Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Truth Is One

"La vérité est une ; l'erreur est multiple. Ce n'est pas un hasard si la droite
professe le pluralisme."

So said Simone de Beauvoir, it seems, in a review of the late René Rémond's masterpiece, La droite en France depuis 1815, the thesis of which was that there was not one but three essential strands of right-wing thought in the French political culture and tradition. Remarkably enough, the book, lucid as it was, was rejected by many reviewers, particularly on the left, for daring to rehabilitate the right, discredited by the war, as a source of genuine political insight (as Pascal Perrineau recounts in the perceptive Le Monde piece linked to above). That is a pity, because the book had much to teach the left of the 1950s that might have stood the left of 2008 in better stead to understand itself. It was also remarkably obtuse of Simone de Beauvoir, because even in 1954, the left was anything but one and indivisible, beginning, of course, with the split between the Communist and non-Communist left, which seems to be reproducing itself today with the rise of Besancenot and the decline of the PS. L'erreur est multiple indeed.

It so happens that I had dinner last night at Balzar, that unshakable survival of vieux Paris on the rue des Ecoles. The story is told that in 1948 Sartre and Camus dined together there, and Sartre asked Camus what he would do if the Russians attacked. Without hesitation Camus said he would join the resistance, to which Sartre replied that, as for himself, he could not bring himself to fire on the proletariat. And there began the history of the intellectual Cold War in France.

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