Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reacting to the Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council's decision to quash the carbon tax has been greeted with predictably unreflective glee by those who see it as a blow struck directly at Sarkozy le Mal-Aimé. That it may well be, but questions remain. Was it a wise decision? On what did the CC base its action? Has France gone from being a country without judicial review to a country with virtually unchecked judicial supremacy, not even limited by the (admittedly malleable) traditions of higher jurisprudence that constrain the Supreme Court of the United States?

Perhaps I'm unduly influenced by having just read Larry Kramer's excellent book on popular constitutionalism, and perhaps I was unduly impressed by Sarkozy's political courage in daring to impose a carbon tax. I'm not persuaded that it would have been effective in achieving its goal, so I will grant that premise of the CC's reasoning, but "probable ineffectiveness" seems to me a weak reason for overturning a statute. The tax in question was a first step toward an end approved by a duly elected legislature and sponsored by a duly elected executive, and not a law without a "rational basis," to use the jargon of American "higher lawmaking." As for the argument pertaining to the unequal impact of the law, it would be possible to invalidate almost any tax on such grounds, and I don't believe that the carbon tax was particularly egregious in this respect. Moreover, remedies short of invalidation were available for its defects. Nor am I persuaded that the motives of the CC were pure, influenced neither by special interests nor political considerations, whereas Sarko's were, according to his critics, ipso facto impure--as if anything is ever done in government without impure motives.

In short, I am not applauding this move by the CC. It will be interesting to see how the government responds, but I think that there are issues of principle here that go much deeper than what happens in this particular case, and I am astonished that no one in France seems to be raising them.

This will be the last post of the year. Happy New Year to all.

For a contrary argument from Bernard Girard, see here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Daniel Cordier's Memoir

Daniel Cordier, right-hand man to Resistance leader Jean Moulin, has published his memoir of the war, which is reviewed here by Julian Jackson. (h/t Kirk)

Aristotle on National Identity

Via Bernard Girard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Carbon Tax Tossed Out

The Conseil Constitutionnel has annulled the carbon tax:

Dans une décision rendue mardi 29 décembre, le Conseil juge que la loi prévoit trop d'exonérations "contraires à l'objectif de lutte contre le réchauffement climatique et [qui] créent une rupture d'égalité devant les charges publiques". - (AFP)

Back to the drawing board. And maybe Sarko will think twice before giving lessons to Obama: the U.S. Congress isn't the only unpredictable institution in politics.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Marseille Mosque

The Times looks at the identity debate, focusing on the new mosque in Marseille. Steven Erlanger writes:

“Today in Europe the fear of Islam crystallizes all other fears,” Mr. Geisser said. “In Switzerland, it’s minarets. In France, it’s the veil, the burqa and the beard.”


The large new mosque, which its builders call “the symbol of Marseillais Islam,” is a source of pride here in France’s second-largest city, which is at least 25 percent Muslim. But it is also cause for alarm, Mr. Geisser said, embodying the paradox that visible signs of integration set off xenophobic anxiety. “All these symbols reveal a deeper, more lasting presence of Islam,” he said. “It’s the passage of something temporary to something that is implanted and takes root.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Encore du sulfure à la culture

So, rumor has it that Carla Bruni, after having persuaded her husband to choose Frédéric Mitterrand as minister of culture, has found a place for another of her friends at the ministry. And François Baudot has also written a book that may provide fodder for Marine Le Pen, Benoît Hamon, and other Savonarolas of the left and right:

Dans un style voisin de celui de Frédéric Mitterrand - la mélancolie et le remord en moins -, Baudot y narre sa jeunesse dissolue, son aventure au sein du Palace, la boîte de nuit branchée des années 1980, et diverses expériences intimes. Ce livre licencieux circule depuis deux mois dans les allées du pouvoir où l'on s'attendait à un recasage de François Baudot soit au Palais de la découverte soit ailleurs...

