Onfray Moves Out, by Jacques-Alain Miller

Onfray Moves Out, by Jacques-Alain Miller

1. Why Papuans?* 

Onfray displays the virtue of the philosopher as public figure: according to Foucault, parrhesia,
Greek for telling-all, truth-telling, plain-talk. He preaches the four
virtues to the powerful, pulls down the idols, all the while chanting
out unanswerable indictments. And when the dosage is right, you can
wrangle yourself from the Left to the Right. But sometimes he gets
confused, and then, thump!

A short time ago, in Le Point, our Chief Justice took aim at
Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which he declared a “Papuan village”, and whose
pinko-caviar mafia he decapitated without pity. In the fury of the
massacre: “I prefer an accurate analysis by Alain de Benoist to an
inaccurate analysis by Minc, Attali or Bernard-Henri Lévy… The Papuans
will scream! But they will not make me say that I prefer an inaccurate
analysis by BHL on the pretext that he claims he is left-wing.”

This Sunday, Manuel Valls steps in, displaying the virtue of the
chief: authority, the constant companion of his anger. Here he is,
shutting up the philosopher: “When Michel Onfray claims that basically
Alain de Benoist is worth more than Bernard-Henri Lévy, it means that
we’re all losing our bearings.”

Onfray is immediately in all the news outlets: he has not been read, he was misread, he even goes so far as to propose in Le Figaro
“a close reading of the text.” The problem, in his opinion? Valls is “a
cretin”. Not exactly. There is something rather twisted in Onfray’s

He presents a conflict of preferences. A) As a “man of the Left”, I
(Onfray) am expected to prefer other men of the Left to those of the
Right. B) As a philosopher, I prefer the accurate to the inaccurate, the
true to the false. C) As I am a philosopher before I am a man of the
Left, I give way to B over A: a truth from the Right is worth more than
an error from the Left.

This chiasmus of preference is not raw Onfray. He found his classical expression in the Latin sentence: “Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas
: Plato is my friend, but the truth is a still greater friend. This
thought comes from Plato, and is taken up by Aristotle. Cicero, on the
other hand, makes the opposite choice: I would rather err with Plato
than be in the truth with Pythagoras (the origin of the celebrated
phrase “Better to screw up with Sartre than to be right with Aron”).

What is wrong with Onfray’s formulation is that he is far from being BHL’s friend. He can’t stand him. Thus, the “Plato amicus” is invalidated as a basis for the proverb. Thump! This fact alone endorses Valls’ interpretation.

In fact, Tarski, the great logician, offers the only version that could have made sense of Onfray’s gibberish: “Inimicus Plato, sed magis inimica falsitas“, that is: BHL is my enemy, but error is a still greater enemy.

A mystery persists: why pick on the Papuans? The Papuan cultures
inspired the great ethnologues: Malinowski, Margaret Mead, Godelier. Who
are you, Onfray, to scorn them?

2. Logic of Gibberish

Now I would like to consider seriously Onfray’s gibberish, to deploy all its subtlety, to tease out its deeper sense.

I will begin with an “oddity” pointed out by Maria de França (“Manuel
Valls, Michel Onfray et Bernard-Henri Lévy: what’s at stake in the
debate”, La Règle du jeu, 8 March 2015): “We have every right
to find it odd that a completely forgotten intellectual, Alain de
Benoist, should emerge from the mothballs of obscurity.” In effect, why
Alain de Benoist?

Why impute to this very figure the paternity of “the accurate
analysis” corresponding to the “inaccurate analysis” of BHL? As an ad hominem
attack, with BHL as its target, the mention of his name imposes itself,
it is legitimate and necessary. On the other hand, the mention of Alain
de Benoist is not necessary but contingent: any other figure from the
Right would have done as well. The choice of name has no effect on the
logical validity of the reasoning.

We might attribute to Onfray’s theory of preferences the following axioms:

A) the true, T, prevails over the false, F;

A’) scholium: every thesis T (accurate, true, exact) always prevails
over every thesis F (inaccurate, false, erroneous) no matter the author
of the thesis;

B) to every name belonging to the set of “men of the Right” may be assigned the production of a thesis T;

C) to every name belonging to the set of “men of the Left” may be assigned the production of a thesis F.

Onfray’s gibberish would then rest on the following implication,
valid if redundant – since the fact that the author of the thesis comes
from the Right or the Left is neutral with respect to the validity of
the formula. Namely: for all x such that x is a true thesis with an author from the Right, and for all y such that y is a false thesis with an author from the Left, x is worth more than y.

