A friend over at NRO’s Postmodern Conservative blog recently asked which contemporary French authors might profitably be read by American conservatives. As a Francophone who has translated French philosophers from this and previous centuries, I thought I’d contribute my two cents.
My criteria were: 1) What could help American conservatives better understand Europe, the evolving nature of liberal democracy, and the pathologies of the age, both abroad and at home? and 2) Who are the contemporary French authors who could speak to a fairly diverse cohort?
Rémi Brague, professor emeritus at the Sorbonne, and the subject of a post I wrote on the complicated western history of the Law of God, argues in a recent essay “The Impossibility of Secular Society” (paywall) that secular society is a doomed enterprise for two reasons: a secular society cannot survive in the long run, so moving on from it will be a choice to live, and the very concept of secular society is tautological “because secularity is latent within the modern use of the term society.” Brague also asserts a 1/2 thesis that whatever comes next in the West, it won’t be a “society” but a new mode of “being-together.” This mini-me thesis itself seems redundant. If the present society fails to inspire loyalty and provide convincing rationales for our “being-together,” then something new will surely replace it. But this might be the most interesting key to the essay. I’ll return to this thought at the end.
So I’ve been deep in the bowels of the Georgia Historical Society archives the past week laying the groundwork for a new project on slavery and the law. Of course, as far as bowels go, the Georgia Historical Society is mighty fine, located in wonderful Savannah and adjacent to beautiful Forsyth Park. Repeated trips to Elizabeth’s restore the soul and the body after a long day with the super efficient archivists who continually fed me pamphlets and speeches on slavery and the Constitution, and the Bible, and science, and the progress of civilization.
Of interest to me, although by no means core to my project, is the civilizational confidence both Northern and Southern speakers evinced about their political, social, and cultural orders. It is a confidence, I think, almost absent from any state in the West today.