Not classified / 17 Dec 2018
Philippe Mengue – portrait

In our daily life, we meet people whose faces are familiar and we think we know them. So as not to miss out on these fabulous people e com image created its “portraits”.


Philippe Mengue *

I don’t know if I have a lot to say, I’m a poor ordinary guy ! 

This humorous opening sets the tone and the self-deprecation is accompanied by a big laugh.

As we get older we see all the stuff we picked up in childhood. My mother often asked me to make her laugh. She did not see the damage she was doing by saying that. I made my friends laugh, I could not resist. I spent hours in detention. I also used humor in my classes. With teens, you gain authority by humor. You make friends laugh with each other at the reluctant student.


What is a philosopher?

He’s someone who does not know why he’s aiming for philosophy. He is a little surprised by his request. He’s the one who is tired of hearing the same things from people. He is thirsty for a deeper dialogue.

Philip was raised by priests in a private school. “They did not screw me. They were very human.” After the class saw a play by Racine, the teacher would pose questions and talk about the doctrine of Port Royal of which Racine was a firm adherent. He spoke of Pascal and Philippe was thus awakened to sharp theological questions : “Why does God grant  grace to some and not to others !?!” Philippe started going through the dictionary. He turned to his mentor, a priest, who said to him, “Give it up, I do not understand anything myself !


In the final year of High School, Philippe wondered about the choice of philosophy. His father, an agronomist, advised him, in vain, to practice law or accounting. At the Sorbonne,  Philippe passed his philosophy degree. Born in 1941, he was one of the ‘children of the war’ who grew up in the happy and euphoric years of the reconstruction of the country. “All my friends found work !“. He is himself asked to pass a police commissioner’s competition, under cover of the need for philosophers. A newspaper also argued that a philosopher had the analytic mind necessary for the post of an editor, offering to pay him twice as much as he would get by achieving his C.A.P.E.S. (secondary school teaching diploma).

Philippe did not lapse into politics. His father instead instilled in him a passion for sport. The events of May ’68 incited him to take an interest in Marxism, to which he could not adhere. He doubts, he is not fooled and he makes fun of those who believe in it. “When you think about all this, these things do not work !“. Philippe is also a skeptic with respect to religion. While he admires Catholics and priests,  he can not help thinking that they are victims of what they say. “They believe in it when they say that Christ is the son of God and all that ! The question of philosophy is the truth. With it, doubt is introduced, and you lose the faith. Once you have lost the Christian faith, go find another! You respect all beliefs, you keep your intellectual curiosity, but you keep your distance, your questioning spirit.

So what do you believe in ?

I do not believe in anything but I respect the beliefs of others. I can not stand the leftists who, for example, denigrate the priests for poor reasons saying they are vicious, greedy rogues. It’s fake and stupid.


Philippe is the great-grandson of the sculptor Jean-Marie Mengue, a disciple of Rodin. His great-grandfather had a workshop in the district of Montparnasse in Paris.  He came from Luchon in the Pyrenees. We still find in this spa town very beautiful statues by his great-grandfather. His father was appointed to Chartres and it is there that Philippe was raised. After the rich years of the Sorbonne, Philippe obtained a professorship at Le Bourget in a Normal School. He taught psychology, sociology and the history of pedagogical thought (from Plato and Aristotle to Montessori). He felt he could not reach his potential there because there was no ‘metaphysics’. At 31, he ‘ sends everything to hell’ and takes refuge in an old farm in Céreste, after taking a leave without pay from the national education system. By then he is married and father of a girl. He has more time to take charge and think. Then he teaches at Gap, where he is very bored, and at Apt and Aix-en-Provence where in 1986 he wrote his thesis of state ‘The Sadien Order’, under the supervision of Lyotard and the examination of Deleuze.

Why do you admire Deleuze ?

He is a thinker who has brought great innovations in philosophy in the tradition of Nietzsche and Bergson. He was a very good pedagogue. Deleuze did not have a specialty, like Foucault, whom he also admired. Deleuze criticized the psychoanalysis of Foucault and created controversy by criticizing its anti-oedipal conception. He said : ‘The desire is not dad-mom ! Give us a break with that !’. Deleuze is someone who opens many new and creative doors.


Can philosophers influence policies?

When philosophers try to influence policies, it usually turns out badly. Take ‘Rousseau and the social contract’ during the revolution of 1789. Robespierre fell asleep with the book in his hand and you had the Terror! And I’m not talking about Marx, etc…

What do you think of the movement of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ ?

The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ contest an economic situation of poverty. This is very legitimate, but it does not serve to move things along from the point of view of the model of civilization. They ask to be able to consume. Is the merchant exchange of goods not a disaster for civilization when it becomes predominant? The solution may be ecology but not political ecology. The ecology as it is applied is punitive. It’s not just a question of CO2. We must rethink our life style. The bottom line is how do you see your living conditions and what is the goal.

What are the solutions?

Go back to local development and reduce our lifestyle. There is no need to carry all these goods across the planet from one place to another.

