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by Stéphane Floccari

Taking politics with philosophy

Translated Saturday 8 June 2019, by Eoin Downey

Jean-Paul Jouary’s new book demonstrates the capacity of a thinker who has been shaped by European classics and who is exposed to African wisdom.

La Parole du mille-pattes. Difficile démocratie
Jean-Paul Jouary
Encre marine, 208 pages, 21 euros

We don’t need to introduce Jean-Paul Jouary anymore. For almost forty years, readers of l’Humanité and many others have seen the publishing of around thirty books, many of these being co-written by journalist Arnaud Spire, in the many strings of an impressive intellectual bow.

The philosopher opens a space of thought that goes from politics to prehistory, via art, science and the teaching of philosophy. This thinking is then performed with the talent of two generations of teachers with their students being witnesses and grateful recipients.
But its value doesn’t stop there, as was shown in a test of unprecedented scale at the start of the year where the need for politics has never been so profound and urgent in our country.

He succeeds at the incredible challenge of renewing his ideas in an age where too many writers simply regurgitate their thoughts again and again, devaluing their message and leaving them connecting with no one.

With his surprising title, Jouary reveals an enormous and essential trade secret. The Ivorian proverb which inspired the last book (It is with kind words that the millipede crosses a field filled with ants’) came to him from intellectual friendships that he created over the last few years around Abidjan.

The book demonstrates the capability of a thinker who has been formed by the classics of political European philosophy (from Plato to Rousseau, Diderot and Marx are cited and commented upon abundantly) to open up to a wisdom that comes from different historical collections without it being totally strange.

Africa must not be considered as a an insular continent without history. But as they say, what will Jean-Paul Jouary encounter in Ivory Coast that relates to us all both here and elsewhere?

Conceptual tools are helping us to better understand these books, which have been right in front of us all along. These books were completed by those of the Enlightenment thanks to a revolution which emphasised universality and offered humanity a new sense of possibility to ‘replace the legislation and open debate to the balance of power (which) was a promise tied to every democratic ideal.

Societal contradictions, which Marx highlighted, do not condemn man to tear each other apart and any well-founded the right-wing court would not allow judicial revenge to be the final word in history.

Between Africa and Europe, flying a thousand feet above a Mediterranean sea which could be seen as a puddle of blood (too many migrants have left it there recently), Jean-Paul Jouary puts his footsteps into those of pacifist giants such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King.

These pacifists capture what the Ivorian millipede says to mankind : you no longer have to fear yourselves because you never oppose each other when you are under the influence of forces and fights which drive you to subjugate yourselves instead of living together.

Stéphane Floccari


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