Sunday, December 15, 2002

Last Sunday the Vanguardia published this interview with Jean-François Revel, the French essayist and author, always brilliant and controversial and extremely often right. The French get a well-deserved bad rap for having perpetrated Derrida and Foucault and Sartre and foisted them off on the rest of an unsuspecting world as "thought", but there are Frenchmen who are equally eminent who talk good old-fashioned sense and Revel is one of them. Give Revel, who is 80, the respect he deserves. He was country (pro-capitalism and democracy, anti-Communist) when country wasn't cool. I should have done this translation several days ago, but my social life interrupted, which is probably a good thing. Anyway, here goes. The questioner is Victor M. Amela. His questions are in italics.

Revel is a bulldozer of ideas: solid, potent, unstoppable. When in Europe the equation "intellectual=leftist" was still in effect, Revel banged his shoe on the table with "Neither Marx nor Jesus" (1970). He continued lashing Nazis and Communists (he equated them in "The Totalitarian Temptation", 1976) and political Utopias: "They have been the incarnation of evil, murder, and immorality!" he said to me four years ago. Now he is slapping those he calls "anti-American obsessives" upside the head.

Who are you referring to?

I am capable of being occasionally anti-American, but never systematically anti-American. I am referring to those who are systematically anti-American, those who fall into a pure obsession.

Couldn't it be that you are systematically pro-American?

I am systematically looking for the truth. That's my obsession!

So in all this, what's the truth?

That the information publicized in Europe about the United States is normally false, systematically hostile viewpoints, biased, pregnant with resentment. Lies.

Lies? Do you believe that?

Yes, I detect the resentment of the weak against the powerful.

The United States is a superpower.

Oh, sure, all right, but ask yourself this: Why is the United States a superpower?

Because of its military strength, its...

No, no, go to the roots. The United States is a superpower because of Europe! It isn't one because of its own merits, but because of the demerits of Europe.

Be more specific.

The United States became a superpower in the twentieth century because Europe committed suicide.


In the twentieth century, Europe damaged itself with two totalitarian systems of extermination: Communism and Naziism. And besides, it decided to bleed itself dry militarily twice in the two world wars.

True, true...

And who came to save Europe from itself on both occasions? The United States! And, look here, the Americans didn't want to come over...It was we who begged them to come.

Right, but...

And, besides, since 1989 they've been the winners of the Third World War, the Cold War, due to the grotesque collapse of the Communist bloc. The fall of the Wall has made them even more of a superpower!

So...what are you getting at?

That the United States's world hegemony is the daughter of historical determinism, of evolution, not of an imperialist agenda, not of so-called American imperialism.

Now are you denying the existence of American imperialism?

The Romans built an empire, a genuine military empire, from the origin of a small tribe in Latium that continued conquering new lands, one after another...the United States, an empire? The United States is a little group of Europeans who went to fill an almost vacant continent, and they have enough work doing that! I insist: The United States is what it is, not because of its abilities, but because of the stupidity of the rest.

You say that in Europe they lie about the United States. Is Bush's bellicosity a lie?

Here we say, "Bush the son wants to finish Bush the father's job, when he attacked Iraq." But it was Iraq who attacked Kuwait! Saddam is a very dangerous guy. He invaded Kuwait after a war against Iran in which 700,000 people died. 700,000 people!

But if we can avoid another war...

Saddam has systematically laughed at the UN and Europe. Before the Gulf War he refused to negotiate anything.

And the United States crushed him.

An international coalition, including Arab countries, expelled him from Kuwait.

You support Bush, then.

Bush is defending the right to disactivate anyone who represents a threat to everyone. And Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds! He's a real danger!

Jean-François Revel faces off against anti-Americanism, a well-established way of thinking in the active antiglobalization movement, which Revel also bashes.

The antiglobalization people only want to correct the injustices of globalization.

Injustices of globalization? Thanks to globalization today there is less hunger in the world than 50 years ago. Hunger is in retreat! Agriculture with genetically modified seeds has multiplied cereal production by ten. Now there are no longer the famines there were in India fifty years ago.

But in Africa...

In southern Africa there is still hunger, yes, Whose fault? Local politicians, insane people like the megalomaniac Mugabe, who has made prosperous Zimbabwe into hell: by transferring agriculture from white control to black, (losing the experience of the white farmers), he's destroyed agriculture and three million people have starved to death. And Africa has received more aid per capita than Asia or Latin America!

In France there are antiglobalization activists, like Bové.

Yes, our ineffable destroyer of McDonald's, that great thinker...

Are you making fun of Bové?

