Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sudhir Hazareesingh

Sudhir Hazareesingh's new book is How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "All great nations think of themselves as exceptional. France's distinctiveness in this regard lies in its enduring belief in its own moral and intellectual prowess." How did this belief come to be, and how does it manifest itself today?

A: French universalism has its historical roots in its Catholic tradition, in the golden age of classicism in French art and literature, which also coincided with the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV: this was the era when French language and culture were dominant across Europe.

From the Enlightenment onwards this cultural power also expressed itself through philosophy: France became the primary source of republican and revolutionary ideals about liberty and equality, which spread across the world.

This tradition is still alive today in the French way of thinking about citizenship, which stresses the importance of common values and active engagement with the public realm. After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, four million men and women took to the streets across France.

Q: In the book, you discuss the importance of the salon. What role did the salon play in the development of French intellectual life?

A: The salon was a privileged arena for the development of cultural and philosophical ideas, particularly in the 18th century.

In a time when critical political ideas could not always be expressed openly, the salon provided a safe space where intellectual interaction could take place. It also gave openings to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue