Michel Crozier at Ninety
I have known Michel Crozier for approximately 50 years and count him not only as an esteemed colleague, which of course he is, but also as a dear friend. He is what my older grandchildren would call a "cool cat". My younger grandchildren would consider such an expression archaic; but in this instance at least, I think the older ones have it right.

In everything that he does -- his writings, his lectures, his dealings with others -- Michel is the essence of a French scholar. He is elegant; he is gracious; his words, his movements, and his eyes exude a Gallic presence that is unpretentiously serene, exquisitely subtle, and hopelessly erotic. I recall an episode from the 1960s when I was a dean at the University of California, Irvine. I had a copy of a book by Michel on my desk. On the back of the book cover there was a photograph of the author. My secretary (it was an era in which there still were "secretaries") was captivated by Michel's photograph and said to me, "Can you get me one like that!" She meant, the man, not the photo.

Although I once accused Michel (when he published Le mal américain) of having his impression of America warped by spending too much time along the Charles River (Cambridge, Massachusetts), he has often been kind enough to visit me in California. I treasure the serious conversations we have had about everything from American sport to French philosophy. He has a capacity for calm intelligence that I value, a sense that the surprises of life are not so much surprises as opportunities for reflection.
I remember one occasion on which he was visiting us at Stanford and came to our house for dinner. He arrived early and joined Jayne, our son, and me in the kitchen where Jayne was preparing the food. As we talked, Michel idly sampled some small pieces of snacks from a dish on the kitchen counter. My son looked at me with some alarm, so I said to Michel: "Michel, I do not want to interfere with your pleasures, but I should tell you that you are eating cat food." Michel was unperturbed. "Quite tasty", he said.
Those of us who are relatively pure academics owe Michel a considerable debt for his style. He sees opportunities for clarifying social and political policy through an understanding of scholarship and simultaneously sees the conundrums of social life as informing scholarship. This mediation between scholarship and social philosophy is difficult. It is done well by only a few; but it is a role that fits Michel. He combines shrewd observations with a persistent pursuit of deeper understanding.

I once wrote that the closest thing to a French intellectual produced in America was Susan Sontag. She wrote about ordinary things in a way that elevated the intellectual level of the discourse. Michel's writings are like that. Like Sontag and like Beethoven's 33 piano variations on a simple waltz, he raises the aesthetic level of the intellectual experience. Michel, of course, would deny such a description. It makes a claim of intellectuality that he eschews; but it is a claim that he cannot, in truth, deny.

Copyright James G. March - Octobre 2012