Monday, March 3, 2008

Tragedy, Farce, Etc.

Everyone knows the story about Louis XVI and the Revolution. "Alors, c'est une révolte," said the king to someone in his retinue. The answer: "Ce n'est pas une révolte, Sire, c'est une révolution." Or so the story goes.

Now we learn that May '68 stood this story on its head in true Hegelian-Marxian fashion. Daniel Cohen-Bendit went to see Sartre. "Alors, c'est la révolution?" Sartre asked Danny the Red.

"Non", a-t-il sobrement répondu. "Vous êtes sûr ?" a insisté Sartre. "C'est une révolte. Ce n'est pas la prise du Palais d'Hiver", a répondu Cohn-Bendit. L'écrivain était un peu déçu.

How delightfully post-neo-Hegelian. By the way, I'll be having lunch with Cohen-Bendit on March 18, in case you have any questions you'd like to put to him. He's giving lectures at both Brandeis and BU.


gregory brown said...

Art, you've already raised in an earlier posting the question that I think would be worth posing to Cohn-Bendit, about what words, gestures or acts should a democracy expect or demand from someone who formerly spoke or acted against democratic procedure and then seeks to or does in fact enter into democratic politics.

Fisher and Cohn-Bendit both have done so, and by and large most would agreee this has been to the benefit of both the democracy and of their political ideals. The same is probably true for former Occident or GUD activists cum democrats.

The opposite response, to exclude, seems to have failed miserably when applied to Ba'ath party members in Iraq.

Yet there is clear resistence, at least in American politics, to such rehabilitation/rebirth. Eg, Obama having to play down having done what many Hyde Park academics have done, visit the home of ex-Weathermen Ayers and Dorn.

How broadly to apply this principle?

gregory brown said...

PS. I ended to hastily; in the context of a revolutionary political culture, the question seems to take on a very different context. Baczko wrote about this brilliantly in "How to End the Terror?" I wonder if he thinks political stability and properly functioning liberal democratic institutions are the necessary condition for amnesty or conversly does "amnesty," so to speak, make possible the elaboration of such institutions and freedoms?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the excellent suggestions.

Anonymous said...

I actually wonder if Daniel Cohen-Bendit is ever tired of his association with May '68.

I'm not suggesting that he should deny or be ashamed of it. It's just that he seems to only appear in the media whenever there's a discussion about the 68 protest. As if only a couple weeks of Cohen-Bendit's political life over the last 40 years matters.

I get the feeling that it's not him living in the past, but more that the "May'68 guy" cliché stuck on him for a lot people in France and particularly in the media. If I may use an analogy, he's like an old singer who after 40 albums is only requested to play his first popular hit.

Anonymous said...

Before you meet Daniel Cohn-Bendit, you might be interested in watching this tv talk-show (if not already done):

Serge Moati invited this last sunday Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Alain Finkielkraut, Alain Madelin et Henri Weber to discuss about Mai 1968 vs today's revolts.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link.
I think you're unfair to Cohn-Bendit, whose political life has not been centered at all on May '68. If you watch the clip suggested by richardtrois, you'll see that, after paying lip service to '68, almost his first words are "mais on vit dans un autre monde." In fact, I've met Cohn-Bendit before and found that '68 was the least of his interests.

Anonymous said...


My comment didn't came across as I intended. My point is also that Cohn-Bendit cannot be reduced to "Danny le Rouge" from May 68.

However, I have the feeling he is generally perceived and depicted as "Danny le Rouge".
Cohn-Bendit is a different man than 40 years ago, but it seems that for a majority of people they just see "Danny le Rouge"

I'm under the impression that the media only call him to discuss '68. I never get to see/hear him in a political show discussing Palestine, subprimes or whatever other topic. This is why I wonder if he is frustrated by this situation.

But may be it's only in my mind and he doesn't feel that this is the case.

niesluchowska said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
niesluchowska said...

I live in Warsaw, Poland and March 8 is the 40th anniversary of the repression of the student movement and the forced exile of Jews which led to institutionalization of anti-semitism in Poland. Daniel Cohn-Bendit appeared today with Adam Michnik to discuss those days and how they have influenced where we are now. Cohn-Bendit made several interesting points (outshining Michnik point by point) about 1968 and 2008. He made no apologies for being a spokesman for the 60s concisely putting the time into a capsule: "We changed the culture and the social mores but we lost the political game." Poland likes to think of itself as Europe's victim, "Oh woe is us, we had to live under Communism unlike the rest of you living in the better half of the world." When Michnik tried to use that line, Cohn-Bedit made the observation that he was on the streets in Paris at the same time fighting against capitalism. What they were both doing were fighting totalitarianism. He then went on to critcize Michnik's support of the invasion of Iraq implying that Poland's unquestioning support of the US comes from a long standing knee jerk reaction that the US is the savior and shining democratic example in the world. This received a small but enthusiastic reaction in the intellectual audience as Poles are still coming to terms that democracy and freedom are not what they thought they would be. Michnik then asked what are the boundaries of freedom and Cohn-Bedit said it was interesting that they have only been discussing freedom for a few minutes and already Michnik was asking about its limitations. As for the ubiquitous Jewish question, when asked what is his role as a Jew, Cohn Bendit said he would like to be able to say that Israel has a right to defend itself and that the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves also. This also was received cooly, as Poles have not yet had this national conversation regarding Jews. I found Cohn-Bendit, who spoke passionately in English still Red after all these years. He commented on the environment and the Greens, Sarkozy and Putin, German politics, Iran, US foreign policy and was a thoughtful and articulate spokesman for Generation 68, then and now.