"The Choice of the Old"

Emmanuel Todd:

La poussée à droite de 2007, à la suite des émeutes de banlieue de 2005, n'était pas une confrontation sur l'immigration, mais davantage un ressentiment anti-jeunes exprimé par une population qui vieillit. N'oublions pas que Sarkozy est l'élu des vieux.

The Capitalists Are Restless

To follow up Laurent Wauquiez's analysis of the social policy of the right, Le Monde today has Michel Noblecourt on the unions. But his most interesting remark concerns not a trade union but an employer's association, the UIMM:

Dans son bulletin Actualité de décembre, l'Union des industries et métiers de la métallurgie (UIMM) critique "la spécificité française d'un Etat interventionniste, toujours méfiant vis-à-vis de la société civile". S'en prenant sans la nommer à la méthode de Nicolas Sarkozy, l'UIMM dénonce ce "jacobinisme centralisateur" qui "a pris une ampleur particulière sous l'effet de trois facteurs cumulatifs : d'abord les engagements électoraux présidentiels incitant à une vague ininterrompue de réformes, puis la crise plaçant les pouvoirs publics au coeur de l'action économique et sociale, enfin une inclination marquée pour des affichages médiatiques répondant aux élans compassionnels de l'opinion". Halte à la "boulimie législative"...

So the capitalists are restless, there's been too much reform, and at some point the concessions have to stop, say the capitalists. Meanwhile, Bernard Thibault says that this is the year that the workers have to dig in their heels:

"L'avenir des retraites sera au coeur de l'affrontement social en 2010", a affirmé M. Thibault pour qui ce sera "le marqueur de la volonté de résistance des salariés".

 It sounds almost like the good old days. But of course that is not to reckon with what the UIMM delicately terms le jacobinisme centralisateur of the current regime.

Weil on the Burqa

Patrick Weil, who was a member of the Stasi Commission that banned the veil in public schools, opposes a law on the burqa but recommends a compromise solution involving the recognition of different types of public and private "space." In some semipublic workplaces, he suggests, one could insist by "internal rules" rather than a law that faces remain uncovered.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Social Policy of the Right

Laurent Wauquiez describes the "new social policy" of the Right, which is aimed, he says, squarely at the middle class. lest undue attention to "the margins" of society lead to the sort of situation from which "Weimar never recovered." Well, that's putting it right on the line: Follow Sarko or you'll end up with Hitler. Still, drama aside (and in fact the tone of Wauquiez's article is generally unpolemical, factual, and cool, though naturally tilted so as to buff up le bilan Sarko), the piece is an interesting insight into how the government views the politics of its social policy. Definitely worth reading even if it is Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to all. (Blogging was sidetracked today while I dealt with a nasty computer virus.)

Party Names


A historical note on the names of parties of la gauche de la gauche. Could this be because Trotsky is once again d'actualité, at least according to Luc Rosenzweig, who sees lingering Trotskyist influences in Cambadélis's attack on Besson followed by Dray's on Cambadélis?

Finger in the Dike vs. Finger in the Wind

The "debate" on national identity is going so swimmingly that Sarkozy has asked Besson for "more pedagogy" and less debate. I'm sure that all of France is awaiting the official instruction to be offered on la fierté d'être Français. But the president has evidently concluded that it is time to put a finger in the dike to stem the outpouring of prejudice that the debate has occasioned.

Meanwhile, the ever-ambitious Jean-François Copé, as always finger in the wind rather than in the dike, has attempted to steal a march on his president by scheduling a vote on the burqa ban before the parliamentary commission "investigating" the matter has completed its report. This has upset the Elysée, which would prefer that the debate "remain serene, tranquil, and non-stigmatizing for Muslims," as reported by no less than the head of CFCM himself after a meeting with the president. Evidently Copé's haste in interpreting the president's earlier "pedagogy"--"there is no place for the burqa on French soil"--is considered unseemly. And Henri Guaino, who prefers the "democracy of debate" to the "democracy of polls," is also for patience, pedagogy, due process, etc. etc. But then, when all that folderol is out of the way, it will be high time to get on with the foregone conclusion:

Le groupe UMP va déposer mercredi une proposition de loi pour l'interdiction totale de la Burqa. Y êtes-vous favorable ?
Il ne faut rien accepter qui viole nos valeurs les plus fondamentales. Mais il ne faut blesser personne. Attendons les conclusions de la mission parlementaire pour voir jusqu'où doit aller l'interdiction.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guaino Aims High

Henri Guaino wants to "elevate and enlarge" the identity debate, and apparently his gaze is elevated indeed, fixing on bell towers and minarets. When asked if Sarkozy's advice to Muslims that they practice their religion with discretion applied to Catholics as well, he replied, "Of course." When asked whether that meant that Catholics should no longer ring church bells, he replied that that was "not a religious problem but a problem of civilization, a problem of society, a problem of tradition."

He also said that to define French identity as « la liberté, l'égalité, la fraternité et la laïcité, c'est un peu court ». Indeed. One would have to add l'hypocrisie to the list.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Polls

PS, FN up; UMP, EE down. Modem, Gauche, NPA out.

Mitterrand's Book in English

Frédéric Mitterrand's book is to be published in English. Here is a statement from his publisher, Soft Skull Press (which I had never heard of until today):

As the soon-to-be publisher of Frédéric Mitterrand's memoir in the United States we have been following closely the current discussion concerning Mr. Mitterrand in the press. We'd just like to say that what is most surprising to us regarding the situation is that Mr. Mitterrand's story has for quite some time been public knowledge to the French people, and in the most high-profile fashion. The Bad Life was published four years ago and became a bestseller in France. The controversial passages have been known to us all along and, among other things, it was the frankness and thoughtfulness with which Mr. Mitterand discussed his life that drew us to the project. Whether you agree with Mr. Mitterrand’s story or habits, he approaches them with a compelling and thought-provoking honesty and we continue to stand behind this elegant and brave book in the same way we have since undertaking to publish it here. As a publisher, Soft Skull has always embraced controversial conversations. That which makes us uncomfortable certainly warrants further rather than less scrutiny.


We look forward to releasing The Bad Life quite soon.

Post Turns Populists Into Patriots

The Washington Post mistook the P in UMP for "patriotique" rather than "populaire," yielding this:

Some legislators from Sarkozy's coalition, the Union for a Patriotic Movement, have proposed a law to forbid foreign flags during immigrant weddings in city halls. And a small-town mayor from the Sarkozy coalition, André Valentin, warned during a government-sponsored national identity debate last week that "we are going to be gobbled up" unless something is done to halt the influx of immigrants, who he said "are paid to do nothing."

Le Point noticed the error, but the Post has not yet seen fit to correct it.

Can't Leave It Alone

The minarets thing: looks like the UMP can't leave it alone. Nora Berra stormed out of a meeting of UMP deputies today after Pascal Clément said that France would no longer be France when there were more minarets than cathedrals. An interesting idea: it doesn't of course matter that the cathedrals are empty, except for tourists, and have been for decades. As everyone knows, the French by and large don't practice their religion. But nonexistent minarets are apparently still a threat to a French identity based on nonexistent practice. You can hardly blame Muslims for drawing the conclusion that perhaps the attack on the burqa, which J.-F. Copé intends to bring to a vote next month, isn't really about protecting women after all.

The Swiss--in a panic over their four, count them, FOUR minarets--have apparently ignited a fire in France as well, and Marine Le Pen must be rubbing her hands in glee.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Debate on University Reform

Between J.-F. Mela and Gilbert Bereziat.

Regularizations

Now here's a figure the government doesn't publicize: 20,000 foreigners saw their status regularized in 2009. Expulsions receive great publicity, and the numbers are promoted as a great achievement. The quiet normalization of the status of so many foreigners is a greater one. It's too bad that the government isn't prouder of what it has done.

Et tu, et tu, et tu Brute?

