The media narrative and sociology produce victims—and a culprit: France, the French state, systemic racism. It’s a familiar refrain. On the contrary, it’s the crisis of the State, the crisis of institutions, the vacancy of authority that creates the conditions for insurrection. On the contrary, it’s the State that needs to be rebuilt, and France with it, provided it isn’t swamped by immigration.

Jean-Louis, sixty-something and somewhat balding, tucked away in the semi-darkness of his studio, stared feverishly at his cell phone. Suddenly, the long-awaited hour appeared. This was his moment. He grabbed his wheeled shopping bag, took a deep breath and opened the door to his apartment. Recalling the exercises he’d learned during his military service, he made his feline way down the stairs and into the hall. Littered and tagged, with a gutted sofa and a pungent smell of urine, it was just as he’d hoped: empty. At this hour, he was safe in the knowledge that “they” were asleep.

Walking along the sidewalk, keeping as close as possible to the buildings in order to remain unnoticed, Jean-Louis could only deplore the damage caused by the riots in his suburban town over the last few days. Burnt-out buses and cars, ransacked street furniture, broken glass and omnipresent garbage were now his daily routine. Long reclused at home, he had resolved only to go out and fill his empty fridge.

When he arrived at his usual supermarket, he found it wide open, its windows smashed after yet another looting incident. After a hasty look around, he rushed in through the gap. Inside, he heard shouts and laughter. “Youngsters” were knocking over displays and vandalizing merchandise, filming themselves and staging the most bestial scenes. Crawling towards the untouched beer aisle, he helped himself before heading home. If he couldn’t feed himself, he could drink himself into oblivion.


To his detriment, Jean-Louis had become the actor in a film that closely resembled the latest dystopian series he’d been watching on Netflix.

A young Frenchman died a few days ago, accidentally killed by a policeman during a traffic stop. Hardly anyone knew him, his story, his troubles with the authorities. Yet everyone claimed to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the “young people of the banlieues;” everyone, from the media to the political class, wanted to make sense of this tragedy.

Once again, the infernal machine was set in motion. Journalists spoke of the structural racism of the French police and drew parallels with the United States. Politicians, from the President to the Insoumis, immediately condemned the policeman, without knowing the facts. A ten-second video was enough. The young man had the right to a minute’s silence at the National Assembly, like a soldier killed in an OPEX (overseas military) operation.

His death led to riots which, in their scale and violence, surpassed those of 2005. Faced with the initial destruction of public property and facilities—schools, cultural centers, town halls, buses, tramways—as well as scenes of looting, the media and politicians tried to explain or rather justify the chaos. It’s a familiar refrain: “People in these neighborhoods are discriminated against and immediately identified with this young man, the victim of yet another police blunder. By their violence, they wanted to respond to the violence done to them, excessively, but understandably.”
When Rioters Film Themselves

This argument does not stand up to close scrutiny of the situation in these neighborhoods, which are poor but benefit from a much larger-than-normal public handout: urban renewal, new facilities, increased school resources, etc.

And if you look at the rioters, you’ll see that they’re quite happy to go about their business. Looting and ransacking are staged, filmed and broadcast live on social networks. Everyone seems to aspire to their own little minute of fame, and to take pleasure in assuming and propagating acts that are criminally reprehensible.

It’s hard to discern any political content in these attitudes, or in the targets (tobacconists, public facilities, high-tech or sports stores), or any desire to honor the memory of the young man who disappeared, and who is hardly ever mentioned again.

Yet all this makes sense, or rather, is the mark of a deeper problem, beyond that of suburban youth.

It was not the excessive and unjust force of the police and the state that led to the death of the young man and the chaos we are now struggling to contain, but their weakness, and that of our institutions.

The events leading up to the tragedy are symptomatic: a thirty-minute chase, multiple failures to yield, hit-and-runs and reckless endangerment by the driver, who was finally stopped by—traffic. The police officer clearly couldn’t get a 17-year-old to listen to reason. To be taken seriously, he was reduced to drawing his weapon. Drama ensued.

It’s the State that Needs Rebuilding

The asymmetry between the two protagonists was obvious. On the one hand, a policeman, bound by rules, subject to a hierarchy that pushes harder than anything else to avoid contact and who knows he won’t be supported in the event of an incident. {The “Little angel gone too soon” had a clean record, despite some fifteen arrests. He had never been punished. By tolerating all his transgressions, we fostered in him a feeling of omnipotence). On the other, a young, self-confident delinquent with a strong sense of impunity. He, too, knows that if he commits a serious offence, he will receive a warning or, in the worst case, a suspended sentence. The police officer knows that the offender is not afraid of him, and fears that he will try something against him. A fatal spiral. The good-old fear of the gendarme, which no longer exists for some, would probably have saved the young man, paradoxically the victim of lax justice.

This disrespected police force is just one of the many avatars of the collapse of the State. We could just as easily talk about teachers, firefighters or nursing staff, victims of what we modestly call “incivilities,” but who cannot respond with a weapon.

To counter this disintegration and restore civil peace, it won’t be enough to mobilize tens of thousands of police officers and finance everything that’s been burnt down.

The State needs to rebuild the institutions that held our society together.

In a country that has become multi-ethnic and multicultural, in the process of becoming a community, and within which populations with different mores coexist, subsidies and “the social” will not be miracle solutions. The only way to avoid definitive separatism and confrontation with a second people on our soil is for the native French to exert assimilation, or for recent immigrants to return en masse to their countries of origin.

The Programmed Destruction of Institutions

The deleterious process we’re facing today is only partly linked to immigrants, however, and affects all social classes. The clashes we are seeing, particularly in the “ZADs” where immigrants are poorly represented, illustrate a more global phenomenon.

The rejection of state authority has its origins in the great deconstruction that followed the events of May 1968, and the seizure of power by social classes who have been relentless in their efforts to demolish the foundations of the old order.

Since the 1980s, the development of a society based solely on the logic of the market, the collapse of structures (mass unemployment, widespread divorce, the collapse of education) and the desire to give precedence to the interests of the individual-as-king to the detriment of the collective have led us to the impasse we find ourselves in today.

Our President likes to use words that are not his own and that he doesn’t understand. Recently, he spoke of the process of “decivilization” that our country was undergoing. For him, “decivilization” boils down to the violent acts of a handful of people who need to be brought back into line.

Wouldn’t decivilization be better characterized by the destruction of institutions that set limits to the omnipotence of individuals, and guaranteed the State’s monopoly on legitimate violence as the sole authority transcending individual interests?

What Are We Passing on Today?

It’s no coincidence that today’s young people set fires and pillage while their elders look on. This younger generation has known nothing but the uncivilized society in which it lives.

For them, fed on mass consumption, in a world where individual success, under the sole prism of money, is set up as an ideal, within decaying family structures, with vulgar TV programs taking the place of civics classes—everything justifies their acts.

It’s not a question of exonerating young people from their responsibility or reducing the seriousness of looting. But we would do well to ask ourselves the right question: what are we passing on today?

Our social model, which contains the seeds of a war of all against all, produces empathy-free monsters who film themselves looting.

A firm and implacable response to this violence is the first step. It will be of no use if we don’t deconstruct the deconstructors and rebuild a collective project capable of uniting the growing centrifugal forces in our country.

To do so, our elites will have to find it in their interest to push for such a project.

In the French banlieues, as everywhere else in France, decivilization is underway.

Pierre Moriamé writes from France. This article comes courtesy of Revue Éléments.

Towards the End of the Enlightenment?

Has our Enlightenment faded? The French Enlightenment postulated the existence of a rational, autonomous individual, whose freedom would stop only at the frontier of that of others (Article 4 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man). More generally, they defended critical thinking and rationalism. Where do we stand today with this ambitious project, which aimed to help the individual free himself from all constraints? Which of these ideas have been preserved, and which have not?

One of the core elements of the French Enlightenment project is individual emancipation, understood as the embodiment of “negative” liberty. Modern negative liberty, unlike “positive” liberty, no longer subordinates freedom to any good, but conceives it as the pure absence of constraints. To put it another way, if the individual is to become freer than before, he or she must emancipate himself or herself from unchosen intermediary structures, institutions and associations (such as the Church, the family, or possibly the nation).

The May 1968 Revolution: When Autonomy became Enjoyment

The ideological revolution that was May 68 maintained this notion of negative freedom, but subjected it to a double movement that would no doubt have surprised many heralds of the Enlightenment.
Firstly, as Jean-Pierre Le Goff demonstrates in detail in Mai 68, L’héritage impossible, “pedagogical” educational experiments of all kinds began here, and had at their ideological heart the extension of this emancipatory project to children. The soixante-huitards seized on the liberal malaise surrounding education (whether or not to actively inculcate children with ideas in order to perpetuate the culture of the Enlightenment) to take a radically “neutral” and seemingly more coherent stance. Nothing will be “imposed” on schoolchildren anymore; and from this point of view (provided we believe that such a will can actually be put into practice), the durability of the Enlightenment project becomes dramatically more complicated.

Secondly, “cold,” quasi-stoic rationalism gave way to “hot” hedonism, and the freedom of the cost-benefit calculator was suddenly transformed, with the advent of the baby-boom generation, into the freedom of “unfettered enjoyment.” The absence of constraints meant the end of any notion of discipline or self-control, making 1968 both the apotheosis of student activism and the beginning of its end, since you had to be able to get up on time for a demonstration if you wanted to fight for anything (Although Twitter now makes it possible to reconcile a lack of individual discipline with the desire to “militate” for a cause.). The inability to postpone gratification (i.e., to put off enjoyment until tomorrow), which “the Thought of 1968” and consumer society bequeathed to their children, made any long-term collective project unlikely.

What’s more, this eulogy of the enjoying-subject was bound to raise its share of contradictions. As Deleuze wrote: “Far from presupposing a subject, desire can only be achieved at the point where someone is divested of the power to say, I.” Absolute jouissance dispossesses the subject, particularly over the long term, of all self-mastery, and thus of any real free will. As Chesterton put it: “Giving in to temptation is like giving in to a blackmailer; you pay to be free, and end up all the more enslaved for it.” The contemporary figure of the “addict”—the man dominated by his impulses and passions—is one of the paradoxical fruits of this conception of freedom.

The Advertising Revolution: When Consumerism “Buried” the Man of the Enlightenment

Advertising played a particularly paradoxical role here; born of capitalism’s need for accumulation, itself a product of liberal modernity, it nevertheless increasingly focused on this second type of individual. In recent decades, advertising has clearly made less and less reference to factual information (which the rational-autonomous individual could sort out at will by calculating his preferences), preferring instead to present the masses with feelings, impressions, through a play of associations of ideas. Blocks of text extolling the “objective” and comparative merits of products (how crazy that sounds today!) have given way to images of dancing iPod silhouettes from the 2003-05 period.

What kind of “factual information” would this offer the rationalist consumer? In other words, contemporary advertising has “buried” the man of the Enlightenment in every sense of the word, both as an observation—it realizes that he no longer exists—and as a project—it has largely worked towards his disappearance by arousing his passions.

The Postmodern Revolution: From Critical Rationalism to the Critique of Rationalism

This rational individual was based on the example of Descartes, whose first act in his Meditations was to question the reality of his senses and the external world, and then gradually rebuild his certainties with the use of his abstract reason alone. This first critical moment was taken up and radicalized by the postmodern movement, which, in an astonishing reversal, turned it against reason itself.

