MEXICO CITY – The role of the politically committed intellectual has a long and ubiquitous history. The Spanish-French novelist and screenwriter Jorge Semprún, who died recently, was for many years a member of the Spanish Communist Party’s Central Committee, and subsequently served as Minister of Culture in Spain’s first post-Franco Socialist government. Dissidents like Václav Havel had a decisive impact in the downfall of Eastern Europe’s communist regimes.
And, as recently as a few months ago, a French intellectual’s activism was crucial to initiating the so-far unsuccessful attempt to bring down Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. For it was Bernard-Henry Lévy who convinced French President Nicolas Sarkozy to meet with Libya’s rebel leaders, an encounter that led directly to France taking a leading role in persuading the United Nations Security Council and US President Barack Obama to back military intervention.