Sunday, May 14, 2006

Schwarz Obituary on Jean-François Revel: No Aron

Stephen Schwarz' obit on Jean-François Revel in the Weekly Standard is an interesting read: Revel's career and ideological trajectory was a meeting point for many of the tensions of the cold war. One element is the drift of some responsable thinkers from leftism to the pro-Western stance of either conservatism (the US) or liberalism (Europe) -- as mentioned here in this post on New Republic editor Beinart's dissection of historical roots of the Democratic foreign policy challenge. Another is the functional role of the liberal/conservative French intellectuals out of necessity but not choice: as pundits, newspaper people and sometimes politicians (Pierre Lellouche) -- but not academics with the notable exception of Raymond Aron, who was nonetheless both crowned and isolated as a member of the Collège de France. Finally, there is the transatlantic orientation of those on the European side, always a little bit gauche, even if to the right, in their domestic public domains, and even if they had access to the powers that be.

Good piece, but a bit weird that Schwarz doesn't mention the towering figure of Raymond Aron, whose Opium of the Intellectuals is still the best analysis of the function and fascination of Marxism as a secular religion: of stupidity and temerity in the face of progress. Aron's trajectory was more or less the same as Revel's: he just wrote better books, had more influence, and did it all long before Revel.

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