Paris — With their sacred vacances - holidays - ending, the French are returning home to find their country at war. Few seem to notice the difference.
When the government announced that it was sending troops 2,000 miles away to the deserts of Chad, there was little reaction. Partly this was because almost everyone in a position to comment was attending to things at the beach.
But even now, the politicians have little to say. The conservative opposition , which had pushed for intervention, is keeping silent because it is in the awkward position of having to praise Socialist President Francois Mitterrand. The Socialist and the Communist parties are uncomfortable with the display of ''neocolonialism,'' but they can't loudly criticize a Socialist/Communist government.
The public has reacted to the war with a mixture of anxiety and disinterest. Polls show that only 28 percent of the population thought French troops should be sent to Chad and that 62 percent feared the crisis could turn into a major international crisis.
''It's a mess and we shouldn't be there,'' says Jeanine Robert at her newstand in front of Gare St. Lazare. ''If the Chadians want to kill each other, we should just let them.''
But Mrs. Robert reports that the war has not spurred newspaper sales and that her customers seem disinterested by the affair.
''People are buying the newspaper for the soccer and horse-racing results,'' she says. ''There are more important things, after all, than a Godforsaken war in a Godforsaken country.''
Why have the intellectuals abandoned the Socialist government?
This question has provoked the passionate debate one would have expected from the war in Chad. Columns of print in Le Monde, most of them on the front page, are devoted to it.
The matter is taken with great seriousness here because intellectuals hold an honored place in French society - and especially within the political left. Since the Dreyfus case, when France's best-known writers and academics rallied to the defense of the Jewish colonel, intellectuals have labored for leftist causes. They supported and worked for the election of Socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1981.
But this summer, government spokesman Max Gallo published an article in Le Monde bemoaning the ''crumbling'' of the intellectual left and the resurgence of conservative ideas in France. Mr. Gallo, a novelist and one of the few intellectuals to join the government, asked plaintively, ''Where are our Gides, our Malraux?'' referring to the artist-politicians of the popular front.
Instead of evoking support, Gallo's call to action brought forth a series of attacks on the government from some of the country's best-known intellectuals. Day after day, Le Monde printed explanations of why they could not support the government, or at least why they felt obliged to keep their distance from it.
Most said it was the duty of the intellectual to criticize and not take part in governing. Then they went on to criticize the actions of the Socialist government.
Some could not stomach the Communists in the government and the ''extremism'' of its sweeping nationalizations and tax restructuring. Others couldn't stand the government's adherence to what they described as ''technocratic modernism'' and conservative economic policies.
The course of the intellectual debate suggests that Mr. Mitterrand and his Socialists are losing the battle for ideas. This impression is reinforced by one quick look at the surprise runaway best-selling book here in this summer of Socialist-decreed economic austerity - the autobiography of Baron Guy de Rothschild, ''Contre Bonne Fortune'' (''Against Good Fortune'').
For two centuries, the name Rothschild has been synonymous with wealth and financial power. But in 1981 the Socialists nationalized the baron's family flagship, Banque Rothschild, and the baron moved to New York in a huff.
''Nothing justifies nationalization,'' he writes. ''No civil servant is as knowledgeable about the private sector as the executives he is forced to fire.''
Despite this impassioned plea on behalf of capitalism, most of the book is not a polemic against the socialists, but an ode to being rich.
The book describes a world of limitless wealth and unimaginable luxury, of a childhood in a chateau so plush that Prussia's William I reportedly exlaimed, ''No king could afford to live here - only a Rothschild,'' and of an adulthood of golfing exploits, raising race horses, rebuilding a bank, and, of course, throwing sumptuous parties where France's most prominent intellectuals, artists, and socialists would gather.
''Everyone has money, no one has enough,'' the baron writes. ''One hates it when it's lacking. One greets it with open arms. One doesn't like talking about it, one thinks about it all the time. It cures, sickens, saves, kills. . . .''
To Anglo-Saxons, such frank talk may seem nothing out of the ordinary. But in France, talk of money is traditionally seen as the worst of social gaffes.
But apparently, the Socialists have succeeded in making wealth smell good in France. At least that's what Mr. de Rothschild thinks.
''To me the book's popularity seems to be largely a reaction against the uniformization the Socialists have brought in,'' he said in an interview. ''At last, they say, someone who lives on the top and isn't ashamed.''