Skip to comments.French Intellectuals take off the gloves in slugfest over `new reactionaries'
Posted on 12/16/2002 4:52:05 AM PST by Oldeconomybuyer
PARIS, Dec 16, 2002 (AP WorldStream via COMTEX) -- It doesn't take much to rile France's intellectuals.
All historian Daniel Lindenberg had to do was publish a 94-page book in October accusing the country's academic elite of becoming "new reactionaries."
The verbal fireworks began immediately.
For weeks Lindenberg has been pilloried in the country's top newspapers and magazines. Le Monde put the brawl on its front page - pushing a suicide bombing in Israel that killed 11 to page three.
The firestorm might seem overstated to some. But in France, where philosophers become media stars and politicians depict themselves as deep thinkers, the debate is one of the cultural events of the season.
The tumult also comes as France reassesses its democratic identity in the aftermath of the surprisingly strong showing of the far-right National Front in presidential elections in April.
Lindenberg's work, its title roughly translated as "The call to order: Survey of the new reactionaries," details a new conservative tide in French intellectual circles.
According to Lindenberg, a supporter of the Socialist Party voted out of office in June, France's erstwhile leftist thinkers are turning away from once-sacred beliefs: liberal democracy, moral freedom, human rights and equality.
"There is unarguably a new feel in the air," Lindenberg writes. "'The Times are changing,' sang Bob Dylan in the light of the summer of 1965. To take up that refrain again today would not be understood in the same way."
For the targets of Lindenberg's attack - many of whom began their careers denouncing Soviet totalitarianism and championing liberal democracy - the book has hit like a left hook to the jaw.
They have reacted in kind. Lindenberg has been compared to followers of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, accused of stifling free speech and called a sloppy researcher.
"This attempt to make our concerns and free thought seem fascist is derisory and monstrous," wrote a group of intellectuals in a two-page manifesto published in L'Express magazine last week. "We are honored to be the target."
The manifesto - which dismissed Lindenberg's work as a "witch hunt" - defended intellectuals' right to discuss public concerns about crime and the decline of public education, and to question such things as immigration policy.
"If we are so 'called to order,' it's because we are linked to another plot that's intolerable to the ideologues: contrary to them, we want to discuss on the basis of reality," the missive said.
Lindenberg said the backlash against his book has come as a surprise, and he charged some of the allegations against him are "unjust and often even defamatory."
But he said the violence of the reaction just proves his point.
"I've touched on a real problem: the slippage toward conservative and frankly reactionary positions by whole sections of French society and a portion of intellectuals," he said.
The debate and the high-profile coverage it's getting have been criticized by some as a sign of how inward-looking France's intellectual elite has become.
Indeed, that elite has seen better days. In its heyday in the decades following World War II, philosophers and writers like existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre were hailed as moral leaders.
France's academics have since declined in prestige as the left lost its attractiveness and the wide availability of higher education diluted their mystique.
But Jean-Philippe Mathy, a professor at University of Illinois/Urbana who has written about French intellectual history, sees the brawl as a sign of healthy discussion about France's future.
That discussion now pits those who embrace individuality and liberal values against those who want to preserve a French identity amid rising immigration and globalization.
The conflict has taken on new urgency with the fall of the Socialist government and the strong show of support for anti-crime, anti-immigration policies in the spring election season.
"I think they're trying to ... contribute to a debate on ideas about where French democracy is going, because the politicians aren't doing it," he said. "And I think they have a point."
Sacre Bleu! An intellectual and a comic genius or the French.
"Now, go away, or I shall taunt you a second time-a!
Yes, we can't have anybody out of lockstep. Or is that goosestep?
Um, only by Marxist ideologues who considered mass murder a highly "moral" activity. Sartre was an apologist for Stalin. In "Humanism and Terror", Merleau-Ponty defended torture and murder because Russian communists committed them. Kojeve defended tyranny. Fanon glorified murder of whites overseas as "the violence of the oppressed". These are not lesser lights, they are the stars of the post-war French pantheon. The French left only repudiated Stalin after Kruschev did - still taking orders.
Sounds like the writer of the piece is upset there are any French writers, anywhere, who aren't still listening to some communist international and parroting its party line in flowery language.
Since when have those things
been matched up?! What a
bogus and artificial
of the scummy left
to piggy-back something good
with their own rubbish.
Those lefties including this Lindenberge fellow have been making up the new "Ancient Regime" which is buckling now judging from this guy's howl.