France

One Cheer for The Aftermath of French Intellectual Mao Worship

|

Jeremy Jennings at the Brit Standpoint mag reviews a new book by Richard Wolin on the usual sordid expressions of love for murderous totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals in the freer, richer West, particularly France. (The book is The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s.)

Jennings notes that something not-so-bad came from the phenomenon of untoward Mao-love:

Coming in the wake of May '68 student protests, Maoism in France was a harbinger of the collapse of orthodox Marxism. To Sartre's evident dismay and frustration, the anti-Bolshevik Daniel Cohn-Bendit simply denied that the students had any programme or long-term objectives. The organisational mentality of the once-mighty French Communist Party was dead. 

What replaced it, Wolin contends, was a new form of politics focusing on personal identity and the transformation of everyday life. Repentant Maoists — including the so-called "New Philosophers" André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy — not only set out a defence of human rights and of humanitarian intervention but also began the process leading to calls for a regeneration of civil society. Breaking with the centuries-long tradition of State centralisation, the new politics focused on direct democracy and the expansion of associational life. Utopian hopes, Wolin concludes, were brought down to earth in the form of the ideal of democratic citizenship.

This doesn't mean French intellectuals are now nuanced, intelligent lovers of freely chosen community and/or free choice in general:

Statistics indicate that the number of associations in France continues to grow significantly every year. Yet France today is hardly a country that would have Alexis de Tocqueville jumping for joy and I doubt that David Cameron would see it as a model for the Big Society. Opinion polls indicate that the desired profession of the majority of young people is that of State functionary. Attempts at reform are met by a moral posture of resistance and a populist anti-establishment rhetoric. Anti-modernism — in the shape of hostility to what is taken to be an American-led process of globalisation, for example — is much in evidence. Liberalism — and, even worse, neo-liberalism — remains a dirty word.

Matt Welch wrote about a libertarianish French youth leader Sabine Herold in the October 2003 issue of Reason magazine.

NEXT: Will ObamaCare Result in More Health Care Fraud?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Cheering for the aftermath of French intellectual Mao worship is so bourgeois.

    1. But if you carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,
      You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…

  2. I guess my view is, who gives a shit? Maoism in France was a creation of self-important pointy-headed intellectuals, who had daddy issues. Maoism in China on the other hand, killed millions of people, and accomplished only reducing the population. It was quickly jettisoned by the surviving remnants of China’s political class, as soon as the old fart died. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and you get the smell of rotting bodies. Nice.

    1. And they put Mao’s widow on trial before he was cold.

      If you want to see an (mostly unintentionally) funny film by a French Maoist, watch Tout Va Bien, where Jean-Luc Godard chides the French Communist Party for not being radical enough.

  3. The feeble thrashings of faded empires are always entertaining.

    Stupidity is an externality of socialist societies that they never offer to pay for.

  4. The frog goes, “Ribbit, ribbit.”

    1. Actually, the frog goes, “Baaaahhhh, baaaahhhhh.”

  5. Whatever happened to Sabine Herold, anyway? I can’t find anything about her within the last three years, at least in English. (My French consists mostly of guessing based on English and Spanish cognates.)

    1. She’s still writing / editing Libert? Ch?rie.

    2. My bad. After looking over that website some more, it’s looks like she’s moved on.

  6. 404 on the MSNBC thead…just what is going on? Hey, I hear that Arthur *CARRIER LOST*

    1. It’s all your fault.

      1. It’s because I did something stupid and crossed Bellicose Brandenberg, or something. He always knew I was a chump.

      2. SF: Did you make it to Katatonia/Orphaned Land/Swallow the Sun last night in Louisville?

        Getting to see obscure European prog metal in a small dive bar in Louisville in front of maybe 250 rules!

        1. Fuck, I wish I had known they were touring. I would have gone to that.

  7. Utopian hopes, Wolin concludes, were brought down to earth in the form of the ideal of democratic citizenship.

    It’s a shame for them the earth keeps lowering itself further down to not touch their ideal of “democratic citizenship,” which still has a very Orwellian tone to it.

  8. Opinion polls indicate that the desired profession of the majority of young people is that of State functionary.

    God how utterly depressing and Kafkaesque.

    Oh, and someone explain this to my feeble mind:

    Attempts at reform are met by a moral posture of resistance and a populist anti-establishment rhetoric.

    Attempts to reform are met by ‘anti-establishment rhetoric’. Is ‘rhetoric’ my key word here? Because when an entire generation who longs to become state functionaries oppose reform of the system, that is expressly PRO-establishment.

    1. Silly little libertarian. You can be both anti-establishment (which is hip and cool) and oppose reforms that will cut public spending (which is like, totally uncool).

      Just look at Greek “anarchists”, protesting against a relatively small trimming down of the state apparatus. No contradiction there, right?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.