Régis Debray

Jules Régis Debray (French: [dəbʁɛ]; born 2 September 1940) is a French philosopher, journalist, former government official and academic.[1] He is known for his theorization of mediology, a critical theory of the long-term transmission of cultural meaning in human society, and for associating with Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 and advancing Salvador Allende's presidency in Chile in the early 1970s.[2] He returned to France in 1973 and later held various official posts in the French government.

Régis Debray
BornJules Régis Debray
(1940-09-02) 2 September 1940 (age 80)
Paris, France
OccupationJournalist, writer, academic
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
Pantheon-Sorbonne University
GenrePhilosophy, current events
Notable awardsPrix Femina
Prix Décembre


1960 to 1973

Born in Paris, Régis Debray studied at the École Normale Supérieure as taught by Louis Althusser. He appeared as himself in the cinema verité movie Chronique d'un été by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin in 1960. He became an "agrégé de philosophie" in 1965.

During the late 1960s he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Havana in Cuba, and became an associate of Che Guevara in Bolivia. He wrote the book Revolution in the Revolution?, which analysed the tactical and strategic doctrines then prevailing among militant socialist movements in Latin America, and acted as a handbook for guerrilla warfare that supplemented Guevara's own manual concerning the topic. It was published in Cuba in the "Cuadernos" collection by Casa de las Americas in 1967, by Maspero in Paris, in New York (Monthly Review Press and Grove Press), Montevideo (Sandino), Milan (Feltrinelli) and Munich (Trikont).

Guevara was captured in Bolivia in October 1967; on 20 April 1967 Debray had been arrested in the small town of Muyupampa, also in Bolivia. Convicted of having been part of Guevara's guerrilla group, Debray was sentenced on 17 November to 30 years in prison. He was released in 1970 after an international campaign for his release which included appeals by Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, General Charles de Gaulle and Pope Paul VI. He sought refuge in Chile, where he wrote The Chilean Revolution (1972) after interviews with Salvador Allende. Debray returned to France in 1973 following the coup by Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

1981 to 1996

After the election in France of President François Mitterrand in 1981, he became an official adviser to the Président on Foreign Affairs. In this capacity he developed a policy that sought to increase France's freedom of action in the world, decrease dependence on the United States, and promote closeness with the former colonies. He was also involved in the development of the government's official ceremonies and recognition of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. He resigned in 1988. Until the mid-1990s he held a number of official positions in France, including an honorary counselorship at France's supreme administrative court, Conseil d'État.

In 1996 he published a memoir of his life, translated into English as Régis Debray, Praised Be Our Lords (Verso, 2007).

2003 onwards

Debray was a member of the 2003 Stasi Commission, named for Bernard Stasi, which examined the origins of the 2003 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Debray endorsed the 2003 law. This was in defense of French laïcité (separation of church and state) which intends to maintain citizens' equality by the prohibition of religious proselytism in the school system. Debray, however, seems to have encouraged a more subtle treatment of religious issues with regard to school history teaching in France.

Debray is preoccupied with the situation of Christian minorities in the Near East (and with the status of the Holy Places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and elsewhere), a traditional interest of the French state, and has established an observatory to monitor the situation. His recent work investigates the religious paradigm as a social nexus able to assist collective orientation on a wide, centuries-long scale. This caused him to propose the project of an Institut Européen en Sciences des Religions, a French institute founded in 2005 for monitoring of sociological religious dynamics, and informing the public about religious issues through conferences and publications.

Work: mediology

Debray is the initiator and chief exponent of the discipline of médiologie or "mediology", which attempts to scientifically study the transmission of cultural meaning in society, whether through language or images. Mediology is characterized by its multi-disciplinary approach. It is expounded best in the English-language book Transmitting Culture (Columbia University Press, 2004). In Vie et mort de l'image (Life and Death of Image, 1995), an attempted history of the gaze, he distinguished three regimes of the images (icon, idol and vision). He also strove explicitly to prevent misunderstandings by differentiating mediology from a simple sociology of mass media. He also criticized the basic assumptions of the history of art which present art as an atemporal and universal phenomenon. According to Debray, art is a product of the Renaissance with the invention of the artist as producer of images, in contrast with previous acheiropoieta icons or other types of so-called "art," which did not primarily fulfill an artistic function but rather a religious one.

