Lead book review

Liberty, philosophy and 246 types of cheese

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

Sudhir Hazareesingh’s bold new book is built on the assumption that ‘it is possible to make meaningful generalisations about the shared intellectual habits of a people as diverse and fragmented as the French’. France, as General de Gaulle pointed out, has such a fetish for singularity that it produces 246 varieties of cheese. Can France be any more a nation of thinkers than England is of shopkeepers?

Hazareesingh, an Oxford don, brings specific strengths to this daunting task. He was born and raised in Mauritius, a former French and British colony, in the 1970s, where his father was principal private secretary to Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam; he was schooled on French classics; he is a historian of ideas who divides his time between Oxford and Paris; and he has a sense of humour to match his intellect. Hazareesingh’s portrait is affectionate in the fullest sense: familiar and fondly teasing.

The sharp contrast between French speculative thinking and English empiricism is captured in the classic French saying: ‘tant pis pour les faits’, roughly translated as ‘so much the worse for the facts’. Hazareesingh notes that on this side of the Channel we often bemoan the French deductive method of reasoning pioneered by René Descartes, which starts with a general, abstract proposition, then works through to a particular, sometimes specious or trivial, conclusion. The method is notoriously vulnerable to deductive fallacies of this kind: All birds have beaks. That creature has a beak. Therefore it is a bird. Gerry Cohen, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford, outlined the pitfalls in his essay: ‘Why One Kind of Bullshit Flourishes in France.’

But French thinking is also potent. Hazareesingh begins by analysing the then foreign minister Dominique de Villepin’s speech at the UN Security Council debate about sanctioning the use of force against Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Villepin argued: ‘We are the guardians of an ideal, the guardians of a conscience. The heavy responsibility and the immense honour which is ours should lead us to give priority to peaceful disarmament.’ He spoke eloquently of universal principles, which happened to coincide exactly with French national interests.

Villepin’s speech drew on a long tradition of French thinking that Hazareesingh traces back to the aftermath of the second world war, to the Revolution of 1789, and beyond. The tradition comprises some distinctive habits: the presentation of ideas through overarching frameworks; a preference for considering questions in their essence rather than in their particular manifestations; a fondness for apparent contradictions; and a tendency to frame issues around binary oppositions.


Hazareesingh assembles a gallery of French intellectuals who exemplify this tradition. Auguste Comte (1798–1857), the father of sociology, whose admirers included John Stuart Mill, attempted to integrate all forms of scientific inquiry into an over-arching philosophical system. Among his scientific utopias Comte included: the survival of the brain in several bodies; the mutation of cows and other herbivorous creatures into carnivores; and the realisation of the ideal of the Virgin Mother through procreation without sex. Hazareesingh endorses the view of the Victorian classicist Benjamin Jowett: ‘Comte was a great man. but also mad.’

Bernard-Henri Lévy, in 1978
Bernard-Henri Lévy, in 1978

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009), the father of modern anthropology, challenged the idea that human progress could be achieved through the autonomous choices of rational selfconscious individuals. He was directly inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) — ‘our master and our brother… the most ethnographic of philosophers’. Hazareesingh explains that Lévi-Strauss’s work was

in complete alignment with Rousseau’s social philosophy: to recover the genuine ideal of ‘fraternity’ by separating what was artificial from what was natural in human society.

He mentions playfully that despite Lévi-Strauss’s intellectual fame he regularly received letters asking him for supplies of blue jeans.

Jean Paul Sartre (1905–1980), existentialist philosopher, was the flamboyant personification of the French ‘intellectual’. The term was first coined in the late 19th century to describe public figures such as Émile Zola who campaigned for a revision of the Dreyfus case in the name of the universal ideal of justice. Fifty thousand people followed Sartre’s funeral procession. Hazareesingh argues that ‘what died with Sartre was not only a certain type of radical universalism but also the domination of the French intellectual scene by literary figures’. Through his bohemian lifestyle and contempt for the conventions of ‘bourgeois’ existence Sartre had echoed Rousseau’s rejection of corrupt ‘civilisation’. He could also be ridiculous. In the preface to Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonial work The Wretched of the Earth, Sartre wrote:

To shoot a European is to kill two birds with one stone, eliminating an oppressor and an oppressed; what remains is a dead man and a free man.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, born in 1948, is affectionately but sharply described as the living embodiment of Sartre’s posthumous reputation: ‘the frivolous Saint-Germain-des-Prés dandy and literary celebrity.’ BHL (as he is widely known) defended Sartre passionately in his book Le siècle de Sartre (2000), despite having argued previously that all progressive utopias are ‘catastrophes’. ‘Our dreams go far back but they always turn into bloodbaths,’ BHL pronounced in 1977.

Like the stone Panthéon in the Latin Quarter dedicated to France’s great men, Hazareesingh’s paper pantheon of French intellectuals is male-dominated. He quotes the American feminist Camille Paglia’s sceptical suggestion that the likes of Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) and Michel Foucault (1926–84) were ‘the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality trapped in verbal formulas and perennially defeated by circumstance’. Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86) makes it into the story, but mainly as Sartre’s long-term companion: there is more emphasis on her Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre (1981) than on The Second Sex (1981).

Hazareesingh argues that in retrospect Villepin’s 2003 speech was a turning point: ‘a last piece of French bravado, the dying echo of a tradition of confident universalism whose constitutive elements have slowly dissolved’. Since 2003 there has been a radical loss of confidence in France. One measure of the nation’s cultural imprint diminishing across the globe is the decline in the number of French books translated into English, especially in the human and social sciences.

Hazareesingh’s book was finished in January this year just before the murderous attack on the editors of Charlie Hebdo. How the French Think gives some context to that atrocity. The satirical magazine named itself after the death of Charles de Gaulle in 1970. It is classically anticlerical and leftwing. After revelations in 1976 that Pope Paul VI had had a homosexual experience it carried the headline: ‘I buggered the Pope.’ The recent murders at Charlie Hebdo occurred against a backdrop of concerns about France’s place in a globalised world, the integration of post-colonial minorities, economic and social fractures in French society and declining trust in French elites, including intellectuals.

