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The new book on contemporary French (and Catholic) political philosopher Chantal Delsol, Lucid Mind, Intrepid Spirit: Essays on the Thought of Chantal Delsol is now out. It features essays by Peter Lawler, Paul Seaton, Lauren Hall, and yours truly, as well as translated tid-bits from what Seaton presents as likely her most important book:  Qu’est que l’homme? Cour familier d’anthropologie , which came out in 2008 but remains very regrettably un-translated into English as a whole.  I’ll be talking about the book in several posts, but I’d like to first note, on the basis of the first and last chapters of Qu’est que l’homme? that Delsol seems to have taken a less affirmative stance towards the concept of human nature since writing her 1996-2000-2004 trilogy of broadly sociological zeitgeist investigation, translated into English as Icarus Fallen, The Unlearned Lessons of the 20th Century , and Unjust Justice respectively.

Here, for example is a quote from Unlearned Lessons, circa 2000:

The norms of a given time and place build upon the essential determinative traits of the human condition: by nature man is a sexed being; by culture, he institutes the matriarchal or patriarchal family. Late modernity rejects these various natural and cultural determinations, either because it still clings to the utopian idea that humanity has no inherent shape, or because it rejects previous cultural models because they are all relative.

And now, from the 2008 book, we find—thanks to the chapters translated in the new book—Delsol speaking this way:

Here I am interested in what I call “the universal representation of man” found in all cultures, hence his existential “figure” or defining characteristics. Whether he is a combination of matter, a dream, or a fallen deity, it is the reality of his life here on earth that matters. . . . The human condition is describable, and is not subject to our arbitrary caprices. In saying this, I do not base myself upon any particular metaphysics, or any ideological dogma, nor any religion. I address myself to all readers, no one has to have faith, only good will. It should be said at the outset, however, that each of the human traits I am going to speak about can only be exhibited indirectly by its converse, that is, by the indignation and the feeling of deprivation and misfortune that accompany its being effaced. In times like ours, when we lack all former religious, ideological, and metaphysical certainties, only the pain and suffering caused by its absence can indicate the reality of a trait. We can know that man possesses a given set of characteristics, a distinctive figure, because we do not accept seeing him disfigured.

This is not entirely a surprise—for example, on the basis of her 1996-2004 trilogy, my essay emphasizes that Delsol believes that “man, even if he does always retain certain characteristics, is a metamorphic rather than a static species.”  That’s quoting Delsol, and here’s my comment on it:

Delsol does not think . . . that human nature may be grasped once-and-for-all and then expounded in an authoritative body of natural laws or natural rights. Rather, it can only be dimly understood, only through the distorting lenses of clashing customs and politicized human events. Her model is Montesquieu. He represents an openness to and a respect for the different approaches to the key human questions utilized by different communities, but in a manner that she insists is not relativistic. . . . In Unjust Justice, she poses his example explicitly against today’s trans-nationalist champions of international justice and human rights, but I think also implicitly against those conservatives who would seek to force a choice between “relativism” and natural law narrowly-understood.

I was thinking of our good academic and political ally Robert George most of all when I wrote that.

Still, it looks like Delsol now wants to stop speaking of human nature altogether, and entirely turn to the “figure” vocabulary she learned from her teacher Julien Freund, and to the “human condition” vocabulary of Arendt and such.

Delsol-readers, what do you make of that shift? Or is it a shift?

And if you aren’t a Delsol reader yet, well, get crackin’! If you’re blessed with adequate French, here’s her blog .

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