In the late Sixties he spent two years as Director of the French Institute in Warsaw, where he acquired a profound loathing for Eastern European socialism and an equally profound admiration for the Poles. I remember, one Sunday morning, watching the installation of Pope John Paul II with Foucault and a friend – all three of us ex-Catholics – on Michel’s miniscule black-and-white television set. I was struck at the time by the fascination with which he watched the proceedings. Quite apart from delight in the ‘camp’ of the occasion, it was obvious that he was feeling something of the pride and joy felt by the Poles themselves: their masters may be puppets of Moscow, but a Pole was now running the Catholic Church. He was always in the forefront of any action to assist the Eastern European dissidents. Solidarity was obviously very close to his heart….
Foucault was much criticised retrospectively for his early support of the Ayatollah Khomeini. What fascinated him was how a certain kind of spirituality could galvanise millions of people to take to the streets and bring down one of the most highly-armed regimes in the world. He withdrew his support as soon as the nature of the ‘Islamic revolution’ became apparent, but I believe that he did suffer from a naive belief in the sanity of the ‘popular will’, failing to see that where it is unmediated by established procedures and institutions it can all too easily be manipulated into tyranny.
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