At the end of last summer, Le Débat, France’s most prestigious intellectual review, accompanied its 40th-anniversary issue with a wholly unexpected announcement: It would cease publication forthwith. Le Débat and its three or four thousand loyal readers had maintained an allegiance to the political left since the Cold War — but the meaning of “left” has been shifting. Rivals now claim the term, particularly social movements that arose in France in the 1980s to champion what is variously called identity politics or social justice. After waging a decades-long twilight struggle against these movements, Le Débat has lost.
Intellectuals of all persuasions have been debating what that defeat means for France, and they have reached a conclusion: The country’s intellectual life has come under the sway of a more ideological, more identity-focused model imported from the United States.
Le Débat was always resistant to American imports. It never fully made its peace with the free market in the way that self-described social democrats in America did under Bill Clinton. Nor did it climb aboard the agenda of humanitarian invasions and democracy promotion, as left-leaning American intellectuals like Paul Berman and George Packer did. That was all fine. But Le Débat’s reluctance to partake of identity politics as it arose in France, always a couple of steps behind (and always in imitation of) American civil rights advances, brought the review into disrepute with a new generation of leftists.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor