The Sophist: a Portrait

The Sophist: a Portrait

A soft, round face with a dull and banal expression; a mouth out of which come resounding but hollow words. Haven’t I already come across him on some subway platform or in his home town of Arras? No, I must be wrong.

Strictly speaking, this man has no history of his own. He was one of the people, a war orphan, a ward of the nation. . . . His own history is lost in that of his people’s sufferings and in his own rise: inspector of secondary schools, English language teacher. Among the socialists he was another militant, with the resistance another resister, with the soldiers, a soldier. He did whatever he had to do. He is the opposite of a symbol; he is Everyman. He represents both an obscure sort of courage and social security, retirement for the aged and the struggle against tyranny. He is the Unknown Soldier of French socialism.

A top soldier too, for—happily—we live in an epoch in which corporals are raised to dictators, adjutants become marshals and trade unionists, governors. A democratic epoch: apotheosis of the banal, triumph of the anonymous—so he is!

Ten times he was given up for lost, but ten times he came back. They covered him with spittle in Algiers, but he emerged, shining and with distinction; the tremendous shock of last May came close to. destroying him, but left him, finally, on the very peaks. During his stay in the government, it was he who took the place of the General when de Gaulle left to visit our noble provincial cities and the still nobler cities beyond our shores. He who incarnated that fatal spiritual corruption and the cheap political lie of the Fourth Republic was the hope of the Fifth even before there was a Fifth! Republics pass, Mollet remains.

Shortly before his death Zhdanov confided to Marshal Tito’s envoy that, “We have more confidence in Mollet than in Nenni.” Mollet was then only the leader of the “Marxist,” leftist tendency within the SFIO [French Socialist Party], but he already knew how to inspire that scornful credit which statesmen—usually to their regret—grant politicians whom they judge sufficiently shrewd to deceive their own followers but not quite sharp enough to trick them.