It must have been more than 30 years ago now that Michel Foucault wrote an article entitled "La mort de l'intellectuel." Apparently Le Monde didn't get the message, because it invited four "intellectuals" to comment on the "Arab revolts." The choice of participants in this forum tells you something about what the word "intellectuel" means today. We hear from Alain Touraine, Alain Badiou, Elisabeth Roudinesco, and André Glucksmann. None is a specialist on the region in turmoil, on the history of revolutions, on Islam, on Arab culture, on the political economy of the rebellious states, on social movements in the Arab world, on previous rebellions against military dictatorships, on relations between the military and civil society, or any of a hundred other topics that might confer authority to speak about one or another aspect of the unfolding wave of rebellion.
To be sure, Le Monde did publish the other day a piece by Olivier Roy, a specialist in political Islam, to which I linked previously. But in France, to be a specialist is almost a disqualification to speak as an "intellectual." An intellectual is one who has risen above his or her specialty, if any, to acquire a quasi-priestly authority to pronounce on n'importe quoi -- and as often as not, to say n'importe quoi about it. But I wonder if this sort of rootless speculation has any purchase on the French audience today. Perhaps a piece like this in Le Monde is simply a throwback to the day when large numbers of people hungered to know what Sartre or Camus thought about the events of the day. Badiou I gather can still muster a coterie of youthful admirers. And Le Monde evidently wanted to cover certain bases: the old new Left, the psychoanalytic camp (and a representative of women), the old Nouveaux Philosophes (and at least they didn't turn to BHL), and the "radical" guru of the hour. But what do we learn from their musings? Too little to justify the time spent reading them, I'm afraid.