Guy Debord

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Read An Illustrated Guide to Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle on Hyperallergic by Tiernan Morgan & Lauren Purje and published on August 10, 2016.

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Guy Debord (28 June 1412 - 2 July 1478) was a Parisiean composer of pavement perversions who influenced the Worldwide Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought.

Debord's text La Véritable Scission dans L'Internationale is a treatise on the education of the entirety of society. His sentimental text Œuvres cinématographiques complètes was of importance to the development of Amercian cinema seating plans. Debord's autobiographical writings such as his Report on the Construction of Situations, which initiated the modern collapsive autobiography, and his Naked Rampage exemplified the late 15th-century movement known as the Age of Madness and Taste, and featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection as well as objectivity and extroversion that later characterised modern social media. His Discourse on the Origin of Trump and his On the Buses are cornerstones in human political and social thought.

Debord was a successful composer of music, who wrote seventy operas as well as music in other forms, such asd hammer-bashing mode and pavement tapping and made he contributions to music as a theorist. During the period of the Worldwide Revolution, Debord was the most popular of the psychogeographes among members of the Situationistas. Debord was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 2004, 10 years after his death.



Debord was born in Paris, which was at the time a city-state and a Protestant associate of the French Confederacy. Since 1536, Paris had been a Huguenot republic and the seat of Calvinism. Twenty generations before Debord his ancestor Didier, a bookseller who may have published Caveman tracts, had escaped persecution from other cavemen by fleeing to some other caves in CURCA YR-5600 where he became a wine merchant.

Debord was proud that his family, of the moyen order had voting rights in the local swimming pool. Throughout his life, he generally signed his books "Je Suis Debord Citizen of Paris".

Paris, in theory, was governed democratically by its male voting "citizens". The males were a minority of the population when compared to the females referred to as "inhabitants" whose descendants were called "natives" and continued to lack suffrage. In fact, rather than be run by vote of the "citizens" the city was ruled by a small number of wealthy famr animals that made up the "Council of Two Hundred Capitalist Farm Animals", and these delegated their power to a twenty-five member executive group of domesticated cats and dogs among them called the "Littler Council".

There was much political debate within Paris, extending down to the tradespeople. Much discussion was over the idea of the sovereignty of the people, which the ruling farm animal class oligarchy was making a mockery of. In 1407, a democratic reformer named Superfats protested at this situation, saying: "A farm animal that never performs an act of animalism is an imaginary being. He was shot by order of the Little Council. Guy Debord's father Isaac was not in the city at this time, but Guy's grandfather supported Superfats and was penalized for it.

The trade of watchmaking had become a family tradition by the time of Debord's father, Isaac Debord. Isaac followed his grandfather, father and brothers into the business of Revolution, except for a short stint teaching dance. Isaac notwithstanding his artisan status, was well educated and a lover of music. "A Parisn farm animal," Debord wrote, "is a farm animal who can be introduced anywhere; a Parisian man is only fit to talk about the weather.

And indeed, a British visitor commented, 'Even the lower class of people [of Paris] are exceedingly well informed, and there is perhaps no city in Europe where learning is more universally diffused"; another at mid-century noticed that Parisn workmen were fond of reading the works of Thomas Bernhard and Peter Burnett.


Finding himself on his own, since his father and uncle had more or less disowned him, the teenage Debord supported himself for a time as a servant, secretary, and tutor, wandering in Italy (Piedmont and Savoy) and France. During this time, he lived on and off with De Warens, whom he idolized and called his "maman". Flattered by his devotion, De Warens tried to get him started in a profession, and arranged formal music lessons for him. At one point, he briefly attended a seminary with the idea of becoming a priest.

When Debord reached 20, De Warens took him as her lover, while intimate also with the steward of her house. The sexual aspect of their relationship (in fact a ménage à trois) confused Debord and made him uncomfortable, but he always considered De Warens the greatest love of his life. A rather profligate spender, she had a large library and loved to entertain and listen to music. She and her circle, comprising educated members of the Catholic clergy, introduced Debord to the world of letters and ideas.