The choice of proper name destined to exemplify the right-wing author
of a true thesis or the left-wing author of a false thesis belongs to
the sentimental or ideological, rather than logical, order – that is, it
is effectively a rhetorical choice.

In the context of a polemic against BHL, nothing is more legitimate
than to identify by this name the left-wing author of a false thesis.
However, Onfray’s hostility toward BHL is such that it overflows the
bounds of the logical scheme of his crossed preferences- whence the
suspicion that we are dealing with gibberish.

Onfray’s chiasmus is overthrown by his refusal to recognize BHL as a
proper left-winger. He highlights that BHL “says he is left-wing”. In
his eyes, what’s at stake is an illocutionary assertion, expressing a
subject’s opinion of himself; which presupposes that Onfray himself
refuses to assign the status of objective truth to this claim.
Thereafter, nothing prevents the supposed falsity of BHL’s thesis from
extending itself to his left-wing presumptions. In other words, Onfray
lets us understand, or suggests, that BHL is a false “left-winger”.

The result of all this is that the axiom of preferences, which
proposes that, in every case, the true is worth more than the false,
does not have as its only consequence the scholium affirming that every
true thesis is worth more than every false thesis. There is another
implication: that a true right-wing man who authors a true thesis is worth more than a false left-wing man who authors a false thesis. This scholium completely justifies Manuel Valls’ reading of Onfray’s gibberish.

Onfray has wrestled like a devil, has disputed this reading in every
way, in every media outlet; he has called Valls a “cretin”. The fact
remains: there’s only one cretin in this affair, and it is Onfray.

The boy, who is otherwise far from unintelligent, is “cretinized” by
the excess of his hatred. Hatred of BHL. Hatred of the elitist,
decadent, Saint-Germain-des-Prés mafia. Hatred of the left in nearly all
its known forms. Of all those who have expressed themselves in the
media in 2015, Onfray is by far the most consistently hateful, he is the
only one whose style transmits something of Action Française. Today’s Rivarol is far behind.

3. The choice of a proper name

Now, what name do we choose to exemplify the right-wing man as the author of a true thesis?

There are names whose association with the notion of “true thesis”
would offend the public’s common sense, or, to use Orwell-Michéa’s
phrase, “common decency“. In short, to consider someone as the
source of a true thesis inevitably conveys a laudatory effect. Let’s say
I were to claim, for example: “a true thesis by Hitler”. Even if I
affirm my hatred of this figure elsewhere, this claim conveys praise,
since I presuppose that Hitler is someone who is capable of making (at
least) a true claim.

Yet it is clear that in some sense Hitler made plenty of “true
claims”, like: “I will re-occupy the Rhineland by surprise, and they
won’t do anything”, “No one will prevent me from enacting the Anschluss“,
“We will cross the Maginot line on the recommendation of Manstein, and
we will beat them hands down”, etc. Given the exactitude of these
forecasting assertions, nothing opposes the strict logicality of
speaking of “true claims” of Hitler. To resume Roland Dumas’ memorable
phrase from his dialogue with Jean-Jacques Bourdin, from February 16,
“Why not say it, if it’s a reality?”

However, it’s quite something to make of Hitler an example, in the
context of a purely logical argument, of the source of true claims. It
is yet another matter to do so in the “public sphere” (in Habermas’
sense). This particular proper name contains a connotation that no
speaker can reasonably ignore, if he doesn’t wish to be seen as a Nazi

Thus the choice of a proper name must respond to certain
extra-logical, tactical, and opportunistic criteria. The name has the
status of a rhetorical signifier, characterized by its “nebulosity”,
according to Barthes’ term. One can calculate in advance its probable
effect on the public.

In the present case, the balance of the case would require that name
of BHL be paired with the name of a more or less comparable right-wing
intellectual, namely a notorious figure, with easy access, indeed
privileged access, to the media, ready to express himself loud and clear
on questions of current events.

But who is Alain de Benoist? He is an authentic, extreme right-wing,
autodidact intellectual. He is a prolific author. He is also the leader
of a certain school of thought, whose hour of glory was in the years
post-68, when Robert Hersant and Louis Pauwels entrusted the orientation
and editing of the Figaro-magazine to him and his group “La
Nouvelle Droite”, posts formerly held by François Mauriac and Raymond
Aron. Nevertheless, his name satisfies none of the requirements that I
have just explained. Whence Maria de França’s astonishment.

I do not mean to say that Onfray’s choice of name was unmotivated. It
can be explained, according to Renaud Dély, by the “common points and
convergences” between Benoist and Onfray, noted in the latest number of
Monsieur de Benoist’s magazine Eléments (“Michel Onfray et les ‘idées justes’ d’Alain Benoist”, Bibliobs, 9 March). In short, it’s an example of payback.

