We were both. The public believed that we were enemies. And we are both enemies of the crowd, the mob, how do you say? La meute. The pack.
Why do you think you inspire enmity?
Number one, I don’t know. Number two, I don’t care. And number three, the pack always loses against a writer or an artist. If you say there is something rotten, deeply corrupted, in the state of man’s affairs, then problems begin for you.
There’s a quote on the cover by Ian Buruma from the New York Times where he says it’s « brilliantly done », but in the rest of the quote he says: « One way to read this book is as a comic novel, a brilliant satire on the vanity of writers… »
Vanity of authors, maybe, but also humility. They’re both there. Maybe it is vain to say we have the pack against us. But there is also humility in each of us understanding that our cases are so less serious than so many cases in the world, in Libya and so on.
Is it true that you were the one responsible for persuading France’s President Sarkozy to intervene in Libya?
Yes, it seems to be the case.
How did you do that?
Maybe I had convincing arguments. Maybe I found the words to express the fact that without an intervention, Benghazi would be under floods of blood. But this was easy. What was more difficult were the next steps of the war where I had one or two little intuitions which I was able to share with my president – bringing the general chief of the rebel forces to the Elysée for example, when the decision was made to open a new front south of Tripoli.
Is Syria the new Libya?
Of course. Though with another script, history never repeats… but Assad is finished.
You wrote that more Syrian opposition figures are calling for direct intervention from the west. Is this something you would advise Sarkozy to do?
If a representative body of the Syrian opposition asked for that, the international community would have a duty to reply. I would be very disappointed if England and France didn’t advise some of their allies to stop a bloodbath.
Did you learn things about yourself from writing this book?
First of all I learned that the great egomaniac I’m supposed to be had never spoken about himself, until now. My main compulsion is secrecy. I do not regret anything that is in this book, but I would not write these things again. The right to secrecy is a human right as important as freedom of speech or habeas corpus.
Do you consider phone-hacking to be particularly egregious?
Phone-hacking is one of the most disgusting things to happen to your country for a long time. It’s the very highest level of attack on human integrity. Murdoch has lost the right to be part of the democratic contract that is the basis of this country.
In France, public figures have been afforded greater levels of privacy by the press, but in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, some journalists have said they should have delved more.
They are wrong. Not speaking of the private life of a politician until he commits a crime is a good position. Which, by the way, includes Strauss-Kahn.
Is your position still that he was a victim of a conspiracy?
No, a conspiracy, never. I said that he was a victim of the pack and packs do not conspire.
He said his troubles had been caused by the weakness of the flesh. Do you think that weakness should preclude someone from public life?
Of course not. If something should preclude someone from public life, it might be excessive puritanism. I am more afraid of puritans than of those who know and admit the weakness of the flesh.
You were friends. Have you been in touch?
No, not recently.
You say in the book, that your two great passions are writing and loving women. And you seem to spend an awful lot of time writing. Does loving women occupy equally a large place in your life?
Unfortunately not. In fact, there are three great affairs of my life… writing, love and le goût d’aventure – the taste of adventure. It’s a lot already. No power. No luxury. There are a lot of things men love for which I don’t care. Material objects. I don’t have a car…
I thought you had a nice place in Marrakech?
Yes, of course. But I don’t like objects, for example. I don’t collect. Even books, I leave them behind me. When I change house, I change books.
Your wife was famously your mistress for seven years before you married her… and there is a famous quote in Britain, made by Jimmy Goldsmith, which is that when you marry your mistress you create a vacancy – is that your experience?
Jimmy Goldsmith has never been my master thinker, you know.
This isn’t a phrase that resonates?
Not for me. He was an acute man but not for lessons for life.
Your father looms quite large in this book. Do you think that the purpose of your life has been to find a cause as substantive as the one he fought? (He volunteered for the International Brigades in the Spanish civil war.)
Even at my grand age, I’m still acting in order to impress him. It’s true probably of any woman or any man who had a magnificent father. And my father was a magnificent father. It’s not been the purpose of my life, no. But it’s at my back. I can’t speak of the pilots in the Battle of Britain for example, without tears in my eyes.
You’re very famous for wearing your shirt undone. Is there some sort of French button shortage we haven’t heard about?
No, I just like to be loose.
You like to feel the breeze playing against your chest?
I do. It’s a form of my will to freedom. I like to be free in every sense of the word. I have never worn a tie in my life. There was even a diplomatic incident when I met Pope John Paul II. But it’s a physical impossibility. I cannot have a shirt buttoned to the neck, I suffocate. I have to be free.