Philosophical Divagations

15 April 2022

Athens put Socrates to death for leading its youth astray, and ever since some who aspire to the title “philosopher” have sought to demonstrate their worthiness to be Socrates’ successors by making a show of their hostility to the traditional doxa of their nominal communities. But defiance of doxa is a practice common to sophists as well as philosophers. In France, where “philosophy” offers a few fortunate souls in every generation a shot at both ample media exposure and a seat in the Académie Française, the temptation to achieve notoriety by shocking rather than instructing conventional wisdom is therefore not always resisted as fiercely as it might be.

The current election battle has brought to light two cases in point. Alain Finkielkraut, it seems, felt compelled to use his platform on CNews, France’s answer to Fox, to praise Eric Zemmour for his “extreme sincerity” in pointing out to the French that the chief issue in the election is to decide what kind of country they wish to have, one that maintains continuity with its roots in “Judeo-Christian” civilization or surrenders to the adulteration of foreign influences not comparably blessed.

CNews is owned by the billionaire Vincent Bolloré, the would-be French Rupert Murdoch. Another philosopher, Marcel Gauchet, has also availed himself of yet another Bolloré media property, Europe1, to exculpate Marine Le Pen of the charge of representing the extreme right. Rather, she “represents something very different,” something akin to the “popular, national, authoritarian right,” which “reminds [Gauchet] of nothing so much as the early days of the Fifth Republic.”

Modern Paris is not ancient Athens. Neither Finkielkraut nor Gauchet will be required to drink hemlock for expressing these no doubt deeply pondered views. Both will continue to instruct their fellow citizens as to the true meaning of the events of the day, which French men and women locked in the infernal round of métro-boulot-dodo can but dimly perceive as fleeting shadows on the walls of their cave. Much better to replace those shadows with the luminous images of the Idea as transmitted via the antennas of le Groupe Bolloré.

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