In Penser, c’est dire non (Thinking is Saying No), Jacques Derrida describes the philosopher Alain as “a Descartes who, wanting to be more faithful to Cartesianism than Descartes himself, constantly wants to recommence, once and for all, the gestures that Descartes deemed it sufficient to make.” Inspired by this approach, Derrida would assert: “what matters… what is interesting, philosophically, is not that thought refuses this or that, this rather than that, it is that it is refusal itself, and that it is in itself refusal.” This leads him to make the comparison between the “yes” of the head that the individual makes when falling asleep and the “no” of waking up: “To think is therefore to say no, because to think is to be awake.” Note that in this scheme, the will to say “yes” to anything—in short, to be able to rebuild after the first critical moment—is equated with sleep, itself historically associated with death…

In a similar vein, Michel Foucault (in his lecture, “Qu’est-ce que la critique?”) wishes to retain from the Enlightenment the “principle of a permanent critique and creation of ourselves in our autonomy.” Critical of this point of view, and lamenting the political consequences of the rejection of the Enlightenment by a growing part of the Left, academic Stéphanie Roza in La gauche contre les Lumières asserts: “The left has learned the hard way how much it can go too far. Its limits, which must not be crossed on pain of political self-destruction, are defined by the contours of the legacy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which was its original crucible.” Without passing judgment on the substance of this analysis (for at present, the Left that explicitly rejects the Enlightenment does not win many elections), it’s worth noting that by formulating things in this way, Roza opens himself up to an obvious reproach. Indeed, if the Enlightenment and the French Revolution are conceived first and foremost as critical movements, is it a betrayal of their heritage to criticize them?

A few decades later, the “woke” movement in which our Western societies are increasingly immersed calls for a “critical awakening of consciences.” This unlikely synthesis of Marxism and postmodernism is distinguished by its quasi-explicit praise of pure negation and an inability to formulate its political project positively; we need to “deconstruct” the whole world, “fight against” certain stereotypes, be “anti-racist/sexist” and so on. In addition to the amusing semantic parallel (we “wake up” early in the morning, thanks to the “lights” of this new dawn), Wokeism retains from the Enlightenment, above all, individual emancipation, while specifying that this requires the destruction of the “rationalist/ patriarchal/racist system.” To put it another way, the negative freedom of this movement now sees the Enlightenment and rationalism themselves as constraints.

And yet, for centuries now, we have been called upon to eradicate them.

Pierre Valentin, a graduate in philosophy and political science, will be publishing Comprendre la Révolution Woke (Understanding the Woke Revolution) with Gallimard. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef

Featured: La beauté est dans la rue (Beauty is in the street). A poster from May 1968.

“Preface” to The Last Mistress

The “Preface” to The Last Mistress (Une vieille maîtresse), by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, is a well-known defense of the Catholic novel. The work of Barbey (1808–1889) is exceptional for its depth and its beauty. He belonged to a Norman aristocratic family, was a firm Catholic, a monarchist, and also a man who stressed the importance of refinement (dandyism). He was a prolific writer, who consistently published novels, poems and essays. His influence on writers and thinkers has been profound.

“Preface” to New Edition of The Last Mistress

This novel was first published in 1851.

At that time, the author had not embarked on the path of convictions and ideas to which he gave his life. He had never been an enemy of the Church. On the contrary, he had always admired it as the greatest and most beautiful thing on earth, but only in human terms. Although a Christian by baptism and respect, he was not one by faith and practice, as he has now become, thanks to God.

And since he did not simply pull away his mind from the systems to which he had, in passing, clung, but that, to the extent of his action and strength, he fought philosophy and will fight it as long as he breathes, Freethinkers (Libre Pensée), with their customary loyalty and broad-mindedness, did not fail to oppose his recent Catholicism with an old-fashioned novel, which dares to be titled, The Last Mistress, and whose aim was to show not only the intoxications of passion, but also its enslavements.

Well, it is this opposition between such a book and his faith that the author of The Last Mistress intends to reject today. He in no way admits, whatever the Freethinkers may like to say, that his book, for which he accepts responsibility since he is republishing it, is really an inconsistency with the doctrines that are, in his eyes, the very truth. With the exception of a libertine detail of which he admits guilt, a detail of three lines, and which he has removed from the edition he now offers to the public, The Last Mistress, when he wrote it, deserves to be classed with all those compositions of literature and art whose object is to represent the passion without which there would be no art, no literature, no moral life; for the excess of passion is the abuse of our freedom.

The author of The Last Mistress was then, as he is now, no more than a novelist who painted passion as it is and as he saw it, but who, in painting it, condemned it on every page of his book. He preached neither with it nor for it. Like the novelists of the Libre Pensée, he did not make passion and its pleasures the right of man and woman, and the religion of the future. True, he expressed it as energetically as he could, but is this what he is being reproached for? Is it the ardor of his color as a painter that he must catholically accuse himself of? In other words, is not the question raised against him with regard to The Last Mistress much higher and more general than the interest of a book that was not being talked about all the time, for lack of a reason to throw it in its author’s face? And is not this question, in fact, that of the novel itself, which the enemies of Catholicism forbid us Catholics to touch?

Yes, that’s the question! Put like that, it is impertinent and comical. Take a look! In the morality of the Libres Penseurs (Freethinkers), Catholics are not allowed to touch romance and passion, on the pretext that their hands must be too pure, as if all wounds that spurt blood or poison did not belong to pure hands! They cannot touch drama either, because that is passion again. They must not touch art, literature or anything else, but kneel in a corner, pray and leave the world and Free Thought alone. I certainly believe that Freethinkers would want that! If it is buffoonish on the one hand, on the other, such an idea has its depth. I do believe they would like to get rid of us by such ostracism, to be able to say, having blocked all avenues, all specialties of thought: “Those wretched Catholics! Are they distant from all the ways of the human spirit!” But frankly, we need another reason than that, to accept, with a humble and docile heart, the lesson that the enemies of Catholicism are kind enough to teach us about the Catholic consequence of our actions and the fulfillment of our duties.

And to bring things out in the open, by the way, how do they come to know about Catholicism? They do not know the first thing about it. They despise it too much to have ever studied it. Is it their hatred that has surmised the spirit beneath the letter? What is morally and intellectually magnificent about Catholicism is that it is broad, comprehensive, immense; that it embraces the whole of human nature and its various spheres of activity; and that, over and above what it embraces, it still deploys the great maxim: “Woe to him who is scandalized!” There is nothing prudish, pompous, pedantic or restless about Catholicism. It leaves that to false virtues, to shorn Puritanisms. Catholicism loves the arts and accepts, without trembling, their audacity. It accepts their passions and their paintings, because it knows that we can learn from them, even when the artist himself does not.

There are terrible indecencies for impure minds in Michelangelo’s painting (The Last Judgment), and in more than one cathedral there are things that would have made a Protestant cover his eyes with Tartuffe’s handkerchief. Does Catholicism condemn them, reject them and erase them? Did not the greatest Popes and the holiest saints protect the Artists who did these things, which the austere Protestants would have abhorred as sacrilegious? When did Catholicism forbid the recounting of an act of passion, no matter how awful or criminal it may have been, the drawing of pathetic effects from it, the illumination of a chasm in the human heart, even though there might be blood and mire at the bottom of it; in short, the writing of novels, that is to say, of history that is possible when it is not real, that is to say, in other words, of human history? Nowhere! On the contrary, it has allowed everything, but with the absolute reservation that the novel would never be a propaganda of vices or a preaching of error; that it can never allow itself to say that good is evil and evil is good, and that it can never be sophistry for the benefit of abject or perverse doctrines, like the novels of Madame Sand and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. With this proviso, Catholicism has even allowed vice and error to be portrayed in their deeds, and to be portrayed in their likeness. It does not clip the wings of genius, when there is genius.

Catholicism would not have prevented Shakespeare, if Shakespeare were Catholic, from writing that sublime scene which opens Richard III, in which the desolate woman who follows the coffin of her husband, poisoned by her brother, after spewing appalling imprecations against the murderer, ends up giving him her wedding ring and surrendering herself to his false and incestuous love. It is abominable, it is dreadful, the simpletons even say improbable, because this hideous change of a woman’s heart takes place in the short duration of a scene, which is, in my opinion, one more truth; yes, it is abominable and dreadful, but it is beautiful in human truth; profoundly, cruelly, frighteningly beautiful; and truth and beauty, of whatever kind, are not subtracted or abolished by Catholicism, which is absolute truth. And, mind you! Shakespeare does not dogmatize. He exposes. He does not say or make the spectator say: “Richard III is right. The woman he seduces over the warm body of her murdered husband is right to let herself be seduced by the murderous brother-in-law who is now king.” No! he says: “Such it is;” and with the superb impassivity of the artist, who is sometimes impassive, he makes it seen, and in a way so powerful that the heart writhes in the chest, and the brain is struck by it as by a shock of lightning electricity.

Well, now, descend from Shakespeare to all artists, and you have the process of art that Catholicism absolves, and that consists in diminishing nothing of the sin or crime that was intended to be expressed.

But there is more, and Catholicism goes even further. Sometimes vice is amiable. Sometimes passion has eloquence, when it tells or speaks, that is almost a fascination. Will the Catholic artist shrink from the seductions of vice? Will he stifle the eloquence of passion? Should he refrain from painting either, because they are both powerful? Will not God, who has allowed them to man’s freedom, allow the artist to put them in his work in his turn? No, God, the Creator of all realities, forbids none of them to the artist, provided, I repeat, that the artist does not make of them an instrument of perdition. Catholicism does not shun art for fear of scandal. In fact, sometimes scandal is a good thing.

There is something (if you will pardon the expression) more Catholic than you would think in the inspiration of all those painters who have taken pleasure in depicting splendid beauty, like gold, purple and snow, of this butcheress, this Herodias, the assassin of Saint John. They did not deprive her of any of her charms. They have made her divine in beauty, looking at the severed head offered to her, and she is all the more infernal for being so divine! This is how art should work. To paint what is, to grasp human reality, whether crime or virtue, and bring it to life through the almighty power of inspiration and form, to show reality, to enliven even the ideal—that is the artist’s mission. Artists are catholically below Ascetics, but they are not Ascetics; they are artists. Catholicism hierarchizes merit, but does not mutilate man. Each of us has his own vocation within his own faculties. Nor is the artist a police prefect of ideas. When he has created a reality, by painting it, he has accomplished his work. Ask nothing more of him!

But I hear the objection, and I know it: But the morality of his work! But the influence of his work on the already shaken public morality! etc., etc., etc.

My safe answer to all this is that the artist’s morality lies in the strength and truth of his painting. By painting reality, by infiltrating it, by breathing life into it, he has been moral enough: he has been true. Truth can never be sin or crime. If a truth is abused, too bad for those who abuse it! If a living, true work of art leads to evil conclusions, too bad for the guilty reasoners! The artist has nothing to do with the conclusion. “He lent to it,” you may say. Did God lend to man’s crimes and sins when He created the free soul of man? Did He lend to the evil that men can do, by giving them everything they abuse, by putting His magnificent, calm and good creation in their hands, under their feet, in their arms? Come now, I have known imaginations so unbridled and carnal that they felt the fiery lash of desire as they gazed at the lowered eyelashes of Raphael’s Virgins. Should Raphaël have stopped to avoid this danger, and thrown into the fire his Vierge d’Albe, his Vierge à la Chaise, and all his masterpieces of purity, apotheoses of human virginity repeated twenty times over? For some people, is not everything a stumbling block, an opportunity to fall? Should Art expire defeated by considerations that support all failures? Should it be replaced by a preventive system of high prudence that allows nothing of anything that could be dangerous, i.e., ultimately, nothing of nothing?

