Revue de Presse: September 29

29 September 2019

With the passing of former French president Jacques Chirac, newspapers have struggled to pin down the man’s complex legacy. Le Monde highlights Chirac’s affable demeanor and his connection with French nationality and culture, others have been far more critical of the late head of state. The Washington Post remembers what will surely be thought of as his finest moments, despite drawing him severe backlash at the time: his vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, his firm recognition of France’s complicity in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Mediapart, in contrast, paints Chirac’s political career as a series of twelve strategic “metamorphoses” that enabled him to cultivate and maintain power through a manipulation of trust and public image. Chirac’s legacy as a bastion for the conservative right is certainly not forgotten in light of his death, as the historian François Cusset writes, but neither is his occasional potential to stand up for what is right.


In his investiture speech, Chirac praised the value of pluralism, and President Macron says a respect for French pluralism is a mainstay of his governing agenda. But when, exactly, did pluralisme emerge as a political concept in France? We don’t normally feature academic articles in this revue, but we figured we’d make an exception for H.S. Jones’s article in Modern Intellectual History, which traces French pluralism to Catholic intellectual circles in the 1930s. Studies of pluralism have been almost entirely Anglo-American, and Jones offers a corrective by pointing to the strain of French pluralism initiated by Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier, and the writers associated with Esprit (for Tocqueville 21’s recent interview with Dick Howard, an American affiliated with Esprit in the 1960s, see here).


The intellectual impeachment wars have begun! In the Guardian, Carlo Invernizzi-Accetti argues that impeachment cannot succeed in holding Donald Trump accountable for his misuses of power in any meaningful sense, while the possibility of backlash is quite real. Even if the Democrats were to prevail in removing or at least embarrassing the president, Samuel Moyn fears that impeachment may sap the momentum of progressive forces within the party by focusing so much attention to undoing Trumpism. Not all progressives are set against impeachment, though. Jeet Heer makes the case in the Nation that the proceedings offer an opportunity to channel outrage at right-wing oligarchic corruption into a campaign against inequality and the imperial presidency.


In light of contemporary attacks on free speech, what is the legacy of the Lumières? In the latest episode of “La suite dans les idées,” Sylvain Bourmeau speaks with author and Tocqueville21 collaborator Antoine Lilti about how our glorifications of enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire too often seek to generalize their ideas into a unified ideology. Lilti argues that la pensée des Lumières should not be thought of as doxa, or a political program, but as a method of assessing and analyzing our political landscape whose own conception was riddled with contradictions. See Lilti’s contribution to our symposium on Sophia Rosenfeld’s book Democracy and Truth here.


In an article for Jacobin, Arthur Borriello tracks the rise and fall of Italy’s Five Star Movement. Through a thoughtful examination of the party’s key figures over the last ten years, Borriello reveals the implications of the movement’s falling victim to its own success, both in Italian party politics—no longer characterized by stable partisan structures—and Western political institutions more generally. Meanwhile, Lenny Benbara in Le Vent Se Lève writes that Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise, once thought by many on the radical left to be capable of propelling the left into a position of political strength, has been reduced to a mere “protest party.”


While many are right to remark upon America’s long history of anti-Semitism, it may be surprising to some that our country has an equally long track record of protecting and upholding the Jewish community. In his article for the New York Review of Books, Jed S. Rakoff tells the story of a famed 1790 letter exchange between George Washington and Moses Sexias, Warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. On behalf of his congregation and of Jews nationwide, Sexias requested that the President define the fledgling nation’s stance towards the Jewish people, to which Washington famously replied that America “gives to bigotry no sanction.”


Has the term “evangelical” lost its meaning in American culture? In the Atlantic, Alan Jacobs, a practicing Anglican and professor at Baylor University, wonders if the people who tell pollsters they identify as “evangelical” are more interested in staking out a side in the culture wars than in showing up on Sunday. In a parallel piece in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson reflects on different causes behind the rise of “the nones,” or the Americans who say they don’t identify with a specific faith tradition. Thompson worries that American politics “is at risk of becoming a war of religiosity versus secularism by proxy, where both sides see the other as a catastrophic political force that must be destroyed at all costs.” Meanwhile, Adam Kostko makes the case in N+1 for secular liberals to attempt to understand Evangelicals on their own terms.


“Cyberfeminism” emerged in the 1990s as an exploration of how technology might be harnessed as a tool for women’s liberation. The movement’s notable members included Donna Haraway, author of the “Cyborg Manifesto,” and Ursula K. Le Guin. In this piece for the New Statesman, Sanjana Varghese sketches the history of cyberfeminism and how it has been revived by modern feminists. Despite more pessimistic attitudes today about the liberatory potential of technology, Varhese argues feminists (perhaps in their “fourth wave”) should still seek to appropriate it for their own purposes.


Little can be written about Patti Smith that hasn’t already been said since the release of her debut album, Horses, in 1975. But Kate Mossman’s interview with the “godmother of punk,” also for the New Statesman, paints a vivid picture of Smith as she is today: a down-to-earth woman with much to say about life, politics, rock ‘n’ roll, and what it means to be an American musician.


Photo Credit: Flipboard, via Unsplash.


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