October 28, 2013

Which Frenchwoman most deserves recognition in the Panthéon?

An NYT op-ed:
Why So Few Women in the Panthéon? 
By ROBERT ZARETSKY 
HOUSTON — In the politics of national identity, as with the politics of real estate, there are three cardinal rules: location, location, location. Few events better illustrate this truth than the current debate in France over whose earthly remains best belong in the basement of a hulking neo-Classical pile with a fissuring dome and bricked-up windows that looms over Paris — otherwise known as the Panthéon.

The Panthéon was not always what one wit called the “Académie Française of the dead.” ... 
Were all these great men truly great? ... 
And is the nation truly grateful? Apart from Voltaire and Rousseau, Hugo and Jean Moulin, most French people could more easily identify the starting five of the Miami Heat than any five of the Panthéon’s remaining residents.

The honorees are mostly soldiers and politicians, but it's not that bad a bench: Zola, Braille (I hope people can identify his contribution to human welfare), Lagrange, Condorcet, and Mirabeau. Out of all the French contributors to humanity (which are enormous), it's a pretty paltry list, though.

Lately, they've been adding blacks like Toussaint Louverture and mulattos like Dumas the Elder.

You don't have to be buried there, just have a plaque. And, yet, no Descartes, Pasteur, Pascal, or Monet. (The list of great Frenchmen is long: how about Fermat, Poincaire, and Galois just among mathematicians.)
But no questions hover over the “men” part: All but one of the 71 great men are, indeed, men. Across the English Channel at Westminster Abbey, which helped inspire the Panthéon, there are more women enshrined whose names begin with “A,” including Jane Austen, than for the entire alphabet at the Panthéon. The only woman is Marie Curie, inhumed with her husband, Pierre, in 1995. (There is also the wife of the chemist Marcellin Berthelot, who refused to be buried apart from her.) 
The “pantheonization” of Marie Curie was one of the last official acts of President François Mitterrand. Twenty years later, President François Hollande plans to pick up where his political mentor left off. Before the end of the year, he will name two individuals to be enshrined in the Panthéon. He also declared it was time for the Panthéon to “welcome women.” 
Over the last few months, an official government Web site inviting citizens to suggest candidates, as well as one run by Osez le féminisme (Dare to Be Feminist), have gathered hundreds of candidates. Two names, Olympe de Gouges and Germaine Tillion, have appeared the most frequently.
To choose one man and one woman to join the 71 “great men” — including one great woman — in the Panthéon would be a mockery of parity. Perhaps Mr. Hollande, who strikes many as too prudent and indecisive, will show he is capable of the same heroism and generosity as these two women and name them both?

Actually, I can think of a woman of more importance in the history of France than Olympe de Gouges or Germaine Tillion, a teenage girl who had the most important idea in French (and perhaps world) political history. In the midst of the 100 Years War, in which English armies roamed about the French countryside wreaking havoc in their kings' efforts to enforce their complicated genealogical claims to rule, Joan of Arc rejected these medieval notions of dynasticism for nationalism. She went to war for a central idea of the modern world that is the political basis of France's greatness: France should be ruled by the French.

So, why won't the Socialist government put up a plaque in the Pantheon in honor of the single most astonishing figure in French (and perhaps human) history?

Because the National Front identifies with Joan of Arc, and the Socialists have been trying to arrest the NF's female leader Marine Le Pen, who came in third in the last presidential election.

32 comments:

jody said...

joan of arc came to mind immediately. didn't know about the connection with the national front.

Charrington said...

Marine Le Pen has been doing television interviews across Europe recently. She comes across as extremely eloquent, charming and persuasive. A forthright nationalist (and internationalist - that is a big deal for her) politician, but certainly not an extremist of any kind. I would not be surprised if she leads the FN to a major electoral breakthrough.

I wonder if the New York Times knows about this place?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walhalla_temple

And the fact that even Germany, neutered and self-hating as it is, hasn't disowned and demolished it! They will freak out!

Education Realist said...

One other problem with Joan of Arc is that she was juuuuust a little bit crazy. But then, who isn't?

I always liked Mary Lindell, but then she's technically British, and really didn't do anything except be balls-out brave.

Hard to think of any others.

Anonymous said...

It is much more than a question of the National Front.
The Pantheon is the anti Notre Dame, the temple of the revolution, the "Church" of the laicist, Free Masonic state.
It was also originally a church, dedicated to Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. It was secularised by the revolution, became a church again under the restored Bourbons, only to fall again under the secularist tide after the revolution of 1848.
Joan of Arc would not wish to be commemorated there but, as you correctly point out, she is in no danger of being so.

Steve Johnson said...


So, why won't the Socialist government put up a plaque in the Pantheon in honor of the single most astonishing figure in French (and perhaps human) history?

Because the National Front identifies with Joan of Arc, and the Socialists have been trying to arrest the NF's female leader Marine Le Pen, who came in third in the last presidential election.


How about they compromise?

Execute Marine Le Pen and entomb her there.