The artist creates by reproducing the things God has made, which man distorts and upsets. When he has reproduced them exactly, luminously, he has, it is certain, as an artist, all the morality he should have. If one has a fair and penetrating mind, one can always draw from one’s work, disinterested in anything that is not the truth, the teaching, sometimes contained, that it envelops. I am well aware that we sometimes have to dig deeper, but artists write for their peers, or at least for those who understand them. And besides, is depth a crime? Surely Catholic wisdom is more vast, more rounded, more frank and more robust than the Moralists of the Libre Pensée imagine. Let them ask the Jesuits, those astonishing politicians of the human heart, who understood morality so greatly, who saw it from so high up, when on the contrary the Jansenists shrank it and saw it from so low down, making it so narrow, so silly and so hard! Let them question one of those Casuists with a spirit of discernment and relief, such as the Church has produced so many of, especially in Italy, and they will learn, since they are unaware of it, that no prescription rips from our hands the passion whose history the novel writes, and that the narrow, chagrined and scrupulous Catholicism they invent against us is not the one that has always been the Civilization of the world, both in the order of thought and in the order of morality!

And this is not a theory invented at pleasure for the needs of a cause, it is the very spirit of Catholicism. The author of The Last Mistress asks to be judged in this light. Catholicism is the science of Good and Evil. It probes the kidneys and hearts, two cesspools filled, like all cesspools, with an incendiary phosphorus; it looks into the soul—this is what the author of The Last Mistress has done. He has described passion and its faults, but has he apotheosized it? He has described its power, its interlocking, the kind of bar it puts in our free will, as in a distorted coat of arms. He has not narrowed either passion or Catholicism, while painting them. Either The Last Mistress must be absolved of what it is, whatever it is, or we must give up this thing called the novel. Either we must give up painting the human heart, or we must paint it as it is.

If only the gentlemen of the Libre Pensée, so devoted to social interests as we know, found The Last Mistress subversive. Her! But the author, in telling this sad story, could have been impassive, and he was not! He condemned Marigny, the guilty husband! He made him feel remorse and even shame! He made him confess to his grandmother and condemn himself. But his wife, to whom Marigny eventually begs forgiveness, does not forgive him! No novelist has been more the Torquemada of his heroes than the author of The Last Mistress. Yes, passion is revolutionary; but it is because it is revolutionary that it must be shown in all its strange and abominable glory. From the point of view of the Order, the history of revolutions is a good story to write.

That is what we have to say to the gentlemen of the Libre Pensée! Let us finish with a word from their Master. “There are vile decencies,” said Rousseau.

Catholicism knows no such thing.

October 1, 1865.

Featured: Portrait of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, by Émile Lévy; painted in 1882.

France: Islamist Hordes and Leftists Declare Civil War

Our headline might be incomprehensible to those who limit themselves to following the news through the official, mainstream media of the System. It is only thanks to alternative media that one can learn that the fire that is sweeping France is not a matter of mere disorder provoked by groups of “youths” from the suburbs—the famous “banlieues” full of emigrated masses.

For four days now, every night the same thing has been happening:

  • fires of all kinds and in particular hundreds of cars belonging to French workers are burned
  • attacks against the police and firemen (several police stations set on fire)
  • devastation of schools, town halls and libraries
  • assault on stores and stores
  • attacks against the Church (an 80-year-old Catholic priest, stripped and beaten, an evangelical church destroyed)
  • dead and wounded (two policemen—of whom nobody speaks—killed yesterday, along with 300 of their colleagues injured)

And all this, not only in the “cités” of the banlieue, where the police dare not even enter, but all over the country, from Marseilles where the Islamic implantation is getting stronger and stronger, to the Nordic Lille, passing, of course, through Paris.

Everything exploded, as usual—as also happened in the USA with the Blacks Live Matter—following the death in Nanterre of Nahel, a little Arab who at seventeen years of age had already been arrested several times (oh, that’s right, only petty crimes, thefts, drug trafficking, that sort of thing). When last Tuesday, during a traffic control, the police stopped the high-end car he was driving, despite not having a license, little Nahel tried to flee, by running over a policeman, who shot to defend himself and avoid being run over—and Nahel thus was killed him.

That’s when it all started. The Afro-Islamic mobs, accompanied by the white left-wing collaborationists, took to the streets. But don’t think that they were motivated by a deep feeling of grief for the death of one of their own. If this death has obviously been the spark that has set everything on fire, it is not what is driving them to loot and devastate everything in their path. It is not with grief wringing their hearts that such outrages are committed. Only those who are moved by a deep hatred for the world that has welcomed them and which they would like to destroy can plunder in this way.

Of course, this world deserves to be destroyed. But for reasons diametrically opposed to those that motivate the mobs. If our world deserves to be destroyed, it is to save, to enlarge civilization—our white and European civilization. Not to destroy it. Not to implant in its place the laws of Islam.

It is all the more necessary to put an end to such a world because the softness of its rulers prevents them from acting with the firmness required on occasions of exception, such as the present one. “It is the sovereign who decides in a state of emergency,” said Carl Schmitt. But so far Macron has not dared to decree any state of emergency, no state of alarm, not even curfews. And this when, at the time of writing, we are entering the fourth night of the most serious riots that France has known since the Paris Commune in 1871. And Macron (apart from surely planning for a helicopter to take him out of the Elysée, as he foresaw when the Yellow Vests rioted) has limited himself to throwing his policemen and gendarmes as bait into the hands of the mobs that attack them. He and his people believe that, with a scolding and a few gentle slaps on the hand, such people can be calmed, soothed, softened. Softening—they imagine—like the softies that such leaders are.

The French people, terrified and locked up in their homes, meanwhile see their cars and their buildings being set on fire by the pack. And the people do nothing. What can they do? Get themselves massacred?

Apart from the fact that their own softness prevents them from taking any action of any sort of risk, it is not up to the people, but to the forces of order to put things right. Including the army, whose intervention, according to a survey by the C-News television channel, is desired by 70% of the population.

A different matter is that later, when normality returns to the streets (if it returns), these same people will vote again for Macron & Co. They are really good at this, and so much more.

Javier Ruiz Portella, journalist, essayist, writer and publisher, in Spain, whose recent book is N’y a-t-il qu’un dieu pour nous sauver? (Is There No God to Save Us?). This article is through the kind courtesy of El Manifiesto.

Catholicism’s Vital Forces: Finally Seeing Reality!

On May 5, La Croix published a survey on the subject of “Why Catholic families have difficulty passing on their religion,” pointing out that in France 91% of Muslims, 84% of Jews and only 67% of Catholics retain their religion from one generation to the next. Admittedly, the minority phenomenon no doubt goes a long way to explaining the high rate of transmission in Muslim and Jewish families, whereas disaffection is more likely to affect a “majority” religion in a socio-political context where Christianity is marginalized.

That said, this “majority” status of Christians is now outdated, with only 25% of 18-59 year-olds declaring themselves to be Catholic, compared with 43% twelve years earlier. The situation is therefore worrying. La Croix notes, however, that some of the faithful pass on the faith far better than others:

“These observant and rather conservative Catholic families successfully steer their spiritual reproduction, carefully selecting the religious socialization of their children (Catholic schools, youth movements, friendship circles).”

And the fact that Catholicism is becoming a minority religion accentuates this phenomenon, notes Yann Raison du Cleuziou, interviewed in the La Croix article:

“In a minority landscape, a religion tends to restructure itself in order not to disappear. This reconfiguration leads to an intensification of the “familiar” around distinctive practices.”

Drawing Conclusions

What’s extraordinary is the incredible contrast between the fairly unanimous agreement on the observation, relayed even by La Croix, a newspaper hardly known for its “conservative” positions, and the total absence of conclusions drawn from this observation! What more will it take for our Catholic elites to understand that what attracts and remains fruitful in the Church is in no way akin to the hackneyed assumptions of progressivism?

These assumptions—ordinations of married men and women, blessing of same-sex couples, acceptance of contraception, softening of Christian morality, etc.—have solved nothing wherever they have been used. Wherever they have been implemented (as in Protestantism), they have solved nothing, if not simply worsened the situation. So why do these demands occupy such a disproportionate place in the concerns of the media and religious bodies? Why do we remain with an overly horizontal vision of the Church, where grace no longer seems to count, where the priest is desacralized to ward off any form of “clericalism?” And why is it that those who, on the contrary, advocate a return to a certain verticality by placing the Eucharist, properly celebrated, at the center of Christian life, the regular practice of confession, the promotion of adoration and popular piety, are given too little encouragement and support by the authorities, when they are not simply persecuted?

“Progressive” Christians are our brothers and sisters, and have the right to express their positions—which should nevertheless be circumscribed by the Magisterium. But is it normal, when they are a minority and far from representing the Church’s vital forces, for there to be such a gap between the power they still wield and the reality of the grassroots of French Catholicism, which is poorly represented at all levels and sometimes even suspected of being too conservative?

Is Vatican II Really Under Threat?

In an interview with the Jesuits of Hungary published on May 9, Pope Francis expressed his concern: “the resistance [to the Vatican II Council] is terrible;” “there is an incredible restorationism;” the fruit of a “nostalgic illness;” “the danger today is the return to the past, the reaction against modernity.” This is how he justifies his motu proprio Traditiones custodes (2021).

Apart from the Society of St. Pius X, whose canonical position means it is not affected by this motu proprio, and a few easily identifiable traditionalist figures, it’s hard to understand who the Pope is talking about! And yet, the Pope’s remarks are unusually violent, targeting a small part of his flock—he castigates his own sons, without ever naming them precisely or demonstrating the validity of his accusations, as if “modernity” were in itself unassailable. He discredits an entire movement which is not homogeneous, and most of whom no more question Vatican II (which they have not read) than ordinary Catholics.

In the present context of the “collapse” of Catholicism (G. Cuchet), is the priority really to punish indiscriminately the faithful who don’t recognize themselves in the description given of them? And thus marginalize a part of the Church that is bearing much fruit, fervently practicing a beautiful liturgy, transmitting the faith better than elsewhere, inspiring vocations? The “tradiyionalists” are not the only ones to have stood firm on these issues—they are part of the much broader conservative orbit evoked by the La Croix survey. Our poor European Church is already far too fragmented, so why exhaust ourselves in vain divisions instead of trying to unite all its vital forces?

Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.

Featured: Wrisberg epitaph, central panel: Distribution of the divine graces by means of the church and the sacraments, Hildesheim Cathedral, by Johannes Hopffe; painted in 1585.

Paul Valéry, A Magnificent Jack-of-all-Trades

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was a writer, poet and philosopher, elected to the Académie française in 1925. An eminent figure in the world of letters, he left a rich and varied body of work that is always worthy of interest. Here’s a brief overview.

Paul Valéry is unclassifiable. He eludes us all the time: neither quite novelist, nor philosopher, and really at ease in verse, given to ideas, epitomizing that last race of masters we call “men of letters.” When people try to give him credit for the arts or literature, Valéry shirks, dodges and sabotages. He hates history, loathes philosophy, reviles literature and reviles the novel. He excelled everywhere; prodigious, he cavorted with and surpassed everyone else by way of a single idea. Antiquarian, he mingled with the modern, foresaw, gifted with a talent for anticipation, like a soothsayer.

