"Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."
- Jean-François Revel (1924-2006)
Jean-François Revel is dead. This eminent French rightwing philosopher, writer and journalist was born on January 19, 1924 in Marseille. During World War II he was a member of the Résistance, which he joined under the pseudonym Ferral. Revel had something with pseudonyms, his own name being one - he was born a Ricard and, for some reason, adopted "Revel" as his name after a restaurant he frequently visited. He was married to Claude Sarraute, daughter of the writer Nathalie Sarraute. After a career as a teacher which brought him to such places as Algeria, Mexico and Italy, he came back to France where, from 1963 on, he concentrated on his work as a journalist. In 1978 he became director of the weekly L'Express, of which he had been an editor since 1966. Furthermore, from 1982 onwards he a chronicler for Le Point. As an editor, he also collaborated with two radio stations, Europe No. 1 (1989-1992) and RTL (1995-1998). In 1997, he was elected a member of the prestigious Académie Française, on the seat of Etienne Wolff (24th place). Revel died on April 30, 2006, in the Kremlin-Bicêtre Hôpital in Val-de-Marne, 82 years old. His widow Claude said he was "très fatigué, malade" - very tired, sick. Although commonly described as an atheist, I tend to think he was rather an agnost. May he rest in peace.
Notwithstanding his prodigious career as an editor and journalist, Revel will be best remembered for his books, of which the most prominent are:
· Without Marx or Jesus (1972)
· The Totalitarian Temptation (1976)
· How Democracies Perish (1983)
· The Flight from Truth : The Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information (1992)
· Democracy Against Itself: The Future of the Democratic Impulse/Regain démocratique (1993)
· Anti-Americanism/La obsesión antiamericana (2003)
· The Monk and the Philosopher : A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life (1999)
One of Winston Churchill's most memorable quotes (although some attribute it to George Bernard Shaw) is that if you are not a socialist at 20 you have no heart, and if you are still a socialist at 40 you have no brain. Which, btw, would mean that MFBB has been a heartless albeit superintelligent sob ever since he became part, on a longago rainy summer day in 1965, of Belgium's wonderfully diverse multicultural society - but I'm digressing here. The fact is, Mr. Revel remained inclined to the left until 1970, and in his 1972 work Ni Marx ni Jésus he radically broke with socialism. It was his first truly successful political essay, and the beginning of a string of other well-received works, among them La Tentation Totalitaire (1976) and La Nouvelle Censure (1977).
By this time it was clear that Revel had morphed into a systematic anticommunist, a fact for which he naturally, in a country like France, was greatly denounced by the overwhelmingly leftist "intellectual" scene. Worse still, he started to develop liberal (economic) ideas (remember that "liberal" in Europe has another connotation than it has in America) and became a member of the New Atlantic Initiative together with prominent American rightwing personalities as well as a few likeminded French (they exist), such as Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (another disillusioned ex-leftwinger), Alain Madelin (highly recommended link, in Fwench though) and Alain Besançon. A telling illustration of this intellectual drive to the right is his patronage of the l’Universidad Latinoamericana de la Libertad Friedrich von Hayek, a private free market university in Florida, presided by the theologian Michael Novak, which educates exiled Cubans in free market economics, democracy and judeo-christian values. In short, an outfit which would really come in handy here were it not in Florida but in, say, Frankfurt. Frankfurt in Germany of course, not the one in Kentucky.
But the work which really made Jean-François Revel's name, if only in the Anglosaxon world, was his 2000 oeuvre "L'obsession anti-américaine", translated in English in 2003 as Anti-Americanism - and which btw was kindly sent to me as a present by one of our regular readers, Mark from Colorado. It is a damning indictment against the hypocritical attitudes of the global left in general and the snug incestuous European leftist "intelligentsia" in particular. In "Anti-Americanism", Jean-François Revel forcefully comes to the defense of the United States, exposing Europes indignation over America's "unilateralism", "imperalism" and "merciless capitalism" as the product of envy and despair over its own lost status. Revel also points to Europes obvious betrayal of democratic traditions since it was Europe, and European politicans, which accepted the status quo of the Cold War and decided to deal with dictatorial communist regimes as if they were equals. By contrast, that simpleton Ronald Reagan saw the Iron Curtain for what it was: the wall of the Greatest Jail in Mankind. The following quote of "Anti-Americanism" - btw, you can order it here - comes from National Review:
"Revel has had enough. Long an admirer of our nation, he offers a ringing defense of the United States in this hard-hitting book. He shows that much anti-Americanism is simply anti-capitalism in disguise - coming from Europeans and others who still cherish the totalitarian ideals that most Americans consider to have died with the Soviet Union."
The European media scene being what it is, it is not surprising that the news of the death of Mr. Revel gets similar coverage as, say, positive developments in Iraq. Nevertheless, a few colleagues and admirers of the great writer and philosopher have contributed some fitting words on his passing. Among them e.g. the writer and journalist Pierre Assouline, who on his blog La République des Livres (The Republic of Books - MFBB) said a.o. the following:
"...Certainly this was a free man, whose independence and courage distinguished him from his colleagues. Gifted with a delicate and cultivated spirit, possessed by an encyclopaedic curiosity which encouraged his venturing to other countries and his knowledge of several languages. An [important] personage of journalistic, political and editorial life who, together with Raymond Aron and a few others, with his whole work denied common wisdom as though anyone of intellectual stature in this country should be from the left..."
In my opinion, another fitting tribute to Mr. Revel immediately follows Mr. Assouline's epitaph, namely in his blog's comments section - all the more since it is the very first comment! Enjoy it (directly translated from French):
Really, you wasted no time coming out with your love letter. I won't hide it from you that its title "Death of a humanist layman" is irritating me a little. Furthermore, apart from the interest I take in your correspondence with him, as well as some irrelevant aspects which you recall and which were not commonly known, it's good that somebody else commemmorates this evening [the night during which Revel died - MFBB] and it will be me, with evidence he was a member of the board of the New Atlantic Initiative, a cabal of Pinochet admirers which counts among its emient seminarists one of the greatest criminals against humanity, namely henry Kissinger. I will spare you the link [he can't link - MFBB] but a simple Google inquiry will allow you to fill out the complete roll of members of this outfit (among them Margaret Thatcher, Colin Powell, William Kristol, or else the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel)...
The author of this excellent prose is a commenter posting under the moniker "Etredegauche", literally "Beingfromtheleft". While I don't think Pinochet is your ideal father-in-law and while I am glad justice will be served before he dies, it is clear to me that Pinochet was a far better deal to Chili than Allende would have been. Pinochet lifted Chili from poverty and is simply further proof that rightwing dictatorships are self-neutralizing and in time lead to prosperous liberal democracies (see also South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Greece...) while leftwing dictatorships are bound to ruin their human and economic capital perpetually - or until they are overthrown. Lately I've been reading Mao - The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. William Kristol may be one thing - but Mao Zedong another. 70 million Chinese dead, the lives of hundreds of millions of others redued to a wretched existence devoid of decent food, medical care, joy, hope, culture, dignity... chilling. Etredegauche must have missed that. For some reason, these people have a tendency to miss certain events while noticing certain others. You know the kind: they see an invasion of Iraq in 2003 but not a liberation of Afghanistan in 1979. They see a Darfur Genocide in 2006 but fail to see China and arab countries preventing the UN to call it a genocide back in 2004. Clooney tunes kind of people you know.
Anyway, Etredegauches epitaph proves that Jean-François Revel's literary oeuvre did get in some people's heads and did cause quite a bit of irritation. Good so. Mr. Revel will be greatly missed. May others take up his torch.