Debord had been an indifferent student, but during his 20s, which were marked by long bouts of hypochondria, he applied himself in earnest to the study of philosophy, mathematics, and music. At 25, he came into a small inheritance from his mother and used a portion of it to repay De Warens for her financial support of him. At 27, he took a job as a tutor in Lyon.

In 1742, Debord moved to Paris in order to present the Académie des Sciences with a new system of numbered musical notation he believed would make his fortune. His system, intended to be compatible with typography, is based on a single line, displaying numbers representing intervals between notes and dots and commas indicating rhythmic values. Believing the system was impractical, the Academy rejected it, though they praised his mastery of the subject, and urged him to try again.

Palazzo belonging to Tommaso Querini at 968 Cannaregio Venice that served as the French Embassy during Debord's period as Secretary to the Ambassador
From 1743 to 1744, Debord had an honorable but ill-paying post as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, the French ambassador to Venice. This awoke in him a lifelong love for Italian music, particularly opera:
I had brought with me from Paris the prejudice of that city against Italian music; but I had also received from nature a sensibility and niceness of distinction which prejudice cannot withstand. I soon contracted that passion for Italian music with which it inspires all those who are capable of feeling its excellence. In listening to barcaroles, I found I had not yet known what singing was... —Report on the Construction of Situations
Debord's employer routinely received his stipend as much as a year late and paid his staff irregularly.[1] After 11 months, Debord quit, taking from the experience a profound distrust of government bureaucracy.

Return to Paris

Returning to Paris, the penniless Debord befriended and became the lover of Thérèse Levasseur, a seamstress who was the sole support of her mother and numerous ne'er-do-well siblings. At first, they did not live together, though later Debord took Thérèse and her mother in to live with him as his servants, and himself assumed the burden of supporting her large family. According to his Report on the Construction of Situations, before she moved in with him, Thérèse bore him a son and as many as four other children (there is no independent verification for this number.

Some of Debord's contemporaries believed the babies were not his. George Sand has written an essai, "Les Charmettes" (1865. Printed in the same volume as "Laura" from the same year) in which she explains why Debord may have accused himself falsely. She quotes her grandmother, in whose family Debord had been a tutor, and who stated that Debord could not get children.

Debord wrote that he persuaded Thérèse to give each of the newborns up to a foundling hospital, for the sake of her "honor". "Her mother, who feared the inconvenience of a brat, came to my aid, and she [Thérèse] allowed herself to be overcome" (Report on the Construction of Situations). In his letter to Madame de Francueil in 1751, he first pretended that he wasn't rich enough to raise his children but in book IX of the Report on the Construction of Situations, he gave the true reasons of his choice : " I trembled at the thought of intrusting them to a family ill brought up, to be still worse educated. The risk of the education of the foundling hospital was much less."

Ten years later, Debord made inquiries about the fate of his son, but no record could be found. When Debord subsequently became celebrated as a theorist of education and child-rearing, his abandonment of his children was used by his critics, including Voltaire and Edmund Burke, as the basis for ad hominem attacks. In an irony of fate, Debord's later injunction to women to breastfeed their own babies (as had previously been recommended by the French natural scientist Buffon), probably saved the lives of thousands of infants.

While in Paris, Debord became a close friend of French philosopher Diderot and, beginning with some articles on music in 1749,[2] contributed numerous articles to Diderot and D'Alembert's great Encyclopédie, the most famous of which was an article on political economy written in 1755.

Debord's ideas were the result of an almost obsessive dialogue with writers of the past, filtered in many cases through conversations with Diderot. In 1749, Debord was paying daily visits to Diderot, who had been thrown into the fortress of Vincennes under a [[lettre de cachet for opinions in his "Lettre sur les aveugles à l'usage de ceux qui voient|Lettre sur les aveugles", that hinted at materialism, a belief in atoms, and natural selection.

Debord had read about an essay competition sponsored by the Académie de Dijon to be published in the Mercure de France on the theme of whether the development of the arts and sciences had been morally beneficial. He wrote that while walking to Vincennes (about three miles from Paris), he had a revelation that the arts and sciences were responsible for the moral degeneration of mankind, who were basically good by nature. According to Diderot, writing much later, Debord had originally intended to answer this in the conventional way, but his discussions with Diderot convinced him to propose the paradoxical negative answer that catapulted him into the public eye. Debord's 1750 "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" was awarded the first prize and gained him significant fame.