This illustrious writer, sometimes a Faustian scholar, sometimes a dandy, bow tie tied and ringed little finger, nicknamed the “civil servant of literature” by Paul Nizan, for his acts of resistance and his glory as a writer, was entitled to national homage in 1945. He was first and foremost a remarkable orator, whose speech in honor of Goethe, model “among all the Fathers of Thought and Doctors of Poetry, Pater aestheticus in aeternum,” is a perfect illustration of his talent. His eulogy for the “Jewish Bergson” is a measure of his courage under the Occupation, in 1941. This modern Bossuet, under the wings of the eagle of Meaux, paid tribute to his ancestor in Variété II (1930), praising his grandiose prose, the strength of his style, his talent for saying everything, his brilliant orations, monuments of what remains, in language, when the ideas of a time are outdated and men, distant from their tributes, end up unknown.

Valéry had no theorized philosophical system, unlike the dominant German thought. We find him somewhere between Descartes, rigorous in method, and Leonardo da Vinci, edified by the architecture of intelligence. Still inhabited by the Greeks, he used the form of dialogue, Eupalinos (1923) and L’idée fixe (1932), like Plato, and returned to the simple idea that philosophy is a quest: a quest for the absolute, for truth and purity. In his Cahiers (published, 1973-1974—Ed.), he writes: “I read philosophers badly and with boredom, as they are too long and their language is unsympathetic to me.” Sensitive to the sentence, the maxim, that make up the French charm of thought, he went everywhere, said what he wanted, constrained his free thought, meandered through ideas under the strict arches of art, in fragments and leaflets.

First there was that famous night in Genoa. On a night that resembled a crisis, he was converted. Thereafter, he devoted himself to intelligence, to the realm of the spirit, to the quest for precision. In 1896, at the age of twenty-five, this mystic of the Idea wrote La soirée avec Monsieur Teste, a strange novel-essay in which, through the intermediary of his double, Monsieur Teste himself, high priest of the Intellect, Valéry begins to think about the detachment of the soul and sensibility, in the wake of Méditations métaphysiques. And nothing but that.

Austere and Solemn?

Among the innumerable papers, texts and published thoughts, Valéry is, in Tel quel (1943) or in his Cahiers, haunted by the idea of a hidden God: “The search for God would be man’s most beautiful occupation.” The importance and quality of these notes show that a project to write a “Dialogue des choses divines” (“Dialogue of things divine”) preoccupied Valéry all his life. “Everyone keeps his own mysticism, which he jealously guards,” he insisted. Man finds himself only insofar as he finds his God.

All too quickly, Valéry’s austere, solemn character is attributed to his poetry, which is frozen and mumbling. What is taken for gelid is icy other than a classical demand taken to the heights. “Most men have such a vague idea of poetry that the very vagueness of their idea is for them the definition of poetry,” Valéry, obsessed with perfection, wanted this “holy language.” This quest, resolutely, detached him from the world of letters, novelists and journalism: “The writer-whore exists only to surrender himself. To this class belong those who claim to say what they are, think and feel;” and he adds in Tel quel: “There is always something fishy about literature—the consideration of an audience. So, there’s always a reserve of thought in which lies all the charlatanism of which every literary product is an impure product.” Then to finish off literature as if in the arena: “A novel is the height of crudeness. We’ll see one day. Those who look from the deep, rigorous side already see it.” So much for that.

Behind his reputation as a pure wit, Valéry was a great sensualist. His poetry is a perfect demonstration of this. The charm of bodies, the trance of music, long, delicate movements, the sign of the hand, the form of the dance, the praise of water—this is the Valéry universe. In Album des vers anciens (1920), inspired by Mallarmé, we find, under the appearance of a solid poetic arch, lascivious and moving, volatile and light figures and forms taking shape, as in “Baignée” (“Bathing”) which, through a play of periphrases, makes us guess a young woman in the water:

A fruit of flesh bathes in some youthful pool,
(Azure in trembling gardens) but out of water,
Singling curls with strength of the casque,
Gleams the golden head which a tomb slices at the nape.

Above the Fray

Later, Valéry wrote La Jeune Parque (1917). In this song of love and death, where life mingles with mythology, we can admire these lines: “island… summit that a fire fecundates barely intimidated, woods that will hum with beasts and ideas, with hymns of men filled by the just gift of ether.” These rhymes sound like onomatopoeia, making us believe for a moment that Valéry, a musician, is moving from the Académie to a jazz club.

At twilight, in Corona & Coronilla (published in 2008—Ed.), the old man writes a few poems to his young lover, Jeanne Voilier, whom he knows to be far from his arms:

You know it now, if you ever doubted
That I could die by the one I loved,
For you made my soul a leaf that trembles
Like that of the willow, alas, that yesterday together
We watched float before our eyes of love,
In the golden tenderness of the fall of the day.

This poem, written on May 22, 1945, two months before the poet’s death at the age of seventy-four, denotes a tenderness, a touching intimacy, not devoid of flowery lyricism. It’s a far, far cry from the night of Genoa.

Bruised by the horrors of war, Valéry descended from the clouds, returning inter homines, deluded by certain illusions. He no longer believed in history, as he wrote in Regards sur le monde actuel: “History justifies whatever one wants. It teaches rigorously nothing, because it contains everything, and gives examples of everything… The danger of letting ourselves be seduced by History is greater than ever.”

With History out of the way, Valéry seemed to turn to mathematics, as he murmured in his drafts: “Simple solutions, expedients, that’s all-human conduct, in politics, in love, in business, in poetry—expedients, and the rest is mathematics.” He confessed in 1944 in Le Figaro: “Politics is the maneuvering of the more by the less, of the immense number by the small number, of the real by images and words; in other words, it’s a mechanics of relays.”

Paul Valéry was above the fray. Neither stupidly left-wing, nor fatally right-wing. He was a circumspect observer of nations. He was an eminent member of intellectual Europe, like Rilke in Trieste, Zweig in Vienna or Verhaeren in Brussels. Like the others, Valéry saw the great Europe of letters and sovereign nations, shattered by the appalling world war. Did he already see the post-war era? “Europe will be punished for its policies; it aspires to be governed by an American commission”—that’s for sure.

Europe, according to Valéry, is inhabited by tradition. This Europe, saved from technocracy and finance, is a civilization, “Romanized and Christianized, subject to the disciplinary spirit of the Greeks,” starting from Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. The grandiose axis. Yet this remarkable Europe, shaped by a superior spirit, remains no less fragile. This is Valéry’s despairing assessment of a Europe whose ancient parapets have been overcome by technology, the mass of a fin de siècle: “We civilizations now know that we are mortal.”

This tension between the order of civilization went hand-in-hand with a defiant and suspicious view of governments. We owe him this simple, trenchant phrase, mingled with cynicism and raw lucidity: “War, a massacre of people who don’t know each other, for the benefit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.” Sounds like Bardamu at the start of Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night)! Who’d have thought Valéry an anarchist?

Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

Featured: Portrait of Paul Valéry, by Georges d’Espagnat; painted in 1910.

Sugarcoated Interventionism: A Talk with Régis Le Sommier

Régis Le Sommier is the author of To the Last Ukrainian: An American War, from which we had the great pleasure of providing an excerpt. We are deeply thankful to his publisher, Max Milo, and to Mr. Le Sommier, to be able to bring you this interview.

The Postil (TP): Could you please tell us a little about yourself for our readers who may not be familiar with your work?

Régis Le Sommier (RS): I am 54 years old. I’ve been a senior reporter for over two decades covering the latest conflicts, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Mali and Ukraine. I was also the deputy editor of Paris Match magazine and now I am the managing editor of Omerta, an investigation and documentary digital platform.

TP: You have interviewed various American politicians including presidents. Is there a typical style of politics that stands out as being different from politicians in Europe?

RS: They expect to be challenged. Big difference from European leaders who are used to dealing with friendly journalists. They also prepare the interviews much more and don’t ask to read the print copy of the interview before it is published. Another big difference from Europe.

TP: Why is there such strong loyalty to NATO in Europe?

RS: It comes from memories of WWII. Most of Europe had been devastated by the conflict and a lot of Europeans think NATO is their best protection. Eastern European countries, quite logically, see it as a protection from Russia. In the West, it is true also. After all, the biggest success of NATO so far has been to prevent Stalin from invading Western Europe. And it worked quite well up until 1991 and the downfall of USSR. Now in a country like Germany, there are mixed feelings about NATO; but the common opinion is that Germany should stick to it in order not to be pointed out again as the worst evil, in reference to Nazism. France is the most reluctant country to NATO’s influence. Anti-Americanism is strong, both on the Right, with de Gaulle’s legacy, and on the Left, which stayed in Moscow’s sphere for a long time.

TP: Your recent book, To the Last Ukrainian: An American War (which we have excerpted), is a rather grim account of the deep involvement of the United States in the conflict in Ukraine. What compelled you to write this book?

RS: Intuition at first. I have lived six years in the US, between 2003 and 2009, during which I became aware that beyond the fight against radical Islam, a lot of politicians remained committed to fighting Russia, which, I would say, was their true enemy. Ben Laden and Baghdadi being derogative. Second, what I witnessed on the ground, especially the involvement of a US operator for recruitment at the Ukrainian Legion (foreign volunteers). Add to this, the documented story of Maidan and the war in Donbass since 2014.

TP: As you clearly show in your book, the war in Ukraine is an American project. But why did Europe agree to support America against Russia?

RS: Now not only my book says that but this was revealed to the public in a spectacular manner with the Pentagon leaks. Why Europe did that? I don’t know. Because the continent is weak and can only shape short term policies. The French president, however, with his latest remarks on China, surprised me quite a bit. Maybe Emmanuel Macron became convinced of late that the future of France doesn’t necessarily lie in US hands. We’ll see…

Régis Le Sommier in Ukraine.

TP: There is also the strange rhetoric of armed and financial support of Ukraine, backed by the contradictory claim that such support is not co-belligerence. Why is the West behaving in this way?

RS: Communication. Since, in fact, we are part of this war. Now the public seems to realize that escalation means danger to their comfortable lives. So, support of the war is decreasing.

TP: Why has Europe agreed to participate in Russophobia, even when such hatred is against its best interests?

RS: Because a lot of people have zero memory. Especially young generations who during their studies skip big chunks of history and tend to stick to the present.

TP: Then there is the media. Why does the European (French) media believe that Ukraine is a “good cause?”

RS: I don’t know. A tradition of being respectful of the authorities maybe, driven by our monarchist past? I tend to think that the US press, even biased, is more honest because in the end they stick to facts. When Russians are advancing inside Bakhmut, even the Institute for the Study of War, a neocon think tank, attests that they are. The French press keeps denying it.

TP: You bring a unique perspective—you were embedded with the Ukrainian army (among French volunteers). How would you characterize your experience?

RS: It is always a great thing for a journalist to be able to cover both sides. The war is so inflammatory that you end up almost automatically accused by both sides of being biased. But let me tell you, if both sides hammer you, it means you did your job.

TP: Ukraine and Russia have always been inseparable. But now there is an active drive to separate all traces of Russia from Ukraine. How do you explain this now bitter partition?

RS: This war is intimate. It is a family war. That is why it is so toxic and cruel. And the process to eradicate everything, to deny the other side any human aspect (Russians are Orcs, Ukrainians are Nazis) comes with this deep family feud.

TP: How deep is the neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine and in the Ukrainian military?

RS: It exists at various degrees, especially amongst the elite Ukrainian military. What struck me the most is Bandera’s legacy in Ukrainian countryside. Almost every village, especially in the West, has its Bandera memorial or flags.

TP: Did you meet any military advisors or personnel from France who were helping the Ukrainians?

RS: No, I did not.

TP: Which other countries have the largest number of volunteers fighting on the side of Ukraine? How many have sent military advisors or personnel?