In 2012 the Magazine Littéraire asked: ‘Does France Still Think?’ Yes, Hazareesingh answers, France has always thought and always will. Its intellectual tradition is too central to national identity to be cast asunder. Even if the bestselling books in 2013 were French translations of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Dan Brown’s Inferno, Hazareesingh is confident that

as they face the challenges of the 21st century, the French will remain the most intellectual of peoples, continuing to produce elegant and sophisticated abstractions about the human condition.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £16 Tel: 08430 600033

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Show comments
  • nick stephan

    As a Romanian by birth, I was brought up in the tradition of the “great” French traditional culture – Paris was so familiar to me – including from history of art books – that when I first arrived there it was a sort of an anti-climax. Implicitly I was taught to admire the French literary style, not in the least the XVIII century moralists. Indeed, France seemed to me to embody par excellence the Intellectual country of Europe. But as the years passed, and I hopefully matured, I came to admire much more the British culture than I thought I would be ever able to. As a whole, and if one can generalize to that extent – just to follow in the author’s footsteps – I should say that Britain is a country of substance, as opposed to France’s superficial but glamorous facade. And maybe this is one of the main reasons why it was Britain, not France, who launched the Moldern World, including the Industrial Revolution. By French standards, Newton and Faraday might not even be recognised as intelectuals. Éloge des intellectuels by Bernard Henry Levy is one of the most pompous books I’ve ever read. And as it happens, I just finished re-reading Malbranche. What a generalised confusion of terms and meanings… and it comes, (un)fortunately, just after re-reading, with immense pleasure, David Hume’s Dialogues on natural religion. What a feast, no wonder Kant claimed it was Hume who woke him up from the dogmatic slumber. I hope for nothing less for the torpeur of the French thinkers.

    • axelscastle

      “But as the years passed, and I hopefully matured, I came to admire much more the British culture.”

      It is absurd to suggest that Newton and Faraday might not have been recognized as “intellectuals” in France. First of all, because they were scientists, not “intellectuals”, like the imbecile who wrote the book reviewed in this article. Secondly, because France has always been hospitable to the natural sciences. Kant btw was a great admirer of Rousseau. Did you even read him in Romania?

      • pearlsandoysters

        I wonder why there’s not a single word about Rene Decartes, who litearally “launched” modernity, at least as we know it. I would also say that national intellectual traditions have common medieval legacy to share, so it’s not very clear to what extent all this “national” speculations are justified. Shakespeare is undeniably English and has become a source of national pride, yet he was a man of the Reniesance, whose lieterary works may be easily interpreted within let’s say Finico school of thought. So, I presume that all this nation talk is a serious exaggeration. Both, Decartes & Hobbes stood at the threshold of modernity, disagreed with one another, being deeply engaged in conceiving “new science”. I seriously doubt that they were concerned with “national intellectual traditions”, they’d rather thought within European tradition of inquiry.

        • Man In Black

          Rene Decartes, who litearally “launched” modernity, at least as we know it

          hmmmmm, I’d say it’s a shared invention of Descartes, Newton, and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

          • pearlsandoysters

            I wouldn’t say “shared”, though modernity went in many shapes & hues. Erasmus being a so called humanism was at loggerheads with Luther and stood for moderate, gradual reform instead of abrupt break. As for Newton, he drew inspiration from the Medeival Jewish mysticism, “the law of attraction” ( law of gravity) was a form of God’s grace for him. Decartes makes it into from row, once he specifically concerned himself with establishing “a new science” that would have certitude at its core. He also believed the allmighty God would not decive the humans in thier perceptions. Science was not that “scientific” in the beginning we often fancy or taught to believe uncritically.

          • Man In Black

            Could quibble this or that, but broadly we agree, so won’t bother 🙂

          • pearlsandoysters

            Thanks for the reply, though I have to say resolutely that I am far from being an admirer of modernity of fan of Enlightenment. The certitude of new science conceived can not be called an unqualified blessing.

          • Man In Black

            I am far from being an admirer of modernity or fan of Enlightenment

            Me neither.

      • Bibi

        ” you only grew rotten, like most anglophiles from backward countries”… I am not going to debase myself answering to that kind of stupidity. I only want to add, yes, I am a very proud admirer of British culture(I say British, not English, because Hume was Scottish, but probably you didn’t know that). And the unfortunate quotation you chose to present is exactly what’s wrong – well, one of the things… – with the French culture, a sort of blind ecstasy when splashed with empty, pompous words, which mean nothing. Just soundbites…

        • I was living in Kyiv during the recent Maidan protests, and their aftermath (incidentally, I’m British). Quite a few times I saw B.H. Levy on the main stage, addressing the protestors assembled in the Square.

          He spoke in English, with translation into Ukrainian. I have to say, the impression he gave me was a kind of ecstasy of … nothing. Lots of flights of fancy about the wonderful Ukrainian Revolution; falsely comparing it to the French one. Nothing about the very many pressing issues of the time, or anything else of concrete relevance.

          Ukrainians tend to be pithy, though with a touch of fanciful dreaminess (hence historical delusions about a perfectible world); but B. H. Levy went right over the listeners’ heads: despite their appreciation of his support, at the end of Levy’s speeches on more than one occasion I saw people turn to their neighbours and enquire ‘So what did he mean?’.

          • nick stephan

            Thank you for sharing these thoughts with the rest of us. I’d
            like myself to share some other thoughts with all the readers, about France, as a cultural model, if it can really offer one. You see, I mentioned I am from Romania, a country traditionally very much Francophile(and Francophone).
            Between the two world wars Bucharest was known as “the little Paris”(not so much for building French-style boulevards but for the huge number of brothels). Even now a good part of the Romanian intelligentsia is looking towards Paris as towards its own Mecca. You can find nowadays books with titles like “Paris, the capital of Romania”…indeed! Since the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe(even the two Romanian principalities had their own very small parts to play in those upheavals), young Romanians went to the west, in search not only for better education, but for gathering support for our national ideals – liberation from the Ottoman Empire and reunification of the whole country, including with Transylvania and
            Banat. The most willing ear they found throughout the second half of the XIX century was France – partially also because of our Latin common heritage. But unfortunately, the new Romania, in absence of a better model, adopted the French extremely bureaucratic style of government, the overcentralized system of administration and, above all, a too much appetite for endless argumentation and an unrealistic trust in the role of intellectuals in politics. But worst of all, from the same France we took the mentality of assisted people(“it’s the duty of the State to solve all of the problems”), on top of which came the feeling of false security instilled by decades of communism. We still look at each new president or prime minister –
            when he is not accused of corruption – as a fatherly figure, prone to bring eternal peace on Earth. Very soon after the fall of communism, a lot of first class French intellectuals – of course, it’s always them at the forefront – were invited to Romania to give advice, on a political scene already taken over by literary critics(incredible, isn’t it), writers, and several self-styled philosophers. André Glucksmann was one of the French guests, very much present in several publications and public meetings. In which quality was he invited ? As a former Maoist thinker, a failed marxist, or a new philosopher(because of his ulterior change of face) ? He
            was as relevant to us as B-H Levy for Ukraine. The French model failed us altogether(I am not overlooking our own responsability, as a nation). Even one of our former prime-ministers, who incidentally took his Phd in France, advised, several years after he was out of office, that we should stop altogether looking to France for inspiration and adopt the anglo-saxon liberal model. I wish for nothing less. We must never forget that it was not the French
            Revolution which brought liberty to Europe – they brought to power butchers like Robespierre and ended with a paranoid named Bonaparte – the quest for it started hundred of years ago, in England, with Magna Carta Libertatum, it went through
            Locke, with his Second Treatise of Civil Government and found his apex in Joh Stuart Mill’s On liberty. This philosopher should be in the hearts of all of us Romanians, and not phantasmagorical French flamboyant figures. We should have invited, after 1990, people like Richard Branson, not former Maoists like Andre Gluksmann… just because he is a French so-called philosopher, form a country of… philosophers.