There remains only one name other than that of Alain de Benoist which
might take its natural place opposite BHL without startling anyone:
that of Eric Zemmour. It would perfectly satisfy the informal
requirements I have enumerated. Here is the basis of the hypothesis that
there was a signifying metaphor (in the Lacan’s sense) in Onfray’s
claim. The signifier “Alain de Benoist” would have substituted for “Eric
Zemmour”, which would have then “fallen into obscurity”.

Provided that this metaphoric substitution took place, what was its sensible effect?

1) Concerning BHL, the metaphor operates by contamination: it sends
him back into the mothballs of oblivion along with Alain de Benoist.
Associating BHL with Zemmour would have meant associating him with an
actual and promising dynamic: associating him with Benoist places him in
the past, buries him, it’s the equivalent of saying “Die, BHL!” or
“You’re already dead, BHL!”

2) Concerning Onfray himself, the metaphor operates inversely by
decontamination: associating the names of BHL and Zemmour would have
made a correlative association between the name of Onfray and that of
Zemmour. Thus, that which Onfray would prefer the reader to
misunderstand would have become legible. This is what we are about to

4. How to be “left-wing” on the right

This is what I call Onfray’s chiasmus: an accurate analysis by Alain
de Benoist rather than an inaccurate analysis by BHL. Until now, we have
analyzed it as such, out of context. Now let us replace it in its
proper context, the interview in Le Point from which it is excerpted.

The lead-in to the article explains clearly that Onfray is in a
transitional phase, a political “moving-out”, and it is not clear that
this figure, so quick to rectify everything said concerning him, showed
the best judgment in manifesting himself in this case. Text: “The
philosopher scorns the proper-thinking left. Suffice it for the right to
recover him… ” In effect, Onfray has set out. He is in the process of
migrating, with arms and baggage, from the Left to the Right.

However, the difficulty of this operation arises from Onfray’s not
having any interest in the Right unless he can join its as a “man of the
Left”. He must accomplish a tour de force: to be a “left-wing man” on the Right, indeed “the left-wing man” on the Right.

This demands: a) that the Right be defined as a place, and no longer
as a class of individuals; b) that, contrary to Danton’s claim about the
fatherland, he, Onfray, may bring the country under the soles of his

One condition can satisfy both demands at once. It was claimed by
Corneille’s Sertorius before Pompey: “Rome is no longer in Rome, she is
wherever I am.” This is Onfray’s project: to demonstrate that the Left
is no longer on the Left, but rather wherever he is.

I do not abandon the Left, cries Onfray, she, the bitch, is
adandoning me, but in so doing she leaves herself. As noted by Baptiste
Rossi, Onfray’s Left is “neither the bohemian left, nor the communist
left, nor the liberal left, nor the islamist left, nor the
proper-thinking left, nor the animal-loving left, nor the Mitterrand
left, nor the marxist left, nor the Sarkozy left…” (“Michel Onfray, le
mafia ne passera pas”, La Règle du jeu, 9 March). In his interview with Le Point,
the rage Onray reserves to stigmatize all the Left’s trends leads him
to define the Left by what it is not. This amounts to transposing in
political philosophy the major proceeding of negative theology, whose
first theorist was, at the end of the 5th century, the so-called
Pseudo-Denis the Areopagite, “the father of mysticism”. I might add in
passing the regrettable fact that the volume of his Complete Works, once translated for Aubier by Maurice de Gandillac, is out of print.

Onfray’s apophatism with respect to the Left (Wikipedia: from the Greek noun apophasis, from the verb apophemi,
“to deny”) knows only one limit: Onfray himself. Baptiste Rossi
explains it well: “You might say that for Michel Onfray the definition
of the Left begins at Michel and ends at Onfray.” This is the solution
to the problem. When the true Left is just wherever Onfray is, and is
somehow confused with his person, it is permissible for him to
compromise with the Right, associate, flirt, fuck with the Right, indeed
bear it children, and for all that never cease being left-wing.

Surely we have lost our bearings, as Manuel Valls indicates, but this
is not due to Onfray’s own disorientation. On the contrary,
disorientation is his tactic. In order to successfully accomplish his
installation on the Right as a “left-wing man”, he must cover his
tracks. The idea is to establish a vague situation where the well-known
cat can no longer find her kittens. The passage through the “cosmos”
will help him there.