Régis Le Sommier in Ukraine.

RS: I was told by Russian military fighting Ukrainian “Kraken” battalion near Bakhmut that the biggest group was Polish. That needs to be verified though.

TP: Tell us a little about Max and Sabri, the two volunteers you mention in your book. What has happened to them?

RS: The last info I got was that they are still fighting over there. Greg came back to France.

TP: Do you think this involvement in Ukraine by France stems from the “paradox” that you describe in your book which inhabits the French psyche—anti-Americanism along with an open embrace of American culture?

RS: Double standard, yes.

TP: How do you see America—a hegemon or a friendly, benign influence?

RS: I see it as my second home. I have two children living there and whenever I travel to the US, I blend in, in a split second. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not critical of it. On the international level, it is a country that serves its interests and only that. Democracy, freedom and all of this, are just a way to sugarcoat interventionism. And when things go awry, as they do most of the time, the US leaves ruins behind.

TP: “War is an American specialty,” you say in your book. Could you unpack this for us?

RS: The country has been at war for most of its existence. War and violence are not a US monopoly, but both are definitely a behavior pumped up remarkably by Hollywood. I just spent two weeks in Afghanistan. I was amazed to discover that the Taliban police special units are now dressed up exactly like US operators, the very same ones they were fighting against before. I think it speaks volumes about the attraction the US has, even amongst its worst enemies.

TP: War is also a spectacle in America, where people are conditioned, by films, to view conflict a certain way—where America is always on the side of the Good. Do the French also view war in this way?

RS: French public sees war not as a game, or an object for movies, but as something real, that involved their ancestors and that happened on their soil. Americans sees the heroes, who sometimes are their ancestors who liberated Europe. But they have never felt war on their soil. I think it makes a huge difference.

TP: You also went to Russia. Tell us a little of what you saw there?

RS: What struck me most was that contrarily to what the sanctions were aiming at, Russia is not on its knees. The food stores are full and people are buying like in any Western countries. There is no shortage of anything, even in Donbass. I was able to get a genuine original Coke at a Georgian restaurant off the Red Square in Moscow. It was imported from Armenia. This example proves that whatever sanctions you inflict on a country, you can never stop business.

TP: You describe the Russians as being “obsessed with history.” What do you mean by this?

RS: The man in the street, even from very poor background, knows his history. The 20 million or so dead soldiers in WWII is something very present for the Russian public. It is not only Putin’s obsession. It is widespread.

TP: What is life like for ordinary people in the Donbass and eastern Ukraine that is now part of Russia?

RS: Hell, near the frontlines, where a few people decided to stay. In general like in all wars, people strive to make ends meet. They don’t necessarily agree with the Russian invasion but they go along with it in order to protect their family. People live in fear. And it’s the same on the other side. The notion of being pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian often depends on the reality of everyday life in the place where you live. You don’t choose a side. The side chooses you.

TP: What does Europe hope to gain by prolonging this war? By continually supplying arms? Why doesn’t Europe work to bring peace?

RS: Europe remains aligned with the US which is the only country that can stop the war and bring it to a negotiation-phase.

TP: What larger message do you want your book to convey?

RS: Peace!

TP: Thank you so very much for your time.

How Neocons Rule the French Media

For more than a year now, the majority of the mainstream media have chosen to support Ukraine and to denigrate Russia. Why do the salesmen of Atlanticism have such an open door in the French media?

One thing is certain: treating a subject in a binary way is never a sign of good intellectual health. And Natacha Polony, in a recent editorial on the subject, is quite right to mock “a year of intellectual fraud” offered by the French media class. Also, in this article, one word catches our attention: “neoconservatism.” The editor of Marianne does not hesitate to speak of a “free forum” granted to the “most hardened representatives” of this current. But who are these people who have their place in the media? And besides, what is neoconservatism?

Europe versus New Carthage

In order to understand what neoconservatism is, we must go back to American history. If Westerners like to repeat that the United States is an extension of Europe, they often fail to mention that this country was also built and thought of as a negation of the land of their ancestors. Even if they left with a whole mass and part of the European culture, the United States has always had, and this since the beginning of its existence, the desire to split from the Old Continent. This is why Dominique Venner spoke of “an enriched and renegade bastard.”

Considering that they were living in a promised land, it was the Pilgrim Fathers who cut their ties with Europe. In Our Country, a missionary by the name of Josiah Strong asserted that “the Anglo-Saxon race has been chosen by God to civilize the world.” On December 2, 1823, President Monroe’s declaration of the United States’ desire to keep the European powers out of the New World was an admission of this coming divorce.

It was in August 1845 that the journalist O’Sullivan first used the term “manifest destiny” to legitimize the war that the United States was preparing against Mexico. He explained, “Our manifest destiny is to extend ourselves over the whole continent allotted to us by Providence, for the free development of our millions of inhabitants who are multiplying every year.” Although the United States initially saw itself as the “city on the hill,” the first decades of the 20th century symbolized a departure from this principle. Woodrow Wilson and F. D. Roosevelt were convinced of their role as “civilizers.” D. Roosevelt embodied these imperialist figures of an America projecting itself on to the outside.

Although its downfall has been predicted since 1945, the United States is objectively an exceptional power that holds together, thanks to its capacity for technical innovation and its global economic hegemony. Its strength stems in part from these ambivalences: a continent-state and master of the Anglo-Saxon thalassocracy; a superstitious nation with a great deal of pragmatism; the leading military power and master of soft power; an island with the “gift” of ubiquity. This power has served it, for the last three centuries, to promote those myths and representations that give this people the feeling that it is an “exception.” General de Gaulle said in 1956 to Raymond Tournoux: “America is Carthage… What changes everything is that America has no Rome in front of her.”

Neocons versus Old School Conservatives

Since 1970, neoconservatism has been a movement composed mainly of journalists, politicians and advisers. Originally from the Democratic camp, the “neocons” joined the Republicans during the election of Ronald Reagan. On the other hand, it is important to distinguish between neocons and conservatives, because while the former are in favor of an interventionist foreign policy, the latter are more inclined toward isolationism.

Everything starts from one observation: the international system is in a state of anarchic nature (Hobbes). This is why the United States, whose historical mission is to export democracy, must establish a planetary order of liberal inspiration. The two modern figures of this current, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, affirmed in a 1996 article that it takes political will to establish “a benevolent hegemony of the United States.” Disciples of the philosopher Leo Strauss—although their reading of him is open to debate—neoconservatives are proponents of the use of force and disdain morality, which they denounce as a lying “superstructure.”

Importantly, neoconservatism is the product of urban intellectuals in Washington, D.C., as opposed to the more entrenched men of the conservative party. The neocons despise conservatives who remain committed to America’s “common sense” and see themselves as representatives of the “real country.” While the neocons have shown themselves to be in favor of military spending and increased government control, conservatives are more hostile to capitalist centralism. During the last wars waged by the United States, it was liberals, more than right-wing voters, who endorsed the muscular foreign policy of these ideologues.

One of the paradoxes of this current is that it has its roots on the left. “The founding father of the movement, Irving Kristol, wrote in 1983 that he was still proud to have joined the Fourth International in 1940 and to have contributed to the New International and Partisan Review,” says John Laughland. This left-wing tropism is a marker of the neoconservative International. For example, in the United Kingdom, for a long time the two most hardline “hawks” of this movement (Melanie Philips and Stephen Pollard) came from it. In France, we find the same phenomenon with men like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Raphaël Enthoven, Romain Goupil, Pascal Bruckner, father and son Glucksman and Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL).

France’s Slow Submission to the Anglosphere

Winston Churchill told General de Gaulle: “Remember this, my General, between Europe and the open sea, we will always choose the open sea!” The Iraq campaign (2003) was a perfect example of this warning. In addition to having reopened the floodgates of Francophobia after the French veto at the UN, the sending of American, British and Australian troops symbolized this desire to create an “economic-political alliance that is essentially Anglophone, but with a global vocation” (Laughland).

This is not new. The idea of a “duty to interfere” is at the basis of American imperialism, which, since 1945, has been embodied in the concept of “state building.” From post-war Europe to the intervention in Afghanistan, it was on the ruin of the old nations that America was betting to set up a “new world order.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, a Pentagon document (the “Wolfowitz Report”) announced that Washington must now “convince potential rivals that they need not aspire to a greater role, regional or global.” Since then, there has been no stopping the United States, which, in defiance of the European states and their adversaries (Russia, China, Iran), has waged a war in Kosovo (1999), Iraq (2003), the Georgian conflict (2008) and the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“With me, it will be the end of a form of neoconservatism imported into France over the past ten years.” This phrase, even if it seems surprising, was President Macron’s in 2017. Wishing to return to the Gaullo-Mitterandian, or even Chiracian, legacy, Macron announced that he was committing France to a different path than that taken by his predecessors—notably that of Sarkozy in Libya and the Hollande-Fabius approach in Iran and then Syria.

However, for years France has accepted, with rare exceptions, the abandonment of its independence by following Anglo-Saxon interventions. If interventionism was also a French tradition (DRC, ex-Yugoslavia and Ivory Coast), a change has been noticed since Sarkozy and Hollande. Since its return to the Atlanticist fold, France has gradually lost its voice in the concert of nations. If Gaullism was characterized by a search for equidistance between the United States and Russia, since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this attempt at equilibrium has been replaced by an alignment with Uncle Sam.

BHL and His Clique of War-Mongers

If the nationalist side oscillates between Kiev and Moscow—see personalities like Thierry Mariani, the sovereignists or Pierre de Gaulle—the Left, for its part, has joined the Ukrainian side en masse, even if some members of the Communist party or individuals like Emmanuel Todd bring a different perspective In general, the bulk of the troop of the extreme center (from EELV to LR) has draped itself in the blue-yellow banner. But it is mainly the liberal Left that forms the outpost of the French neocons with, for example, Benjamin Haddad, who, before becoming a Renaissance deputy, represented American interests in Europe for the Atlantic Council.

The leader of this coalition, BHL, is the embodiment of these war drummers. Promoters of all the latest American invasions, these “good souls” do not hesitate to call for new battles and destruction. All the hype around BHL’s last film testified to the power of this clan in the media world, and beware of the seditious who questioned this mobilization in favor of Ukraine. Attacking in swarms on television sets (LCI, France 2), radio mornings (France Inter and RTL) and magazine editorials (ParisMatch, L’Express), these “intellectuals” go on warlike diatribes in the name of the “values of the West,” the defense of Europe and the “free world.” In an article for Le Monde diplomatique, Serge Halimi and Pierre Rimbert even speak of a “crusading mood” and an “absence of pluralism.” Lacan liked to say that Kant never went without Sade; if the neocons are moral, it is because they surely take pleasure in it.

Rodolphe Cart is a writer who lives in Paris, France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Revue Éléments.

Featured: Dido Building Carthage, by J. M. W. Turner; painted in 1815.

Pierre Legendre: The Last “Renaissance Man”

Pierre Legendre (1930-2023) was one of the greatest thinkers that France has produced in modern times. His rich and nuanced thought, which encompassed history, philosophy, film, psychoanalysis, anthropology, and the law, he himself characterized as “dogmatic anthropology.” His passing on March 2, 2023 marked the end of an era in that he was the last “Renaissance man,” one learned in so many fields of knowledge, least of which was his mastery of a beautiful Latin style.

The French philosophy, Pierre Musso, author of Introductions à l’œuvre de Pierre Legendre [Introduction to the Work of Pierre Legendre], published just a few days before the thinker’s death, assesses and comments on the monumental legacy that Legendre has left behind. Professor Musso is in conversation with PHILITT, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interview.

