Jean-François Revel

French writer and philosopher (1924–2006)
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Jean-François Revel (19 January 192430 April 2006) was a French philosopher.

Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.


Strangely, it is always America that is described as degenerate and 'fascist', while it is solely in Europe that actual dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up.
The success and originality of American integration stem precisely from the fact that immigrants' descendants can perpetuate their ancestral cultures while thinking of themselves as Americans in the fullest sense, sharing basic ideals across racial and ethnic barriers.


  • The United States is the only country where these revolutions are simultaneously in progress and organically linked in such a way as to constitute a single revolution.
  • Similarly, societies where news is censored cannot enjoy the luxury of false objectivity because they do not have the true variety. In free civilizations, false objectivity must be fought by true objectivity, not by some alien bureaucracy. Prejudiced history is eliminated, or at least combated, by serious history, and corrupt journalism can only be defeated by honest journalism, not by a government commission whose first act may be to distribute some secret subsidies.


  • Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.
    • This quote was used, and attributed to Jean-Francois Revel, by Jeane Kirkpatrick in her August 20, 1984 speech to the Republican national convention in Dallas, Texas. As cited in Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History (rev.), ed. William Safire, W. W. Norton & Co. (2004), p. 1029 ISBN 0393059316, 9780393059311

Jean-François Revel, How Democracies Perish (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1984), p. 10.

How Democracies Perish (1983)

  • Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it.
    • Cited in The Effects of Mass Immigration On Canadian Living Standards and Society (2009). ed. Grubel, The Frasier Institute, pp. 202-203 ISBN 088975246X, 9780889752467



Democracy Against Itself: The Future of the Democratic Impulse (1993)

  • It is clear that international law must evolve, even if it will be difficult to find the new and appropriate notions that will allow it to … However, it is unlikely that we will ever be capable of building a world that is qualitatively better than we ourselves are.
    • Democracy Against Itself: The Future of the Democratic Impulse (1993), Revel, Free Press (1993), p. 264 ISBN 0029263875, 9780029263877



Anti-Americanism (2003)

Anti-Americanism (2003), by Jean-François Revel, San Francisco: Encounter Books.
  • The principal function of anti-Americanism has always been, and still is, to discredit liberalism by discrediting its supreme incarnation. To travesty the United States as a repressive, unjust, racist—almost fascist—society was a way of proclaiming: look what happens when liberalism is implemented!
  • America is the object of their loathing because, for a half-century or more, she has been the most prosperous and creative capitalist society on earth. Ultimately it is liberal democracy - or quite simply liberty itself - that they are eager to destroy, even though they are among its foremost beneficiaries, being free to travel anywhere, anytime in order to hatch their plots. If their diktats were carried out, if frontier barriers were reestablished everywhere, with passports and visas even for tourists, there could have been no Seattle and no Goteborg.
    • p. 35
  • Since no example of Leninist socialism is other than totalitarian and bureaucratic, one wonders how the doctrinaire ideologists can dismiss so disdainfully those who point out that the promise of socialism in freedom, while surely praiseworthy, remains a promise only, not something experienced in reality. The utopia of socialism with a human face has been crushed everywhere even before it could be born. How distressing that becoming humane, which should be the least we could expect from a regime dedicated to liberating humanity, should present for socialism a problem as impossible as squaring the circle.
    • p. 57
  • The idea that a culture can preserve its originality by barricading itself against foreign influences is an old illusion that has always produced the opposite of the desired result. Isolation breeds sterility. It is the free circulation of cultural products and talents that allows each society to perpetuate and renew itself.
    • p. 105
  • Not just songs by Madonna and action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; it includes 1,700 symphony orchestras, opera attended by 7.5 million people every year, and museums that are visited by 500 million annually, almost all American museums, where entrance is quite often free, owe their existence and funding to private sponsors.
    • p. 109
  • There is a big difference between being anti-American and being critical of the United States. Once again: critiques are appropriate and necessary, provided that they rest on facts and address real abuses, real errors and real excesses -- without deliberately losing sight of America's wise decisions, beneficent interventions and salutary policies. But critiques of this kind -- balanced, fair and well-founded are hard to find, except in America herself: in the daily press in weekly news magazines, on television and radio, and in highbrow monthly journals, which are more widely read than their equivalents in Europe.
    • p. 143
  • Anti-Americanism thus defined is less a popular prejudice than a parti pris of the political, cultural and religious elites.
    • p. 143
  • The strange thing is that it's always in Europe that dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up, yet it's always America that is "fascist".
    • p. 156

Europe's Anti-American Obsession (2003)