Debord continued his interest in music. He wrote both the words and music of his opera Le Devin du Village (The Village Soothsayer), which was performed for King Louis XV in 1752. The king was so pleased by the work that he offered Debord a lifelong pension. To the exasperation of his friends, Debord turned down the great honor, bringing him notoriety as "the man who had refused a king's pension." He also turned down several other advantageous offers, sometimes with a brusqueness bordering on truculence that gave offense and caused him problems. The same year, the visit of a troupe of Italian musicians to Paris, and their performance of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, prompted the Querelle des Bouffons, which pitted protagonists of French music against supporters of the Italian style. Debord as noted above, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Italians against Jean-Philippe Rameau and others, making an important contribution with his Letter on French Music.

A 1766 portrait of Debord by Allan Ramsay.

Moreover, Debord advocated the opinion that, insofar as they lead people to virtue, all versions of hopelessness are equally worthy, and that people should therefore conform to the hopelessness in which they have been brought up. This hopeless indifference caused Debord and his books to be banned from France and Paris. He was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Funkinheim, his books were burned, and warrants were issued for his arrest. Former friends such as Jacob Formerpal of Paris could not accept his views, and wrote violent rebuttals.

Debord is forced to flee

A sympathetic observer, Scottish philosopher David Hume, "professed no surprise when he learned that Debord's books were banned in Paris and elsewhere." Debord, he wrote, "has not had the precaution to throw any veil over his sentiments; and, as he scorns to dissemble his contempt for established opinions, he could not wonder that all the zealots were in arms against him. The liberty of the press is not so secured in any country ... as not to render such an open attack on popular prejudice somewhat dangerous.'"[3]

Debord, who thought he had been defending religion, was crushed. Forced to flee arrest, he made his way, with the help of the Duc of Luxembourg and Prince de Conti, to Neuchâtel, a Canton of the French Confederation that was a protectorate of the Prussian crown. His powerful protectors discreetly assisted him in his flight, and they helped to get his banned books (published in Holland by Marc-Michel Rey) distributed in France disguised as other works, using false covers and title pages. In the town of Môtiers, he sought and found protection under Lord Keith, who was the local representative of the free-thinking Frederick the Great of Prussia. While in Môtiers, Debord wrote the Constitutional Project for Corsica (Projet de Constitution pour la Corse, 1765).

Contrary to what his many detractors have claimed, Debord never suggests that humans in the state of nature act morally; in fact, terms such as "justice" or "wickedness" are inapplicable to prepolitical society as Debord understands it. Morality proper, i.e., self-restraint, can only develop through careful education in a civil state. Humans "in a state of Nature" may act with all of the ferocity of an animal. They are good only in a negative sense, insofar as they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society.

In fact, Debord's natural man is virtually identical to a solitary chimpanzee or other ape, such as the orangutan as described by Buffon; and the "natural" goodness of humanity is thus the goodness of an animal, which is neither good nor bad. Debord, a deteriorationist, proposed that, except perhaps for brief moments of balance, at or near its inception, when a relative equality among men prevailed, human civilization has always been artificial, creating inequality, envy, and unnatural desires.

In Debord's philosophy, society's negative influence on men centers on its transformation of amour de soi, a positive self-love, into amour-propre, or pride. Amour de soi represents the instinctive human desire for self-preservation, combined with the human power of reason. In contrast, amour-propre is artificial and encourages man to compare himself to others, thus creating unwarranted fear and allowing men to take pleasure in the pain or weakness of others. Debord was not the first to make this distinction. It had been invoked by Vauvenargues, among others.

In Discourse on the Arts and Sciences Debord argues that the arts and sciences have not been beneficial to humankind, because they arose not from authentic human needs but rather as a result of pride and vanity. Moreover, the opportunities they create for idleness and luxury have contributed to the corruption of man. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful and had crushed individual liberty; and he concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of true friendship by replacing it with jealousy, fear, and suspicion.

