The end of French philosophy
Posted by Peter W. Schramm
as we have known it, if the same for the German, that may be a good thing.
7:41 PM / January 1, 2008
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The jihad against smoking has gone too far. I don't smoke myself, but a society on a jihad about public smoking only professes itself a nanny state.
Adults should be allowed to smoke if they choose to.
First Sartre was on the wrong side of the Soviets, now we realize he was on the wrong side of smoking too!
I'm of two minds on this issue. On the practical level as a non-smoker I suppose I'll benefit the next time I'm in France. On the theoretical level, I'm perturbed that France might be embracing the sort of secularized materialist Puritanism that grips so much of North America. What would Kojéve say? Is this the end of the Latin Empire? Is the American (Protestant) version of the end of history triumphing over the European (Catholic) version and its emphasis on the douceur de la vie that Kojéve favoured? Is the only alternative left a Heidegerrian based version of the slow food movement? Mondialization vs. terroir?
I don't like smoking, but will defend to the death you right to smoke!
If French/German philosophy is still alive, you're trying to figure out what Hugh means (and gone to the bookshelf and pulled down your Kojeve and maybe Strauss and Manent). If not, you're ok with Dale's paraphrase.
Peter, are there no excellent Germans writing today? I'm not so sure though I have enjoyed H Meier's work...on the French side, Brague's last book is a fascinating read (although I would rank Manent as the best France has to offer).
What will Chantal Mouffe light her molotovs with now?
Germans--Ratzinger. French--P. Beneton and Chantal del Sol (she is very original and prfound).
For the Germans, I would add Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde and not just because he has a great name. A collection of his writings is available in English: State, society, and liberty : studies in political theory and constitutional law. See especially his essay on securlarization which came up in the Ratzinger-Habermas exchange. Hermann Lubbe, who Habermas described as a right Hegelian, is another guy who should be translated. Both are in the conservative liberal tradition and are representative of what has been called "melancholy modernism." Both are aware of the benefits and shortcomings of liberal democratic society. There's a third guy whose name escapes me, but he had a great quote about how liberal democratic society is not heaven on earth; it is not hell on earth; it is earth on earth.
ISI should publish some of the writings of a French Jesuit philosopher of earlier era, Gaston Fessard, who was a friend of both Kojéve and Raymond Aron.
Amongst more recent French writers Marcel Gauchet and Claude Lefort merit mention.
I dropped the ball on that one--we'd be hard pressed to find a more challenging, erudite thinker today than Ratzinger. I've never read Chantal del Sol but that endorsement is enough for me to start.
Ratzinger writes well. I've read several of his works. Not a work of his per se, but the work that probably first brought him to widespread public attention, "The Ratzinger Report," makes for good reading too, and though somewhat dated, I recommend it as a good introduction to the man. And it can be read in a night.
For an initially light post, some weighty comments.
I concur with the pro-Ratzinger and Delsol comments. To the Ratzinger already recommended, I'd add his reflections on Europe, as a culture and as a contemporary anti-culture. (E.g., Without Roots, or Christianity and the Conflict of Cultures.) (The phrase "anti-culture" was first penned, as far as I know, by the great Peguy, who knew whereof he spoke.) For non-French reading readers of Delsol, start with Icarus Fallen, then The Unlearned Lessons of the 20th Century (both published by ISI). (Shameless self-promotion: the third volume of her trilogy devoted to "the spirit of late modernity," Unjust Justice: The Tyranny of International Law, translated by ME, will be published in the Spring by ISI.)
I'm in the midst of a Brague-binge; to whet Ivan's appetite for more Brague, in my view Brague's engaged in a huge intellectual-cultural effort: to refute Leo Strauss; to fundamentally critique "modernity" (insofar as it = the quest for absolute autonomy); and to save Europe by recalling it to its proper deferential character. This latter aspect is the burden of his book, Europe, la voie romaine (in English: The Eccentric Culture); for those who read French, Delsol's effort to identify the essence of European culture can be found in her remarkable book, L'irreverence.
Hugh's right, Fessard was a fine thinker; his "France, beware of losing your liberty" and "France, beware of losing your Faith," together with his Vichey analyses concerning "the slave-Prince" are wonderful period pieces; I'm not sure they merit reprinting (it's been a while since I read them). I could be wrong, therefore.
In today's France, the combination of (1) an obviously rich heritage of reflection on the human condition (Pascal, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Peguy...), (2)an undogmatic reception of Leo Strauss's unsurpassed critique of the foundations of modern rationalism, and (3) a vantage point of European decadence (Minerva's owl) have prepared a most fertile ground for a very substantial (if still distinctly in the minority) cohort of first-rate thinkers. You can't do better than Manent, Brague, DelSol, Beneton, for example - as mentioned above. They will lead you to others. If you can follow spoken French, find, on the internet, Alain Finkielkraut's weekly "Repliques" (on France Culture)- you'll find some of the above suspects from time to time, and the level of discussion surpasses anything on the airwaves here. And Finkielkraut's spoken French is wonderful.
Paul, Concerning Fessard, I wasn't thinking of his more topical pieces, but rather some of his more theoretical pieces, especially his short book Authorité et bien commun, some of the essays in the first volume of De l'actualité historique and a few of his later writings that are scattered in various places. It is interesting that accoroding to Stanley Roesn, Kojéve preferred the company of Fessard to that of the avant-garde intellectuals that took his course.
As for Kojève, those that are interested should check out James H. Nichols recent book Alexandre Kojéve: Wisdom at the End of History. It's a good brief (130 pages) introduction to Kojéve which nicely summarizes his ife and thought, usefully discussing material that's not available in English. I'd certainly recommend it to someone who has read the Bloom-Nichols translation and wants to know more about Kojéve, particularly if they don't know French.
Thanks, Paul, for the guidance on Delsol...and I've also been trying to think through Brague's work as a repudiation of Strauss.
Hugh, write Jeremy Beer at ISI with a proposal to translate and edit The Fessard Reader!
Ralph nicely summarizes the conditions that help account for the fertile minority of independent French thinkers. To it, one should add "la belle France" herself and those of her children who allow themselves to be nourished by her and who strive to maintain and enrich her rich cultural and intellectual traditions. Others, of course, could -- and should -- be added to the list, including Alain Besancon, one of the best sovietologists during the Cold War (but more, much more than a sovietologist; he has indispensable treatments of the monothesistic religions, for example. He's a true polymath.).