Legion of Honour row: the real reason why top French economist snubbed state award


The public refusal of celebrated economist Thomas Piketty to accept the state's highest distinction, the Legion of Honour, sparked controversy in France last week. Some in the government sought to paint the best-selling left-wing economist's decision as that of a quixotic intellectual stuck inside an ivory tower. But as Hubert Huertas points out, Piketty's refusal was not based on vanity or a whim. Instead the affair throws the spotlight back on François Hollande himself, who as a presidential candidate championed Piketty's ideas to get himself elected but who once in office refused to implement them as government policy. In other words, the controversy has become a symbol of how the French president failed to keep his promise.

Reading articles is for subscribers only. Subscribe now.

Over the years dozens of people have declined to accept the award of France's highest distinction the Légion d'honneur or Legion of Honour. They have included artists, scholars and public figures who have turned down the accolade for a variety of reasons. Some have done so out of a desire to stay independent, as in the case of Edmond Maire, former head of the CFDT trade union or as an act of protest, as with academic Annie Thébaud-Mony, a specialist in occupational illnesses who turned down the Legion of Honour in July 2012 over what she saw as the “indifference” of society towards health in the workplace.