Paris "intellos" desert Royal

16th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 16, 2007 (AFP) - The rarefied world of France's intellectual elite is in ferment after several well-known philosophers publicly deserted the Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal -- one saying he is "aghast at the state of the left".

PARIS, Feb 16, 2007 (AFP) - The rarefied world of France's intellectual elite is in ferment after several well-known philosophers publicly deserted the Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal -- one saying he is "aghast at the state of the left".

Traditionally hostile to the political right, the Latin Quarter salon set has been at daggers drawn since one of its leading members -- former Maoist Andre Glucksmann -- wrote an article two weeks ago in Le Monde newspaper entitled "Why I choose Nicolas Sarkozy".

Glucksmann, who in the 1970s was co-founder of the influential New Philosophy movement, said that the right-wing interior minister and favourite in the April-May election alone represents France's tradition of anti-totalitarian humanism.

Well aware, he said, that his endorsement of Sarkozy would win him many enemies, he described the left as out-of-touch, overtaken by historical events and "marinating in its own narcissism."

Other leading thinkers have been more circumspect about backing the right-wing challenger, but at least as damning about the state of Royal's Socialist Party (PS).

Alain Finkielkraut, who teaches at the elite Ecole Polytechnique and has a radio show on the highbrow France-Culture radio station, said he felt solidarity with Glucksmann "in the face of the hatred that his support for Sarkozy has excited" and described Royal as "manifestly incompetent."

"I am aghast by the current state of the left. I can only observe that the Socialist party is in a coma," Finkielkraut said, and he described a PS tract which depicted Sarkozy as an "American neoconservative with a French passport" as a "slip into fascism".

Pascal Bruckner, another "New Philosopher" and author of the recent book "Must one be ashamed of being French?", said he had initially liked Royal but was put off when her partner, PS leader Francois Hollande, said that "I do not like the rich".

"I do not like the hypocrisy of Socialists who got rich under (late president Francois) Mitterrand," he said.

The defection of so many well-known names was more bad news for Royal, 53, whose manifesto launch on Sunday has failed to reverse her sliding poll figures and whose campaign team is showing signs of internal dissension.

France's best-known media philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy preferred not to express a preference, arguing that the role of intellectuals is to keep asking questions of the candidates up till polling day.

But he told Europe 1 radio that he was "perplexed" by Royal. "She is at a crossroads. There are two possible destinies. Either she can be the Tony Blair of French socialism and break the taboos, or she goes back to building the archaic old machinery," he said.

And Sarkozy won clear support from a former socialist government spokesman, writer Max Gallo, who said: "If like me you think the central issue of the election is the national question -- where is our country going, what does it mean to be French ... then Sarkozy's disclosure is on the same wavelength."

However others in the intellectual elite denounced what they see as a new school of "neo-reactionary" thought represented by many ex-"New Philosophers", who they say have long since been drifting rightwards.

Since the September 11 attacks in the US, Glucksamnn and Finkielkraut among others have indeed aligned themselves with "anti-anti-Americanism", attacking what they see as the moral relativism of the left and its complaisance over radical Islam.

Emmanuel Todd, a left-wing demographer, told Le Nouvel Observateur magazine, "I despise intellectuals who can rally behind a thug like Sarkozy. But we've reached such a low point of idoleogical disorganisation that it is understandable if some people go off the rails."

The Paris-based intellectual elite once exerted an important influence on French politics, notably in the run-up to Francois Mitterrand's 1981 victory when disciples of Jean-Paul Sartre helped create a climate of thought favourable to the left.

Whether the philosophers have the same importance in today's celebrity-driven culture is questionable. "Today everyone knows that the support of a Glucksmann is as nothing compared to the support of a Zinedine Zidane," lamented the Le Nouvel Observateur.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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