From an interview in the November 28, 2018, edition of Le Monde with Élisabeth Badinter, conducted by Jean Birnbaum. Badinter is a French public intellectual and historian whose three-part history of the Enlightenment, Les Passions intellectuelles, was republished as one volume by Éditions Robert Laffont in November. Translated from the French by John Cullen.
birnbaum: It’s been more than fifteen years since the first volume of your trilogy appeared. What is there in the current context that inspired you to reissue your work?
badinter: We have a need for rationality today. The philosophes of the eighteenth century, after all, were engaged in a battle of rationality versus superstition, and now, in a period when the irrational is taking up a vast amount of space in our social and intellectual lives, returning to that battle seems appropriate.
birnbaum: “The intellectuals had changed masters, but they were still slaves.” You wrote that sentence at the end of the third volume of your Passions, explaining that the clercs—the highly educated—were obeying the king less and less and opinion more and more. What do today’s intellectuals obey?