Rue Victor Cousin

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 1, 14

This is a street that has witnessed many barricade battles. With the Sorbonne University at No. 1, it was the site of confrontations between the police and students in 1968 and 2006.

After the Sorbonne was forcibly evacuated by the police in May 1968
The remains of the barricade across Rue Victor Cousin where it crosses Rue Cujas. On the right of the street the Pantheon Cinema was showing Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw and Liza Minnelli in Charlie Bubbles.

In March 2006, after Sarkozy’s government introduced a law to force those under 26 to take whatever job they were offered and over the following two years, if they were dismissed by their employer, they would have no entitlement to unemployment benefit. University and secondary school students mobilised massively against the law, with demonstrations beginning at the Sorbonne. The law was withdrawn by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin in April.

After dislodging students occupying the Sorbonne from March 10 to March 10 2006, fighting took place in the nearby streets. The riot police then closed off the Rue Victor Cousin, the Sorbonne Square and several other streets until April 24. A key symbol for the opponents of the new employment contract, during this period the police were attacked several times, with railings and molotov cocktails.

Further up the street, after it crosses the rue de Cujas is the independent Cinéma du Panthéon (there since 1907). It is opposite the nursery school at No. 14 where Lucie Bernard/Aubrac worked part-time in 1936.

An uninspiring facade and French and European flags outside the school at No. 14 where in the 1930s Lucie Aubrac taught in the nursery school

Originally called the rue de Cluny after an ancient abbey, in 1864 the short street south of the Rue de la Sorbonne was renamed in honour of the educational reformer, Victor Cousin (1792 – 1867). Forced into exile in 1821 for his liberalism, he became a Professor at the Sorbonne University after the 1830 Revolution.

Cousin helped structure French education in the 1840s inserting the history of philosophy into the French secondary school curriculum. This is still taught to all French school students up to the age of 18.

Cousin’s philosophy of eclecticism, merging British empiricism with French idealism, dominated mainstream philosophy from the 1830s to the 1880s. But it was not without its critics.

In his 1839 ‘Refutation of EclecticismPierre Leroux wrote: ‘M Cousin is an excellent translator of phrases, but a dreadful translator of ideas‘. Bakunin in 1882 wrote that ‘This superficial pedant, without a single original idea… this illustrious philosopher has cleverly prepared for the the use of the student youth of France, a metaphysical dish whose consumption, made compulsory in all the schools of the State has condemned several successive generations to indigestion of the brain

Much earlier, in 1741, a much more serious contributor to French philosophy and left thought, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, lived at the St Quentin hotel (finally demolished in 1892) that was on the present location of 7 rue Victor Cousin, but was then 14 rue des Cordiers. In 1744-45 Rousseau stays there again, marrying his mistress, Thérèse Levasseur.

You won’t find this hotel because the rue des Cordiers used to link the rue Victor Cousin and the rue St Jacques but was built over by the southern section of the Sorbonne.