(asked by Araminta, Oxfordshire, UK)
Hi there, very interesting blog by the way.
I would like to know your opinion on les Intellectuels in France. Who would you say the main intellectuels are at the moment and what is their political orientation? Some seem to claim to be de gauche (liberal) while supporting politicians de droite (conservative). How would you define un intellectuel? Is it enough for them to be intelligent and write books on science/philosophy/sociology or must they also be fully in the public eye and appear frequently in the media? Would you say the young scientist Esther Duflo could count as a modern intellectual as suggested by John Lichfield in the Independant?
Thanks for your question and for the compliment.
Your question is very interesting, although very hard to answer.
Thankfully, you asked for my opinion, so I can afford to be subjective on this one.
So, my answer to “who do I think are the main intellectuals in France at the moment?” is a pretty easy one: none, zilch, nothing.
Claude Lévi-Strauss died in 2009 and if I’m not wrong, he was the last French “intellectual”. For some reason, I feel another one died in 2010 but I can’t find who he could be, so maybe not.
In any case, that’s it. It’s over, no more French Intellectual. Possibly for the first time since they started (who was the first one? Descartes?), we don’t have a single one.
Yes, another domain where France lost its influence.
Clowns, that we do have in numbers. Just turn the TV on, and sooner than later, you will find a talk show with people debating the current events and all pretending/acting as if they are the descendants of Voltaire and Sartre, but that’s a lie. They’re just vain clowns.
And yes, most of these clowns pretend to be leftist (because an intellectual is always a leftist, isn’t he? It goes with the title) while supporting conservative and right wing politicians, because this is where the power is in France nowadays, and as those people are courtiers (or court jesters, it depends, sometimes both at the same time) they do support whoever is in power.
Is it enough for them to be intelligent and write books on science/philosophy/sociology or must they also be fully in the public eye and appear frequently in the media?
Here you’re touching the heart of the issue really. Because in all honesty, there still are intellectuals in France, but they are in their offices, in their labs and wherever else real researchers and thinkers are, not in the public eye and in front of a camera.
Yes, there are many brilliant and influential people in France, people like Esther Duflo (whom I didn’t know previously… see, real intellectuals are unknown nowadays), who you won’t see debating the latest breaking news on TV, nor dine at the Élysée Palace. The only public place where you can see them are in the Collège de France indeed, a place where not a single of these clowns has the single chance to ever go (except as an attendee of course).
Just a few more lines to mention the name I’ve been alluding to since the very beginning of this post (and this is his picture, one of my favorite picture of him), that is Bernard Henri Levy.
I don’t know how he became famous in the English speaking world, but please English speaking people, please, stop thinking that this guy is worth anything. He is one of the vainest sycophants I have ever seen in my life.
He is totally full of shit. He has never done nor wrote anything that would even remotely qualify him as an “intellectual.” The only thing he’s good at is weaving his network of influential people in order to become influential himself. Nowadays, he has reached the pinnacle of that career as he is good friends with Sarkozy (who is totally uncultured and uneducated and who probably thinks that Levy is a real intellectual). The problem is that now he has a real influence. And that my friends is a scary thought.