The End of the French Intellectual

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The End of the French Intellectual
By Shlomo Sand
Verso, 2018
304 pp.
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Modern French intellectuals receive tremendous social respect—so much so that they are generally immune from punishment even when they commit common crimes, preach treason or hatred, or speak in riddles. This book argues that in recent decades, although these intellectuals’ social status has remained largely intact, the quality of their thought has ebbed. Sand is hardly the first to say this—and certainly not the most persuasive. He is concerned with only one angle of French intellectual life: the conflict between Jews and Muslims. He argues that a century ago, anti-Semitism led many leading French intellectuals to abandon the army captain Alfred Dreyfus after he was falsely convicted of treason. Under the Nazi occupation, many again failed to defend the Jews. Today, Islamophobia is common. Sand argues that the cartoons that provoked the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 trucked in tasteless ethnic stereotypes that would have been unacceptable if directed at Jews. He has a point, but he is wrong to level the same charge at such leading French thinkers as Alain Finkielkraut, Michel Houellebecq, and Éric Zemmour. These men may be sensationalistic and perhaps even distasteful, but Sand does little to show that they preach systematic ethnic hatred in the manner of their anti-Dreyfusard and pro-fascist predecessors.

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