John Malkovich

December 9

John Malkovich (1953)

It was on this date, December 9, 1953, that American actor John Gavin Malkovich was born in Christopher, Illinois. John Malkovich was educated at Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University. At age 30 he won an Obie award for an off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard's play True West, then starred with Dustin Hoffman in a 1984 Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. That same year he won an Oscar nomination for playing a blind man in the film Places in the Heart.

An unusual leading man in such films as Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Malkovich followed on as a would-be presidential assassin in 1993's In the Line of Fire, for which he copped another Oscar nomination, and in 1999 with possibly the only film to star a living actor with his name also in the title, Being John Malkovich. Malkovich co-founded Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago with long-time pal Gary Sinise, who co-starred with him in the 1992 film Of Mice and Men. Malkovich made his film directing debut in 2002 with The Dancer Upstairs.

In 2000, Malkovich was in Chicago to direct the play "Hysteria" at Steppenwolf. Martha Lavey for WTTW Chicago asked Malkovich his thoughts on Freud, the subject of the play:

I think he was fantastic, a fantastic man. ... I also particularly like him because he was an atheist, and I grew tired of religion some time not long after birth. I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don't believe something I can have absolutely no evidence of for millenniums. And it's funny — people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and they go to church...*
In a 2003 issue of the Australian magazine The Age, the interviewer says of John Malkovich, "He considers himself a libertarian, a liar (but only to entertain himself) and an atheist."**

* Interview by Martha Lavey for "Artbeat Chicago", WTTW-TV (PBS), January 6, 2000.
** Profile, "Being John Malkovich," in The Age (Australia), April 26, 2003, reprinted from Telegraph Magazine.

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Peter Kropotkin


Peter Kropotkin (1842)

It was also on this date, December 9, 1842, that Russian geographer Peter (Pyotr) Alexeyevich Kropotkin was born in Moscow into a noble family. As a 15-year-old, he was a page to the Tsar and later served as attaché to the Governor of Siberia. At age 22 Kropotkin was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his explorations, and his star was on the rise in the Tsarist service until, in 1872, he joined the Socialist movement. His political leanings got Kropotkin confined to prison. He escaped to Switzerland, but moved on to France, where he was again imprisoned before he could deliver a series of anarchist lectures called The State: Its Historic Role.*

In a work called Anarchist Morality, Kropotkin recognizes the foundation of morals has nothing to do with religion:

If man distinguishes between good and evil, say theologians, it is God who has inspired him with this idea. Useful or hurtful is not for him to inquire; he must merely obey the fiat of his creator. ... Others have tried to explain the fact by law... They know that law has merely utilized the social feelings of man, to slip in, among the moral precepts he accepts, various mandates useful to an exploiting minority ... [The Utilitarians] will have it that man acts morally from self-interest ... It is again to the thinkers of the eighteenth century that we are indebted for having guessed, in part at all events, the origin of the moral sentiment. ... In a fine work, The Theory of Moral Sentiment [1759], left to slumber in silence by religious prejudice... Adam Smith has laid his finger on the true origin of the moral sentiment. He does not seek it in mystic religious feelings; he finds it simply in the feeling of sympathy.**
Prince Kropotkin was a pacifist and an Agnostic in the mold of Leo Tolstoy.

* The State: Its Historic Role, 1897, can be found at this link.
** Anarchist Morality, 1897. The text can be found at this link.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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