Jean-François Revel (1924-2006)

Jean-François Revel
Jean-François Revel

Early on Sunday morning, the French intellectual Jean-François Revel died aged 82. He was a member of the French Academy and, with philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, economist Guy Sorman, and writer Pascal Bruckner, one of the few truly pro-American French writers.

In his 2002 book "L'obsession anti-américaine" (English version: Anti-Americanism) he analyses anti-Americanism throughout the world. Exposing its paradoxes, its contradictions and its lies, he shows that it is instigated by cultural and political elites, rather than supported by the population at large. Already in 1970, Revel was "astonished by the evidence that almost everything Europeans are saying about the US is false". Since then, nothing has changed. From the book, an example of French anti-American bias in the press and by politicians:

According to our commentators the fact that the US unemployment rate had dropped below 5 percent since 1984 whereas our own had skyrocketed to around 12 percent, meant nothing good for the US, given that these jobs were mostly "menial jobs." Ah! Here we have the myth of the menial jobs. How it has comforted us! During the economic slowdown of the first half of 2001 the American unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent of the working population to 5.5 percent. On 7 May 2001 the French economic daily La Tribune immediately printed a full first page headline "Full Employment Ends in the United States." This is but one example.

Yet, at precisely the same time the French government applauded itself frenetically for having reduced our own unemployment rate to 8.7 percent, i.e. almost twice the American rate (without taking into account the tens of thousands of actual unemployed that France artificially excludes from its statistics).

By September 2001 the unemployment rate in France already exceeded 9 percent. On 15 February 2001 Le Monde published an article entitled "The End of the American Economic Dream." In other words, a practically uninterrupted growth of 17 years (1983-2000), an unprecedented technological revolution since the 19th century, the creation of tens of millions of new jobs, an unemployment rate of only 4 percent as well as an enormous and unexpected demographic increase from 248 million to 281 million between 1990 and 2000-all this was but a "dream." What a pity that France did not realize this dream!

Granted, the author of the article readily straddles the hobbyhorse of the "menial jobs" and deplores that France Americanized itself to the point of "copying the sad example of the working poor." As if this were the only example given by the American economy from which no lesson can be learned. Undoubtedly, France was better off remaining faithful to its own model of the not working poor.

The same book also deals with antiglobalism, which he calls "anti-americanism in disguise".

Must we close our eyes to the achievements of the last 50 years of increasing economic liberty, when worldwide production grew by a factor of six and the volume of exports by a factor of 17? Must investment capitalism abroad, the engine of extraordinary, racing progress for many previously poor countries, be banned just because it often brings links to America?

We French have had little to say against Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, the imams of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the bosses of China and Vietnam. We reserve our admonitions and our contempt and our attacks for the U.S., for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and for Europeans like Margaret Thatcher, Silvio Berlusconi, and Tony Blair, because they are insufficiently hostile to capitalism. Our enemy is not the dictator but the free market economy.

Anti-globalizers make the same mistake. What's important to them is not the eradication of poverty. Rather, it is the propaganda value they gain from linking poverty to the spreading market economy. But this puts them on the wrong side of all evidence, of reality, of history. Life expectancy in Third World countries has more than doubled during the free-market dominated second half of the twentieth century. In India, food production has grown by a factor of ten, leading to the elimination of massive famines. In Latin America, per capita income doubled between 1950 and 1985. Over the past 50 years, Latin America on the whole has experienced an annual growth of 5 percent. No European country can boast an equivalent rate. These figures show to what an extent the mantras about ever-increasing poverty spring from ignorance or simple dishonesty. Where poverty continues to exist today it is almost wholly due to ruinously inefficient public sectors. [...]

Between 1960 and 2000, Africa received four times as much funding and aid per capita as Latin America or Asia. How was it that these last two continents took off, and not Africa? By practicing capitalism and establishing world trade. But it is pointless to set forth facts like these to anti-globalizers; they simply howl in indignation. In spreading the lie that globalization impoverishes the most needy, the protestors simply act upon their twin enthusiasms: anti-American and anti-capitalism. Their floating mass of some hundreds of thousands of demonstrators is their compensation for the frustration of having seen all the socialisms and all the revolutions fail. At a time when they have no positive alternative, yelling slogans and trashing cities and blocking international gatherings provide them with the illusion of moral action.

In his 1970 book "Ni Marx ni Jésus" (English translation: Without Marx or Jesus) Revel compared the student protests of the sixties in the US with those in Europe. While the European protests were inspired by socialism, the American student protests were inspired by a genuine drive for freedom. In the same book, he lauds the US as "the prototype nation".

Though Revel was an atheist, his son Matthieu Ricard gave up his career as a scientist to become a Buddhist monk in Tibet and Nepal. In "

  • Login or register to post comments
  • 16523 reads
  • no comments?

    interesting that this article had no comments from readers. I was expecting the anti-american tirade about how its all b.s. Regardless, I had read L' obsession anti-americaine few years ago and found it very intriguing and outspoken. Mr. Revel was definitely a frenchman who wasnt saying what many wanted to hear. May he Rest in Peace.