Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Intellectuals, French and American, & Obama

In reading Tony Judt’s Past Imperfect, French Intellectuals, 1944-1956, I have on several occasions wondered how representative some of the views he discusses were. Then on page 202 I read, “The same public that had resented being liberated and ‘occupied’ by the Americans was quite clear by 1948 that U.S. aid was vital to French national recovery. This did not make the United States universally popular: despite the fact that in 1950 it was the foreign country that most people liked more than any other, it was also the one with the highest negative coefficient: more people also actively disliked it than disliked any other country, Germany included. But except for the young and the highly educated, the French were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the United States in general even as they feared and resented its economic power and were opposed to some of its foreign policies, including support for a renascent Federal Republic in Germany. In 1953, 61 percent of those asked were ‘sympathetic’ to the United States, only 8 percent expressing ‘antipathy,’ 5 percent ‘distrust,’ and 1 percent ‘hate.’ It is thus worth noting that a sizable percentage of the Communist electorate had no apparent dislike for Washington – only 10 percent of all persons questioned would have favored a Franco-Soviet alliance.’”

Another source indicates that the percentage of Frenchman who voted the Communist ticket during this period was probably around 25%. http://www.jstor.org/pss/1951672

Getting back to the French intellectuals, further down on page 202 Judt writes, “One of the distinctive and enduring differences between France and the United States has been the insignificance of the intelligentsia in the public life of the latter. In marked contrast to their French homologues, American intellectuals are marginal to their own culture. For a multitude of reasons, the intellectual in America has no purchase upon the public mind, not to mention public policy. Thus there was (and remains) about the United states something profoundly inimical and alien to the European and French conception of the intellectual and his or her role. If ‘America’ represented the future, then it pointed to a society in which the role of the intellectual, real as well as self-ascribed, would be dramatically reduced.”

COMMENT: Many French intellectuals during this period sought to submerge their distinctiveness in their conception of the Proletarian “Ummah,” if I may borrow a term from Islam. The Proletarians were well-muscled, hard-working, honorable, and virtuous. They weren’t terribly bright, however; so the French intellectuals needed to be careful with them. If the intellectuals had thoughts critical of what Stalin was doing in the East, perhaps it was better that they keep them to themselves. There was no reason to disturb the equanimity of the Proletariat. But many of the non-intellectual French paid attention to their intellectuals and were influenced by them. These intellectuals had a significant “purchase upon the” French mind.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons American intellectuals have no “purchase on the” American mind is that Christianity has a much larger “purchase” here than in France. American intellectuals who are Christian may be treating the Christian “Proletariat” as the French attempted to treat their Communist Proletariat during the period Judt is writing about.

It is interesting that Obama said it was in Jeremiah Wright’s church that he “found Jesus.” If this comment isn’t explored, it would make Obama seem safe to the American Christian majority. Wright is a Black Liberationist. Wright’s Christianity is not “traditional.” He has some political strings attached to his Christianity. A “white person” may join a Black Liberation church only after he admits his sins against black people. These sins may not be overt, but unless the white person is working for the good of black people, he is living in a state of sin. Listen to the theologian most responsible for Jeremiah Wright’s Black Liberation Theology: http://www.lawrencehelm.com/2008/09/james-cone.html

In my opinion, Obama would be acceptable to Christians, only if they do not examine the Christianity of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Put another way, if the American Christian were just the slightest bit more intellectual, he would be able to Google enough information to inform himself about the Christianity of Cone, Wright and Obama.

Lawrence Helm


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