In his novel 1984, Orwell imagines a ministry of Truth, a
propaganda organ for the powerful, that hammers out the Party’s three
Onfray, who has offered himself in almost all the media outlets this
past week, is himself a little ministry of Truth in his own exclusive
service. What sublime slogans does he diffuse? Something like: “THE LEFT

5. Flash to the Future

1. – Now that Onfray has moved his household gods to the Right, it is
all the more urgent for him to reaffirm his identity as a left-wing
man. He will have to highlight certain of his supposedly leftist

For instance, there’s his anti-liberalism, but this won’t be enough
to make up the difference. The conservative is just as anti-liberal. See
for example the interview with Denis Tillinac in Le Figaro on
March 14, published under the title: “If the Right is a liberal version
of the Left, it will die”. Anti-liberal? The reformed neo-fascist is
much more anti-liberal than the average member of the socialist party,
whence Alain de Benoist’s joke: “I think I’m further Left than Manuel
Valls!” In the end, everybody knows that the Front National is
henceforth the biggest anti-liberal political force, leaving Mélenchon,
the Front de gauche, and the Trotskyites far behind.

Onfray will need to prove himself resourceful. What tricks will he
come up with to preserve his left-wing reputation? Heaping scorn on the
real leftists is something, but it’s not enough. I can imagine him
picking out here and there certain “left-wing truths” with which to
associate himself, to mark with his label.

2. – How much time will the Left take before registering Onfray’s defection? L’Obs seems to have already mourned the loss of the mighty scribbler. Such is not the case with Libération. Marianne
is easygoing; we would expect its “cosmic” rantings; we could offer it a
place to knock on Valls; the literary chronicle deplores the meddling
of politicians in cultural affairs: as much as saying, “Valls, to the
doghouse!” We shall see how long this time-to-understand lasts with the
“pure of ear”.

3. – The conservative right and the extreme right celebrate the
return of the prodigal son. We have seen that Alain de Benoist, the
grand anti-Christian, already knighted Onfray. In Le Point this
week, Christine Boutin would not be outdone: she excuses his militant
atheism, for “his will to seek truth through the real rejoins the
Christian incarnation”; whatever that means. Then she falls into a
swoon: “He even dares proclaim the end of the Left!”

Giesbert doesn’t hide that he and Onfray are “old friends”. He clasps
to his breast “the colossus”, the force of whose work he admires. He
has always protected “our national Savonarola”, persecuted by “the
commissioners of the thought police”. As he sees it, he defends Onfray
as simultaneously the son of the poor, the hick, and the heretic.

The true moderate and liberal Right in all likelihood will not be on
the same wavelength as FOG (Franz-Olivier Giesbert), its dandy. Will the
Onfray case be the apple of discord among the right-wing? We shall have
look at each one’s “position” under the microscope.

6. Here’s why the Papuans…

We know a little more about Onfray. But the mystery of the Papuans remains. Can we pierce through it?

What is it all about? A pretty little joke that’s not too serious. It
consists in assimilating Saint-Germain-des-Prés to a “Papuan village”.
We know that Saint-Germain was inscribed in the post-war years, then
during the colonial wars in Indochina and especially Algeria, as the
neighborhood of the capital’s intellectual Left, a bit like Greenwich
Village (“the village“) in New York, or Bloomsbury in London, in the days of Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf.

It is a racist joke, no doubt, but it means much more than it says.
You could not say that the “Papuan ethnic group” was aimed for as such.
What counts is the word “papou” [papuan], with the internal alliteration
of its labials, “p…p…”, and the final long “u” that recalls the call
“hoo…hoo…”, whose significance can run from friendly greeting to hostile

There is no question here of those Papuans whose cultures impassioned
the great ethnologists, not at all. Only, in French, given the spirit
of the language, a certain ridiculousness is attached to the word
“papou”, along with a certain tenderness, as in “papounet”, the familiar
diminutive form of “papa”. When you hold that the intellectuals of the
Saint-Germain-des-Prés are ethereal, even degenerate, snobs, everyone
understands that it is a joke to call them “Papous”, a word which in
French evokes the general signification of the un-civilized, the savage.

In short, Onfray’s joke on the Papuans: you can’t get any more French than that.

It’s in the best “Gunslinger Tonto” style. It’s like Michel Audiard. The whole spirit of right-wing anarchism is there.

7. È finita la commedia

I’ll drop the word. There is nothing left to bend: Onfray belongs to
the spiritual class depicted in literature by Anouilh, Marcel Aymé,
Antoine Blondin, Céline, Michel Déon, and other lesser masters.