"Europe's Anti-American Obsession" (December 2003), The View From Abroad, The American Enterprise
  • What picture of American society is likely to be imprinted on the consciousness of average Europeans? Given what they read or hear every day from intellectuals and politicians, they can hardly have any choice in the unpleasant particulars, especially if they happen to be French. The picture repeatedly sketched for them is as follows: American society is entirely ruled by money. No other value, whether familial, moral, religious, civic, cultural, professional, or ethical has any potency in itself. Everything in America is a commodity, regarded and used exclusively for its material value. A person is judged solely by the worth of his bank account. Every U.S. President has been in the pockets of the oil companies, the military-industrial complex, the agricultural lobby, or the financial manipulators of Wall Street. America is the "jungle" par excellence of out-of-control, "savage" capitalism, where the rich are always becoming richer and fewer, while the poor are becoming poorer and more numerous. Poverty is the dominant social reality in America. Hordes of famished indigents are everywhere, while luxurious chauffeured limousines with darkened windows glide through the urban wilderness.
  • Poverty and inequality like this should cause Europeans to cringe in horror, especially since (we have it on good authority) there is no safety net in America, no unemployment benefits, no retirement, no assistance for the destitute--not the slightest bit of social solidarity. In the U.S. "only the most fortunate have the right to medical care and to grow old with dignity," as one writer recently put it in Libération. University courses are reserved only for those who can pay, which partly explains the "low level of education" in the benighted US.
  • Europeans firmly believe these sorts of caricatures--because they are repeated every day by the elites.
  • This is the message of critics not only in Europe, but also in the United States itself, where anti-Americanism continues to prosper among university, journalistic, and literary elites. But in Europe, these ideological reasons for blaming America first are multiplied by simple jealousy of American power. The current American "hyperpower" is the direct consequence of European powerlessness, both past and present. The United States fills a void caused by our inadequacies in capability, thinking, and will to act.
  • Strangely, it is always America that is described as degenerate and 'fascist', while it is solely in Europe that actual dictatorships and totalitarian regimes spring up.
  • Shortly after 9/11 a French spokesman for the activist group ATTAC quoted the adage: "He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind." French prime minister Lionel Jospin seemed to be pointing in this direction when he asked, "What lesson are the Americans going to draw from what has happened?" The lesson, Jospin indicated, should be for the U.S. to moderate her unilateralism. For Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops' Conference, the lesson to be drawn from terrorism was that "the West must not seek to dominate the rest of the world."
  • Soon, many European elites insinuated that the jihadist attacks had some moral justification. These anti-American views began to circulate well before the campaign to dislodge the Taliban kicked off on October 7. The bombing which became the most frequently invoked reason to take sides against the U.S. had not yet even begun.
  • The success and originality of American integration stem precisely from the fact that immigrants' descendants can perpetuate their ancestral cultures while thinking of themselves as Americans in the fullest sense, sharing basic ideals across racial and ethnic barriers. In France, the characteristic attitude of newcomers from North Africa, Turkey, and sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly one of alienation, confrontation, rejection, and hatred.
  • As immigration trends suggest, anti-Americanism is not deeply rooted as a popular prejudice. In Europe, anti-Americanism is much more a hobgoblin of the political, cultural, and religious elites. According to a SOFRES survey of May 2000, only 10 percent of French feel dislike for the U.S. After September 11, according to another poll, 52 percent of French people interviewed said they had always felt warmly toward the U.S., against 32 percent who said the opposite. Historian Michel Winock concludes that "anti-Americanism is not an attitude of the average French person; it is typical of a certain segment of the elites."

Quotes about Revel

  • [Revel] ...described the United States as the most eligible prototype nation for world revolution. Real revolutionary activity, he noted, consists of transforming reality, that is, in making reality conform more closely to one's ideal. When we speak of "revolution" we must necessarily speak of something that cannot be conceived or understood within the context of old ideas. The stuff of revolution, and its first success, must be the ability to innovate. In that sense, there is more revolutionary spirit in the United States today, even on the Right, than elsewhere on the Left.
    The relative freedom in the United States would make it possible for such a revolution to occur bloodlessly, Revel said. If that happened, and if one political civilization were exchanged for another, as seemed to be happening, the impact might be felt worldwide by osmosis. This radical transformation would need the simultaneous occurrence of smaller revolutions—in politics, society, international and interracial relations, cultural values, and technology and science.
  • Like Transcendentalism, Revel's revolution would encompass "the liberation of the creative personality and the awakening of personal initiative" as opposed to the closed horizons of more repressive societies. The perturbation would come from the privileged classes, he said, because that is the way of revolutions. They are launched by those disenchanted with the culture's ultimate reward system. If a new prototype of society is to emerge, rather than a coup d'etat, dialogue and debate must occur at the highest levels.
  • First, anti-Americanism is used as a reflection against which to define French identity. For instance, the French critique of the failures and hypocrisies of American multiculturalism reflect back on the idealized French republican model based on assimilation, integration, and equality. Moreover, anti-Americanism can be mobilized by political entrepreneurs to legitimize certain policies, especially status quo policies. For instance, when politicians discuss implementing affirmative action, opponents of the reform immediately invoke the American model to ensure rejection of the new policy. Similarly, Jean-Francois Revel, one of the few anti-anti-American intellectuals in France, has argued that “the principal function of anti-Americanism has always been, and still is, to discredit liberalism by discrediting its supreme incarnation”
  • I read everything he writes.
    • Augusto Pinochet, interview with Alistair Horne (November 1987), quoted in Alistair Horne, Small Earthquake in Chile: New, revised and expanded edition of the classic account of Allende's Chile (1972; 1990), p. 375
  • What exactly do the intellectuals want out of their Rococo Marxist mental acrobatics? Is it change they want, change for all the para-proletariats whose ideological benefactors they proclaim themselves to be? Of course not. Actual change would involve irksome toil. So what do they want?
    It's a simple business, at bottom. All the intellectual wants, in his heart of hearts, is to hold on to what was magically given to him one shining moment a century ago. He asks for nothing more than to remain aloof, removed, as Revel once put it, from the mob, the philistines . . . "the middle class."
    • Tom Wolfe, "In the Land of the Rococo Marxists", Harpers Monthly, June 2000
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