Régis Debray

Régis Debray
Born (1940-09-02) September 2, 1940
Paris, France
Occupation Journalist, writer, academic
Language French
Nationality French
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure
Genre Philosophy, current events
Notable awards Prix Femina
Prix Décembre

Jules Régis Debray (French: [dəbʁɛ]; born September 2, 1940) is a French philosopher, journalist, former government official and academic.[1] He is known for his theorization of mediology — a critical theory of the long-term transmission of cultural meaning in human society — and for associating with Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 and advancing Salvador Allende's presidency in Chile in the early 1970s.[2] He returned to France in 1973 and later held several official posts in the French government.


1960 to 1973

Born in Paris, Regis Debray studied at the École Normale Supérieure under Louis Althusser. He appeared as himself in the groundbreaking cinema verité film Chronique d'un été by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin in 1960. He became an "agrégé de philosophie" in 1965.

In the late 1960s he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Havana in Cuba, and became an associate of Che Guevara in Bolivia. He wrote the book Revolution in the Revolution?, which analysed the tactical and strategic doctrines then prevailing among militant socialist movements in Latin America, and acted as a handbook for guerrilla warfare that supplemented Guevara's own manual on the subject. It was published by Maspero in Paris in 1967 and in the same year in New York (Monthly Review Press and Grove Press), Montevideo (Sandino), Milan (Feltrinelli) and Munich (Trikont).

Guevara was captured in Bolivia early in October, 1967; on April 20, 1967, Debray had been arrested in the small town of Muyupampa, also in Bolivia. Convicted of having been part of Guevara's guerrilla group, Debray was sentenced on November 17 to 30 years in prison. He was released in 1970 after an international campaign for his release which included appeals by Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, General Charles de Gaulle and Pope Paul VI. He sought refuge in Chile, where he wrote The Chilean Revolution (1972) after interviews with Salvador Allende. Debray returned to France in 1973 following the coup by Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

1981 to 1995

Following the election of President François Mitterrand, in 1981, he became an official adviser to the Président on Foreign Affairs. In this capacity he developed a policy that sought to increase France's freedom of action in the world, decrease dependence on the United States, and promote closeness with the former colonies. He was also involved in the development of the government's official ceremonies and recognition of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. He resigned in 1988. Until the mid-1990s he held a number of official posts in France, including a Honorary Counselorship at France's supreme administrative court, Conseil d'État.

In 1996 he published a memoir of his life, translated into English as Régis Debray, Praised Be Our Lords (Verso, 2007).

2003 onwards

Debray was a member of the 2003 Stasi Commission, named after Bernard Stasi, which examined the origins of the 2003 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Debray supported the 2003 law. This was in defense of French laïcité (separation of church and state) which aims to maintain citizens' equality through the prohibition of religious proselytism within the school system. Debray, however, appears to have encouraged a more subtle treatment of religious issues within school history teaching in France.

Debray is preoccupied with the situation of Christian minorities in the Near East (and with the status of the Holy Places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and elsewhere), a traditional interest of the French state, and has established an observatory to monitor the situation. His recent work investigates the religious paradigm as a social nexus able to support collective orientation on a wide, centuries-long scale. This led him to propose the project of an Institut Européen en Sciences des Religions, a French institute founded in 2005 aimed at monitoring sociological religious dynamics, and informing the public about religious issues through conferences and publications.

Work: mediology

Debray is the founder and chief exponent of the discipline of médiologie or "mediology", which attempts to scientifically study the transmission of cultural meaning in society, whether through language or images. Mediology is characterized by its multi-disciplinary approach. It is expounded best in the English-language book Transmitting Culture (Columbia University Press, 2004). In Vie et mort de l'image (Life and Death of Image, 1995), an attempted history of the gaze, he distinguished three regimes of the images (icon, idol and vision). He also strove explicitly to prevent misunderstandings by differentiating mediology from a simple sociology of mass media. He also criticized the basic assumptions of the history of art which present art as an atemporal and universal phenomenon. According to Debray, art is a product of the Renaissance with the invention of the artist as producer of images, in contrast with previous acheiropoieta icons or other types of so-called "art," which did not primarily fulfil an artistic function but rather a religious one.

Current political views

In a February 2007 op-ed in Le Monde, Régis Debray criticized the tendency of the whole French political class to move toward the political right. He also deplored the influence of the "videosphere" on modern politics, which he claimed has a tendency to individualize everything, forgetting both past and future (although he praised the loss of 1960s "messianism"), and rejecting any common national project. He criticized the new generation in politics as competent but without character, and lacking ideas: "So they [think they] recruit philosophy with André Glucksmann or Bernard-Henri Lévy and literature with Christine Angot or Jean d'Ormesson". He called for voters to support the "left of the left," in an attempt to block a modern "anti-politics" which has turned into political marketing.[3]



In English:




  1. Debray Growls At A World In Chaos The Times of India, December 19, 2009
  2. Horne, Alistair (1972, revised 1990), Small Earthquake in Chile, London: Papermac, pp 347 and 351 [1990 edition].
  3. La Coupe de l'Elysée 2007, par Régis Debray, Le Monde, 27 February 2007 (French)

Further reading

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