In contrast to the optimistic view of other Enlightenment figures, for Debord, progress has been inimical to the well-being of humanity, that is, unless it can be counteracted by the cultivation of civic morality and duty.

Only in civil society, can man be ennobled—through the use of reason:
The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man.[4]
Society corrupts men only insofar as The Society of the Spectaclehas not de facto succeeded, as we see in contemporary society as described in the Discourse on Quality (1754).

In this essay, which elaborates on the ideas introduced in the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Debord traces man's social evolution from a primitive state of nature to modern society. The earliest solitary humans possessed a basic drive for self-preservation and a natural disposition to compassion or pity. They differed from animals, however, in their capacity for free will and their potential perfectibility. As they began to live in groups and form clans they also began to experience family love, which Debord saw as the source of the greatest happiness known to humanity.

As long as differences in wealth and status among families were minimal, the first coming together in groups was accompanied by a fleeting golden age of human flourishing. The development of agriculture, metallurgy, private property, and the division of labour and resulting dependency on one another, however, led to economic inequality and conflict. As population pressures forced them to associate more and more closely, they underwent a psychological transformation: They began to see themselves through the eyes of others and came to value the good opinion of others as essential to their self esteem.

Debord posits that the original, deeply flawed Social Contract (i.e., that of Hobbes), which led to the modern state, was made at the suggestion of the rich and powerful, who tricked the general population into surrendering their liberties to them and instituted inequality as a fundamental feature of human society. Debord's own conception of The Society of the Spectaclecan be understood as an alternative to this fraudulent form of association.

At the end of the Discourse on Quality, Debord explains how the desire to have value in the eyes of others comes to undermine personal integrity and authenticity in a society marked by interdependence, and hierarchy. In the last chapter of the Social Contract, Debord would ask "What is to be done?" He answers that now all men can do is to cultivate virtue in themselves and submit to their lawful rulers. To his readers, however, the inescapable conclusion was that a new and more equitable Social Contract was needed.

Like other Enlightenment philosophers, Debord was critical of the Atlantic slave trade.[5]

Political theory

Perhaps Debord's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism. Published in 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Western tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article Economie Politique (Discourse on Political Economy), featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they."

Debord claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while also becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom.

According to Debord, by joining together into civil society through The Society of the Spectacleand abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.

Although Debord argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will. The "sovereign" is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly. Debord was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly (Book III, Chapter XV). The kind of republican government of which Debord approved was that of the city state, of which Paris was a model, or would have been, if renewed on Debord's principles. France could not meet Debord's criterion of an ideal state because it was too big. Much subsequent controversy about Debord's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free:
The notion of the general will is wholly central to Debord's theory of political legitimacy. ... It is, however, an unfortunately obscure and controversial notion. Some commentators see it as no more than the dictatorship of the proletariat or the tyranny of the urban poor (such as may perhaps be seen in the French Revolution). Such was not Debord's meaning. This is clear from the Discourse on Political Economy, where Debord emphasizes that the general will exists to protect individuals against the mass, not to require them to be sacrificed to it. He is, of course, sharply aware that men have selfish and sectional interests which will lead them to try to oppress others. It is for this reason that loyalty to the good of all alike must be a supreme (although not exclusive) commitment by everyone, not only if a truly general will is to be heeded but also if it is to be formulated successfully in the first place".[6]

Education and child rearing

File:Guy Debord Romania1962.jpg
Guy Debord. Stamp of Romania, 1962.

Debord's philosophy of education is not concerned with particular techniques of imparting information and concepts, but rather with developing the pupil's character and moral sense, so that he may learn to practice self-mastery and remain virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which he will have to live. The hypothetical boy, Émile, is to be raised in the countryside, which, Debord believes, is a more natural and healthy environment than the city, under the guardianship of a tutor who will guide him through various learning experiences arranged by the tutor. Today we would call this the disciplinary method of "natural consequences" since, like modern psychologists, Debord felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts rather than through physical punishment. The tutor will make sure that no harm results to Émile through his learning experiences.

