1. Désirs de gloire (1735-1751)/Desire for Glory (1735-1751)
II. Exigence de dignité (1751-1762)/Demand for Dignity (1751-1762)
In France, the birth of intellectualism dates from the creation of the great Académies. The oldest, l’Académie française, was originally founded by Richelieu in 1634, and had as its objective to compile the first Encyclopedia of the French language. Later, in 1666, under Colbert’s impetus, was born the Académie royale des sciences, which essentially served as advisory to the French monarchy on technical matters. These high bastions of layman’s knowledge, which gathered together all of the country’s intellectual elite, were to become objects of covetousness for all those who made a profession of thinking. In providing such “people of letters” with room and board, for the purpose of enlightening and inventing for the state’s profit, the monarchy laid the foundations of a Republic of intelligence that would, little by little, become aware of its interests and its power. No one could have suspected that these zealous employees of the king would constitute a new social class, independent of institutional orders, and would extend beyond their framework in order to lay ferment to opposition.
After the French Revolution, the role of the intellectual became subject, for the first time, to public opinion. But opinion, even an enlightened one, remains just that: an opinion, and cannot take the place of actual knowledge. These intellectuals did not like that fact that amateurs were dictating their judgments upon them. Source of glory, power and money, public opinion complicated the stakes for the ambitious intellectual, exacerbating rivalries and conflicts. Hence the changing role of the academies, as forum amongst one’s peers to the exclusion of the general public.
This fascinating history of intellectualism in France explores this paradigm, and the desire of the intellectual for glory, out of egocentric nature and the will to ideological power. The ultimate desire of the intellectual, the author argues, is to leave their name to posterity, to incarnate a thought’s progress, to convince one’s peers, to rally public opinion…
But beyond being a history of intellectualism, Les Passions intellectuelles is also a history of The Enlightenment in France, shedding a most original light upon the “Société des Lumières”, that intellectual “tribe” that inaugurated the birth of the Modern Era, both in its strengths and in its weaknesses. Alembert, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot – their stories, battles and achievements are chronicled here in a richly anecdotal style. These fascinating volumes also examine the place of human passions and emotions within and outside of this movement.