Editor’s note: The following is a translation by Ibn Warraq and Robert Kerr of Michel Onfray’s L’Art d’Etre Francais (The Art of Being French, Bouquins, 2021), published here for the first time. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
Foucault went on a second trip in November of that year, and a new series of articles appeared. On February 13, 1979, when Khomeini left for Iran, the philosopher, who had made the trip to Neauphle-le-Château, was present at the airport.
What arguments do the articles he published in the Italian newspaper at the end of 1978 make?
That Islam is the answer to the Shah’s westernization of Iran; that, for want of justice, the Mullahs provide charity in response to the regime’s imperialism; that a Muslim killing another Muslim is scandalous – which is however to ignore the history of Shiite-Sunni relations for almost a millennium and a half; that Israel backed the Shah along with the United States and France (but then so did the Soviet Union); that, paradoxically for a normalien, modernity is archaism – and thus tradition is the true modernity; that the regime was corrupt and that the Shah was imposing on his people “a regime of occupation” comparable “to all colonial regimes” (III, 683).
– therefore, to oppose this is to resist; secularism and industrialization are no longer relevant
-and consequently, theocracy and feudal economy represent the true modernity; the Shah’s regime stands for archaism while that of the Mullahs is modernity; that the traditional life defended by the Mullahs is preferable to the modernity advocated by the Shah; that “Islam, which for so many centuries has so carefully regulated daily life, family ties, and social relations” (III, 685), is most capable of offering “protection” against the regime – “didn’t its rigor [sic], its immobility [re-sic] determine its success?” Accordingly, “the Islamic government” and the left make common cause without any difficulty (this is the genealogy of Islamo-leftism); that the Qur’an legitimized the struggle against the Shah, the Americans, “the West and its materialism”; that Islam is fascinated by death and martyrdom (and it is understandable that this proved irresistible to Foucault, who shared this fascination); that the Islamist sermons broadcast in the streets by loudspeaker reminded him of Savonarola – who headed the Catholic theocratic dictatorship in Florence without our philosophy professor being troubled about it; that the Shiite clergy disregards hierarchy, but that one must follow ‘the great ayatollahs’ because they crystallize the will of the people; that Islam is opposed to state power (a notion that a thousand years of Islamic politics refutes); and “that one fact must be clear: By ‘Islamic government’ no one in Iran means a political regime in which the clergy would play a leading or supervisory role” (III, 691) – Everyone will appreciate the philosopher’s immense foresight; that Islam once in power would protect freedoms, minorities, the equality of men and women, that the people could hold those who govern them to account; that this same political Islam would make it possible to reinsert spirituality, that is to say religion, into politics – which means abolishing secularism and restoring the theocratic order that the French Revolution had suppressed in order to favor the democratic order; that a ‘political spirituality’ (III, 694) is a project that ‘impressed’ (that’s his own word) Michel Foucault.
In speaking of this “political spirituality” as something we had forgotten “since the Renaissance and the great crises of Christianity” (though all counter-revolutionary thought was full of it in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one only has to read Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, Blanc de Saint-Bonnet), Foucault writes: “I can already hear the French laughing, but I know they are wrong” (III, 694).
The philosopher, however, was also wrong on this subject: many French people did not laugh, many of them even subscribed to this reactionary and theocratic thinking, since it came from a man who called himself a leftist. I am thinking of Serge July in Libération or Jean Daniel in Le Nouvel Observateur, who also thought along these lines. The same applies to the Parti socialiste. Or with Le Monde, which, since the war in Lebanon in 1975, pitted the “Islamo-progressivists” against the “conservative Christians”. This has since become the dominant ideology of what presents itself as the Left and claims to be progressive.
Islamo-Gauchism was thus born in the wake of this Iranian revolution when Foucault believed that Islamic traditionalist thought, that is to say its anti-Semitism, its phallocracy, its misogyny, its theocracy, its homophobia, were susceptible to become the truth of the future.
He was certainly not wrong to write: “The issue of Islam as a political force is a crucial matter for our time and for the years to come” (III, 708). But why on earth did he think that abolishing secularism, suppressing democracy, renouncing progress, that is, restoring the power of the religious, rehabilitating theocracy, and re-establishing tradition, were the political answers to the crisis of the Western world? The ghost of Foucault hovers over European decadence.
 Joseph de Maistre [1753-1821] was a key figure of the Counter-Enlightenment. He regarded the monarchy both as a divinely sanctioned institution and as the only stable form of government. Maistre argued that the rationalist rejection of Christianity was directly responsible for the disorder and bloodshed which followed the French Revolution of 1789.
 Louis de Bonald [1754-1840], was a monarchist who opposed the French Revolution, and wished France to return to the principles of the Roman Catholic Church.
 Blanc de Saint-Bonnet [1815-1880] was a counter-revolutionary, anti-liberal who favored social Catholicism. He wrote, “You who separate reason and religion, know that you destroy both. Religion is the health of reason; reason is the strength of religion. Religion without reason becomes superstition. Reason without religion becomes disbelief” (L’Unité spirituelle)
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