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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction / satire



A Modest Proposal

by
Régis Debray


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Modest Proposal



Title: A Modest Proposal
Author: Régis Debray
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 92 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Modest Proposal - US
A Modest Proposal - UK
A Modest Proposal - Canada
Le plan vermeil - Canada
Le plan vermeil - France
  • A Plan for the Golden Years
  • French title: Le plan vermeil
  • Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman

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Our Assessment:

B : decent satire, but somewhat careless presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Humanité . 25/11/2004 A.S.


  From the Reviews:
  • "L’ouvrage court et féroce, le Plan vermeil, tourne savamment en dérision la froideur calculatrice des experts libéraux." - A.S., L'Humanité

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Modest Proposal is an attempt at a Swiftian satire, Debray focussing on the rapidly ageing population in France (specifically, as well as Europe more generally) and the consequences thereof -- including the fact (?) that:

Ever-expanding life spans augment deficits and impinge negatively on every prospect of budgetary remedy.
       Debray also notes that we live in a time where youth is everything, old age ... not so much. He points to the radical change in estimation old age and experience have undergone, including:
Ours is the first civilization in which acquired competence has become an obstacle for the competence we wish to acquire; in which the young can figure things out better than their seniors; where the younger are more knowledgeable and expert than their elders, who discreetly peer over the shoulders of their children to find out how the latest software works.
       The elderly are a problem, he suggests (tongue very much in cheek, but the arguments are there) -- and in the second half of the book he proposes a solution. And while he doesn't suggest simply doing away with them, everything he does suggest certainly points in that direction. Among his ideas: a Bioland -- suited to old age, segregated from the rest of us, and with an atmosphere conducive to thoughts of ending it all.
       Inspired in part by the 2003 heat wave that killed (so Debray) some 15,000, mainly elderly -- a remarkable display of French indifference to their elders, who were left to die as French families went on their August vacations -- Debray plays out this attitude and its consequences fully, noting, however, that: "demographic recovery should not be dependent on weather-related accidents, meteorology being too imprecise a science". Hence: Bioland.
       It's all fairly well done, but only fairly. Debray throws in an enormous number of facts and opinions, and more than a fair share are questionable. That society is youth-oriented is undeniable, but he grossly underestimates the political and especially the economic clout of the elderly. (In democracies such as France (and the US) it is, of course, the large disenfranchised group of those under the legal voting age that fare worst in almost every respect.)
       A lively and sharp tone make A Modest Proposal a fairly engaging read, but Debray's distinctive style is occasionally close to confounding -- and matters are not helped by some irritating translating and/or editing gaffes:
     It is almost as though the situation conferred on the aged by the twentieth century were not without recalling that of women in the nineteenth, once one adds on the right to vote (but to what end ?) and drops needlework.
       It's a polemic, so one can expect lots of arguments without detailed sources, but Debray (and his translator) still have to do better than offer up 'facts' such as:
In 2003, Europe became third in consumption of pharmaceuticals.
       What can this possibly mean ? How does one 'become third' ? And third what ? The continent where there is the third highest consumption of pharmaceuticals ? In total amount, or per capita ? And if it's only third (after what ? North America and Asia ?) would that even be so bad ? Surely it's to be expected that pharmaceutical consumption is higher than in Africa ..... Etc. etc.
       A Modest Proposal is entertaining enough, and brings up some valid points (valid in the US as much as in France and Europe), but if the broad strokes are good, the detailed swipes are too often wide of the mark. Overall, while the proposal may be amusingly radical, the presentation is only modestly successful.

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Links:

A Modest Proposal: Reviews: Régis Debray: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Régis Debray has written numerous books.

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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