French Intellectuals: End of an Era?

French Intellectuals: End of an Era?

For decades French intellectuals captured the world’s imagination through their writings and debates. But since the seventies, their international stature has sharply waned in the wake of the deaths of those—beginning with Andre Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault—who seemed the highest embodiment of a figure so typically French, the Intellectual.

In mid-summer 1981, Max Gallo, spokesman for the recently elected socialist government, touched off a controversy in the pages of Le Monde with an article on the “silence of the intellectuals,” whom he criticized for their lack of enthusiasm for the new venture of the left. There was no longer any doubt that a new era had begun in France, foreshadowed several years earlier by the intellectuals’ belated acknowledgment of the Gulag, by the impressive welcome given Solzhenitsyn in 1974 by the “New Philosophers” (which also marked the end of Marxism as a mode of thought and the central reference point for political action), and finally by the many articles and books devoted to the crisis or malaise of the intellectuals.

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