Simon in London said...

They just need to redefine Joan as a Human Rights Socialist/Social Justice Warrior. Plus she bravely overcame her mental disability (schizophrenia)! What's not to like for a good French leftie?

dearieme said...

Entirely O/T: a young informant of mine has just been to hear Malcolm Gladwell in London. He was dud. Apart from anything else, it wasn't too wise to lecture a British audience about Northern Ireland when they all knew far more about it than he did.

Maxwell Power said...

They really do go some distance to promote Curie pride over there... I think it's for psychological reinforcement to keep nuking stuff

Karen said...

Actually there are a couple I can think of quickly, the first being Marie Curie's daughter Irene Joliot - Curie. She is one of a tiny number of children of Nobel laureates who also won a Nobel.

There is also a case to be made for Madelaine Vionnet, whose contribution to civilization was the elimination of the corset.

Thank you for noting that the French have contributed quite a lot to civilization.

Anonymous said...

1839 esoZatiSo, why won't the Socialist government put up a plaque in the Pantheon in honor of the single most astonishing figure in French (and perhaps human) history?

Woa, woa, woa, there. You made your point. No need to go overboard.

Single most astonishing figure in human history? Hold it, hold on a sec.

For womanhood, what about that teen wife in Bethlehem who gave birth....usually its commemorated in late december.
Trying to remember.......what was her name?

And the son she bore. I heard he's pretty famous in human history. (though not in the Pantheon since he's not french)

Help me out someone, what....is his name?

Hmm

Matt Buckalew said...

ANON 3:43 is right. When Action Francaise was attempting to rebuild the French Right around the turn of the 20th century Blessed Joan became a consciously polemical rallying point directed against Delacroix's lady liberty. Presaging the Massacre de Printemps, AF's youth league,the Camelots de Roi, brought the AF its first real wide spread notoriety by constantly brawling with French riot police during a series of anti-Joan d'Arc lectures at the Soborne. At one point one of the Camelots actually sneaked on stage and punched out the lecturer, Francois Thalamas. It goes back way before the NF who really choose Joan mostly because Maurras and the AF did.

Anonymous said...

Affirmative action nominees ...

Anonymous said...

The French Left has always hated Joan because she is too Catholic and too mystic for their taste, but for centuries the kings wouldn't celebrate them either (something about not wanting to admit that their throne might have required saving from a commoner). The two men most responsible for saving her memory are Napoleon Bonaparte and especially Charles de Gaulle, who took her symbol as his own.

Of all the crosses I have had to bear in my life, the heaviest by far was the Cross of Lorraine.
-Winston Churchill

Glossy said...

the current debate in France over whose earthly remains best belong in the basement of a hulking neo-Classical pile with a fissuring dome and bricked-up windows that looms over Paris

Just dripping with contempt for beauty and history.

"Perhaps Mr. Hollande, who strikes many as too prudent and indecisive, will show he is capable of the same heroism and generosity..."

For a public figure heroism is REFUSING to do what the NYT (or its French equivalents, Le Monde and Le Figaro) tell him to do. Doing what the MSM asks you to do - that's selling out, going with the flow. Heroism involves risk.

a teenage girl who had the most important idea in French (and perhaps world) political history.

Nationalism can be found throughout the historical record. Joan of Arc did not invent it.

a central idea of the modern world that is political basis of France's greatness: France should be ruled by the French.

And Greeks fought the Persian Empire because they wanted to be ruled by Greeks, and Jews repeatedly revolted against the Roman Empire because they wanted to be ruled by Jews, and Egyptians fought the Hyksos because they wanted to be ruled by Egyptians, etc.

Even in medieval Europe universities were organized on the ethnic principle into "nations" and there was a "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation".

Ethnocentric sentiments always existed, but political structures were not always equally responsive to them. What killed feudalism and gave rise to large, centralized states? Most likely gunpowder.

Before the rise of artillery any country squire and market town could hide behind relatively impregnable walls. This promoted division. Surprise, surprise, the gradual improvement of artillery happened concurrently with the gradual diminution of feudal divisions.

"...the single most astonishing figure in French (and perhaps human) history?"

I guess any cause can benefit from a mythology. And, though there's nothing French in me, I have a lot more sympathy for French nationalists than for globalists. If rebuilding the cult of Jeanne D'Arc helps France, great.

Looking at things objectively though, she was not "the single most astonishing figure in French (and perhaps human) history".

What would have happened if the French crown was securely united with that of England in the 15th century? One of the subsequent kings would have probably split it off again for his eldest son (France was more important back then), leaving England to the second male heir. Technological change would have still killed feudalism and the French nation-state would have still come into existence.

Jeff W. said...

Q: What is the most unmitigated evil on the face of the earth?

A: A nationalist party that might seize control of the central bank.

Q: What can be done to stop them?

A: We shall fight them with all the funny money we can print! We shall keep printing until we can print no more!

carol said...

