Charles Malik

poet and writer


Charles H. Malik was born in Bitirram in the Koura district of North Lebanon in 1906. He studied mathematics and physics at the American University of Beirut. In 1932, he studied philosophy under Alfred North Whitehead at Harvard and Martin Hiedegger in Freiburg, Germany. His doctorate (Ph.D., Harvard, 1937) was on the metaphysica of time in the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and Marin Hiedegger.
On returning to Beirut, he set up a philosophy department and cultural studies program at the American University.
In 1945, he represented Lebanon at the San Francisco conference to found the United Nations. He has served as Lebanon's ambassador to the USA (1945-55); President of the UN Economic and Social Council (1948); rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights (1947-48); Lebanon's Minister of Foreign Affairs (1956-58), Minister of National Education and Fine Arts (1956-57), and MP for the Koura region (1957-60). He chaired the third session of the UN General Assembly's Third Committee in Paris, which drafted the text for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, in 1951, succeeded Mrs Roosevelt as President of the Human Rights Commission. In 1958-59, he was President of the UN General Assembly's thirteenth session.

In 1960, he returned to academic life and taught philosophy at a number of universities in the USA. These included Harvard, the American University of Washington, DC, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and Notre Dame University in Indiana. He was professor of philosophy at the American University of Beirut (1962-76) and Jacques Maritain Distinguished Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (1981-83).

Malik wrote a number of books and articles. He died in Beirut on 28 December 1987.
Extracts from the Book Lebanon in Itself of the author (You can order the book online)

Lebanon: Being and Destiny

My study is neither a historical, nor a poetic, nor an imaginary, nor a political study in the narrow sense. All of these are worthy topics of research, but they do not fall within the scope of my treatment. My fundamental outlook is philosophical, human and existential; it penetrates to the truth and grasps it. Whoever does not know this kind of reflection and is not accustomed to precise and rigorous existential discussion, where the subject matter is the human being in his existence and non-existence, might not understand, or might misunderstand, me.

The topic is "the being and destiny of Lebanon". Lebanon is an independent and sovereign state whose independence and sovereignty are recognized by the whole world. I am speaking, therefore, about an international entity that actually exists, not about an entity that exists only in the mind but which I and others are trying to bring about into actual international existence. Inquiring into an entity that exists only in the mind is a possible and noble inquiry, but such an inquiry is not my topic now. Furthermore, what exists only in the mind could not, in actuality, come to exist one day, except through, by means and on the basis of, an actually existing being. What actually exists is justified by its sheer existence. But what exists only in the mind requires justification. Without the coming together of real constituents in the actually existent, it would not exist in the first place. Had it not been that it wants its existence and the world accepts that existence, it would not exist to begin with. And I, to be sure, assume that the coming together of those real constituents in relation to Lebanon will continue, namely, that its will to survive and the world's acceptance of its existence, shall endure. Thus, the subject of which I speak, of which I attribute and predicate, in all that I say, is a real, standing, definite, firm, independent, and lasting entity that wants to remains in existence, and the world acknowledges its right to exist and its right to remain in existence.

To say that something actually exists is to say that thing is distinguished from another absolutely, otherwise it would not actually be. If that which exists is a mere extension of another thing, it would not mean something distinct from the other. In this case, its independent existence would be removed, and thus it would not mean anything in itself. Since we are in the presence of an independent, actually existing entity - Lebanon - it is necessary that there be something that distinguishes that entity absolutely from another entity.

The question, then, poses itself: what are the characteristics that define Lebanon in itself and that distinguish it decisively from other things, such that if you say "Lebanon", you mean precisely those characteristics, and if those characteristics should disappear, Lebanon would no longer be?

There are ten such characteristics:

- The unique mountain,
- The remarkable Lebanese village,
- The distinctive touristic position of Lebanon,
- Lebanon's marvelous international trade,
- The phenomenon of Lebanese emigration with all that it means historically and existentially,
- The wonderful and tolerant Christian-Muslim coexistence,
- Existential and responsible freedom,
- Openness to the world in space and time,
- Lebanon's modest intellectual significance in the Middle East and the world, and
- Lebanon's modest contribution in the international arena.

First, Lebanon means those unique mountains in the Near East, that nature which God has endowed with a beauty that surpasses almost all natural beauty, that moderate climate that people from all over the Near East repair to for relaxation, summering and recreation.

There is no other country in the Middle East, and it may also be a rarity in the whole world, where the mountain dominates the life, mentality, direction and destiny of human beings as Mount Lebanon dominates the life, mentality, direction and destiny of the Lebanese. Lebanon and Mount Lebanon are almost synonymous. Historically and existentially, Mount Lebanon has meant immunity and separation from the desert, and an orientation and point of departure towards the Mediterranean Sea. This meaning has been decisive for its destiny to a great extent.

In its mountains and nature, then, Lebanon is totally distinct from others, and without them Lebanon would not be.

Lebanon: Heritage and Eternity