Current political views

In a February 2007 opinion-editorial in the newspaper Le Monde, Debray criticized the tendency of the entire French political class towards conservatism. He also deplored the influence of the "videosphere" on modern politics, which he claimed has a tendency to individualize everything, forgetting both past and future (although he praised the loss of 1960s "messianism"), and rejecting any common national project. He criticized the new generation in politics as competent but without character, and lacking ideas: "So they [think they] have recruited philosophy with André Glucksmann or Bernard-Henri Lévy and literature with Christine Angot or Jean d'Ormesson". He asked voters to endorse the "left of the left," in an attempt to end a modern "anti-politics" which has become political marketing.[3]

Personal life

Debray was married to the Venezuelan Elizabeth Burgos. They had a daughter together, Laurence, who was born in 1976.



  • Revolution in the Revolution? (1967)
  • La Frontière, suivi de Un jeune homme à la page [littérature] (1967)
  • Nous les Tupamaros, suivi d'apprendre d'eux (1971)
  • L'Indésirable [littérature](1975)
  • Les rendez-vous manqués (pour Pierre Goldman) [littérature] (1975)
  • Journal d'un petit bourgeois entre deux feux et quatre murs [littérature] (1976)
  • La neige brûle prix Femina [littérature] (1977)
  • Le pouvoir intellectuel en France (1979)
  • Critique de la raison politique (1981)
  • Comète ma comète [littérature] (1986)
  • Christophe Colomb, le visiteur de l'aube, suivi des Traités de Tordesillas [littérature] (1991)
  • Contretemps : Eloge des idéaux perdus (1992)
  • Trilogie "Le temps d'apprendre à vivre" I: Les Masques, une éducation amoureuse [littérature] (1992)
  • L'œil naïf (1994)
  • Manifestes medialogiques (Editions Gallimard, 1994)
  • Vie et mort de l'image (1995)
  • Contre Venise [littérature](1995)
  • A demain de Gaulle (1996)
  • La guérilla du Che (1996)
  • L'État séducteur (1997)
  • La République expliquée à ma fille (1998)
  • L'abus monumental (1999)
  • Shangaï, dernières nouvelles [littérature] (1999)
  • Trilogie "Le temps d'apprendre à vivre" II: Loués soient nos seigneurs, une éducation politique [littérature] (2000)
  • Trilogie "Le temps d'apprendre à vivre" III: Par amour de l'art, une éducation intellectuelle [littérature] (2000)
  • Dieu, un itinéraire (2001, Prix Combourg 2003)
  • L'Enseignement du fait religieux dans l'école laïque (2002)
  • Le Feu sacré : Fonction du religieux (2003)
  • L’Ancien testament à travers 100 chefs-d’œuvre de la peinture (2003)
  • Le Nouveau testament à travers 100 chefs-d’œuvre de la peinture (2003)
  • À l'ombre des lumières : Débat entre un philosophe et un scientifique (2003) (Entretien avec Jean Bricmont).
  • Ce que nous voile le voile (2004)
  • Le plan vermeil [littérature](2004)
  • Empire 2.0 [littérature] (2004)
  • Le siècle et la règle [littérature](2004)
  • Le siècle et la règle. Une correspondance avec le frère Gilles-Dominique o. p.
  • Julien le Fidèle ou Le banquet des démons [théâtre] (2005)
  • Sur le pont d'Avignon, Flammarion, 2005.
  • Les communions humaines (2005)
  • Supplique aux nouveaux progressistes du XXIe siècle, Gallimard, (2006).
  • Aveuglantes Lumières, Journal en clair-obscur, Gallimard, (2006).
  • Un candide en Terre sainte, Gallimard, (2008)
  • Dégagements (Gallimard, 2010).

In English:

  • Media Manifestos: On the Technological Transmission of Cultural Forms (Verso, 1996).
  • Revolution In The Revolution (Grove, 2000).
  • God: An Itinerary (Verso, 2004).
  • Transmitting Culture (Columbia University Press, 2004).
  • Against Venice (Pushkin Press, 2002).




  • Maxwell, Stephen (1981), Le Pouvoir Intellectuel, review of Teachers, Writers and Celebrities: The Intellectuals of Modern France, in Murray, Glen (ed.), Cencrastus, No. 7, Winter 1981-82, pp. 41 & 42, ISSN 0264-0856


  1. Debray Growls At A World In Chaos The Times of India, December 19, 2009
  2. Horne, Alistair (1972, revised 1990), Small Earthquake in Chile, London: Papermac, pp 347 and 351 [1990 edition].
  3. La Coupe de l'Elysée 2007, par Régis Debray, Le Monde, 27 February 2007 (in French)

Further reading