FIGAROVOX/BIG INTERVIEW – Can we still philosophize in the era of social networks? Every morning in “La morale de l’info” on Europe 1, Raphaël Enthoven points out the paradoxes of postmodern man. The pedagogue, who considers himself the hair scratcher of his time, gave a river interview to Figarovox.
Raphaël Enthoven is a professor of philosophy. He holds a column in the morning of Europe 1 entitled The morality of the info. Last book published: Little brother (Gallimard, 2017).
FIGAROVOX.– You are a philosopher-twittos. Isn't there a paradox in trying to reconcile the time for philosophical reflection, which requires hindsight and patience, with the immediacy of social networks?
Raphaël ENTHOVEN.- I am not a philosopher but a philosophy teacher, which is more difficult! Everyone is a philosopher: it is enough to know that one is going to die. When I was on France Culture I had 59 minutes a week to do a show without guests (“Le Gai Savoir”) on a classic work. We were like surveyors, or speleologists, in search of sublime detail. On Europe 1, the pace is (slightly) different: I have 2,30 minutes each morning to grasp an event, show the pathology of which it is the symptom, extract a "moral" from it and possibly, if the heart m Says it, sending an uppercut… Might as well sit a whale in a bathtub. It is to Raymond Aron that I have agreed to do it. First, as an editorialist, he had the particular genius to write an article in one hour on an idea: unity of time, place and thought. And then I make my own, resolutely, the great question of the “committed spectator”: “How, Frenchman, Jew, situated at a moment of becoming, can I know the whole of which I am an atom, among hundreds of millions? How to grasp the whole other than from a point of view, one among innumerable others? In other words, how to think of the world of which I am both judge and party? How to tend towards
objectivity without ever yielding to the temptation to believe that I know? How to pick out what lasts within what passes away?
“I gradually guessed my two tasks, specifies Aron in his Memoirs : to understand or know my time as honestly as possible, without ever losing awareness of the limits of my knowledge; to detach myself from the current without however being satisfied with the role of spectator. In the discomfort of a mind grappling with matter lies a method of investigation which combines the advantages of the magnifying glass, the scalpel and the telescope.
How do you judge the violence that is exercised on social networks?
Hilarious, as she tries, by essentializing the adversary, to cut short any debate. Twitter is not a space for dialogue, but the favorite terrain of what Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority”. Each tweeter searches, like a sheep in search of chains, for the camp of people who think like him. On Twitter, we only retweet what we approve of, any contradiction is an offense and we debate indignantly. Twitter promotes foolishness through noise. So, I go there as one goes to the lab, I eliminate insults as one cleans his office and I flush out malicious people with analogies in 140 characters, as one throws bread in the river to study the behavior of sticklebacks. I have been treated as a leftist by the Manif pour tous, as a fascist by the Mélenchoniens, as a Jew by the anti-Semites and as an anti-Zionist by cretins… I deduce from this that I am in the right place!
Do you feel that intolerance is growing?
Ancient racism has found a powerful ally among those who believe they are fighting injustice by imposing the opposite injustice, like a misguided anti-racism that culminates in "single-sex meetings" where whites are excluded. The difference between the two intolerances is that the second (intoxicated by the dream of a world where non-mixing would become superfluous, so many people would finally love each other) is seen as a remedy for the first, whereas she is his reflection. The methods it uses (excluding the other, in the name of tolerance) are experienced as provisional morals, but they are ends in themselves.
You have a deep relationship with literature. Isn't this a finer and less systematic way than philosophy of approaching reality?
"We only think well in images, if you want to be a philosopher, write novels" writes Camus, thinking of Moby Dick, whose whiteness Melville compares to the albatross, to the albino to the pallor of shrouds or to the “true veil of the Christian God”… In other words, the image overcomes the representation to become a metaphor, whose explosive power is comparable to that of a haiku, or an aphorism. When Camus himself, at the beginning of Wedding, writes “At certain hours, the countryside is black with sun”, the reader sees perfectly what he means, but he does not imagine it. Was there an eclipse that day? Is it the black sun of melancholy? Or a brow curtain that fights the heat? Or a reference to the "night-like" appearance of Apollo at the beginning of the iliad ? Is this the birth of the idea dear to Camus that the sun does not dissipate shadows, but produces them? As many questions (and so many more) as a single sentence contains. One finds sublime demonstrations in philosophy. But one finds there more rarely than in literature these pearls of meaning whose density is such that a single sentence, as simple as existence, when unfolded, contains an entire library.
On the other hand, it seems that a world is opposed to that of literature, it is politics, which imposes binary patterns where literature intends to enter into the complexity of beings...
Politics is opposed to literature as the public sphere is opposed to the intimate. I say intimate. I'm not saying private. The private designates everything that is important only for oneself. The intimate designates an adventure that is certainly intransmissible but whose energy it gives and the hope it awakens imposes to become public.
To put it simply, all the work consists in converting the solitary pleasure of literature into a daily injection of singularity on the agora. Using Camus to dynamite the discourse of the Indigenous Peoples of the Republic. Using Orwell to dissect Ségolène Royal's positions on Cuba. Evoking the disarray of Bardamu, lost in New York, to describe the attempts to resuscitate the Socialist Party... The counter-thought is not a thought against, but a thought which corners the adversary by deciphering its mechanisms, or by presenting to him an unexpected reflection. The elect only use literature to celebrate simple values, which is fine. As far as I'm concerned, it works like a powder keg.
How to explain that our society, which is supposed to have abolished all norms in favor of individual emancipation, is more and more puritanical, moralizing and draconian?