          • Thanks very much for your views, which I read with interest; I’m with you on all counts, though I lack much knowledge of Romania. However, maybe you can take heart: your new President – Iohannis – seems to have his feet on the ground. His election perhaps marks some turning away from the dependent mentality you mention, as well as general political immaturity.

            I’m afraid that, the way I see it, the whole EU project is infused with the French political spirit – stultifying bureaucracy, a kind of soft-socialist paternalism, a Grand Idea, and all the rest.

            But worth bearing in mind France’s great achievements in the arts and science, and a graceful civic society – I lived in rural France for a few months, and appreciated that experience very much.

            And don’t forget the Frenchmen and women who stand out as truly great thinkers and writers. I read De Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ during the Kyiv winter (as well as reading Locke) and his writing informed the many discussions – often in quite dramatic circumstances – I had with Ukrainians and others. I was affiliated with a group called ‘The Democratic Alliance’ , and even got some of their leadership to read through my English language copy of De Tocqueville – leading into further discussions about how lessons from the US could be applied in Ukraine.

          • pearlsandoysters

            I absolutely adore De Tocqueville, in fact many of his insights are prophetic. However, I do not really see what this great thinker has to do with Ukraine? Could you kindly elaborate on this issue. My take is that democratic delusions so manifest in Ukraine can do nothing to remedy a thoroughly medieval infighting.

          • Hi. I am not saying that I read Locke as some kind of support for my reading of De Tocqueville – just that both were great Enlightenment thinkers, and I got a lot from reading both.

            As regards Ukraine: the conflict there is largely over how society should be organised – this was more so in Maidan times. Any intelligent person could therefore read De Tocqueville or Locke (both philosophers on the nature of society and the state) and directly apply that reading. On many occasions, I found that I might read a comment about, for example, how a person infused with the spirit of liberty behaves (and De Tocqueville clearly contrasts ‘liberty’ with ‘democracy’); or how the state enforces law; or about the nature of law itself; then be faced with some political question, or type of behaviour, that would be illuminated by what I’d just read.

            Incidentally, I’ve always been a bit disappointed that some libertarian types in the West (very notable exception: Dan Hannan, whose analyses re. Ukraine are rock-solid) seem to have misjudged the Ukraine crisis – mainly due to strong dislike of the EU clouding their judgement. I think it still is, and even more strongly was (on Maidan) a clear question of civilisational choices – a return to Soviet style strongmen and authoritarianism (as under Yanukovich, a Putin and Lukashenko-wannabe who would punch bringers of bad news in the ribs and had a ‘hit list’ of journalists and others stuck on the wall of his mansion); one of my colleagues was kidnapped and had his ears cut off. The other choice being a ‘Western’ orientation, towards a more open and accountable state which does not persecute those who disagree – and this strand of thought does have historical roots in pre-Soviet Ukraine.

            To the average Ukrainian, the latter choice is represented by the EU, UN, USA, NATO – though on Maidan they shouted ‘slava Ukraina’, not ‘slava EU’. Some EU bureaucrats – and B. H. Levy – were quick to jump onto the idea that the EU is wildly popular in Ukraine, but this is erroneous; it’s just seen as a vehicle to bring national benefits to Ukraine – as it is in Poland and other eastern Euro. states. And some eastern Euro. political elites are a bit in love with the clubby paternalism of the EU, which actually fits in rather neatly with a Soviet mentality (not saying they are the same – the EU does not kill political dissidents). Nick Stephan (poster above) could elaborate on this, in the Romanian context.

            Furthermore, quite a few anti-EU ers (and I’m one) seem to have latched onto an idea that the Ukraine crisis was in fact partly caused by the EU: this is totally incorrect – I witnessed and analysed the whole thing in great depth and saw little evidence that the EU was anything but a passive and reactive bystander to the big civilisational questions that have been building in Ukraine since independence from the USSR.

          • pearlsandoysters

            Thanks for sharing your perception & understanding of the events. Mine is quite different, I seriously doubt the egalitarian impulse of Maidan & view the upheaval ad a concentrated effort to change the regime by oligarchs ( read medieval barons). The fine point about the Western democracies is that they are often resultant of particular historic circumstances & traditions thus can not be deemed “universal”. The funny thing is that the democratic states often emerge where there has been a state in the first place. The European states were forged by centralising power of the kings, who would go to extraordinary lengths to make diverse parts of their lands into “nation”. The nation state is around 300 years old and can be viewed rather as aberration than the norm. As regards Ukraine, the territory has been extremely volatile throughout history and though being at the beginning of Russian statehood proved incapable of survival in the long run. To my mind, it’s not about “democratic traditions” of Kiev princedom (which is utter trash by Medieval standards), but about inability to emerge as centralised state many centuries ago. In a nut shell, Ukraine has been a failed state for many centuries & there is a solid historic evidence for this. In a way, all this romantic nonsense about “primordial people” which some of the Ukranians sincerely believe in shows how much they’re stuck in the past; some parallels may be drawn with radical Irish republicanism. Nationalism is extremely far from any sensible talk of organisation of the polity, once it narrowly focuses on “folk stuff” & non-existent organic unity, since the rich elites have more in common with their counterparts in Europe or elsewhere than with their own “peasants” (the proof is Poroshenko’s residence near Harrods in London or him producing sweets & doing business with much vilified Russians). So, my take is that Ukrainans are extremely far from being concerned with organisation of the polity, since there are no thinkers like let’s say Richard Hooker amidst them; being torn between the Western tradition & Eastern Orthodoxy they simply don’t have solid theological-political thinking & experience of statehood to fall back on, so the deplorable nationalism & terror coupled with the idea of defining oneself against the other is all they have. It’s also blindingly obvious that the situation is exacerbated by Russia’s inability to manage its emperial decline responsibly & peacefully. No one knows what future holds in store for the Ukraine, my bet is on it becoming a loyal EU vassal, which is exceedingly far from much vaunted “nation state”.

