Jean-Francois Revel, one of Europe’s greatest defenders of human liberty, died Saturday in Paris, at age 82. As a younger man, Revel had been attracted to Marxism and socialism. Like a generation of his fellow French philosophers, Revel thought America to be decadent and repressive. Yet, when he actually visited the United States, he found a very different reality. He was never uncritical of the United States, but he saw America as the shape of the future, even as he saw Europe losing faith in democratic values.
Revel was one of the first to see the deep evil of the Soviet Union, and he called on the great democracies to defend liberty in an increasingly dangerous world. His death marks the passing of a generation of leading European intellectuals who had been shaped by the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century. To mark his death, here is an article I wrote in Revel’s honor in 2003.