Revue de Presse: October 25

25 October 2020

For the past several weeks, Charlie Hebdo columnist and novelist Yannick Haenel, together with the cartoonist François Boucq, has been chronicling the trials of alleged accomplices of the 2015 attackers against the newspaper and other targets. It’s worth quoting at length his words in response to the brutal killing of schoolteacher Samuel Paty:

To kill a teacher because he attempts to think with his students; to kill him because he attempts to explain, like all teachers do; to kill him because he does not think like you do; this is not only an abomination, but an attack against schooling itself, against the very idea of education, against the act of speech, against the act of asking someone what she thinks. This is an effort to destroy education. [Qu’on assassine un professeur parce qu’il essaie de penser avec ses élèves, qu’on le tue parce qu’il se tue à essayer d’expliquer, comme tous les enseignants, qu’on ne tue pas quelqu’un qui ne pense pas comme vous, c’est non seulement une abomination, mais c’est aussi un attentat contre l’école elle-même, contre l’idée même d’éducation, contre la pensée, contre le fait de se parler, contre le fait de demander à quelqu’un ce qu’il pense. C’est une tentative pour nier l’éducation.]


A Frenchman popular enough to rival Americans’ affection for Lafayette? Georges Clemenceau is the subject of Patrick Weil’s and Thomas Macé’s new book, Clemenceau : Lettres d’Amérique. In an interview with Baptiste Roger-Lacan and Marie Baléo for Le Grand Continent, Weil discusses Clemenceau’s relationship with the United States. A founding father of transatlanticism, Clemenceau dedicated his political career to creating a special alliance between France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Clemenceau lived in the United States during the 1860s, and this stay resulted in a series of letters, translated to French by Weil and Macé, which paint a very different portrait of America than Alexis de Tocqueville’s depiction just few decades before. But although Clemenceau’s saw division wracking the country, his belief in the potential of American democracy never faltered. Read the introduction of Weil’s book in English here.


Mira Kamdar moved from the United States to France in 2010, and she does not regret her decision. In an article for The Atlantic, she elaborates: while France certainly has its share of problems, it is simply safer and more humane. In France,  science is at least believed, if not acted upon. Kamdar acknowledges the importance of saving American democracy and knows  that, for many, the pandemic makes leaving the US impossible. Nevertheless, she’s glad to be gone.


“You have misunderstood the relevance of Hannah Arendt.” This is the title of Samuel Moyn’s provocative critique of the recent Arendt revival in the age of Trump (hitting similar notes as Robert Kehoe’s polemical take on the contemporary “Arendt Now” movement for this blog last year). The 2016 election led many readers to return to Arendt’s study of the rise of Nazism in The Origin of Totalitarianism. For Moyn, this “quickly written” portion of her book is “one of the least interesting and novel things Arendt ever wrote.” Focus on it has obscured much more insightful and enduring lessons from her thought. Reading Arendt as a contemporary American liberal, Moyn writes, allows actual American liberals to deflect blame for what their country has become.


When did we come to think of history as a progressive and moral force? In an essay for the Chronicle Review, Priya Satia recounts how Enlightenment authors like Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant spoke of human history using the language and ethical framework they inherited from the Protestant Reformation. Today’s historians don’t invoke divine Providence, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped imbuing history with a certain transcendental power. Satia asks historians to consider how they might do justice to the sacred meanings actors themselves ascribe to their participation in world-changing events, especially in a postcolonial context.


To what extent is today’s Republican Party stuck with Trumpism? In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann profiles different factions within the GOP and identifies three possibilities for its future. For now, loyalty to Trump masks important disagreements within American conservatism, but these disagreements are bound to reemerge. Plenty of Republicans seem eager to replicate Trump’s platform going forward, while others will rush to restore what’s left of the GOP establishment. A third group may be prepared to abandon free market orthodoxy in the name of building an explicitly working-class party. Lemann offers a brief history of these competing sub-groups and predicts who is most likely to lead each faction after 2020. No matter what group prevails, Cold War Reaganism is over.


How does money really shape politics? The journals La Vie des idées/Books & Ideas and Public Books investigate this question in a four-part dossier. While money does distort democracy, its ability to decide elections might be overstated. Money’s influence on policy options, however, is underestimated. Recent regulations aimed at transparency in campaign financing are beneficial but not enough to renew public confidence in democratic institutions. For that, we would need to drastically reduce inequality. But, at the very least, the authors call for including more voices in decision-making.


Photo Credit: Masaaki Komori, via Unsplash.


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1 Comment

  • Jules says:

    The Arendt piece is very interesting – I wonder how she would have reacted to today’s Western European Islamic terrorism. I genuinely don’t know.

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