          • I agree with some of your points. Some Ukrainians (and this was one strand of the Maidan impulse) are into the mystical/folksy stuff, and in that sense are similar to many Russians; others look to a semi-mythical Cossack past – and I heard quite a few people suggesting Ukraine be governed by some kind of new Hetmanate, as a new Sich. Many started making up their own propaganda (which, incidentally, they actually believe) – which sounded very Soviet in style (Putin is a second Hitler; Russia is going to invade Europe and Ukraine is the front line and bearing all the costs therefore the West has a moral obligation to attack Russia; one moment Merkel is a big hero, the next ‘Fuhrer Merkel’ and a new Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is being secretly drawn up between Russia/Germany and only Poland can save Ukraine … etc.). In general you are right, the Ukrainians are not a very politically-developed people; like all who have quite recently lived in totalitarian systems.

            On the other hand, I can squarely state that I think your points about oligarch influence are incorrect. All the oligarchs (including Poro.) were neutral or pro-govt at the start; some (very few) only started backing the protests after the protests looked to have a chance of success. Poro. jumped early, by allowing his news channel (Channel 5) to broadcast neutral-to-positive news about the protests – Channel 5 then got shut down and Poro was in on the Maidan ‘side’. None of the oligarchs was ever even slightly popular on Maidan – Poro (as well as Yatsenyiuk and Klitchko – neither of them oligarchs) were being booed regularly and had little control (except in the minds of the media, who need spokespeople and leaders) and Tymoshenko was extremely unpopular – I was there when she appeared on the Maidan stage and told everyone to ‘go home because I’ll take over now’; she was yelled off stage. Nobody (except the EU and some of her political allies) was even much interested in her being released from prison – she is a very compromised figure.

            You miss one important strand in Ukrainian history. I was not referring to Kyiv-Rus but to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and, more importantly, the effect of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the state of Galicia: which had strong local powers, ethnic Ukrainian (alongside other ethnicity) administrators, a developed education system and was fully integrated into central Euro civilisation. The whole of western Ukraine was very much part of central and eastern European culture and was only forced into the USSR at the end of WW2. I have travelled extensively in this area – where, in some villages, there are portraits of Franz Josef in village council halls and a strong sense that people look to Vienna, Krakow and Budapest – not Moscow, or even Kyiv. This ‘western Ukrainian’ spirit is identified with by many Ukrainians in central and even into Eastern Ukraine.

            Furthermore, the historical background is rather redundant. A very big driving force on Maidan – perhaps bigger than the ‘Western Ukrainian anti-Soviet’ element – was the very large numbers of middle class people, drawn from around Ukraine but less so from the statist East (where employment in big oligarch concerns or by the state remains the norm), many who have travelled abroad and work for internationally-connected companies or are self-employed. The same type of naturally free-market people who one day are likely to drive through change in Russia (and maybe even China). All the people I knew were of this type, and many of them were, for the first time ever – and as I mentioned earlier – seriously considering the kinds of ideas that De Tocqueville analysed.

            I do think that being in a particular place, at these kinds of moments, does allow an astute observer who tries to remain unbiased to gauge the general spirit. I was in the British Army in Bosnia in the 90s (when I was much younger and far less analytical, and removed from Bosnian reality in the sense that I was a British soldier with well-defined tasks); and then on Maidan last year; each time the small details that create atmosphere gave me some ability to cut through the generalisations that come out these events, and can wholly misrepresent them to the outside world. And despite the fact I often at odds with, and tried to temper or turn various primitive tendencies on the Maidan ‘side’, that side had very different instincts to the totalitarian Yanukovich/Russian/Communist Party/some oligarchs ‘side’ who have little or no compunction about using violence or lies to achieve their aims.

          • pearlsandoysters

            Thanks for sharing your perspective. I am still of the opinion that one discards financial interest at their peril, once some guy known as George Soars has a very keen interest in exactly…the Ukraine. He is not a known proponent of lofty democratic ideas, rather a ruthless businessperson with a shrewdness & cunning. I’d deem his involvement rather suspicious as well as oligarchs don’t normally care about anything but their business, the people often fall into position of “useful idiots” in the interplay of various commercial interests. I do admit that Joe the commoner was not happy with the existing regime, yet I seriously doubt the goodwill of the national elites. As for the history, to the best of my knowledge, original territory of the Ruthenia (Red Russia) fell under Polish & Luthenian rule; the Commonwealth you mention is a fruit of the union between the Poles & Luthenians with the local “Ukranian peasants” having no valid say being subjugated by these two neighbouring states. There’s also a hard fact that in 1654, Bohdan Khmelnitsky’s & his army swore allegiance to the Russian crown, since the Russian tsar was preferable to Polish schljachta. Frankly speaking, the history of the region shows that it was oscillating between the West & Russia, thus it does have an experience of the gradual, piecemeal process of the state building, having instead the experience of living within empires. The westernisation of the Western Ukraine is a solid fact, yet it does not mean that this region has produced someone akin to Francisco Suarez or Richard Hooker, though Ukraine mber of great Russia writers. What I mean is that the Ukraine does not automatically qualify as Western or Non-Western land, it’s rather in between, thus the historic circumstances mad traditions of thinking should be taken into account. In my humble opinion, the democracy is not the result of natural evolution, rather the product of historic accidents and intellectual traditions; for example the French model & the British one differ significantly due to the different histories & traditions. I seriously doubt that the historic developments can be replicated elsewhere, however hard the people may wish for miraculous appearance of democratic practices overnight. As far as I see the process in the Ukraine, it’s a political case study in nation-building with all the attendant raptures & suppression of dissent; the only problem is that it is a social experiment on a grand scale with aftertaste of ethnic nationalism. In a nutshell, the emerging states have a serious disadvantage as compared to “old” states since they do not have the luxury of discussing the questions of organisation of the polity alongside religious and philosophical lines; the subject matter is reduced to the goods of efficiency, thus subverting the very idea of well-organised polity.

          • I think you are right on most points – it is obviously a fraught process. Having said that, as someone who lived in Ukraine for seven years and tried to observe things around me, I can say that Ukraine had to change somehow – it was stuck in an awful post-Soviet, corrupt, hollow mess with massive emigration – and corruption/the habit of interference by the state suppressing the economy and impoverishing people. Not really a case of ‘it should/shouldn’t have made a change’; more how to direct or influence the change that was virtually inevitable when Yanu. tried to re-impose a Soviet-style system on an already highly jaded and cynical population (though I admit that certain parts of the population would see some kind of bound-to-fail re-establishment of the USSR as the solution).

