home | philosophers

Guy Debord

Debord (1931-1994) was a French writer and filmmaker who has been labeled a philosopher. He was a founding member of the Situationist International, described by Wikipedia as "an international organization of social revolutionaries made up of avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political theorists, prominent in Europe from its formation in 1957..." They proclaimed:

First, we believe that the world must be changed. We desire the most liberatory possible change of the society and the life in which we find ourselves confined. We know that such change is possible by means of pertinent actions.

Debord was an anti-authoritarian Marxist, common in the 1960s New Left. He and his Situationists took part in the 1968 Paris upheaval that ended up losing to Charles de Gaulle and others interested in containing the upheaval. The Situationists dissolved in 1972.

Debord claimed that empirical facts remain as superficial abstractions in our head so long as those facts are not "concretized" by being related to the whole situation. In others words, we make meaning of facts by plugging them into a big social-political picture.

As a Marxist revolutionary Debord saw official culture as a "rigged game" where conservative powers – those who didn't want change – forbid subversive ideas to have direct access to the public discourse. He attributes a power to conservatives that some of us think is an exaggeration. Subversive ideas, according to Debord are integrated into the culture only after being trivialized and sterilized. In other words, the establishment has a pernicious influence on the opinions of people who are not really free to make judgments about the world around them as they please.

Debord wrote a book titled The Society of the Spectacle. A YouTube presentation of his idea is here, put in the context of the candidacy of Donald Trump. It describes images as having overshadowed substance, the line between politics and entertainment as disappearing, as politics become more like a supermarket tabloid.

The independent scholar Richard L Kaplan writes that Debord is overly despairing in his account of people in technologically advanced societies being controlled by their political establishments. I agree. We are influenced by image creation and lack of substance, but establishments don't have as much power to control as Debord suggests.

comment | to the top | home

Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.