Looking back on his time as a Cuban-trained communist revolutionary, the French writer Régis Debray recalled that Chile’s Marxist president used to display on his desk a photo of guerrilla leader Che Guevara, inscribed: “To Salvador Allende, who is headed to the same place by a different path.” It was a prophecy of sorts: Guevara would be captured and shot by Bolivian army troops while trying to foment an uprising in the country’s southern highlands in 1967. In 1973, Allende would commit suicide during a coup d’état, just after making a radio address to the nation, and just before insurgent forces led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet stormed the national palace.
Debray, comrade, confidant, and adviser to both men, took the same path to a decidedly different place. Now eighty, he gives grumpy interviews in the rightwing daily Le Figaro. He mocks the enthusiasms of France’s intellectual class, from “democracy promotion” to the Muslim headscarf to the environmental preaching of Greta Thunberg. He fulminates on national television about the folly of a borderless world, writes literary appreciations of the great prose stylists of the high French tradition, from Paul Valéry to Julien Gracq, regularly invokes the decline of the West, and insists that when his fellow Frenchmen speak about politics they are often, without realizing it, speaking about religion.