            You do, however, really over-egg the oligarch/Soros aspect – I was there throughout, it was just not an influential factor – in fact, active participants on Maidan were on principle likely to take up an anti-oligarch position on everything so any attempts at oligarch interference always backfired. My observation is that (in these crux situations) from afar you hear all sorts of theories about how the CIA, the Russian FSB, Putin, Soros, NATO, the EU etc. all have far more power to influence events than was (and is, elsewhere) actually the case. Always in these cases – and I have been involved in military action – the plans and heirarchies go out of the window and it all becomes a rather unpredictable free-for-all; in which the determination of the various parties has the greatest impact on the outcome.

            Also, my point about Ruthenian history is that it involved the Western Ukrainian population in the eastern European (not Russian) mainstream; in the case of Galicia they were in positions of authority, too. I quite agree that Ukraine as a state has always been divided and torn, looking both east and west (though that does not mean that individual people are, they can have very clear ideas about which choices they’ve made).

          • Hegelman

            Tocqueville was a bumsucker of royalty, perpetually whining that his precious aristocrats had got it in the neck.

          • pearlsandoysters

            That’s exactly what makes his insights valuable. Mob rule has never been appreciated in a most democratic country.

          • nick stephan

            You’re very much right, I think people are not always aware how much the European project – well, the way it developed – is influenced by the French way of thinking. Throughout the years they succeeded, insidiously, in imposing slowly their point of view, despite continuous British well-founded objections that the European Union is becoming more cumbersome by the day, being run as it is by a stifling bereaucracy, anassailable an unaccountable. The overarching European institutions are mainly made by the French, in their own image. It was an excellent editorial in Times, some years ago, about how all the attempts to unify Europe from above have failed. Telegraph is predicting for years the demise of EU and of euro. They europhiles are pointing to the USA as a goal to be aimed for. But you cannot have an United States of Euope built on the French state-interventionist model. It’s not working, it’s costly and inefficient. America was built on British liberal principles, and those principles, put into pratice, was what de Tocqueville was admiring. And extacly the persistence of these principles make America even today so strong. Far from asking too much, I think the British prime-minister should make from the aim of totally reforming the European Union the most important target of his political life. What is actually asking – which horrifies already the French – is far too little. If Europe is to survive, it has be rebuilt from scratches on the liberal anglo-saxon model, and be essentially a functional, free trade area. At the end of the day, I don’t see in the foreseable future proud people like the British or the Germans giving up their national identities. Even a smal country like Switzerland is very proud of its identity. We will never have in Europe an american-style melting pot. The aim of a political union, a budgetary union, are, in the dramatic context on the north-south divide and the debt crisis, as chimerical as ever.

          • You are right. It’s a phony entity, built on hot air rather than any real substance. One really tough challenge and – unlike a solid and well-founded state, which would pull together in a crisis – the whole thing will collapse. Interesting to note how unpopular the EU now is across Europe, even in France (which, however, continues to expect statist solutions).

            I think it has been a basically Gallic project, supported by German guilt (including blood money). All the Eastern Euro and most Southern Euro states – without the overarching grand state ideals of the French and associated countries (including Germany and the Scandinavians) – are in it for what they can get out of it as national entities; hard to imagine most of them being happy with getting less out than they were putting in (though most Eastern Euro elites do find the clubby paternalism – so similar to Soviet instincts – attractive).

            And I think you are right – Cameron hasn’t in the past been able to make up his mind. For me if the whole thing can’t reform root and branch, returning to a primarily trading entity and association of free states which are nonetheless allies, we (Brits) should pull out and let the rest do what they will. You should read/watch (Youtube) Daniel Hannan on the matter – if you do not know of him, he’s a fine example of the best of the Anglosphere traditions.

          • EHGombrich

            Hannan is a bald cosmopoitan who thinks Tower Hamlets will become British just because the “Anglosphere” is so liberal.

          • Disappointed to get this response, after some of the others I’ve had. This thread is about the quality of minds; not hairstyles – baldness is likely to come to you, one day.

            I don’t think we can know Hannan’s views on Britain filling up with non-Britons: he will be fully aware that ‘unacceptable’ views would wreck his political career. Furthermore, as an intelligent person who gives every indication of thinking things through from first principles, I suspect that he is aware that having huge numbers of non-native Britons in Britain is not beneficial for the country’s traditional culture or people. Given that he is big on Anglosphere values, emanating originally from the English (and related) people and carried through Anglo traditions, I can’t see that he has much to gain by the cultural destruction of those same people.

            I’d suggest you focus on the bigger picture. I come from a different background to Hannan (he’s a bit too cosmopolitan/South of England/socially liberal for me too) but I respect his intellect and understand the fact that I’m me and he isn’t. I can also recognise a solid, free-thinking civilisational ally – and I suspect that you are on the same side, too.

          • Man In Black

            If Europe is to survive, it has be rebuilt from scratches on the liberal anglo-saxon model, and be essentially a functional, free trade area.

            naaaah, just won’t work, neither the Italians, nor the Spaniards, nor the French in the South would accept it — just as the British will never accept French-style technocratic state-ism.

            Politically, the EU is becoming more and more a Frankenstein beast of intrinsically incompatible Lutheran, stateist, liberal, Catholic, and Orthodox values that some ideologically motivated bankers are trying to beat into submission through financial coercion.

            THAT’s what’s doomed to failure — the notion that the EU could ever be anything more cohesive than a group of friendly independent states agreeing to abide by the contents of certain international treaties.

            The attempt to impose German Protestant values upon the Greeks is utterly loathesome.

          • axelscastle

            What an illiterate hodge-podge of platitudes. It is unfortunate that Romania is and always has been a backward country, but blaming your backwardness on France is a strange to say the least. France seems to have done fairly well over the past two centuries. It has produced a civilisation superior in just about every respect to that of the UK

          • nick stephan

            “The French model failed us altogether(I am not overlooking our own responsibility, as a nation).” With these words I am assuming responsibility for our own failures. It’s as clear as day. But obviously it was difficult to understand for a mentally handicapped person like you, sitting on a huge amount of rage, unable to grasp simple logic and to formulate clear answers. From the beginning, you didn’t contribute anything to this discussion, just started insults. No, in every respect, Britain has surpassed France, by far, from literature, with Shakespeare, science, with Newton, philosophy… technology, with the likes of Stephenson and Bessemer, or military technology, you name it… by the way, after France was crashed in five weeks by the Germans, the British Spitfires – probably the best planes during the war – were winning the Batle of England. Like it was said in a TV film with David Jason and David Warner, the two characters being in France: “it’s a free country isn’t it. yeah, it’s a free country because of us”. This is the last answer I’m giving to you, I already told you where you should be…

          • axelscastle

            I responded to your original idiotic post (about Newton and Faraday), which shows such an abysmal ignorance of intellectual history that anything that someone of your intelligence and education might say about the superiority of British civilisation is of no interest to me.