Do you know what the "homeland cooking" the very protectionist Gallic farmers are advocating consists of? Very European cows and poultry...fed with used industrial oils, dioxine, and sewer excrement mixed with plaster and beet pulp...This is our well-loved homeland cooking! Its great purity contrasts with American junk food, of course.

Globalization is the remedy against hunger, then?

Yes: let's get rid of customs barriers. Today, the subsidized farmers of the rich countries (that of Bové and the French agriculturalists, for example) are crushing under those in the poor countries. Thanks to subsidies, Europe and the United States export their products at artificially low prices.

Do Bové and company hurt farmers in the poor countries?

Yes: the European antiglobalization advocates, while defending their own interests, are the worst enemies of the hungry people. In order to put an end to hunger there it is imprescindible that there be democratic governments and free trade there. Democracy is a fundamental prior condition for the elimination of hunger! Amartya Sen, Nobel Economics Prize Winner, says so, and it's true: if there are poor countries that make no progress, it's because they don't have democracy.

Revel has fervently defended democratic capitalism ("liberalism") for forty years, since his first books and until today. In order not to be confused by terminology, I asked him for some definitions.

How do you define "liberalism"?

It is the only reasonable system! It is the system that guarantees a separation between political power and economic power--which allows the market to function--and for which political democracy is imprescindible.

Is there liberal democracy in Russia?

More or less...but stained by a very strong police tradition. What's happening there is like in China, which is liberalizing its market without giving up political authoritarianism: they don't understand that the only road to prosperity passes through full democracy.

What do you think will happen?

That can't hold up for much longer; it will blow up. At some moment the market economy will collide with the political structure.

I came to the interview with a recent copy of the French weekly the Nouvel Observateur, with a cover titled "Have we all become 'reacs' (reactionaries)?", in allusion to the French sociopolitical environment.

The French, reactionaries?

It's trendy in France to talk about the "new reactionaries" in reference to certain writers and thinkers. Nonsense!

Don't those reactionaries exist?

No. There are people who have finally understood that socialism failed and the only system that works is liberal capitalism with political democracy.

Who will watch over the welfare of the weakest citizens?

The structure of the liberal system accepts policies of solidarity and redistribution of wealth for those who have the most difficulties.

With socialism marginalized?

Yes, because Socialism was based on the collectivization of the means of production and exchange. This has failed, it's already the past. The real reactionaries are those who are nostalgic for this failed past!

But there are no communists left!

Yes, there are, and really, I'm more Marxist than they are! Because Marx taught that theories must be demonstrated through praxis, experience, and praxis has demonstrated that communism does not work. But they still believe in it! They're pseudo-Marxists!

Has communism been a belief, a faith, a religion?

Yes. the belief system, the ideology, are always marginalized by praxis, the facts. That's why an ideology can last so long although reality may contradict it. If it fails, its faithful say it was the fault of circumstances and human beings: they will never admit that the cause is in the ideology itself.

It was all a beautiful Utopia...

Political Utopias have already done too much damage to Europe. Trying to convert morality into a collective matter ("we'll create a just, ideal society!") leads to murder.

Speaking of morality, I ask Revel about his point of view on whether the European Union constitution should or not include a clear allusion to the Christian roots of Europe.

Should we put it in writing that Europe is Christian?

No. There's no need, thank you very much. We Europeans have fought for two centuries to achieve the secular state, that is, so that religion is a respected right in the private sphere but it should not interfere in the public sphere: not in politics, not in science, not in the schools. If we've already achieved that separation, should we turn back now? Maybe people are anxious for solid references and clear values.

But if religious codes dominate our social lives, then what will happen? In France there are 4.5 million Muslims, and many refuse to attend class when Voltaire is taught, because Voltaire wrote against Mohammed (and against Catholicism). They don't want to know anything about Darwin because it contradicts the Koran, or do homework on Fridays. So why have we fought during two centuries for secularism, the separation of the political and the religious? No: neither Islamic nor Christian restrictions. Europe, secular. For everyone's good.

And, within Europe, how do you see Spain?

From the dictatorship, it became one of the most democratic countries in Europe. In Spain, your Left has not been totalitarian, and your Right has achieved the largest economic growth in Europe. Aznar's Government has been successful, without a doubt.

And its anti-terrorist policy?

Look: modern terrorism only acts against democracies. There is no terrorism against Saddam, for example! Well, there should be no place for terrorism in a democracy, since all issues must be debated in Parliament. And, since ETA and Batasuna are the same thing, it's good that Batasuna has been outlawed.

From now on, our standard response to idiotarians will be, "Jean-François Revel / Would say, "Go to hell."

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