PHILITT (PL): The silence that followed the death of Pierre Legendre outraged some of his readers. Do you share this indignation? How do you explain the relative indifference of the academic world towards his thought and his work?

Pierre Musso (PM): I am not overly disturbed by the low media profile of Pierre Legendre’s death. Legendre himself did not particularly like the media or academic circles, and avoided them as much as possible. When one sees the tributes that the media pay, especially in the audiovisual sector, to various popular personalities—which Legendre was not—one can legitimately think that it is rather to Legendre’s glory that he was not celebrated in this way. Moreover, Legendre has always been a contrarian, on the fringes of academic and, of course, media institutions.

The real cause of this post-mortem silence, in my opinion, lies in the sheer ignorance of Legendre’s work in these circles, and in particular in France. If his work remains important and widely disseminated, notably his first film, La fabrique de l’homme occidental [The Fashioning of Western Man] (1996), with the text published in the collection of the Mille et une nuits [Thousand and One Nights], it is especially known and recognized abroad. There are already translations in German, in part in Italian, in Japanese, and some in English.

Paradoxically, many thinkers have been inspired by Legendre, often without quoting him. Legendre has been, as he himself said, “plundered” a lot, for a long time, including by intellectual luminaries who do not necessarily refer to Legendre’s work when quoting him. This is the fate of important works. His work spanned some sixty years, from the 1960s to the present. He pursued his work with constancy and on the fringes of institutions and disciplines. And this work is immense. Immense not only by its volume—some forty works, including his ten “Leçons [Lessons],” which contain the essence of his thought—but above all by its originality and complexity. I prefer to call it a cathedral work. In other words, a monument with an architecture of great complexity, but which offers several entrances and where one is free to go and admire this stained-glass window, that work of art in one corner, that text in another.

One of the aspects that explains the difficulty of apprehending Legendre’s thought is that he cannot be put away in a compartment, educed to a discipline. Legendre was not simply a jurist, a psychoanalyst, perhaps a philosopher and probably more an anthropologist. He himself would have gladly called himself “founder of dogmatic anthropology,” which is obviously incomprehensible, even dangerous, for most media.

PL: As you write in the introduction to Introductions à l’œuvre de Pierre Legendre [Introductions to the work of Pierre Legendre], “a scholar at the interface between science and poetry,” Legendre stands out from recent thinkers because of his erudite style and his multidisciplinary analysis that spans two millennia of the history of thought. In your opinion, what is Pierre Legendre’s genius—in the sense of the Latin ingenium?

PM: Legendre’s fundamental intuition is that of symbolic determinism. What is it about? Legendre places at the heart of his thought the question of why? This question was formulated, to put it simply, by a Father of the Church, Isidore of Seville, an encyclopedist of the 6th-7th century, who asked both why live and die? And how to live and die? The question of why is that of meaning; and, beyond meaning, that of the symbolic, knowing that the “speaking animal,” as Legendre calls it, constantly asks itself the question of why, and is aware of this constitutive intrigue of its being, transmitted from generation to generation. The stake, to “institute the human animal,” is to build founding narratives, myths or fictions, which answer this question of the why?

Nowadays, in Western society, the question of why is largely evacuated. Either it takes refuge in traditional religions, or society only responds to the question of how, to the question of norms and technique. We are thus faced with what Legendre calls a “wandering of the symbolic” or a “symbolic disintegration;” that is, a phenomenon of de-symbolization. This means for Legendre that there are several forms of “rationality.” That of the principle of non-contradiction, first of all, the rationality of logic in the Aristotelian sense and a fortiori in the Hegelian sense; that is to say, the constant rise in abstraction in rationality. Legendre borrows from Husserl the term of “surrationality” to characterize the West of today, where Bachelard spoke of “surrationalism,” in reference to surrealism.

The second form of rationality, fundamental, is that of the dream or the myth, where the principle of non-contradiction does not function anymore. This is the beauty of dreams, which explains why we spend half our lives dreaming, whether asleep or awake. This second rationality, just as important as the first one, is occupied by beliefs, myths, religions. This word “religion” did not please Legendre very much. In his last works, in the last ten years, since Lessons IX, he preferred the notion of “fiduciary,” borrowed from Paul Valéry. This term introduces the notion of fides, faith, which structures a civilization from its founding myth, which belongs to the symbolic, a term that could also be discussed at length.

The third form of rationality, which has often been buried in the West but which is very prevalent in many societies, concerns the corporeal. This last one gave place to Pierre Legendre’s works on the dance, La passion d’être un autre [The Passion to be Another (1978)]. If one does not have in mind these various forms of rationality of the speaking animal, one locks oneself, as the West does today at the time of the Techno-Science-Economy, only in the surrationalism or the technical, economic and techno-scientific hyperrationality.

In this respect, the accusation of conservatism made against Legendre does not stand up to analysis. Indeed, symbolic determinism is a reaction to what other currents, for example Marxists, have called “economic determinism” or still others “technical determinism.” Basically, as I write in a provocative way in these Introductions, one could link Legendre to a whole neo-Marxist or neo-Marxian current, a current which, against this formula of economic or technical determinism prevalent in Marx, Engels or Lenin, has valorized, within the Marxian matrix, the question of cultures, of the symbolic and of the imaginary. I am thinking in particular of Gramsci, Cultural Studies, the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer). From this point of view, we can make a connection, which I myself sketched out in La Religion industrielle, between Legendre’s contribution and these currents. In any case, to classify Legendre among the conservatives is of little interest.

PL: At what moment and in which work do you situate the birth of “dogmatic anthropology” and the Legendrean project of subjecting the West to a kind of great genealogy or psychoanalysis?

PM: To understand Pierre Legendre’s project, one must first understand the meaning he gives to dogmatic anthropology. Legendre deliberately borrows a word, that of “dogma,” which he describes as “dangerous, sulfurous,” since “dogmatic” is often used to characterize fixed thought. Legendre in fact reinvests the Greek etymology of “dogma” (δόγμα), that is, that which appears and which, in its appearance, is a feint. It is thus a staging, a dramatization of the symbolic which, etymologically too, is the link that separates, according to the image of the dollar bill torn in Western filmss to find itself at the end of a contract. This link that separates refers to the unspeakable and the invisible: God, the Fatherland—one thinks of Kantorowicz’s text on the formula “to die for the Fatherland”—the Republic, Peace, and other beliefs or founding myths of our societies. For example, it seems to me that one of the major myths in the West today is that of scientific progress, established as a myth by positivism in particular. The institutions, their norms and their laws, in a society, are established and founded “in the name” of a symbolic myth, of a founding fiction. Pierre Legendre often quoted in his work this formula from the Middle Ages: Fictio figura veritatis est, i.e., “fiction is the figure of truth.” This aspect is fundamental to Legendre.

The nodal moment in Legendre’s work seems to me to be his thesis, supervised by Gabriel Le Bras and defended in 1957, entitled, “La pénétration du droit romain dans le droit canonique classique : recherche sur le mandat (1140-1254)” [“The Penetration of Roman Law into Classical Canon Law: Research on the Mandate (1140-1254”)]. Legendre was later greatly influenced by historians such as Ernst Kantorowicz or Harold Berman, who showed how the West was built, starting with what Berman called the “Big Bang of Western thought,” namely, the “papal revolution,” i.e., the Gregorian reform. For Legendre, as for Kantorowicz, this rupture of the eleventh and seventeenth centuries is the key moment when Roman law, inherited from the Empire which possessed a powerful normativity without answering the question of why, met Christianity; a kind of faith without law. This encounter was essentially born of the compilation made by the medieval jurist Gratian, an author often cited by Legendre as the founder of Western institutions, in the Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum (1140). This Decree, prolonging the “papal revolution,” maintains that man is governed according to two measures, which, on the level of institutions, will result in the opposition and the hierarchy between the papal authority and the power of the emperor, the spiritual foundation and the normative foundation. It is therefore the meeting of two monuments: the legal block inherited from Roman law and the heritage of Christian spirituality.

The intuition of dogmatic anthropology is really explicit in 1974, with the publication of L’amour du censeur : essai sur l’ordre dogmatique [The Love of the Censor: An Essay on the Dogmatic Order]. The notion of “dogmatic” appears clearly for the first time in the title of the work. With Jouir du pouvoir. Traité de la bureaucratie patriote [The Joy of Power. A Treatise on Patriotic Bureaucracy], these are the two founding texts of Legendre who, until 1982-1985, with the publication of Leçons II. L’empire de la vérité : Introduction aux espaces dogmatiques industriels [Lessons II. The Empire of Truth: An Introduction to Industrial Dogmatic Spaces], gave rise to a dogmatic anthropology. He then extended this reading of the Gregorian reform in the following works, sometimes giving the impression of repeating himself, as Lucien Sfez reproached him for doing when he devoted a long chapter to Legendre’s thought in his Critique de la communication [Critique of Communication]. Legendre repeats himself, in my opinion, because he discovered a fiduciary structure, an invariant throughout history, which he finds, with Kantorowicz and Berman, in the Gregorian reform: the double structure of man governed by the rationality of reason or normativity and that of myth. These two forms of rationality mentioned above were assembled during the Gregorian reform and thus constitute an institutional structure of the West.

Here we enter the second period of Legendre’s work. Indeed, Legendre establishes a junction, notably from Lessons II that led to his film Dominium mundi (2007), between the “Gratian moment,” in the twelfth century, the luminous century of the High Middle Ages, and the hyper-technological rationality of the “managerial revolution” of the twentieth century, named as such in James Burnham’s important book, published during the Second World War: The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (1941). Legendre notes that management has a relationship to the governance of the world that is faithful to Gratian’s decree but obeys a single measure: efficiency. The why is evacuated at the cost of a de-symbolization: what remains is the how, which Legendre calls the “Gospel of Efficiency,” the dogma of effectiveness that results from the industrialization of the West. His strength is thus to have noticed that from the Gregorian reform came two major institutions of the West: the State based on law, which is at the heart of his reflection, and the Enterprise based on management. His criticism of the disintegration of the State, quite rightly, makes him value management as a new form of rationality in the West.

When Legendre, in this period, tried to think the essence of institutions, he also did so from linguistics, taken up by Lacan. What characterizes the human, the speaking animal, is that he divides words and things. He thus enters, by definition, in the representation and to dissociate himself from the narcissistic image, that is to say from the enclosure, as Lacan underlined it; between oneself and his image, man needs a third party, the Big Other in the Lacanian sense. Any society is structured according to a ternary scheme, which Legendre takes from classical anthropology. But if we leave ternarity to enter a binary structure, as is the case in the contemporary West, where the institution dialogues with rationality alone, the balance of society is threatened. Any society is ternary because the human animal distinguishes words and things by the word. The first symbolic institution is therefore language. Following in Lacan’s footsteps and borrowing from Saussure’s linguistics, Legendre erects the bar that separates the signifier from the signified, a first form of institution of the Third. In the mirror stage of Narcissus, there is also a third term between the subject and his image: the mirror.

Finally, a last period of his work stands out after 2009, in the last fifteen years of his life. This moment of his thought is devoted to the question of the religious. Legendre wanted to produce a film on religion, following his three famous documentaries: La fabrique de l’homme occidental [The Fashioning of Western Man], Miroir d’une nation: l’ENA [Mirror of a Nation: Ecole Nationale d’Administration] and Dominium Mundi: l’Empire du Management [Dominium Mundi: The Empire of Management]. Having run out of time, he left us only one work, Les Hauteurs de l’Eden [The Heights of Eden] (2021). In the texts of this period, he shows a preference for the word “fiduciary,” deeming that the word “religion” is worn out. As he often wrote, one does not know a society that does not have a fiduciary architecture, a staging in aesthetics, music, theatrics, etc.; and this, whatever the society and not only in the West.