Why not Simone de Beauvoir. She's probably buried at pere LaChaise but they could move her. She wrote a lot of stuff, was supposedly actively with the Resistance, and put up with Sartre.

Anonymous said...

"hulking neo-Classical pile"

Pasting in cliché'd phrases that seem to have some bearing on an article's topic is not the same as writing. The Pantheon is the least hulking, least pile-like of all the great neo-classical buildings.

Compare three other famous domes:

http://bit.ly/16FF6N4

http://bit.ly/1ceKMfk

http://bit.ly/1948GKX

They may preside, or hulk, or sit, but the Pantheon soars:

http://bit.ly/Hn0pHT

Inside, it seems as close to weightless as 100,000 tons of marble can be.

http://bit.ly/17UBcLf

I know that hack journalists can't resist the readymade phrase, but seriously, something should be done.

Mr. Anon said...

How about Charlotte Corday?

Mpjr said...

Three possibilities:

Simone Weil, the great philosopher and Resistance activist who starved to death in solidarity with her occupied Countrymen. Jewish by birth, her mystical considerations of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular left her a seeker on the threshold.


St. Thérèse de Lisieux, a remarkable story of a contemporary saint whose way of sanctity was the little way available to all. Her dark night at the end was also an inspiration to the wavering faithful.


Nadia Boulanger. She was a French composer, conductor, and teacher and devout Catholic who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. She also performed as a pianist and organist. Among her students were the Americans Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Quincy Jones, Donald Byrd.

I wonder why none of them would be acceptable. Hmmm...

Steve Sailer said...

Good choices.

Luke Lea said...

No doubt the English would have an easier time of it. Two Queens, a Queen Mother and a Prime Minister, more major novelists plus Florence Nightingale, Mary Wollstonecraft, Beatrice Webb, and no doubt others.

Tartar said...

Je te remerci.

Also, Anonymous of 3:45 knows what he's talking about.

Anonymous said...

Why is Galois not in the Pantheon? He was militantly leftist, and despite that, dazzlingly brilliant. The relevance of Galois fields in matters as diverse as quantum mechanics and cryptography, not to mention his tragically early death, make for a Hollywood-worthy story.

I can understand why Bonapartists like Champollion and Fourier might be denied a plaque (though Bonaparte heaped honors on Lagrange as well), and likewise poor Lavoisier's death beneath a Republican guillotine would makes him someone the Left would prefer to ignore, but I am puzzled why Galois hasn't been commemorated. Is it just because his body of work, for all its depth, is so brief?

Peter the Shark said...

Curie was Polish, and always considered herself first and foremost a Pole, despite her love for France. She was French in the same way you would consider Albert Einstein or Vladimir Nabokov American. Certainly she enriched France, but she was not a product of French culture.

Anonymous said...

Marine Le Pen would be difficult; it would necessitate finding a piece of marble large enough to sculpt her ample bosom!

Captain Tripps said...

Why no great French explorers/naturalists? Cartier, de La Salle, de Champlain, Marquette, Joliet (admittedly French Canadian, but Marie Curie was Polish French), Cousteau? Especially Cousteau! Heck, I learned about these French explorers in an American grade school! I guess that’s because they explored America. The Pantheon seems to be focused inward, distinguished French persons for France only!

BB753 said...

I vote for Brigitte Bardot. She should be cloned first, then grown back to her 22 year old splendour, then enshrined and displayed in a transparent urn like Lenin. Of course, she would have to be killed and embalmed first.. oh well, forget it! The actual old hag will do. Just a matter of years till she´s ready for the Panthéon.

Steve Sailer said...

mpjr says

"Nadia Boulanger" -- the top teacher of orchestral conductors of the 20th Century

A fine choice to represent the many women who aren't supremely ambitious themselves, but who make civilization better.

Both Sides Now said...

She wrote a lot of stuff, was supposedly actively with the Resistance, and put up with Sartre.

You assume the putting-up only went one way.

"Hell is other people"

Anonymous said...

>I vote for Brigitte Bardot.

I think they should set a spot aside for Edwige Fenech. She made a lot more movies than Bardot, even if most of them were in Italy. Plus, she aged a lot better.

Anonymous said...

I was amused to see a reference here to Walhalla, which is specifically Bavarian in origin rather than broadly "German".
I have visited the place two or three times: people are still being added, and so "unpolitical" is it that even Hitler's addition has been left alone (Bruckner, for those who are curious).
Those in the region should make the effort to pay Walhalla a visit - it gives one a real feel for the way an earlier German consciousness was developing before Prussian arrogance spoilt it.

Reg Cæsar said...


At some point before women's suffrage, say, 1900, everyone believed that women would vote right-wing, didn't they? Was that true at first?
–Douglas Knight

Yes. Very.


The suggestion that St Joan would not wish to be "honored" in the neopagan, revolutionary Panthéon is almost laughably understated. She couldn't even tolerate the proto-Protestant John Hus.

Methinks she'd want to see her namesake parish in Minneapolis burnt to the ground, along with most of its members.