As a regular reader of UK and US political blogs, I rather envy the French their tradition of public intellectuals. It might be elitist, backward-looking and occasionally entirely disconnected from reality, but their presence on panel shows and in the pages of Le Monde does encourage a more thoughtful discussion about the theory of politics (alongside the usual knockabout stuff from the partisans themselves).
Take this long article by Marcel Gauchet, in which he considers the role of the book in the crisis of modern media.
I particularly liked his take on pressure groups:
I should say something about the large number of associations, often presented as an alternative or a remedy to the problems with overlarge, overgeneral institutions that are too far removed from their members. This growth of voluntary groups – smaller and supposedly friendlier – is itself a symptom of the current crisis of representation and mediation. Every cause, every problem has its own specific association. So be it. But how can one bring together all these causes? How do you rank the problems? It’s exactly that function, which unions and parties are there to do for better or worse, that is in crisis. The need to bring things together is challenged, and every individual group thinks its position fixed and non-negotiable when it comes to setting collective priorities.
The flourishing of associations is the denial of mediation. Taken to its logical conclusion, the slogan of the movement is: for each individual their own association, and by that very fact, no association at all.