This interest in the fiduciary leads him to make one last great discovery, in Leçons IX. L’autre Bible de l’Occident : le monument romano-canonique [Lessons IX: The Other Bible of the West: The Roman-Canonical Monument]: the idea of “Schize” [“split”], according to a term borrowed from Lacan. Just as the Gregorian reform provides the link that separates, the foundation of the symbolic, the Schize designates the moment when, while the juridical block, that is to say the structure of rationality and normativity with which the West is endowed—that of management and law today—remains indestructible, the symbolic enters into complete erosion. The West can substitute a myth for the other, pass from God to the Republic, from the Republic to the Nation, to Progress, etc. At the time of the Schize, the link that separates is separated: separation prevails over religion which, etymologically, designates both the reading (religere) and the link (religare). The knot that held the two aspects, distinguishable during the papal revolution, is broken.

PL: Aware of the de-civilization that is taking place, in the light of the Techno-Science-Economy, in the “managerial West,” Legendre seemed, in his last works, to be definitively leaving a ship that is sinking more and more at each “bifurcation,” according to the term you use in Le religion industrielle. How did the author of l’Avant-dernier des jours [The Penultimate of Days] envision the next decades of the West?

PM: In several places in his work, Legendre criticized the Durkheimian approach to religion. According to Legendre, a great rupture took place from the moment when religion became an individual and subjective choice. Hence his preference for the term fiduciary. Originally, religion designates that which founds and governs the whole society which is held together by this foundation: myths, beliefs etc. Legendre criticized, for example, the existence of a free market of religions, the “to each his own belief,” which has as a consequence that the answer to the why is in the individual sphere. This de-symbolization leads, according to him, to a social disintegration, since the foundation of society, which makes it constitute and transmit itself from generation to generation, comes from the collective answer to the why, which constitutes the identity of the West and the genealogy of each society.

From the moment when religion becomes an individual matter, a free market, contemporary beliefs, in the light of the Techno-Science-Economy, come under hyper-rationalism and technical or techno-scientific hyper-rationality. The “In the name of” has moved towards Progress, Performance and Efficiency. Now, the idea of Progress being, for a while, debated and in the process of disintegration, there remains the technocratic and techno-scientific hyper-rationality. The future of the West, according to Legendre, is the capitalism of the New Age, the technolatry of Silicon Valley, transhumanism; that is to say, the myth of immortality, calling into question all the limits that are at the foundation of the symbolic. Everything that is technically and scientifically possible must be realized—such is the great myth of Silicon Valley. We are entering into a pure positivist functionalism, driven by the mythology of techno-scientific progress. In this respect, for Legendre, the West is heading for disaster. A society that frees itself or abandons the symbolic is condemned to social decay. From this point of view, Legendre is rather pessimistic.

Legendre saw what the West does not want to see of itself, according to his formula, and therefore looked at it from the perspective of foreign cultures, especially those of the South: Japan, Asia and especially Africa, which he visited a lot. There are therefore other civilizations that have not abandoned the why, or that have given it a different content: community and territory in the case of Africa, for example. Through positive globalization, the concert of nations, the West brings to light the values of other civilizations called “of the South.” In this respect, if he feared an “end of the West,” like Spengler or an “end of philosophy” in cybernetics like Heidegger, Legendre emphasized that this decline valorizes other forms of civilization and seems to call for another positive globalization in the concert of civilizations.

PL: If he willingly recognized, with Blumenberg, the “legitimacy of modern times,” Legendre exposed, on the other hand, the “medieval crucible” of this same modernity. In the “secularization quarrel,” which goes back at least to Hegel, and in which he takes part in spite of himself, what is Legendre’s position?

PM: One cannot have a society without symbolism, without a foundation of beliefs and myths; this is, as I have already expressed above, the starting point of dogmatic anthropology. This is why, according to Legendre, there is no society that can be secularized. Religions or fiduciary structures remain, even if they become secular with the industrial religion of the “techno-science-economy.” In dogmatic anthropology, it is institutions that hold a society together. Now the institution, Legendre explains, is what makes the collage between the why to live and the how to live; that is to say between the symbolic and the norm. If institutions no longer produce this “glue,” according to a term borrowed from the neo-Platonists, the structure of societies collapses. Legendre often resorts to the architectural metaphor and describes the structure of societies, built like monuments. Hence the importance, for Legendre, of genealogy and the link woven between the “medieval melting pot,” where the foundations of this monument that is the West are laid, and contemporary Management, the current face that this same West gives us to see. Since his vision of history is not linear but sedimentary, what is deepest in history, like the lava at the bottom of a volcano, can become the most burning actuality.

What interested Legendre is the invariant structure of the institutions that make up society. If today the West is faltering, this means that its institutions, starting with the State, still a major institution in the organization of nations in the democratic West, are no longer doing their job of “bonding” faith and law. Thus, the balance of the dogmatic edifice of the West is threatened. This disintegration of the state institution is a distant consequence of the Schize. At the time of the Schize, the State “recovered,” so to speak, the symbolism of the Church by transferring the theological to other Referents. Then, according to the great revolutions of its history, those identified by Harold Berman—the Papal Revolution, the Reformation, the English, French, American and Russian revolutions, as well as the managerial revolution (end of the 19th-20th century)—the West was constituted and the State borrowed different “founding References.” Today, the West speaks in the name of efficiency, borrowing the managerial doctrine, which I call in a book the State-Enterprise.

But this collapse of the edifice goes back further. In the last millennium, the Church was the great founding institution and the State largely took over the Church model. This model of the Church-State became a nation-state from the 16th century, with Machiavelli, etc. It triumphed with the Treaty of Rome. It triumphed with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), the acme of the State model, until the French Revolution and the beginning of the 19th century. Moreover, the State constitutes, especially in France, the pivotal institution, to which Legendre devoted his very first works, in connection with the history of administrative law for example. When Legendre sees the State becoming a “ghost,” as he writes in Fantômes de l’État en France [Phantoms of the State in France], he obviously had in mind the French model, where the State is the institution of reference. The “lassitude of the state” and its disintegration was a major concern of Pierre Legendre. I hypothesize, in several of my books, that business and management could perhaps replace, and are already serving as crutches for, this decaying state.

PL: A scholar perched on the shoulders of other scholars whose heir he readily acknowledged himself, Pierre Legendre was first and foremost a scholarly reader. If one had to make—a legendary exercise par excellence—the genealogy of his thought, with whom would you compare the author of the Leçons [Lessons]?

PM: Beyond the contribution of psychoanalysis, law, history and anthropology, Pierre Legendre was first and foremost, in my opinion, a great scholar, therefore an encyclopedist, a walking library, such as no longer exists. Legendre spent his life not only in conversations with the greatest, but in libraries all over the world, his nose in manuscripts. One can compare him, of course, to historians such as Kantorowicz or anthropologists such as Lévi-Strauss, from whom he certainly drew inspiration when he thought up his dogmatic anthropology, a reference to structural anthropology. Legendre himself cited his exchanges with André Leroi-Gourhan, who studied the relationship of the human to the world, both technical and symbolic. This duality crosses, under different forms, the work of Legendre.

Moreover, we know that he knew Lacan, that he met him frequently, that the latter helped him to publish in his book series. Legendre insisted, moreover, that his work completed a subject that the Paris Freudian school did not want to tackle, namely the institution, a blind spot in Lacan’s approach according to Legendre. However, Legendre descended more immediately from Freud. From the latter, he retained a sentence that is essential to his reasoning, found in Civilization and Its Discontents (or The Discontent in Culture), published in 1935: “If the evolution of civilization presents such similarities with that of the individual, and if both use the same means of action, would we not be authorized to make the following diagnosis: have not most civilizations or cultural epochs—even the whole of humanity perhaps—become “neurotic” under the influence of the efforts of civilization itself?”

Legendre was mostly in the line of great scholars. I am thinking of Athanasius Kircher, the German Jesuit and encyclopedist who, in the 17th century, was more important and better known than Newton. This great scholar in all fields—mathematics, astronomy, medicine, archaeology, etc. – was, for Legendre, a personal friend, whom he met and left every day, in his library. This was not limited to the producers of texts, so to speak, but concerned many artists, in literature—J.L. Borges for example, whom he met; in cinema—Chris Marker, whom he knew well and quoted in his work; in painting—Magritte, whom he often commented on. Text and image were, for Legendre, inseparable. He cherished and quoted a formula of Saint Augustine: without knowing it, man “walks in the image,” starting with his own.

Legendre’s books are, for this reason, full of images, from medieval paintings to more recent advertisements. This is not an artificial juxtaposition or gratuitous erudition; it is a way for him to show how the thought structure of a society is transmitted across generations, or beyond the medieval melting pot. From the beginning to the end of his work, his task was to detect the structure of the invariant beyond the variations.

Among Legendre’s references, one can also think of Gratian, a great jurist scholar who compiled biblical, patristic and legal texts in the 12th century. Closer to home, we can better understand Legendre by thinking of the figure of Paul Valéry: philosopher, poet and writer. In short, Legendre’s references were always other encyclopedists combining science and poetry; whatever their personal approach and the historical moment of their work.

PL: During the last twenty decades of his work, Pierre Legendre paid particular attention to young students, to whom he devoted certain essays. The Introductions, on the other hand, also testify to the diverse receptions of his work. Did Legendre seek to become a school, or at least to have an intellectual posterity?

PM: Pierre Legendre was concerned with his heritage, it seems to me, since his first film, La fabrique de l’homme occidental, that is, since 1996. The film, when I showed it to my Master’s and DEA students at the Sorbonne, was a revelation and an enlightenment for many. The documentaries that followed, the small books he published after conferences at the École des Chartes (L’inexploré [The Unexplored], 2020) or at the Lycée Louis le Grand (La Balafre: À la jeunesse désireuse [The Scar: To the Desiring Youth] 2007), for example, where he addressed a young audience, also prove that. His latest works show a concern for popularization, insofar as his work and his style are often dry and difficult.

Nevertheless, Legendre’s first concern was that of transmission: to transmit the enigma of why? The great schools and universities bathed in positivism and scientism are primarily interested in efficiency, in performance; everything appears transparent and clear. Another anthropologist, Georges Balandier, also noted that the West is in a “technological and scientific hyper-power” that avoids the economy of the why, in other words a power without meaning. Legendre left, in his own way, the same message.

Moreover, we now see international readings of Legendre, cultural appropriations of his thought. The Introductions show it well: a great scholar like Osamu Nishitani, in spite of the complexity of understanding the West from Japan, has an original and profound apprehension of Legendre’s thought. The same is true of certain German and Italian scholars. The borrowings—I spoke earlier of plundering—sometimes give way to real appropriations. Like a Michel Foucault, Legendre will in my opinion be truly recognized when he is more widely translated into English. That is also what the West is all about. That is why Legendre preferred to conduct his scholarly conversations in Latin.

