Philosopher Etienne Balibar at Albertine Books

September 17, 2015 | By French Culture

On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy Bénédicte de Montlaur introduced philosophers Etienne Balibar and Carlo Accetti before a discussion on Professor Balibar’s new book, Violence and Civility. The event was held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and at the reading room and bookshop, Albertine, in New York.


Good evening.  As Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is a pleasure to greet all of you tonight to celebrate Professor Balibar’s new book, Violence and Civility. We are fortunate to be joined by two great philosophers: Professor Balibar, and Professor Carlo Accetti.  They will be discussing the roots and manifestations of violence in our society through the lens of Marx, Hegel, Hobbes, Clausewitz, Schmitt, and Luxemburg, and many other thinkers.

Their insight is sure to inspire and pique the interest of all of you here – in person and via Livestream. 

I want to thank the Columbia University Alliance Program for their involvement, and especially its Director, Alessia Lefébure. We appreciate her great support and admire the great dynamism of her activities at Columbia. 

A special thank you also to Jennifer Crewe, director of Columbia University Press; to Kate Schell, her assistant editor, and to Esther Kim, who has helped enormously with making tonight’s discussion happen. And, of course, thank you to the Albertine team, which consistently organizes great events for our audiences. 

Here at the French Embassy, our aim is to promote transatlantic debate and this year we have a very special focus on Philosophy. So we make it a priority to welcome the best philosophers and writers.

Perhaps some of you attended our Night of Philosophy last April. It drew thousands of people, even though it took place on a cold evening. It was great so see such crowds gather to listen to philosophers.  I believe you know something about A Night of Philosophy, Professor Balibar: you drew a crowd of hundreds at Berlin’s Night of Philosophy in June 2014, which was also met with great success. Philosophers like both of you play a great part in our mission to foster transatlantic debate. 

There is no need to introduce Professor Balibar, as he is so well known, but I will say a few words about him anyway. Professor Balibar’s fascinating intellectual path is an important one. Through looking at his life and intellectual career, we have a clear picture of the key moments of France’s recent intellectual and political history.  

Professor Balibar was first a student at Ecole Normale Supérieur in 1960, during a time when colonialism and imperialism were on everyone’s minds. Sartre had just published his Semaine de la pensée marxiste.  Maybe as a result of his coming of age during such a politically charged period, politics has always been at the core of Professor Balibar’s work.  He was a student of Althusser and co-authored Reading Capital with him.  His first books were released by Francois Maspero, a publisher at the forefront of the revolutionary leftist movement in the 1970s. Professor Balibar developed his own political theory regarding violence and civility. Today he shares his deep knowledge at universities around the world: he has been Professor of modern European philosophy at Kingston University, London; visiting professor at Columbia University; emeritus professor of philosophy at Paris X Nanterre; and emeritus professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine. Columbia University paid tribute to his work last year by asking other philosophers about their own views on the topics that Professor Balibar works on.   

His work—as we all know—has been very well received in the United States, and we are honored to have him with us tonight. 

Professor Accetti’s theories focus squarely on morality and are equally relevant to our modern times.  

His studies offer an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our current society and political systems, and he focuses on the relationship between religion and politics, which is extremely timely and useful.  Professor Accetti’s doctoral thesis will be published as a book in November 2015 by Columbia University Press under the title Relativism and Religion, Why democratic Societies Do Not Need Moral Absolutes. It was also named for the American Political Science Association’s Leo Strauss Award.

Professor Accetti has made his own mark on both sides of the Atlantic as Professor at City College and associate researcher at the Sciences Po in Paris.

I hear that Professors Accetti and Balibar have engaged in intellectual exchange with each other for a long time. So I invite all of you to continue listening to their ongoing conversation tonight. 

Thank you all for being with us, and enjoy!

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