Des cartésiens stupides

Of course! The French! They’ve been stupid Cartesians all this time — literally, even — and we scarcely noticed. From this week’s New Yorker:

The French are often accused of being trapped in their Cartesian categories. A cold sandwich cannot morph into a hot sandwich without considerable mental accommodation on the part of the person putting it together. In politics, the left cannot creep toward the center, let alone the right, without a deep, if not intolerable, sense of ideological betrayal. The right rarely even considers the possibility of creeping. Change, on the right, is more a matter of cosmetic surgery. For most of the French, the “center”—call it a third way or Clinton’s way or Blair’s way or simply a free-market, social-democratic consensus—has been a contradiction in terms, perhaps because they remain so deeply devoted to the protective and protectionist state, l’État protecteur, that both the left and the right have helped create. The state has been reified, even deified; it carries the imprimatur of a historic compromise with reality.

Who would Spinoza vote for, do you think?


4 thoughts on “Des cartésiens stupides”

  1. I am sure he would vote for none of them: or hold his nose and vote Bayrou, if he was forced to do so at all.

    I think on this blog we often make the mistake of thinking Spinoza would have as many opinions on things as we think he should. I suspect he woud not think intensely about party politics in France. HIs one brush with a French politician took place when he crossed the front lines to visit the Prince of Condé while he was attacking the Netherlands, at the prince’s request. Sadly the prince buggered off before he had time to talk to Spinoza, and would likely not have understood what on earth Spinoza was on about.

  2. By the way, I don’t think we should be too down on Cartesians. Spinoza was one himself, you know. If you think all Cartesians are stupid we will have to have words.

  3. True, but you do Descartes and his — right thinking — followers a huge disservice. I am not sure whether we can say: no Descartes, no Spinoza; but I think it is clear that Descartes’ journey were also the first steps Spinoza took.

    I think you must accept the usefulness of what Cartesianism actually has done, the precision it brings to debate. Once you read the Ethics — which I note you have not done yet, and I will frankly question your dedication to this project until you do — you will note that extremely precise definition was clearly thought by Spinoza to be necessary to the whole structure. So let’s not be too down on the French and their sandwiches.

    I would also point out that living in Suisse Romande, as I do, whenever I buy a sandwich (quite seldom I have to say) I am constantly asked whether I want it warmed up or not. BUt never mind them, it is arguably the Americans, with their interminable chef-infuriating customisation, this whole “hold the mayo” mentality, who blur clear definitions of universal principles, who have placed us in the unenviable state where a blog like this is the only refuge for the Man of Reason. Is a hamburger, bun withheld, really a hamburger? Is a free republic where the executive can jail and torture without judicial restraint worthy of the name?

    I think not. Bring me a croque-monsieur, and don’t call it a ham sandwich.

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