Philosophy, Politics

Macron and Ricoeur

Friday, 19th February 2021
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/world/europe/france-universities-culture-wars.html

Oh France, look at you, thinking that you are condemning ideas from the US when in fact you are just replicating the culture wars of the US. Ok, not France in general, but Macron and others in the government.

Macron is the guy, remember, who was Paul Ricoeur’s student and research assistant. Ricoeur is a very significant philosopher, and one of my favorite figures from the 20th century in philosophy. He is committed to dialogue, while being fully aware of its difficulties. His ideas are often the result of putting two things together that don’t really go together very easily, and seeing what creative things can happen. Here’s something on Macron and Ricoeur. https://www.irishtimes.com/…/paul-ricoeur-the…

This use of politics to suppress ideas in universities is not just taken from the American conservative playbook (look around at all the attempts at the state level right now to ensure “equality of perspective” in universities, which is just code for an attack on ideas seen as undermining conservative ones), but it is also precisely opposed to what Ricoeur would have done. He would never have advocated using the power of the state to suppress ideas.

So, we could take several lessons from all this. The easy and obvious one is that governments tend to hypocrisy. In this case, that means claiming they are rooting out American ideas while in fact reproducing the worst of American culture wars and conservative political oppression of ideas that they have no answer for. The second lesson is that just because someone knows some philosophy, doesn’t mean that they will be able to apply it or use it. The pressure of getting re-elected (which is surely behind all this for Macron) is going to outweigh the strategies for good reasoning.

And a third lesson, I guess – when in doubt, always blame problems on someone else. That’s the conservative playbook everywhere in the world, I think. The problem is always external, not internal, and when it is internal it is because the body politic has been infected by external things. We are inherently good, but we become bad because of someone or something else. So, we don’t have to examine ourselves, we just need to have a defense against those external threats, however we define them.

It’s an unfortunately rhetorical consequences of the germ theory of disease – external things are invaders and are the cause of our bodily instability (i.e., the disease). Without those invaders, we would be in equilibrium (i.e., healthy). So, we have to get rid of the invaders. This model is highly persuasive – but at best partial, and often wrong. Our equilibrium always involves the “other” – we have more viruses and bacterial cells in our bodies than we do our own cells, and our own cells down to the DNA level bear the marks of taking on elements of those other life forms. We are always a production of life out of the networked tensions between a host of systems, and the border between ourselves and not-ourselves is always fuzzy at best.

So, all this to say, Macron’s newly found conservatism is truly a move backwards, done for political reasons but unsupportable intellectually. And he should know better – he had one of the best teachers, Ricoeur, who understood this.

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