You can read 9 more articles this month
The End of the French Intellectual
by Shlomo Sand
PHILOSOPHER Bertrand Russell once claimed that Britain was the only country where he could not identify himself as an intellectual.
While this country might not “do” intellectuals, the French embrace them with a vengeance. Or, according to Israeli author Shlomo Sand, they did up until the present.
The French have always accorded the producers of “high culture” an eminent status and the Parisian intellectuals from the time of Voltaire and Rousseau have wielded an influence over public opinion quite alien to the more prosaic British.
Yet the term intellectual as a noun only came into general usage in the late 19th century, when the convulsive Dreyfus affair tore the country apart. Leading men of letters took sides, with Emile Zola’s devastating J’Accuse spearheading the attack on the government and French hypocrisy in general.
In modern times, the likes of Jean Paul Sartre — “the most emblematic and famous critical intellectual of the 20th century” — became the voices of social conscience, operating outside the main structures of business or politics. But the first world war, when nearly all intellectuals supported their respective sides in the conflict, marked the decline of their position as moral arbiters speaking in the name of humanity as a whole.
Sand signals his own attitude by quoting Jacques Prevert. “Intellectuals should not be allowed to play with matches” and the core of Sand’s book examines the roles of those many intellectuals who embraced Marxism, particularly in the post-second world war period, and those seduced by “the discreet charm of fascism” which, usefully, he distinguishes from nazism.
Subsequently, in the view of the influential Pierre Bourdieu, the new “advent of the technocrats … has displaced intellectuals from the public arena.” Moreover, the possessors of cultural capital have faced a problematic relationship with the developing workers’ movements representing those with no economic capital.
Sand reflects throughout on Judeophobia and, as the writer of the much-praised work The Invention of the Jewish People, he rejects the term anti-semitic. His chapter on the virulent anti-Islamic atmosphere in France centred on the Charlie Hebdo massacre asks, and answers, the question, “Why did more than four million French people parade under a slogan that identified them with a totally irresponsible and Islamophobic magazine?” It will make many readers re-examine the current anti-Corbyn diatribes and their motives.
This hugely informative and highly readable book is written with an engaging humility. Sand laments that just when he has achieved the status to which he has always aspired that “the moral intellectual stands in a twilight zone” and that “this strange creature of pluralist democracy” is on the decline.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.