LI has been trying, and failing, to say something with some reach, some truly novelistic depth, about the symbiotic relationship between the fantasies of Bush’s supporters and the essential falsity of Bush’s vision of Iraq – a falsity that can be summed up as the large, enduring and apparently insurmountable incongruity between means and ends in Iraq.
We thought we were on to something by thinking about alibis. We thought about how alibis, used by defendants in court, have to be contoured not only to assume the shape of truth, but to assume that shape of truth that one presumes the jury would find truthful. Hence, the overlapping of sometimes contradictory or incompatible accounts. So we rummaged through a bunch of Greek texts from Lysias to Antiphon, looking at defense speeches.
Finally, though, we couldn’t make this post cohere.
So we dropped it. And wheeling about on the web, we came face to face with Perry Anderson’s second article about French intellectual culture, in the LRB. So we thought, as Francophiles, that here was a natural sighting for our put upon readers.
Anderson’s casts the usual saturnine Marxist glance, but there is something a bit too kneejerk about that disenchantment and its garage sale metaphors. He does present us with a nice problem. How is it that France, in the aftermath of 68, tended not to the left, but to the vaguely right? How is it that Francois Furet’s drumming for the French tradition of liberalism, of all things, climbed to play a dominant role in French intellectual politics of the Mitterand era and after?
We don’t care much for Anderson’s hurried dismissal of the 19th century’s liberal thinkers as a group of villainous intellectual pygmies, Constant, Guizot and Tocqueville. It would be nice to see Tocqueville treated without the breathless and inane admiration that he receives from American writers, who overestimate him and never place him in the context of his life’s work. But Anderson’s drive-by knock, that Tocqueville is the hangman of the Roman Republic, is too trifling for words. Similarly, his complaint that Constant colluded to elevate Napoleon to the leadership. He did, but he also put up a pretty gutsy howl against the wars of conquest Napoleon proceeded on – with a better sense of the injury that such militarism does to culture than Marx, who coming a generation later, sighed that Napoleon didn’t occupy Germany long enough.
That remark has had untold pernicious consequences.
We did like Anderson pointing to a fact that is routinely ignored by establishment media like the NYT and the Economist. France has, for the last thirty years, found itself saddled with a governing class who, whether socialist or conservative, ends up trying to institute the neo-liberal project. And for thirty years, the population has refused. Every government that has tried it has been voted out of office, or fallen due to some strike.
That’s rather admirable. Surely if the people of France hadn’t taken the power into their own hands, the French medical system would have become the mess it is in other places in the world – like the U.S. and the U.K. Ditto with the great shift towards privatizing retirement.
So – a nice combination of gossip and a little soupcon of mental nourishment. Check out the article.