Friday, January 12, 2018

Daniel Lindenberg Is Dead

Daniel Lindenberg, sociologist and historian, is dead at 77. He is best known for his polemical book, Le Rappel à l'ordre, which unleashed a bitter polemic in the French intellectual left. Lindenberg identified certain intellectuals generally considered to be on the left as "new reactionaries." The book, and the storm that followed, revealed new lines of cleavage around race and ethnicity rather than class. Although more heat than light emanated from the debate, the hullabaloo around the book set the terms of intellectual politics for the next two decades.


Anonymous said...

Lindenberg struck me as a decent sort. What I had heard about Rappel à l'ordre was that the book was originally supposed to be about literature- drawing a parallel between the "anti-68" thought of Michel Houellebecq et. al. and Flaubert's mockery of 1848 in L'Education Sentimental. Instead he was persuaded to attack such a wide group of people (including many philosophers whose work he clearly did not understand) that his polemic became incoherent.

If Pierre Rosanvallon wanted to break with his friends at the Centre Raymond Aron, he ought to have written his own book.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the story that the anonymous commenter above tells. But I agree with the thrust of the comment- Lindenberg's book was a scattershot attack on various prominent intellectuals, most (but not all) of whom claimed to be on the left and were associated with the anti-totalitarian movement of the 80s and late 70s. The charge was opposition to multiculturalism and the "values of '68." The issues raised by the book were real, but the intellectuals in question were so different from each other that the polemic did not really cohere.

This mediocre book was sponsored by the historian Pierre Rosanvallon, a student of François Furet. By all accounts Rosanvallon wanted to mark his distance from other associates for Fruet whom Rosanvallon regarded as too right-wing. Rosanvallon's indirect mode of proceeding led to a polemic that, as Art says, produced more heat than light. In my opinion it revealed Rosanvallon to be a shifty opportunist. As the poster above says, Rosanvallon was perfectly capable of writing his own critique of Marcel Gauchet or Pierre Manent or whomever else he had in mind. If Rosanvallon had written his own book instead of sponsoring Lindenberg's, the ensuing polemic would have been clearer and more decisive.

The best exchange that I remember from around this era was between Gauchet and Miguel Abensour. Abensour published as a pamphlet an open letter to Gauchet denouncing Gauchet's conversion to "normal politics" as a betrayal of the utopianism that had motivated their generation in the 60s. No words were minced.

Anonymous said...

I find most French political debates "byzantine" (Julien Benda, La France byzantine) because they are seldom about politics in the everyday prosaic sense of the word; they are about philosophy or more precisely about the grand abstractions of modern political philosophy: liberalism, republicanism, socialism, (drumroll please) la modernité. Gauchet, Manent, Rosanvallon et al. are erudite gravediggers of concepts who are more interested in writing books---rather obscure ones in the case of Gauchet--- than in giving concrete advice to the Prince, as Raymond Aron did. They are all products of '68 even when they repudiate it. Just yesterday I listened to Répliques on France Culture---Finkielkraut, Luc Ferry, Brice Couturier talking about Macron and the significance of the election. Ferry and Finkielkraut: same old, same old. Of the three Couturier alone seemed to have any understanding and appreciation of what Macron is trying to do. Finkielkraut and Ferry, as one would expect, found it all too anglo-saxon, liberal in the economic sense, multicultural, blah blah, blah. Well, yes, what else is new? Presidents have to govern, they are not in the business of writing books.

Robinson said...

Well, Gauchet edits Le Débat and is quite capable of writing clearly about politics when it suits him to do so. It was from Gauchet that Chriac cribbed his 1996 campaign slogan about the social fracture. (Admittedly, to the anglo-saxon ear, "the social fracture" sounds like so much gallic hot air, and in Chirac's mouth it certainly was.)

Still, Gauchet has very clear positions on the political issues facing France today- you can criticize his prose, but he doesn't equivocate. Various centrist French intellectuals criticize Macron for being liberal in the Anglo-Saxon sense because, for a French President, Macron is extremely liberal in the Anglo-Saxon sense. They criticize him, not because they are bookworms, but because they genuinely disagree with him.

(The Lindberg-Rosanvallon issue, admittedly, is Parisian intellectual "inside baseball" at its worst.)

Anonymous said...


Yes, they genuinely disagree with Macron, but my point was that such abstractions as liberalism or neo-liberalism and multiculturalism, to say nothing of the ridiculous "anglo-saxon", are too vague, too loose-fitting to indicate what their disagreements would entail if THEY were running the show. It is one thing to complain about economic inequalities---which seems to be the common thread of contemporary critiques of liberalism, even among benighted anglo-saxons"---it is quite another thing to do something to remedy them. I might add that France seems to me to be a more egalitarian society than either the US of the UK. That has something to do with a governing class that is better educated, and an intellectual class that speaks up and is heard in public debates. But most of them ARE bookworms.