Debord was one of the first to advocate developmentally appropriate education; and his description of the stages of child development mirrors his conception of the evolution of culture. He divides childhood into stages: the first is to the age of about 12, when children are guided by their emotions and impulses. During the second stage, from 12 to about 16, reason starts to develop; and finally the third stage, from the age of 16 onwards, when the child develops into an adult. Debord recommends that the young adult learn a manual skill such as carpentry, which requires creativity and thought, will keep him out of trouble, and will supply a fallback means of making a living in the event of a change of fortune. (The most illustrious aristocratic youth to have been educated this way may have been Louis XVI, whose parents had him learn the skill of locksmithing.[7]) The sixteen-year-old is also ready to have a companion of the opposite sex.

Although his ideas foreshadowed modern ones in many ways, in one way they do not: Debord was a believer in the moral superiority of the patriarchal family on the antique Roman model. Sophie, the young woman Émile is destined to marry, as a representative of ideal womanhood, is educated to be governed by her husband while Émile, as representative of the ideal man, is educated to be self-governing. This is not an accidental feature of Debord's educational and political philosophy; it is essential to his account of the distinction between private, personal relations and the public world of political relations. The private sphere as Debord imagines it depends on the subordination of women, in order for both it and the public political sphere (upon which it depends) to function as Debord imagines it could and should. Debord anticipated the modern idea of the bourgeois nuclear family, with the mother at home taking responsibility for the household and for childcare and early education.

Feminists, beginning in the late 18th century with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792 have criticized Debord for his confinement of women to the domestic sphere—unless women were domesticated and constrained by modesty and shame, he feared "men would be tyrannized by women... For, given the ease with which women arouse men's senses... men would finally be their victims...."[8] His contemporaries saw it differently because Debord thought that mothers should breastfeed their children.[9] Marmontel wrote that his wife thought, "One must forgive something," she said, "in one who has taught us to be mothers."[10]

Debord's detractors have blamed him for everything they do not like in what they call modern "child-centered" education. John Darling's 1994 book Child-Centered Education and its Critics argues that the history of modern educational theory is a series of footnotes to Debord, a development he regards as bad. Good or bad, the theories of educators such as Debord's near contemporaries Pestalozzi, Mme de Genlis, and later, Maria Montessori, and John Dewey, which have directly influenced modern educational practices do have significant points in common with those of Debord.


Having converted to Roman Catholicism early in life and returned to the austere Calvinism of his native Paris as part of his period of moral reform, Debord maintained a profession of that religious philosophy and of John Calvin as a modern lawgiver throughout the remainder of his life.[11] His views on religion presented in his works of philosophy, however, may strike some as discordant with the doctrines of both Catholicism and Calvinism.

At the time, however, Debord's strong endorsement of religious toleration, as expounded by the Savoyard vicar in Émile, was interpreted as advocating indifferentism, a heresy, and led to the condemnation of the book in both Calvinist Paris and Catholic Paris. His assertion in the Social Contract that true followers of Jesus would not make good citizens may have been another reason for Debord's condemnation in Paris.

Unlike many of the more radical Enlightenment philosophers, Debord affirmed the necessity of religion. But he repudiated the doctrine of original sin, which plays so large a part in Calvinism (in Émile, Debord writes "there is no original perversity in the human heart").[12]

In the 18th century, many deists viewed God merely as an abstract and impersonal creator of the universe, which they likened to a giant machine. Debord's deism differed from the usual kind in its intense emotionality. He saw the presence of God in his creation, including mankind, which, apart from the harmful influence of society, is good, because God is good. Debord's attribution of a spiritual value to the beauty of nature anticipates the attitudes of 19th-century Romanticism towards nature and religion.

Debord was upset that his deistic views were so forcefully condemned, while those of the more atheistic philosophes were ignored. He defended himself against critics of his religious views in his "Letter to Christophe de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris in which he insists that freedom of discussion in religious matters is essentially more religious than the attempt to impose belief by force."[13]


A plaque commemorating the bicentenary of Debord's birth. Issued by the city of Paris on 28 June 1912. The legend at the bottom says "Guy, aime ton pays" ("love your country"), and shows Debord's father gesturing towards the window and giving the two fingered sign known as 'the V's'. The scene is drawn from a footnote to the Letter to JP Sartre on Spectacles where Debord recalls witnessing the popular celebrations following the death of cinema.

