history different types of collaborationism were given, starting with collaborationism obtained by torture, through venal or economic collaborationism,  and through institutional and ideological collaborationism, as to achieve the maximum degree with state collaborationism, grade given during the last world wars by the states menaced by conquer or invasion (ej. Vichy France, Horthy's Hungary, Quisling's Norway).

In the lowest levels of the scale, the most hypocrite of the rotten or economic-tactical collaborationism was orientated towards the mere economic interest, as our history shows in innumerable examples in the recent past as well in remote situations. It is impossible to forget the political behaviour of the Communist Party during Videla's government for the purpose of warranting the corn sale to the Soviet Union. We remember always the Industrial Union behaviour, the Rural Society one and that of our great newspapers, interested voraciously in the Papel Prensa's public tender, which belonged to the Graiver-Papaleo family.

As far as institutional collaborationism is concerned we must establish a new difference in outlook, as union, clergy, education and culture collaborationism took place, which were not for free, as in the case of our union bureaucracy seduced by the control of trade-union social assistance, in case of the education bureaucracy with the granting of professional degrees, in the case of the church with the maintenance of the army's vicarage and the coverup of clergy's pedophilia and in the case of cultural collaborationism, as in the National Academies, they were bought with a lentil soup (subsidies for international congresses with the consequent presidential paying of humble respects publicly advertised).

As far as intellectual collaborationism is concerned it was the highest in the rank of responsibilities, as they were the more perverse and deleterious taking into account that they legitimated intellectually, in an active or passive way, the oppression and genocide, which have innumerable precedents in the history of mankind, unanimously condemned by historic judgement. This ideological collaborationism can be likewise segregated in mass media, university and scientific collaborationism, each one having also a different reach in the population. Certainly, the one which accounts with the largest dosis of responsibility is the mass media collaborationism, as it took over the task, during the last and genocidal dictatorship, to feed an irrational and blind hatred against the so called "subversives" and after the mentioned dictatorship, tried curiously to take on a pacifying role claiming for peace and forgetfulness, divulging until repletion the THEORY OF THE TWO DEMONS. Likewise, this mass media collaborationism must be segregated in written, radio and TV collaborationism, the same accounting with different reaches, where written collaborationism reaches the highest classes and the radio-TV media collaborationism (e.g.: Neustadt-Grondona´s political show) flooded common population [2]

The written collaboration analysis must be taken into account precisely not due to terrorist press and its lackey journalists (e.g.: newspaper Convicción) or the confiscated press (e.g.: La Opinion) but for two articles, published on Saturday August 16th, 2003, on La Nacion newspaper, signed by journalists Felix Luna and Santiago Kovadloff, in which those intellectuals confuse on purpose the historic truth by not differing state terrorism practised by legitimate governments (Triple A gang) from that practised by illegitimate governments, giving way to a known demonic theogony, metamorphosed with a dignified varnish of jesuit characteristics. How is it possible that Felix Luna, who aside from being a journalist acts as an historian, who shows himself "sad" and "confused" because a legitimate government tries to judge the dark past of an illegitimate government which has still not been punished? How is it possible that Luna the historian evokes with praise the firing of Cuitiño, Badia, Alen and other fellow murderers (Mazorqueros during Rosas dictatorship in the first half of the Nineteenth century) and I also suppose the death sentence of aide-de-camp Antonino Reyes, practised by State of Buenos Aires authorities, for simultaneously discrediting that praise supporting the idea that it was a cleaning out (blanqueo) by the city of Buenos Aires people, of Rosas terrorism accomplice, and in exchange when he refers to our own present reality, where they prevail the non still-punished state terrorists  (who have not been duly judged, not even dreaming of their execution) he tries to suggest a convenient contradictory, cynical and eternal amnesia? How is it possible that historian Luna calls for the closing of a Pandora box when his own person, from the Todo es Historia journal, tired himself of using during the Proceso a domestic institutional self-censorship, and I want to believe free from official advertising --similar to that practised by Pedro de Angelis in Rosas' Buenos Aires-- its publication never being forbidden nor censored?

How is it possible that a lucid journalist as Santiago Kovadloff falls into the Bicephalous Demon theory implementation equaling state terrorists to those that for better or worse tried to resist uselessly and daringly state terrorism? From which other way could be interpreted of his equal characterization of "inflexibility", "intolerance", "intransigence" and "aversion", expressed from a newspaper which in times of the Proceso kept a prudent and accomplice silence over State Terrorism? Or is it that those newspapers search rented penmanship to avoid investigation of its own corrupt collaboration with State Terrorism?

I must point out that for state terrorism to be definitively erased from the people and civil society justified fears not only the material authors of crimes against human rights should be prosecuted and condemned but also identify and punish the state-terrorism intellectual collaborators.


(1) see Eduardo R. Saguier: Moral Indifference during Dictatorship about the Desaparecidos on the part of an Argentine Intellectual Elite. The Halperín Donghi Case.

(2) see Avellaneda, 1986; and Knudson, 1997.


Avellaneda, Andrés (1986): Censura, autoritarismo y cultura: Argentina, 1960-1983 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, Biblioteca Política Argentina, nos.: 156-158);

Knudson, Jerry W. (1997): Veil of silence: the Argentine  press and the Dirty War, 1976-1983. (Latin American Perspectives, 24:6, Nov. 1997, p. 93-112, bibl.)

(Edited by saguiere 9/9/2003 at 10:41 AM).

Eduardo R. Saguier

Posts: 9 | Posted: 11:01 PM on September 1, 2003 | IP
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