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Saturday, January 3, 2015


Professor David Auerbach, who has on occasion nodded in with extremely knowledgeable comments about walks in Paris, bakeries worth visiting in the Triangle area, and other matters far from his official expertise in the philosophy of mathematics, calls my attention to the fact that Thomas Piketty has just refused the signal French award of the Legion d'Honneur, saying “It isn’t up to the government to decide who’s honorable.  They would do better to concentrate on reviving growth.”

You gotta love him!

It calls to mind the fact that Jean Paul Sartre also declined the Legion d'Honneur, as well as the Nobel Prize. 

I invite my readers to give us other examples, if they exist, of distinguished intellectuals who have declined official honors and awards.  No fair mentioning Kant's decline of a Professorship of Poetry.  He just didn't want to leave home.


Magpie said...

Le Duc Tho refused the joint 1973 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him and Henry Kissinger.

Le accused the U.S. and South Vietnam for violations of the peace treaty.

Utopian Yuri said...

yeshaayahu leibowitz turned down the israel prize in 1993, and instead gave a talk urging soldiers to refuse to participate in the occupation.

Jerry Fresia said...

Gustave Courbet, not exactly a distinguished intellectual, but an intellectual and distinguished member of the Paris Commune (elected as a delegate for the 6th arrondissement), refused the Legion of Honor in 1870. Writing in Le Siécle, Courbet declared, "Honor is neither in a title nor a ribbon, it is in the act and the motive for the act. The state is incompetent in the matter of art. I decline the honor that you believed you did me. I am fifty years old and I have always lived as a free man; let me end my days free. When I am dead, they will say of me: that man never belonged to any school, any church, an institution, any academy, above all any regime, if it was not the regime of liberty."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Spectacular! Keep 'em coming!! Now that Magpie mentions it, I have a vague recollection of that, but the other two were totally unknown to me. Pity that Courbet couldn't have been from the 5th. :)

GraemeA said...

To quote The Guardian

Others who have spurned the honour include the writers Albert Camus, George Sand and Jean-Paul Sartre, the composers Hector Berlioz and Maurice Ravel, and the scientists Pierre and Marie Curie, who dismissed the invitation with the announcement that “In science we are interested in things, not people”.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Pretty good company to keep!

Chris said...

Sinclair Lewis declined the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith. He wrote in part: "[The terms of the Pulitzer for fiction] are that the prize shall be given 'for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.' This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."

Lewis of course won (and accepted) the Nobel Prize for Literature four years later.

Unknown said...

The Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman turned down both the Fields Medal and the one million dollar Clay Millennium Prize.

Robert Shore

Jacob T. Levy said...

Adrienne Rich declined the National Medal for the Arts.

Among the British intelligentsia and cultural celebrities it's practically a competitive sport to turn things down:

Paul Raymont said...

Geneviève Bujold and Glenn Gould refused the Order of Canada.

Ave Maria Mana Flocker said...

I general agree more honorable is it to deny the title of worth, but many spend their lives dedicated and loyal to pursuit of care to society hands on or to intellectual pursuit and opposed to honoring some exception, more honorable is a king that steps down before his power, which gave that power more closer to the people's own grasps, and yet the notion of respect, merits due to some more common tradition where individuals give grants, gifts, and luxuries, or perhaps a simple pen is a tradition that can be monetized and so a product of the free market,

where I would find the exception exalted stepping down from such title as one who reject the status merely that many others labored without such status to be made appearance of, opposed to individuals privately sharing congratulation, and thankfulness, through monetize respect given freely without agreement possible, merely a token to some luxury to encourage intellectual and compassionate mentalities to greater tradition grander.
Currency is gotten and spent, and yet having agreement, or merely acting in the common good, where people are free to give token of merit who just act to the common good is actual cheaper and more productive that people are simply rewarded for doing what they were going to do anyway, you see this not the king stepping down, but it makes sure people who do so are not rewarded with poverty as a method that discourage freedom, the idea of contract agreement being required to some certain reward cares to many risks, where those who freely act without contract takes the risk without risking others, and so due reward can be given after the notion without caring if one gets it or not, but what it does do is ensure the tradition that is to the highest liberty is also to the highest good a tradition, no one does good to get a noble prize and gets one and so few when many contribute so much without any thought of reward.

A matter that would respect them monetized in act of free market makes for a better world. Not as a matter of rewarded good deeds, but a matter of promoting its tradition of doing so opposed to the notion of how many die in poverty for setting society above themselves, a currency that can only be given and not spent until given, where the people pick but have a duty to select is to a greater freedom, than the lack thereof, as I still say one currency is not a separation of power that ensures liberty , but is duress that forces human natures intellectual and caring pursuit to be forsaken slaying its tradition to mindless corporations,

where matters of such love cannot be agreed upon without prostituting the risk in highest ideals to the love of the people surpassing fear now made inferior, which is the paid servant as mindless as he might be that he to no ethic but to currency itself without feeling human past the base, yet may humanity have some tradition brought to norm to represent all contrary human pursuits instead of forcing humans through duress and fear of poverty to for doing the inferior the thing, for the greatest thing the king can do is not step down, but lift every single man and woman to his status.

I would think to get you to respond seeing you no doubt smart and indifferent to me, I wonder the notion of your accord some how interesting, the surface of one's musing might appear to change, yet a man's ideals to think positive liberty is impossible, where it is not only if man where simply given the tools to use to what good a means of tradition that ensured the highest virtue of humanity where counted greater than the common that counted its existence above its good.