          • The_greyhound

            “France seems to have done fairly well over the past two centuries.”,

            Its murderous assaults on its neighbours, and the world at large seem much reduced, it is true, largely thanks to its stagnating population. But it took until the last thirty years for anything deserving of the name plumbing to appear in France, and the place still hasn’t shaken off that atmosphere of the ostentatious, the grandiloquent and the faintly malodorous – wonderfully exemplified by a line of simply ridiculous Presidents.

          • EHGombrich

            BHL isn´t really French though.

        • axelscastle

          Not only did I know that Hume is Scottish, I know that you are an idiot. Who are you to respond to what I said in response to the idiotic remark of someone else?. I couldn’t care less about your English pride.

          • englishwhisky

            He is a person able to express a view without resorting to abuse, and thus deserving of respect. And. yes, I am responding to another’s post, otherwise solidarity would have no meaning.

          • axelscastle

            Your “solidarity” is touching. Try reading what I originally said and then try saying something intelligent.

          • nick stephan

            I think you’re in urgent need of a psychiatrist. Unfortunately there are no tablets for sheer stupidity, otherwise I would recommend them to you.

          • axelscastle

            I think you are in urgent need of learning how to read. Not that I expect a provincial, cultureless Brit ever to admit his stupidiy.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Jefferson admits while he was in France he studied the writings of David Hume, an atheist philosopher.

          Right. And pretty much ripped him off in the Declaration of Independence. “All men are created (born) equal.”

      • Hamburger

        I find it odd that a scientist cannot be an intellectual.

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    • Fraser Bailey

      A good post. I’ve lived/worked in France, worked for French companies, and have spent quite a lot of time there recently. I find their thinking on most things to be years behind the British, Americans, Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, Aussies, South Koreans etc. I certainly cannot really recall any French person saying anything interesting, with the exception of some of their better wine makers with regard to massal selection versus cloning and other such issues.

      Having said that, Debord was right about things, and Houllebecq is very good.

      • Hegelman

        “I find their thinking on most things to be years behind the British, Americans, Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, Aussies, South Koreans etc.”

        What higher praise can any country have? Let us hope the French remain that way and do not end up as pathetic philistines like you.

      • nick stephan

        Actually it was admitted by a French industrialist himself, when interviewed and asked to make a comparison between the situation in his own country and the industrial might of Japan: “En France, on dort”.

  • jim

    I know it’s not reasonable to say it but articles like this always make me grateful that I’m not French. They can be such plonkers. BHL would be a joke figure in the UK.

    • axelscastle

      Yes he is a joke in France too. So what? BHL seems to be the only “intellectual” you Brits have ever heard of. Do you honestly think that all your public intellectuals, for example the creeps who write for The Spectator, are all so first-rate? LOL

    • Man In Black

      BHL would be a joke figure in the UK

      BHL is a joke figure in France.

    • nibs

      BHL is a plonker, but a dangerous plonker. He is a fully paid-up neocon of the worst kind, fomenting “colour” revolutions wherever he can, never mind the ensuing bloodshed, migrants, death and distress. He inherited a fortune of £300m so is immune to the suffering he causes. Long gone.
      See Bosnia, Kiev, Libya etc.
      He openly admits he acted for Israel in Libya (on youtube if you look for it). Perhaps he would like to house the migrants now ?

  • Perseus Slade

    French is a beautiful language, but lends itself to airy sophistry.
    I have no time for Sartre and Derrida.

    For me, the best literary style is that of Alphonse Allais,
    makes me laugh every time:
    Dans la vie, il ne faut compter que sur soi-même, et encore pas beaucoup.

    • Man In Black

      French … lends itself to airy sophistry

      And English doesn’t ??!!? LOL

      • Perseus Slade

        It seems the French have made more of a tradition of it.
        That said, there is a growing movement towards New Age “logic” coming to the fore in English.
        tu crois pas ?

      • Sean L

        No it’s one reason why polyglot Anthony Burgess reckoned the English were “savedby by their stupidity”. Thus British empiricism as opposed to French rationalism.

        • Man In Black

          Well, Anthony had very little reason to express anything other than contempt for the stupidity of virtually all our fellow expats down here LOL …

          More seriously, empiricism and the English penchant for scepticism are themselves hardly a vaccine against sophistry and false conclusions.

          My actual feeling on the question is that both approaches have their specific gifts and flaws, and it’s more rational to view them as being complementary, rather than A being somehow intrinsically superior to B.

        • Hegelman

          Nobody is ever saved by stupidity: only by history. The English merely had a different history. Burgess is the stupid fellow: he had not read history.

          The French can be as empirical as anyone. And as indifferent to the facts as anyone. It all depends on which French person you happen to be referring to. If you read French literature with any care you would not need to be told this.

          The British have their own elaborate assumptions in every thing they do. They simply tend to take these for granted, whereas the French are more likely to question their own assumptions.

          • Sean L

            *Merely* had a different history. Priceless!

          • Hegelman

            Of course. Are you saying they didn’t?

            British history was every bit as savage as French history. Small children were being sent to the scaffold for petty theft when British upper class howlers yelped about the guillotine whose operations in fact killed only a few tens of thousands of people.

            English rule depopulated Ireland with repeated massive famines and warfare destruction – as much as 20 percent of Irish wiped out in the wars of Cromwell.

            India was also devastated by famine under British rule – as many as 25 million Indians perishing of it in the nineteenth century alone.

            For you to point a smug finger at the French after all this seems insolent.

          • Man In Black

            Burgess is the stupid fellow: he had not read history.

            LMAO

        • Hegelman

          How did French rationalism harm the French?

          And why is it assumed the French were not “saved”?

          Are they not at least as successful a nation as the British – especially when you consider that the Scots hate the English with a passion?

          Did the French not have a successful history?

          Did they not achieve their great Revolution with its “liberty, equality, fraternity”? What more do you want any country to have?

  • Man In Black

    the French deductive method of reasoning pioneered by René Descartes, which starts with a general, abstract proposition, then works through to a particular, sometimes specious or trivial, conclusion. The method is notoriously vulnerable to deductive fallacies of this kind: All birds have beaks. That creature has a beak. Therefore it is a bird.

    There is nothing particularly “French” about syllogisms, including nothing particularly “French” about arriving at such false conclusions.

    Quite obviously in fact, given that this is EXACTLY an example of a false syllogism itself !!

    To wit — the French use deductive reasoning. False syllogisms exist in bad reasoning. Therefore false syllogisms are French.