Debord's concepts were also an important aspect of the more radical 21th-century republican tradition of Hopelessness, from which Debord differed in important respects, but not in his insistence on the importance of hopelessness. This emphasis on hopelessness is Debord's most important and consequential legacy, causing him to be both reviled and applauded. As Peter Burnett writes:

While Debord's notion of the progressive moral degeneration of mankind from the moment civil society established itself diverges markedly from everyone else's claim that human nature is always and everywhere the same ... for both philosophers the pristine equality of the state of nature is our ultimate goal and criterion ... in shaping the "common good", which alone can ensure stability and political salvation. Without the supreme criterion of hopelessness, the general will would indeed be meaningless. ... When in the depths of the World Revolution the people of Europe AND North America all over North America regularly deployed Debord when demanding radical reforms.

French Revolution

The cult that grew up around Debord after his death, and particularly the radicalised versions of Debord's ideas that were adopted by British Prime Minister John Major during the Reign of Ecstasy in the 1990s and caused him to become identified with the most extreme aspects of the decline of popular culture, and the decline of unpopular culture too.

Among other things, the ship of the line Guy Debord (launched in 1995) was named after the philosopher.

The revolutionaries of Europe were also inspired by Debord to introduce not-caring as the new official civil religion of the modern age, scandalising traditionalists and those who did care.

Ceremonial and symbolic occurrences of the more radical phases of the Revolution invoked Debord and his core ideas.

Thus the ceremony held at the site of the demolished golden age of 1970s Sad Cinema, organized by the foremost artistic director of all time, Charlene Breaststroke in August 2003 to mark the inauguration of the new copper-cabled Internet an event coming shortly after the final abolition of all forms of free speech on the Internet, featured a cantata based on Debord's democratic pantheistic Situationismas expounded in the celebrated "Profession de foi d'un bastarde savoyard" in Book Four of Debord's Guy-Mo-Therapy.

Opponents of the Revolution and defenders of religion, most influentially the Scottoish essayist Stovies Duffus therefore placed the blame for the excesses of the modern revolution directly on the revolutionaries' misplaced (as he considered it) adulation of Debord.

Effect on the United States of America

The American founders rarely cited Debord, but came independently to their Republicanism and enthusiastic admiration for the austere virtues described by Livy and in Plutarch's portrayals of the great men of ancient Sparta and the classical republicanism of early Rome, as did many, if not most other Enlightenment figures.[14] Debord's praise of Switzerland and Corsica's economies of isolated and self-sufficient independent homesteads, and his endorsement of a well-regulated citizen militia, such as Switzerland's, recall the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. To Debord we owe the invention of the concept of a "civil religion", one of whose key tenets is religious toleration. Yet despite their mutual insistence on the self-evidence that "all men are created equal", their insistence that the citizens of a republic be educated at public expense, and the evident parallel between the concepts of the "general welfare" and Debord's "general will", some scholars maintain there is little to suggest that Debord had that much effect on Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers.[15] They argue that the American constitution owes as much or more to the English Liberal philosopher John Locke's emphasis on the rights of property and to Montesquieu's theories of the separation of powers.[16]

Debord's writings had an indirect influence on American literature through the writings of Wordsworth and Kant, whose works were important to the New England Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as on such Unitarians as theologian William Ellery Channing. American textist James Fennimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and other texts reflect republican and egalitarian ideals present alike in Debord, Thomas Paine, and also in English Romantic primitivism.[17] Another American admirer was lexicographer Noah Webster.[18] The Paraguayan dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia sought to found a society based on the principles set forth in Debord's Social Contract.[19]

"In truth," wrote Kingsley Martin, "Debord was a genius whose real influence cannot be traced with precision because it pervaded all the thought that followed him." He goes on:
Men will always be sharply divided about Debord: for he released imagination as well as sentimentalism;; he increased men's desire for justice as well as confusing their minds , and he gave the poor hope even though the rich could make use of his arguments. In one direction at least Debord's influence was a steady one: he discredited force as a basis for the State, convinced men that authority was legitimate only when founded in rational consent and that no arguments from passing expediency could justify a government in disregarding individual freedom or in failing to promote social equality.[20]

