A contemporary history professor from the University of Tel Aviv explores his disillusionment with French intellectual life, which he sees as transformed from a liberal force into a conservative one driven by Islamophobia.
Though many books have been written about the decline of the French intellectual, Sand’s is a welcome addition since it is written, not by a navel-gazing insider, but by someone by turns seduced and revolted by that Gallic neologism, les intellocrates ... What Sand’s book lacks, despite its refreshing absence of deference, is a sense of what made French intellectual production since the war so compelling. Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Kristeva, Lacan, Derrida, Cixous, Deleuze and Guattari are scarcely mentioned and Foucault only gets a cameo ... I’d like to read that adventure story, but Sand doesn’t tell it. Instead, he explores the embarrassing truth that, while in the new millennium the quality of French intellectual life has plummeted, its reputation remains. He bracingly compares media-friendly intellectuals such as Houellebecq, Éric Zemmour and Alain Finkielkraut to Nazi-collaborating writers such as Robert Brasillach and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle ... his admiration for French intellectuals, such as it is, does not extend to self-identifying with Islamophobes.
In The End of the French Intellectual, he strings together a set of personal reflections, historical annotations and topical commentaries on the ideal of the lofty intellectual, in the course of which he finds 10 ways to say, with suitable references to master thinkers across the centuries, that intellectuals ought to uphold universal principles ... he inquires into the intellectual scene in our own time ...The scene turns out to be a disgrace. The leading intellectuals of today are hucksters and opportunists ... And their political ideas, not merely conservative, in Sand’s judgment, turn out to be shamefully extremist and right-wing, especially on questions of immigration and Islam ... But is any of this true? I have to say that, in my estimation, none of it is true ... The End of the French Intellectual is unconvincing unto its title. An intellectual scene...cannot possibly be at an end. On the contrary! Which Sand must recognize, at some level. Otherwise, why would he have taken the trouble to compose his diatribe?
Sand dismisses [Michel] Houellebecq...'as the tragicomic end of a long cycle of moral commitment of Parisian intellectuals in public affairs.' He then takes us through the various stages of this cycle, showing considerable flair for original thinking and no little wit, even if the tone is often suitably wistful ... His solution is not sexy but sensible and has a distinctly British tang: it is time for French intellectuals to 'act as the modest and efficient servants of the public, bowing to the principles of an empirical and pragmatic policy.'