Some want to see it as a backlash. It would be too simple. The eras do not follow one another, but juxtapose and, sometimes, mix. In this case, Puritanism is no longer the prerogative of Puritans. It is also found in their adversaries, who force you to be free when you are not free enough and deprive you of your voice when you are less tolerant than them. "Morals" is not only the arsenal of principles which make it possible to find elsewhere than in oneself the norm of one's action, morality is also, henceforth, the weapon of all those who, for lack of deconstructing a argument, choose to reject it by presenting it as "nasty". Freedom, finally, has not so much to fear a return of tyranny as a liberticidal use of its own procedures, like the social networks which ignore the presumption of innocence, or a proselytism which relies on freedom itself to spread intolerance. More serious than the frontal clash of good and evil, it is the contamination of virtue by resentment, which marks the moment we are going through.
Does the absolute transparency of public life frighten you?
The idolatry of transparency is even more interesting than frightening, which is saying something. From the Cahuzac affair – where the forced exhibition of assets was sold as a remedy for tax evasion – to the spectacular violations of privacy in the Bettencourt affair, via the “wall of idiots”, the real question is not to know if mistrust is soluble in transparency (it is the opposite: the more one sees, the more one doubts), but to know what hides the desire for transparency. To what passions does the illusion that we would all be freer in a glass cage correspond? And above all: you spoke of “absolute transparency”, but no transparency is absolute! For an obvious reason: to believe, says Nietzsche, that it suffices to sweep away appearances to make the truth appear, is to forget that, in this way, one makes truth itself a supplementary appearance! A man who takes off his mask is a man who wears the mask of the guy who takes his mask off...
You sometimes remind me of the priest in the film “Ridicule” who proves the existence of God, then his non-existence. In constantly seeking paradoxes, in juggling with concepts, isn't there a risk of becoming a sophist, or a relativist?
It is vanity that kills the Abbé de Villecourt, more than the taste for paradox. And, when the King stands up, indignant, the Abbot discovers, moreover, at his expense, that not all opinions are equal… As far as I'm concerned, apart from mine, all opinions interest me. I see there dispositions of character, or bits of truth. What interests me above all are the opinions that take themselves for the truth (or the social groups that take themselves for humanity, it's the same thing). And I prefer the company of Montaigne to any other, whose skepticism does not prevent him from taking sides. For example, in his chapter on the Cannibals, Montaigne, whose only rule of conduct is doubt, argues with total good sense that he prefers the company of cannibals who roast people after death and for eat, to that of the inquisitors who do the same, but in the name of God. The absence of dogma is not contradictory with the taking of a position.
Montaigne, Nietzsche… who are your other guiding figures in philosophy?
Pascal and Spinoza for the XNUMXth century, with Montaigne in the background. Montesquieu, Bergson, Camus Nietzsche, Proust, Clement Rosset. Bless them for being born before me.
What is your relationship to the Enlightenment and modernity?
It's totally banal. I am a liberal in the sense that Kropotkin said (from memory): "My freedom begins where that of the other begins". I feel free when others are. I am a liberal in economics, for lack of anything better, insofar as I do not know of an abolition of economic liberalism that did not result in a mass massacre. I'm stupidly Aronian. I don't know of a system where freedom of expression is guaranteed without freedom of enterprise also being guaranteed. And I remain amazed, in terms of modernity, by the spectacle of people saying that "it was better before" without seeing that all eras of the world have always had people saying the same thing.
Yet nostalgia is more of a feeling than a system…
So it's a feeling that, like a system, takes little risk! As it designates both regret for one's native land and despair of realizing, when one returns there, that nothing is as it was before, nostalgia always manages to be one step ahead. We will never catch a nostalgic in default. Like Ulysses, in whom regret for home gives way to despair (likely) to be back and find that, unlike him, his wife has aged, the nostalgic always has a sorrow at hand .
Aren't there virtues in criticizing progressivism?
Especially when progress itself takes care of it! An internal criticism is always more effective than an imprecation… Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the best philosopher of progress (which he calls "perfectibility") but also its worst enemy, who repeatedly shows the misdeeds of the development of science and arts on humanity. Bergson was trained in the school of a triumphant science and his thought flourishes beyond the circle of reason. Pascal, before him, had invented the omnibus or the calculating machine, without ever departing from the feeling that "the heart has its reasons that reason does not know..." Kant himself, who devoted so much time to elucidating the conditions of a moral judgement, argues, with good reason, that virtue staggers when science advances with giant strides… In a word, technical progress is not moral progress.
You believe in the immutability of human nature…So you are conservative?
I am not conservative. I am observer. And the observation (which also serves as my only certainty) is that in a sense, humanity is stagnating while progressing. The decor evolves, the means change, but the passions remain, the quarrels and the impulses obey the same mechanisms, societies are renewed as a theater changes actors. Some find it discouraging. Others see it as an opportunity to find in Spinoza, Plato, Bergson or Montaigne, answers to the questions we asked ourselves that very morning.
Source: © Le Figaro Premium – Raphaël Enthoven: “Our era is that of the contamination of virtue by resentment”
Patricia JS Cambay
Raymond Aron, “The Committed Spectator”, what a good start for this interview.
Likewise, I'm stupidly Aronian, but I recently had the surprise of reading an article in Libé: “Raymond Aron was right, Alas!”
Thank you Mr Enthoven for this pleasant moment.
I will end with your sentence, which I entirely agree with, “I am not a conservative, I am an observer.”