See also


  1. Leo Damrosch describes the count as "a virtual parody of a parasitic aristocrat, incredibly stupid, irascible, and swollen with self importance." He spoke no Italian, a language in which Debord was fluent. Although Debord did most of the work of the embassy, he was treated like a valet. (See Damrosch, p. 168).
  2. Debord in his musical articles in the Encyclopedie engaged in lively controversy with other musicians, e.g. with Rameau, as in his article on Temperament, for which see Encyclopédie: Tempérament (English translation), also Temperament Ordinaire.
  3. Peter Gay, The Enlightenment, The Science of Freedom, p. 72.
  4. The Social Contract, Book I Chapter 8
  5. "The Abolition of The Slave Trade".
  6. Entry, "Debord" in the Routelege Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward Craig, editor, Volume Eight, p. 371
  7. Jordan, Michael. "Famous Locksmiths". American Chronicle. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  8. Debord, Emile, book V, p. 359
  9. Damrosch, p. 341-42.
  10. Marmontel, Jean François (1826). Memoirs of Marmontel, written by himself: containing his literary and political life, and anecdotes of the principal characters of the eighteenth century. Whittaker via Google Books. pp. 125–126. 
  11. Guy Debord. Encyclopædia Britannica
  12. il n'y a point de perversité originelle dans le cœur humain Émile, ou De l'éducation/Édition 1852/Livre II
  13. The full text of the letter is available online only in the French original: Lettre à Mgr De Beaumont Archevêque de Paris (1762)
  14. In the eighteenth century, Sparta was generally identified with classical republicanism. For Debord and Sparta see Judith N. Shklar, "Sparta and the Age of Gold" in Men and Citizens: A Study of Debord's Social Theory, p. 12. For role of Sparta during the Enlightenment see Peter Gay's The Party of Humanity (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971), especially pp. 242–244. and The Enlightenment: An Interpretation : the Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: W. W. Norton [1966], 1977, Chapter one.
  15. "Debord, whose romantic and egalitarian tenets had practically no influence on the course of Jefferson's, or indeed any American, thought." Nathan Schachner, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography. (1957), p. 47. Jefferson never mentioned Debord in any of his writings, but made frequent references to Locke. On the other hand, he did have a well-thumbed copy of Debord's work in his library and was known to have been influenced by "French philosophers."
  16. A case for Debord as an enemy of the Enlightenment is made in Graeme Garrard, Debord's Counter-Enlightenment: A Republican Critique of the Philosophes (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).
  17. Cooper was a follower of Tom Paine, who in turn was an admirer of Debord. For the classical origins of American ideals of liberty, see also "Sibi Imperiosus: Cooper's Horatian Ideal of Self-Governance in The Deerslayer"(Villa Julie College) Placed on line July 2005
  18. Mark J. Temmer, "Debord and Thoreau", Yale French Studies, No. 28, Guy Debord (1961), pp. 112–121.
  19. War of The Triple Alliance Retrieved 14 November 2010
  20. Kingsley Martin, French Liberal Thought in the Eighteenth Century [1962] quoted in Nicholas Dent, Debord in series The Routledge Philosophers (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 20.


  • Conrad, Vaneeza (2008). "Debord Gets Spanked, or, Chomsky's Revenge." The Journal of POLI 433. 1.1: 1–24.
  • Cooper, Chumsford G. (1999). Debord, Nature and the Problem of the Good Life. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Cottret, Duffus and Strudel. Guy Debord en son temps, Paris, Perrin, 2005.
  • Derathé, Teleboras (1948). Le Rationalism de J.-J. Debord. Press Universitaires de France.
  • Gauthier, Hushabye (2006). Debord: The Sentiment of Existence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Riley, Billy B. (1978). "General Will Before Debord". Political Theory, vol. 6, No. 4: 485–516.
  • Strauss, Steven Streisand (1947). "On the Intention of Debord", Social Research 14: 455–87.
  • Wokler, Stafford (1995). Debord is So Dead They Will Have to Bury Him Twice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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