In Rousseau's Shadow

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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In a witty entry written in 1987 for a hypothetical dictionary to be published at the dawn of the new millennium, Bernard Henri-Lévy proposed the following definition of the intellectual: “Noun, masculine gender, a social and cultural category born in Paris at the moment of the Dreyfus Affair, died in Paris at the end of the twentieth century; apparently was not able to survive the decline in belief in Universals” (506). Twenty-five years later, intellectuals continue to exist on both banks of the Seine but their current prestige no longer matches the one they once enjoyed in the City of Light. Over the course of the last three centuries, intellectuals in France have occupied a prominent position in politics and society, and their voices have extended beyond the ivory tower of academia. More so than any other country in the world (with the possible exception of Russia), France demonstrates the extent to which people’s daily life can be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse works of literature, sociology, and philosophy. This constitutes the subject of Jeremy Jennings’s new book, Revolution and the Republic, a history of modern French political thought since the eighteenth century.