Obituary: FRANCE

From Mao to Sarkozy, French philosopher André Glucksmann dies, aged 78

André Glucksmann
André Glucksmann CC by Nom : Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

French philospher André Glucksmann died on Tuesday at the age of 78. He was one of France's "New Philosophers", the generation that followed Jean-Paul Sartre and his contemporaries, along with Bernard Henri-Lévy, and, like him, moved from the far left to the mainstream right in his career as a public intellectual.


Tributes to Glucksmann poured in Tuesday, President François Hollande tweeting that he had "always listened to the suffering of peoples" and the philosopher's son, Raphaël, an author and documentary maker, declaring "My first and best friend is no more" on Facebook.

Glucksmann was born in what was then a working-class suburb of Paris, Boulogne-Billancourt, in 1937 to Jewish, Communist parents who had come from Palestine, then under a British League of Nations mandate.

His father died at the begining of World War II and his mother joined the French resistance, hiding refugees and arms in her home.

Although he worked with right-leaning philosopher Raymond Aron, Glucksmann was caught up in the revolutionary mood of France in the late 60s, joining demonstrations during the 1968 students' and workers' revolt, especially after his wife, Françoise, threatened to leave him if he didn't.

In 1970 he joined the Maoist group La Gauche Prolétarienne, although his membership only lasted a year, and declared France a "fascist dictatorship" in 1972.

But he became disillusioned with communism in all it forms, becoming an admirer of dissident Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and renouncing Marxism in his 1975 book La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d'Hommes.

Equating communism and fascism, he saw himself as an opponent of all totalitarianism.

In his book The Master Thinkers he criticised all philosophers who thought they had devised a new system - Rousseau, Liebniz, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche - finding them guilty of totalitarian thinking.

Like Henri-Lévy, Glucksmann became a very public intellectual, appearing regularly on radio and television and penning articles in newspapers and magazines.

In 1979 he persuaded both Sartre and Aron to put aside their political differences and lobby then-president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to help the boatpeople fleeing Vietnam after the defeat of the US.

He became a leading advocate of "humanitarian intervention", supporting the 1999 Nato bombing of Serbia, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the 2011 intervention in Libya and this year's bombing of Syria.

In 2009 he published an article in Le Monde newspaper arguing that Israel's offensive on Gaza was not "disproportionate" because the Jewish state was fighting for its survival.

In 2007 he supported mainstream right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election, arguing that he was the "most left-wing candidate" and had the best programme on unemployment.

He later broke with Sarkozy over the latter's rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Glucksmann had identified as a primary enemy of his later years since the start of the Chechen war.

André Glucksmann's life in dates:

  • 1937: Born in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, to Jewish parents who have left Mandate Palestine;
  • 1939-45: Survives German occupation in hiding, mother works for French resistance;
  • 1961: obtains degree in philosophy at the Ecole normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud;
  • 1967: Publishes Discours sur la Guerre (Discourse on War);
  • 1968: Takes part in student demonstrations during the Mai 68 events;
  • 1970-71: Member of Maoist group la Gauche prolétarienne;
  • 1975: Renounces Marxism in La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d’Hommes (The Cook and the Man-Eater);
  • 1977: Publishes Les Maîtres Penseurs (The Master Thinkers);
  • 1979: Takes Jean-Paul Sartre and Raymond Aron to visit then-president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to plead for help for Vietnamese boatpeople;
  • 1991: Publishes La Onzième Commandement (The Eleventh Commandment);
  • 2003: Supports US intervention in Iraq;
  • 2004: Signs neo-conservative manifesto The Project for an American Century:
  • 2009: Defends Israel’s offensive on Gaza in an article in Le Monde;
  • 10 November 2015: Dies, aged 78.




Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app