With the death of Pierre Legendre, a light goes out in the modern night
DISAPPEARANCE – Died on Friday March 3 at the age of 92, this academic, author of an abundant and erudite work, left his mark on the humanities and social sciences. A look back at the cardinal contributions of one of the last and rare critical thinkers of modernity.
There are disappearances for which it is difficult to measure, at the time, the full extent of the void that they are likely to produce. The death of Pierre Legendre certainly counts among these new absences of a republic of ideas that is henceforth cruelly deprived of an invigorating and singular thought, located halfway and at the crossroads of different academic disciplines.
Simultaneously a jurist, legal historian, academic, but also a psychoanalyst and documentary filmmaker (or more exactly, a filmmaker of his own texts), the author of The Making of Western Man in 1996 or, more recently, from hand face in 2019, was one of those intellectuals who were hard to categorize, as his doctrine never refrained from multiplying exploratory adventures and the search for meaning within seemingly distinct thematic universes, even certainly perfectly contradictory in the eyes of certain supporters of rigid classifications.
Read also“Tribute to Pierre Legendre, thinker of our modernity”
The “decivilizing” effects of libertarian liberalism
Author, in 1957, of a doctoral thesis devoted to “the penetration of Roman law into classical canon law », Pierre Legendre then embarked on a prolific university career while pursuing, in parallel, a multifaceted and varied intellectual itinerary combining insatiable curiosity and notoriously critical tropism. As a true anthropologist of a West that continually seems to want to get rid of itself and in which “the time of genealogies has stopped”, Pierre Legendre will offer an interpretation of modernity and its state of mind portrayed in the guise of a kind of materialist neo-mysticism. This new religiosity, this new secular credo would be, basically, that of an ultra-liberal metaphysics constituting and reinforcing the amalgam, according to him oh so modern, between the permissiveness of the hedonistic injunction to enjoyment and the economic imperative of a model – reputed to be unsurpassable – of a growth and consumer society.
In this sense, we were hardly surprised to find regularly, from the pen of Pierre Legendre, the famous critical syntagm of “libertarian liberalismconceptualized in the 1970s by the Marxist sociologist Michel Clouscard and since largely passed down to posterity (from Regis Debray until Marcel Gauchet via Denis Collin). This “ libertarian liberalism become the source of a factitious emancipation of the collective affiliations of individuals transformed into atomized monads, would produce, according to the now deceased psychoanalyst, very profound decivilizing effects » and even a « normative debacle “dangerous:” The new absurdity promotes the total Man, nomad freed from ties, the self-made and self-sufficient individual “.
Philosopher Jean-Claude Micheavery imbued himself with the thought of Pierre Legendre, would later speak of a society “axiologically neutralin which it would be a question, above all, of “training modern youth for generalized consumption”. Furthermore, contacted by Le Figarothe philosopher from Montpellier, now retired in the Landes, says to himself “stunned by the little echo that this death of one of the greatest thinkers of our time has encountered in the media”seeing it “less the effect of a conspiracy of silence than a further sign of the continual decline in the level of culture (and critical intelligence) of new media personnel”.
If this extraordinarily versatile legal historian and psychoanalyst was able to devote part of his reflective activity to inevitably heterogeneous subjects inscribed in a particularly broad repertoire of interests (administrative history, choreography, dogmatism, etc.), it is indeed a reasoning on the long course concerning the techno-industrial society, its collective representations and its modern mythologies, which constituted the centerpiece of the descriptive and explanatory enterprise of Pierre Legendre.
In 2007, he published a resounding text – which he also edited on film through a hypnotic documentary broadcast by ARTE – called Dominium Mundi and subtitled L’empire du management. According to Pierre Legendre then, the techno-industrial utilitarianism of globalization would now intend to form the framework of a world-civilization ensuring and promoting an illusory pax universalis, based on a generalized communion in the cult of the society of comfort. To do this, the advertising culture and strategy – that is to say the discourse produced on the products – would therefore take on necessarily mystical accents:The industrial system competes with the great religious dream. Management has taken on the authority of pomp, the sensuality of rituals: it produces liturgies. Marketing ceremonies stage a world that knows neither master nor slave but planetary brotherhood. But under the mask of happiness, remains the unfulfilled passion, the eternal desire to win“.
This is how, again according to Pierre Legendre, “advertising joy” would, in the end, “grabbing the social theatre”. In the twilight of his existence, the atypical psychoanalyst and jurist no longer concealed the fatalism and pessimism that frequently emerged from his critical and implacable dissections of modernity: “Today is the time of the trivialized individual and the objectified universe – the time of insignificance.”
If some of his conceptualizations will remain, without any possible doubt, eternally misunderstood or even incomprehensible (for example, consider his abrupt and radical comments about “****sexualism” as an ideology), Pierre Legendre will nevertheless remain, in the minds of many, as an essential contributor to the indispensable examination of the springs and logics of a modernity with the aspect, too often perhaps, of “catechism uncritical” in the form of “great upheaval in science and technology».