Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Has the Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA), the reform that Sarkozy stole from the left along with its chief sponsor, Martin Hirsch, failed? A report by the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l'évaluation, et des statistiques (DREES), says it has. I haven't been able to obtain a copy, however.

Who Are Today's Intellectuals?

When I first became interested in French politics in the 1960s, part of the attraction was the participation of intellectuals in the political arena. L'intellectuel engagé was a French particularity, not to say peculiarity, and the quality of political debate in France seemed to benefit as a result. Today, I think, the comparative advantage would run in the opposite direction: American English-speaking intellectuals may not be engagés in the classic sense of the word but they are more consistently engaging (see, e.g., the blog Crooked Timber) than French public intellectuals today. Be that as it may, a special issue of Actes de la Recherche en Sciences sociales is devoted to the changing role of the intellectual in French politics. Interestingly, attention is paid to the role of translators and translation--about time, I might add--and in particular to the translations of two American English-speaking political intellectuals, John Rawls and Amartya Sen, into French.

Maurice Druon

Maurice Druon, the honorary perpetual secretary of the Académie Française, died yesterday. I met him once, sous la coupole, when I received a medal from the Académie. He looked rather comical in his academician's garb, seated at the high podium with his two co-officiants. I shook his hand after the ceremony.

His death has earned him a murderous obituary from Libération, which blasts him as "a young resister turned old reactionary." The piece ends thus:

Pour la génération qui l’a connu homme politique, il symbolisait une certaine forme de réaction culturelle. Il a résisté avec acharnement à la modernité et au changement social. Mais il avait auparavant résisté avec panache à la pire barbarie. Certains font des erreurs de jeunesse. Il a surtout fait des erreurs de vieillesse. Voilà qui mérite l’indulgence…

He will be remembered for Le Chant des partisans and for his resistance to the feminization of certain words such as le ministre. No doubt Madame la ministre de la Culture, who now holds the portfolio that was once Druon's, will speak at his funeral. Perhaps he would have savored the irony.

Le Monde reminds me of another thing for which Druon will be remembered: his opposition to Giscard d'Estaing's admission to the Académie. Not because Giscard is an execrable writer but because, in Druon's opinion, he stabbed de Gaulle in the back. And on Druon's resurrection of the word sébile, see here.