    Avant d’accuser autrui, regarde-toi bien dans le miroir …

    • englishwhisky

      Aren’t you employing the fallacy of moving the goalposts? Man in Black’s conclusion is NOT that false syllogisms are French, but just that deductive reasoning is prone to producing false conclusions, whether used by a frenchman or anybody else. If you wish to refute his argument you will have to refute either that the French use deductive reasoning, or that it is capable of producing false conclusions, or both. Bonne chance!.

      • Man In Black

        Aren’t you employing the fallacy of moving the goalposts?

        No.

        I’m employing my finger to point out supercilious hypocrisy when I see it.

        Furthermore, the syllogism is of Ancient Greek origin or earlier, rather than Descartes having “pioneered” it …

        His actual method of deductive reason, rather than being “prone to error” (any more than any other method), forms the basis of all observational experimentation in every Science lab everywhere, as it is a manner of reason that forms its conclusions on the basis of knowledge acquired via observation and testing.

        • Sean L

          I thought it was *inductive* reasoning that proceeds by observation, whereas in deductive reasoning the conclusion is reached by reason alone, top-down logic as opposed to bottom-up: Cartesian rationalism v Humean empiricism.

        • englishwhisky

          You are confused: You are correct in saying that the ancients employed deductive reasoning, but this lead them to conclude that Barnacle Geese came from Acorn Barnacles, because they ‘looked’ similar, i.e. it was based purely on on observation. Modern science is based on Inductive reasoning, first espoused by Francis Bacon, where thought has to be backed up by data, usually by experiment. Experiment is not the same as observation. Today, inductive reasoning is called “the scientific method”, and Descartes followed Bacon’s methodology. I think you are out of your depth.

          • Man In Black

            LOL

            I think that the pointless mediaevalist debate that you implicitly wish to propose concerning the relative merits of Inductionism versus Emanatism is, in itself, demonstration enough of my basic point that sophistry is not foreign to the English philosophy.

            Try reading Rabelais, Tiers Livre, chapter XXIX

  • Hegelman

    What I enjoy about the French is that they believe in the intellect and aesthetics. The British and the Americans do not.

    That makes a hell of a difference in cultural terms.

    In French one is expected not only to write but to write beautifully and euphoniously. It matters how a thing is said as much as what is said.

    And because this aesthetic demand is there French writing even in the daily newspaper is often strikingly elegant, far removed from the grubby stuff you find in the typical English or North American equivalent.

    The French respect their writers and demand that they have a great style.

    Nowhere but in France would you find a young man like Andre Malraux who grew up above a grocery (though he pretended to come from a much grander family) and yet, despite not even having completed high school, by the age of twenty was incredibly sophisticated in artistic and literary tastes by English speaking standards.

    French books are a joy to read to clear the lungs of the grime and dust of English books.

    • nick stephan

      I don’t deny you could derive an aesthetic pleasure in reading
      La Rochefoucauld, for example. But unfortunately you’ll find a lot “beautiful writing” without any meaning. Several years ago, when it happened one of those endless disputes between the British and the French regarding the way EU is being run, I read, I freely admit, a very stylish article in one of the French magazines, could have been Le Point or L’Express, which ended with something like(it was addressed to the British), “…and in this way you’ll understand how much we love you”. Not even even laughable.

      “What I enjoy about the French is that they believe in the intellect and aesthetics. The British and the Americans do not”. It’s a very simplistic assertion. Shakespeare(or if you want Francis Bacon or whoever…) did believe very much in intellect and aesthetics. So did a lot of many other British and American writers, like Thoreau(Walden is superb), Emerson or the Lake poets, or the great visionary H G Wells, one of my favourite authors(and thinkers). And Bertrand Russell as well…

      • axelscastle

        “A lot of beautiful writing without any meaning….”
        Nothing you say has any meaning and it is certainly not beautiful. The fact that you cannot even understand such an obvious writer as La Rochefoucauld is a sad commentary on your knowledge of French.

      • Hegelman

        French is naturally a language which is euphonious. The use of masculine and feminine nouns, the silken and sinuous words themselves, so different from the stony sounds of English, make the language one in which a good style can be achieved much more easily than in English. One can, in brief, make French flow much more easily than one can English. Great stylists in English like James Joyce and Hemingway have to work very hard to achieve their effects. French writers have it easier. Their language is naturally sonorous and silken and graceful. It takes a terrible clod to write bad French.
        But that natural elegance aside, there is direct and blunt and unpretentious French, too. One has only to read ruthlessly realistic writers like Zola and Flaubert or the novels of Sartre to see this (Sartre is far more elegant in his essays). Some French writers are endlessly graceful and it can become tiresome: think of Gide or Proust. But they have all styles in French, just as in English or any other literary language.
        You should read more French before generalising.

      • Man In Black

        “…and in this way you’ll understand how much we love you”

        You’ve clearly not mastered the art of the sous-entendu, without which it is vacuous to claim understanding of French and the French.

        Though I actually disagree with Hegelman in one important respect — the aesthetic consideration in prose writing that he refers to is of Italian, not French, origin.

    • Yes; but the problem with this is that the presentation can overpower the substance. Good writing in English excels in clarity, and low tolerance of nonsense.

      • Hegelman

        The French can be as empirical as anyone. And as indifferent to the facts as IDS. It all depends on which French person you happen to be referring to.

        There is direct and blunt and unpretentious French, too. One has only to read ruthlessly realistic writers like Zola and Flaubert or the novels of Sartre to see this (Sartre is elegant in his essays).

        Some French writers are endlessly graceful and it can become tiresome: think of Gide or Proust. But they have all styles in French, just as in English or any other literary language.

        If you read French literature with any care you would not need to be told this.

        The British have their own elaborate assumptions in
        everything they do. They simply tend to take these for granted, whereas the French are more likely to question their own assumptions.
        I have not noticed any less proneness to mystifying in English writing. Quite the reverse in fact. English writing is very conformist and fact-fudging. Orwell was an exception and even his work is stuffed with idle conservative clichés.

        • Man In Black

          LOL — well said indeed !!!

        • I’ll defer to you on many of these points. My French isn’t very good, and I’ve never read a French book in the original language. If you read my earlier posts, they are not general points about French culture or writing.

          Where I would stand my ground is here: among the many French people I’ve met, I’ve noticed a tendency (in speech – which I assume is also reflected in writing) towards the fine-sounding generalisation at the expense of the concrete and specific. For me, the phrase ‘liberty, equality,fraternity’ sums it up: sounds good (to some), means very little. The French have often flirted with doctrines based on wishful thinking in place of human realities (like Marxism). And this leads to my second point – their poor political culture (which is what I refer to in posts above – where I defend other aspects of French life): they tend to have a more statist, bureaucratic view of how the polity should be organised.