With Charles Péguy in the Marne: A Preface

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Péguy (1873—1914), and by coincidence, next year will mark the 109th anniversary of his death, when he was killed in action at Villeroy, one day before the Battle of the Marne. What follows is the Preface, written by Maurice Barrès (1862—1923), to a book of memoirs, (Avec Charles Péguy de la Lorraine à la Marne, aôut-septembre 1914, With Charles Péguy of Lorraine at the Marne, August-September 1914, published in 1916), by Sergeant Victor Boudon, who served under Lieutenant Péguy,

I adored Péguy. These feelings were reciprocal. He showed me a lot of friendship. You know the penchant he had for handing out roles, so like tasks, to each of his friends; which is quite evident in the extraordinary talks that the faithful Lotte noted. To all those who appreciated him, he intended to give a task in his life. In his eyes, I was a boss, an elder, an “old man” on whom he could rely. One day he said to me, “You are our patriarch.” I was astonished.

I can still hear him, I can still see him, as he was that day, arriving in Neuilly, as usual, in his devilish great coat, his eyes full of fire and insight, but a little turned inward and intent on his own concerns. His bushy, ageless face, radiant with the youth of children and the bonhomie of old people, and thus casting me, with a single word, quite unexpectedly, into the cellars of the deepest old age, as much as into the grave. A patriarch! How fast life goes by!

He named me thus out of affection and to mark out my path for me. I was a subscriber to the Cahiers; the first one; I had announced and celebrated the Joan of Arc. If it had been up to me, he would have had the great prize of literature at the Academy. But all the same, we had obtained for him another prize, an equivalent—he gave a part of his work to my publisher and friend, M. Emile Paul. Then, as he reported in his Entretiens avec Lotte (Talks with Lotte), he and I dreamed that he would enter the Academy quickly.

He was happy with all this; but all this is nothing but trifles and dried grass compared to the real service that I was able to render him, comparable to a source of living water that I was allowed to make gush out and that forever preserves him from death.

On December 12, 1914, a soldier wrote to me from hospital no. 17, in Laval: “I had the honor of fighting alongside and under the command of Charles Péguy, whose glorious death on the field of honor you have exalted. He was killed on September 5th, at Villeroy, next to me, while we were marching to the assault of the German positions.”

Just imagine my emotions of pleasure and piety. What! A man wounded at the Ourcq, struck the day after Péguy fell, was able to speak! On the 26th of the same month, without making a single change, I printed Victor Boudon’s admirable account. Two months later, on February 27, 1915, he put me in a position to offer a complement of the highest importance. Today, here he is publishing his incomparable deposition in all its extent and scrupulous sincerity.

With Péguy from Lorraine to the Marne August-September 1914. “These simple pages,” he says in his introductory dedication, “are the modest testimony of a soldier, to the memory of Charles Péguy, his leaders, his brothers in arms, the glorious dead of the 276th, all those who, by their heroic sacrifice, saved Paris and France in September 1914.” And this book, as Anatole France had already done with his precious collection, Sur la Voie Glorieuse (On the Path of Glory), Victor Boudon, wounded in the war, expressly notes that it will be sold “for the benefit of the Fédération Nationale & Assistance aux Mutilés des Armées de Terre et de Mer” (National Federation and Assistance to the Wounded of the Armies of Land and Sea).

May we add our thanks to the gratitude of all. What is this noble witness? What is the merit of this companion who will never leave Péguy down the centuries?

When the war called him to the regiment, Victor Boudon was a salesman. Before that, still very young, he had worked as secretary to Francis de Pressensé at the Human Rights League. That is to say that no one more than he would have been able to immediately become intoxicated with our friend’s theories on the Mystery of the Revolution and of the Affair, and very quickly with his theories on the Mystery of Joan of Arc. But, curiously enough, Boudon was unaware of these meditations when the chance of mobilization put him under Péguy’s command in August 1914, in the 276th Infantry Reserve Regiment: “I knew,” he told me, “that Péguy was writing the Cahiers de la Quinzaine. I had read a few issues, at the time of the Affair; but since then nothing.”

He regrets not having “exchanged ideas” with Péguy. “I had my place. We hardly spoke. And then it was all so short, so full of fatigue, of events. Yes, I promised myself on occasion to ask him questions and to listen to him.”

Let Boudon rest assured. He knows a truer, more beautiful, more eternal Péguy than the one we used to see; and his testimony brings us the Charles Péguy of eternity.

I am not simply saying that in this Memorial you will see Péguy standing upright in the midst of his men and as posterity welcomes him. He will appear to you in the course of these thirty days of war as a man of the oldest France; and you will see in action what you have already distinguished in Péguy’s geniality, a contemporary of Joinville and Joan of Arc—in short, the Frenchman of eternal France.

Keep in mind that there are, in these pages written by this Parisian of 1916, passages which seem to be of “the loyal servant” of Bayard type (See the place given at night to a poor woman, on page 94).

Such scenes, so pure and, so to speak, holy, are mixed in with other scenes that are far cruder and which, moreover, show prodigiously innocent souls. That is the beauty of this book; one sees in all its reality the swarming of life, the common crowd not yet quite become the warlike troop, the sancta plebs Dei, so dear to the historians of the Crusades.

There was, in the first psychology of our armies of 1914, a shade of sansculottism. A combatant who knew how to observe said to me: “At the beginning of the campaign, I was often struck by the unabashed sansculotte attitude with which the mobilized workers and peasants pretended to maintain, in front of the Kaiser and his henchmen, the right they recognized, to have neither God nor master, to practice a cordial alcoholism and a cheerful anticlericalism as they pleased.”

To what extent had this initial disposition changed? What is the truth behind the stupor in which some seemed to live, the peaceful obstinacy of the majority, the indifference to danger of the best, the docility of most of the others?

Victor Boudon (August 6, 1914).

At present, there is something uniform in many people, with very simple, very primitive feelings, from which emerge above all resentment against the henchmen and exploiters and a certain obsession developed by solitude. Under the influence of suffering, sacrifice, in the gravity of this terrible or tedious life, in short, with experience, everything has changed. It seems that other combinations of qualities, virtues and defects have forced themselves on all, on the professionals as well as on the soldiers coming from the civilian world. Even the small de facto aristocracies that provided the framework have found their value in a different order of magnitude from the one they initially placed as the highest.

But the army that Péguy saw was the army of the early days, which had not yet undergone the crushing and recasting that the war imposed on it, and in which the superb elements of the suburbs and the professional military elements were juxtaposed rather than amalgamated.

Read, at the very beginning of Boudon’s account, this very characteristic scene of the brave mobilized drunkard who quarrels with an officer on the departure platform. Everything goes wrong, but Péguy intervenes with the tone of a Parigot, and the amazed man says: “For a lieutenant, he is a nice guy.”

Throughout the thirty days that Boudon recounts, you will constantly find this popular vein. Observe, for example, with a bit of divination, the feelings inspired in these workers of Belleville and Bercy, in these peasants of Seine-et-Marne, by Captain Guérin, a great figure of an older, more austere model, less completely accessible to those who from the first moment knew how to see in Péguy “a nice guy.” Captain Guérin, a professional of purely military discipline and science, embodied doctrine and tradition. Whether or not he is “a nice guy,” I will let you decide, but that he is a guy, I mean a man who is strongly drawn and who has authority as a model. Péguy knows it. Péguy notices it; accepts the exemplary lesson of a Guérin against whom native independence, more warrior-like than military, is first raised.

Péguy, and this is his incomparable value, is placed at the confluence—do I make myself heard?—of our traditional and revolutionary forces; he can be at the same time the man of doctrine and of the most ardent individual excitations. Our friend, those who know his work and his nature realize it easily, was capable, better than anyone, of recognizing and using the bold independence and the rich humanity of these suburbanites of Paris, of these farmers of Crécy and Voulangis, and making a noble imagination out of them. Son of a worker, grandson of a peasant, given a scholarship, proud of his poverty, regarding himself a journeyman typographer even more than a man of letters, all nourished by Joinville and Joan of Arc, and added to that the infinitely noble and warm heart, Péguy always wanted to operate by way of friendship, without disciplinary measures, for the benefit of a higher friendship, for the benefit of the fatherland. Péguy marched off with his brothers.

No one had the understanding of the companionship of arms, in the old sense of our country, more than him. In the old days, in the France of the Middle Ages, what constituted the political system, was not the fief, the land, the real (landed) relationship, it was the personal relationship. What wove together the threads of the feudal fabric was the attachment of man to man, the faith. And the same need to support the relations of leader to soldier on a free acceptance, on a voluntarily consented fidelity, subsists in our peasants, in our workers, in the bottom of all our hearts. In the past, between leaders and companions, or between companions of the same leader, pacts were formed with extreme energy which sometimes amounted to brotherhood: Oliver and Roland, Amis and Amile, Ogier and Oberon, Clisson and du Guesclin. You will recall the beautiful words of the agreement that Bertrand du Duesclin and Olivier Clisson concluded, putting nothing above their friendship but their loyalty to the king, that is to say, to their country: “Know that… we belong and we will always belong to you against all those who may live or die, except the king of France… and we promise to ally and support you with all our might… Item, we want and agree that of all the profits and rights that may come and fall to us from here on out, you will have half entirely. Item, we will keep your own body at our disposal, as our brother… All which things we swear on the holy gospels of God, corporally touched by us, and each of us and by the times and oaths of our bodies given to each other.” Well! Our Péguy spent his life sealing similar pacts with Joseph Lotte, Charles de Peslouan, the Tharauds, Claude Casimir-Périer, Daniel Halévy, the two Laurens, Suarès, Julien Benda, Moselly, Lavergne, Eddy Marix, Louis Gillet, and with all the regulars of the little store in front of the Sorbonne, or more simply with the subscribers to the Cahiers de la Quinzaine; and then, a little bit further away from this portico open to all the winds, with Monseigneur Batiffol, Dom Baillet, the pastor Roberty, Georges Goyau and Madame Goyau. And then he sealed this pact with each of the “guys,” as he liked to say, whom he led to war.

It is not a game to bring Péguy closer to the noble men of old. If we loved his character with respect, even in his excessive originalities, at the time when he was not yet a hero of France, it is because we recognized in him the ancient virtues that he took as models. And these men of the people, mobilized workers and peasants, if they took to him immediately, it was because they too belonged to olden times; I mean they carried proud and good instincts in them, always vigorous, which could not be better disciplined than by an attachment of man to man.

Victor Boudon has added to his Memorial the letters that Péguy, during his month of war, wrote to his family and friends. Precious treasure. One seeks there what the hero thought. These quick writings are not enough. I give you something better. What Péguy thinks, or rather what forms in his conscience, deeper than his clear thoughts, what animates and obliges him, you will know by meditating on the great book that we have and that he certainly knew, loved and revered. It is Joinville who speaks. He says: “The Sire of Bourlémont, may God bless him! declared to me when I went overseas: You go overseas; beware of returning, for no knight, neither poor nor rich, can return, unless he is disgraced, if he leaves in the hands of the Saracens the little people of Our Lord, in whose company he has gone.”

Thus thought Péguy. And now that you know the warm, animating thought that places him in the direct line of eternal France, watch him act and die as portrayed by his true witness.

Heureux ceux qui sonl morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sonl morts sur un dernier haul lieu,
Parmi lout l’appareil des grandes funérailles,

Heureux ceux qui sont morts, car ils sont retournés
Dans la première argile et la première terre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans une juste guerre,
Heureux les épis murs et les blés moissonnés.

(Charles Péguy, “Prière pour nous autres charnels,” 1913).

Blessed are they who died in great battles,
Laid upon the soil in the face of God.
Blessed they who died on the last high place,
Amidst all the pomp of grand funerals.

Blessed they who died, for they have returned
To the very first clay and the first earth.
Blessed are they who died in a just war,
Blessed the ears ripened and the wheat reaped.

(Charles Péguy, “Prayer for us Mortals,” 1913).