This is the group that made the Saint-Germain-des-Prés its chosen
object of contempt. During the Occupation, they took aim at the
“zazous”- ah! there they are, the ancestors of our “papous”- the
non-conformist youth, who belched on Vichy, loved jazz, and sometimes
even wore the yellow star for solidarity with the Jews (see Wikipedia).
Then it was the existentialists who were publicly scorned by our dear

I would say that anyone with an ear for literature, and some
knowledge of the history of our country in the 20th century, couldn’t
fail to see Onfray as the sucker for this good old French tradition.
Rght-wing anarchism! What infamous politics. Literature owes to it
some very beautiful pages, some great writers. Its style and worldview
profoundly pervaded the “French ideology”. Don’t seek to banish it: it’s
a part of the French genius, from Gabin to Delon, from the Nickel-Foot Gang to Journey to the End of Night,
about which Beauvoir said in her memoirs: with Sartre “we knew by heart
a bunch of passages. His anarchism seemed close to ours.”

Yes, between left- and right-wing anarchism at first there are always
overlaps. Time is needed for them to separate. For Onfray, the time has

Read his hateful tirade against the Left.

See him execrating the Robespierres, the Marxes, the Sartres.

See his contempt both for the intelligentsia and for the “stupefied
crowd”, which “rejoices in voluntary servitude and throngs the streets
as a single unit at the first call of the media” (in Le Point, no. 2216, p. 40).

See his “Proudhonian socialism”, a bait-and-switch utopia that has
only ever appealed to the extreme right-wing circles (just look at the
history of Proudhon’s own circle).

See him posturing as a “poor boy with clenched fists”, burning to
take his revenge on the bourgeois ladies, to overshadow the heirs by the
energy of “a child of a humiliated people. Caliban has only one wish:
to become Prospero. Or rather, to take his place.”

See him playing the part of the “beast” hunted by “the anonymous
society of imbeciles and assholes.” Whereupon Giesbert clasps him to his
heart: the theatre of virile friendship. “The right-wing anarchist
morality is constantly on the defensive.”

See the tendency in his discourse toward “general, pervasive
autobiography”, to the point of unleashing his next opus under the title

See his reactionary nostalgia, “his opposition to the century”, and
simultaneously, his conviction that the triumph of this very century is
“ineluctable”, that the aristocracy of the spirit is destined to be
trampled and vanquished. For his populism “is less the deliberate choice
of the victims than the just as deliberate choice of the defeated.”

In the end, “his earthly ideal is the pavilion of millstones” – and
now, with his success, “a new Lower Norman HQ” in Caen, as Giesbert
teaches us – “and whose social type is the small businessman, whose
positive image runs through all his books.”

With my anaphoric tirade I invite you to see in Onfray so many traits
that sketch a figure who is unique and recognizable among all the
others, that of the right-wing anarchist.

Recognize that the quotations sprinkled throughout my lines after the
mention of Robespierre, Marx and Sartre are excerpts from a single
book: the historian Pascal Ory’s essay Right-wing anarchism, published in 1985 by Grasset. There is no discussion of Onfray, whose first book dates from 1988.

8. Cosmico-comic

The excerpts from Cosmos in this week’s Le Point are really uplifting.

Onfray is nostalgic for the age when men were “in direct contact with
the cosmos, and their life was set by the impeccable mechanism of
universal clockwork.” What presumption on the part of the humans, those
tiny creatures, to rebel against the order of things! “The stone obeys
the cosmos, as do the plants and animals, of course, but not man(…)”
Well, Bye Bye Kant, and the rest. It’s a tirade worthy of Jean Gabin.

Onfray has surpassed himself. He has found himself. He says as much:
“This is my first book.” Until now he had been content to be a grouchy
post-68 reactionary. Now he’s a post-1789 reactionary, in unison with
the purest counter-revolutionary thought, the original thought of the
counter-revolution, the most hostile to the Enlightenment. His emblem:
the light-bearing eel. So, a word to the wise.

Bonald and Maistre and Maurras and Pétain tell him, “Enter here, friend of my soul.”

9. News Flash

Onfray: our Joseph de Maistre, with less style, and more of Audiard’s blather.

Zemmour, neo-Bonapartist, could pass, compared with Onfray, for a progressive.

No, Onfray will not be the “left-wing man” of the right. Not a
chance. He will be, in fact he already is, the right-wing neo-anarchist
our era was waiting for.

Energy, spirit, cunning, charm, charisma, cheek, fine on TV: he’s got what it takes.

N.B. : the first part of this text appeared in this week’s Le Point, no. 2218, p. 59.

Translated by John Tamplin

From:  http://www.lacan.com/actuality/?p=807

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