… We will not defeat capitalism, it is a system that will go on for a long time because there is something in it that is very creative, inventive and extremely positive. For example, it takes money to make discoveries flourish. On the other hand we can tear from this system some areas of life where capitalism is no longer dominant, where we say: ‘STOP ! It’s good to continue the search, but here you have no right, here you touch life in its basic simplicity ‘. Do you realize that peasants have become ‘farm operators’!  The relationship to the land must be different. Change must occur through the concrete attitude of each individual. If we rely on the state for this transformation we will not succeed. Local initiatives can introduce new forms of life, of existence, new ways of feeling. To live is to love, to consume, to find a new way of doing things without constantly demanding of the state. We have this power. We are responsible for not responding to ads, for buying local. This will create vibrant local communities and the impetus for new ways of building social relationships. International capitalism does not care about that. Permanent globalization impoverishes spirituality. This affliction can be remedied by going back to local development, because it is in the lived and concrete peculiarities of language and custom : in short in « the ethical substance» (as Hegel would say) that the spirit breathes and not in abstract and universal principles. It is in and by the particular, the local, that we go to the universal. These are avenues for exercising our freedom.

We are devastating nature and culture. When people refocus on the local they are treated as nerdy and reactionary. If, in addition, they say they are French …, then they are called Fascists, Petainists! It’s silly, it’s not the same thing. It’s in the small steps that we can move forward. What needs to be done is to disinvest these great revolutionary ideas and create areas in which progress can be made : in the micro, and locally.

Even if far-right political parties take credit for this movement, this is a healthy and necessary beginning to get out of the ravages of globalization.

There is also the problem of global overpopulation. Emerging countries have set the goal of having the same way of life as Westerners, but this is not sustainable on a global basis. It’s up to us to change our way of life. We must be able to solve the  problems of poverty, not by distributing the wealth produced, but by having other forms of wealth and abandoning  the western life style laid out as a model. If civilization does not move in this direction we will surely run into disaster since there is no God to protect us. Although perhaps it is necessary to go through a disaster to begin to understand.

There is a serious crisis because democracy no longer inspires confidence or respect. Social networks reinforce this hatred but the bottom line is thinking, living and feeling differently. There is a revolution in the sense that there is change in the affective bases of civilization, but it is very slow.

The difference between ’68 and the ‘Gilets Jaunes’, is the difference in perspective. The ideology of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ is centered on economic demands whereas in ’68 the goals were very broad: male / female relationships, sexuality etc…In ’68  the movement gave impetus to a new society.


The key is to be in touch with the beauty of nature.

This statement  has become the essence of Philippe’s personality.

We can only transform our way of life if we embrace a love of the earth. We must use poets and pass through the divine. We have to find a new form of spirituality, of feelings that go beyond us (the divine) in relation to nature and the earth. Eating organic radishes or organic tomatoes will not be enough. It takes a new breath, an emotion, an affect, a relationship to nature and its beauty. We must work on this feeling, we must develop it, transform it, make it into something spiritual. People must feel that they are starting from themselves.

Philippe has gradually lost contact with the Paris society in which he was immersed but he has found the love and respect of Provencal peasants.  For him, the people of Provence, embody a noble and beautiful humanity possessing greatness and courage. He now prefers the local to the urban culture.

Verbal invention in common folks is fabulous. The other day one of them told me : ‘ The Macron couple has twins, what does he call them? He calls them Gilles and John (Gilets Jaunes) !’. The syndrome of bistros that disappear is the manifestation of the drying up of our culture. In Zola’s Paris, workers and bourgeois co-existed, they were not separated as they are now where we have three social levels in France all of whom ignore each other.

My wife Martine is very sensitive. She’s romantic and she has a lot of intuition in knowing people. She quickly identifies their qualities and their flaws and it helps me a lot. Sensitized to nature, to the country, to the people, to their roots, she continues to express herself by drawing and painting even though her recent disability no longer allows her to make sculptures or large oil paintings. We share the love of nature together with a sense of transcendence of the beauty. Living with a philosopher is surely not an ordinary or an easy thing. She is forced to put up with a philosopher who annoys her all day.  Sometimes she tells me : ‘ Stop cutting hair in quarters !’. But she is very patient.

Philippe has published a dozen books. For 4 years he has been working on a philosophical novel that is set in Apt and Céreste. “It’s a dissertation on the beauty of nature. There are few intrigues and the  suspense is in the intellectual and spiritual evolution of a character and his companion and their relationship with the locals. The only frame is at the level of thought, emotions, feelings and the evolution that happens in them. I reduce the plot to leave a lot of room for philosophical reflections on ecology, the role of women, the beauty of nature, sex, religion, democracy, the crisis of civilizations, romanticism…

Philippe Mengue is an athletic man who has retained a youthful demeanour, reinforced by the inexhaustible energy that his passion gives him. We leave from our meeting with him, enriched : because it is extremely rare to listen to someone who offers such good sense. In a society whose pillars are collapsing, he reminds us that hope remains,  that we must aspire to something greater, that we are not useless beings but that we can contribute to the personal and collective spiritual fulfillment of the society we live in. By giving us his perspective he gives us serenity, hope and a renewed sense of vigour to move forward.

In reality, is not a philosopher a … wise man ?

* Aggregated and holder of a PhD., Philippe Mengue taught in Provence, as well as at the International College of Philosophy in Paris. Great connoisseur of the works of Sade and Deleuze, he has published more than a dozen books on contemporary French thought.

Recent publications: Comprendre Deleuze, éd. Max milo, may 2012; Pour une politique deleuzienne de l’idiot, éd Germina, jan 2013; Marcher, courir, nager, Le sport comme service divin, éd. Kimé, 2015

Last publication : 

Espaces lisses et lignes de fuite, éd. Kimé, sept 2015

In preparation: a philosophical novel “DESOLATION“, expected in 2019

Texte Sylvie Houssais – e com image – ‘reproduction interdite, tous droits réservés’

Photos Jacques Huissoud – ‘reproduction interdite, tous droits réservés’

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