          It’s instructive to look at how the French colonies in the Americas fared, compared to the English ones. By most definitions the English colonies (especially the northern US ones) were successful – and were outward-looking, with a focus on individual responsibilites, though civic (local affairs being run through Town Hall meetings) – so able to pull together when there was a common goal. The French colonies, meanwhile, were insular and hidebound; fractured by petty debate about what the colonies should be called (Arcadia? Marianna?) and ultimately unsuccessful.

          • Hegelman

            Now you have strayed into very big territory – basically , whether the French Revolution was justified or not.
            This is a typical British outlook: rubbishing the histories of countries that they can’t be bothered to understand, being smug about themselves without any good reason.

            An English attitude, I should add as the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh are far less insular and loathe the English. (They are well hated in return: Orwell used to cross the road to avoid meeting Scots).

            The French Revolution made the modern democratic outlook possible. There was no democracy in England before the French made the idea commonplace. The Americans affected to have democracy but based their economy largely on slavery and wiped out their native population. From the viewpoint of the black man and the native Indian your North American colonial history was a genocidal one.

            The French avoided grim fates by having their revolution. What was the alternative?

            In any case, who wants a successful history? One want a culturally rich history and that France has had. It even has much better food and its language is much more agreeable to the eye and ear.

            The Swiss have had a mostly trouble free history and got the cuckoo clock out of it, as Orson Welles famously pointed out. The Italians had the Borgias and horrific tyrannies and skulduggery and got Leornardo and Michelangelo and the Renaissance.

            Who told you Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are meaningless? Millions have died for them and life in France is very free compared to most countries.

          • Sorry,Hegelman (or whatever you’re called); I don’t recognise outrage and insult as argument. You misrepresent my post above, you change the subject, and your points about various British cultures are absurd – I’m part Scottish myself. Don’t know if you are a Marxist, and I hit some kind of sensitive nerve; but I can recognise a ‘righteous’ Jesuit-style mind when I come across one. You’ve closed down the debate, so goodbye..

          • Hegelman

            “Anglosphere” devotees find it very hard to reply when one performs the easy task of pointing out the self-serving absurdities of their theology. So I am not very surprised to find you quitting the field.

            The facts I mentioned remain. Britain has had every bit as brutal a history as France. It has had a brutal revolution, too. Ask the Irish if you doubt me.

            Britain is no more free than France. Indeed, to the extent that it is democratic this is owed originally to the French – the idea of one man-one vote crossed over from the French side of the Channel.

            Since you are a subscriber to the ridiculous notion that English is somehow more “truthful” than French, you will have to be told writers in English tell lies and fail to disclose the truth as often as those using other systems of throat noises to communicate. They often find it very hard when their unquestioned assumptions are exposed.

  • Precambrian

    No, many of them know Foucault about it….

  • Richard Eldritch

    Pah! Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear da lamentations of da wimmin.

  • Alpha Farnell

    Don’t by silly. Being an opinionated bore doesn’t make you a philosopher, it just makes you French.

  • Terence Hale

    Hi,
    “Liberty, philosophy and 246 types of cheese”. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Swiss not French.

  • Man In Black

    BTW — nobody is better at taking the p*ss out of the French than they are themselves :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFK1EhK9Njg

    (it’s positively criminal that no full video recording of this magnificently hilarious production is available anywhere, even though there’s at least one)

  • pobjoy

    ‘Are the French really natural-born philosophers?’

    The French, like everyone else, are the consequence of their geography and history. As any pretentious journalist kno.

  • The_greyhound

    I always found French stuff florid, rhetorical and worryingly lacking in real meat. I remember starting an English translation of a work by a celebrated French historian. I threw it aside – after three chapters the fellow had hardly produced hardly anything worth saying. Nowhere is that love of the noisy and the empty more depressingly evident than in French music – for centuries France would even import bores like Lully, Cherubini and Meyerbeer to eke out their own native resource of showy windbags. The sheer want of wit, charm, and humanity of Versailles typifies the problem – mere bombast rendered in stone and gold leaf.

  • Bushfire Bill

    The craze for French mandarin culture came into Britain in the 70s via the intellectual lounge-lizards at Cambridge, of course, but it had spread as far as pragmatic Oxford when I was a graduate student in literature there in the early 80s. However unreadable, whether in French or English translation, French thinkers were highly fashionable (Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, Foucault, Barthes, etc etc), and I devotedly attempted to understand them. I already had a grounding in previous, more accessible thinkers (Sartre, Camus, Lévi-Strauss, etc) when I arrived there, but British philosophy and literary theory were dismissed contemptuously. BHL, with his private wealth, chopinesque hair and shirt unbuttoned past the sternum like a duellist’s was, I see now the logical result of all this posturing – clever, of course, but a joke even in his own country. Most of the others too have now been discredited or found out – only Camus’ reputation has increased, and justly – while good old ‘English empiricism’ is making a comeback among those who know how to read attentively in private as well as talk highflown but groundless theory in seminars. I look forward to reading Hazareesingh’s account of this.

  • Bushfire Bill

    The craze for French mandarin culture came into Britain in the 70s via the intellectual lounge-lizards at Cambridge, of course, but it had spread as far as pragmatic Oxford when I was a graduate student in literature there in the early
    80s. However unreadable, whether in French or English translation, French
    thinkers were highly fashionable (Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, Foucault, Barthes,
    etc etc), and I devotedly attempted to understand them. I already had a
    grounding in previous, more accessible thinkers (Sartre, Camus, Lévi-Strauss,
    etc) when I arrived there, but British philosophy and literary theory were
    dismissed contemptuously. BHL, with his private wealth, chopinesque hair and
    shirt unbuttoned past the sternum like a duellist’s was, I see now the logical
    result of all this posturing – clever, of course, but a joke even in his own
    country. Most of the others too have now been discredited or found out – only
    Camus’ reputation has increased, and justly – while good old ‘English
    empiricism’ is making a comeback among those who know how to read attentively
    in private as well as talk highflown but groundless theory in seminars. I look
    forward to reading Hazareesingh’s account of this.

  • Your example of French logic is actually not Cartesian at all, it is purely Aristotelian, Greek if you wish, and see how Tsipras uses it: debt is bad, Germans are bad, hence the debt is German. Cartesian philosophy is based precisely on debunking that sort of logic – Descartes called it rhetoric. I suggest you brush up on French history of ideas, perhaps read again le Discours de la méthode (it is quite short, don’t be alarmed) and why not, for instance, that very Cartesian offshoot, Cl. Bernard’s Introduction à la médecine expérimentale.

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