by Hamida Hamida

Interview with Stephen Schlesinger

6 years ago | Posted in: Interviews | 4557 Views

Stephen Schlesinger is a Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation in New York City. He is the former Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School (1997-2006) and former publisher of the quarterly magazine, The World Policy Journal. Mr. Schlesinger received his BA from Harvard University, a certificate of study from Cambridge University and a JD from Harvard Law School. In the early 1970s, he edited and published The New Democrat Magazine. Thereafter he spent four years as a staff writer at Time Magazine. For twelve years, he served as New York State Governor Mario Cuomo’s speechwriter and foreign policy advisor. In the mid 1990s, he worked at the United Nations at Habitat, the agency dealing with cities.

Tell us something about yourself, early age, schooling and college life?

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an academic family, where my two grandfathers, my father and my uncle all taught at Harvard University. I attended a boarding school called Exeter, then Harvard College and later Harvard Law School. Ultimately I did not practice law — instead I became a journalist for Time Magazine, later an author or editor of some five books, a governmental official (for Gov Mario Cuomo of New York State), a UN official (for Habitat), and the director of a foreign policy think-tank at the New School University in New York City

You are the author of several books Act of Creation, Bitter Fruit, The New Reformers. How much time was required for research and collecting data for each of them? Did you have the support of certain institutions and academics for your books?

I did all of my books without any outside support — though, in each case, I got a modest advance from a publishing house. My first book (The New Reformers) took two years, my second book (Bitter Fruit) took five years, and my third book (Act of Creation) took nine years.

How seriously was the UN taken when it was first established? How much skepticism was there in the efficiency of UN in achieving everything for which it was established?

The UN was taken very seriously when it was first established. After two catastrophic world wars, the global community was determined to prevent a third world war from breaking out — and the UN’s establishment appeared to guarantee an end to all conflicts. But once the Cold War began, the UN was, for the most part, on the sidelines until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

How much has the UN actually met the expectations in terms of its efficiency? Is it still far from even approximate perfection in its functioning?

The UN has never had an army, an independent budget, any taxing powers, or elected leaders. It is a collection of states which, if any problems are to be solved, must work together under the UN’s umbrella . Unless there is a consensus among member-states, though, the UN cannot function efficaciously in any situation, especially in conflict situations.

The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded after the end of the First World War,  and its  primary goalwas to maintain world peace. According to you, what was the main cause of the failure of the League of Nations?

The failure of the League of Nations was due to three major problems — first, every country in the League had the veto, so a single rogue state could block any League action; second, in any case, none of the League’s edicts were binding on any member-state — so each state decided on a voluntary basis whether to adhere to League pronouncements; third, the United States, which had led the fight for the League, did not join it in the end, dramatically weakening it from its inception.

How much did Roosevelt benefit and learn from the examples of those failures of the League of Nations in establishing a similar organization?

Roosevelt learned several important lessons from the League’s failure. First, he made sure that the US joined the UN. Second, he decided to invest all the powers to make war and peace decisions in a Security Council at the UN — and its edicts were binding on all member-states. Third, he demanded that only five countries be permanent members of the Council with veto power — the most powerful lands of 1945 — France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the US and China. Fourth, he made sure that the UN dealt not just with conflicts, but global economic, social and environmental problems.

Because of dissatisfaction with politicians who are elected by voting, citizens often protest, accusing politicians that they have not fulfilled their promises and their expectations. In what ways, apart from voting, can average citizens influence politics? How much are people aware of their political power?

The most potent weapon that citizens have, outside of the voting power, is to form outside lobbying groups to publicize their concerns and put pressure on governmental officials and legislatures to listen to their complaints.

Throughout the history of existence of conservatives and liberals, there has always been a huge gap between them. What are the main differences that separate them? Which side has more political influence in the USA?

Right now in the USA, the power of liberal and conservatives is evenly balanced. The liberals control the presidency (and the US Senate) but the conservatives control the House of Representatives — and the two sides cancel each other out.The main differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals believe in affirmative and expansive government while conservatives believe in limited government.

Your future plans?

My future plans are to focus on the work of the United Nations and write a memoir.



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