Three Socialists attack the burqa. (See here if you don't want to pay for the Libé article.) Valls, Filipetti, and Esnol want "to build a strong and progressive Islam of France." In other words, Socialists doing what Socialists do: promising a more "social" version of the Right's policies.

This is a losing strategy. Why the Socialists never seem to learn this lesson is a continuing puzzle.

"Flopenhagen"

What are the lessons of the Copenhagen failure, or "Flopenhagen," as it is called here? You will find some thoughts at the link, and also here. My own thoughts run in a somewhat different direction. The mass demonstrations have become a fixture of all large international conferences of late, and I think that their ineffectiveness mirrors the inefficiency of global negotiations among 192 delegations without prior consensus. My immediate concern is the effect on environmental politics within individual European countries as well as at the European level. Because Europe is the only continent that seemed, prior to Copenhagen, to have achieved a critical mass on required internal changes.

To be sure, countries elsewhere were clear about changes they wanted others to make: that's always the easy part of reform. But European leaders, especially Sarkozy and Merkel, seemed prepared to impose costly and unpopular changes on themselves. It will now be difficult to sustain any momentum toward further change. Domestic opponents, who had kept a fairly low profile, will now be energized, and they have been handed a powerful argument: Why should Europe penalize itself when others won't, and when the competitive disadvantage is unlikely to be compensated by environmental improvement? It was a Prisoner's Dilemma, the other players have defected, and the only remaining response after choosing a losing strategy is to attempt a jailbreak.

Of course there are other responses that make more sense from a long-run perspective. If a global accord is out for the foreseeable future, bilateral and regional accords are not. There is actually room here for Sarkozy to demonstrate some leadership on an important issue as well as to make political headway against his opponents. It will therefore be interesting to see if he remains interested in the issue or decides that he has done enough already, if not too much. I'm also curious to see if he will now emphasize a less political tack: putting more money into environmental technologies. With the international arena now closed, there are more immediate rewards to be had from promoting research--but this is slow, boring, and mostly barren of headlines.

Michel Serres: «Copenhague est à la géopolitique ce que les accords de Munich, en septembre 1938, ont été à la politique : un compromis lâche et dilatoire. Mais la comparaison s'arrête là. Si le sommet sur le climat a été un échec, c'est d'abord parce que mettre 192 personnes autour d'une table relève de la grand-messe plus que de négociations véritables. Le problème vient surtout de ce que ces 192 personnes sont des hommes d'Etat, dont la mission première est de défendre les intérêts de leur gouvernement et de leur pays. La politique, c'est son rôle, examine les relations humaines, fussent-elles conflictuelles.»

Think Tanked

There are a number of think tanks that aim to do for the next Socialist presidential candidate what Emmanuelle Mignon did for Nicolas Sarkozy: supply position papers, flesh out campaign themes, do opposition research, etc. One of them, the Laboratoire des Idées, has just suffered a high-level resignation: Lucille Schmid, the vice-president of the organization, close to Arnaud Montebourg, resigned, complaining that the party had failed to organize "political outlets" for the group's work. The perennial complaint of intellectuals in politics: we're not being listened to. Who knows what the real problem was? Still, here is yet another sign, if one were needed, that things are not going well in the never-ending Socialist renovation. Mignon's operation worked because Sarkozy knew what he wanted. One has the impression that Aubry's PS doesn't, perhaps because it isn't so much a party as a label for which a handful of candidates are vying. And until the candidate issue is settled, the barely-existent party can't decide what it wants in the way of intellectual support.

Interview with Schmid here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dray Returns

Julien Dray, spared prosecution if not exactly exonerated by the justice system, is back in harness and itching to settle scores with the Socialists who thought they saw an opportunity to get rid of him, starting with J.-C. Cambadélis. The media are also in his sights. And of course backing the identity debate from the left is an instant way to make a splash.

Eurostar Meets Eurodeputy

There were a lot of angry people on the Eurostar yesterday, after the train was trapped in the tunnel for an extended period and passengers were left without food, water, or blankets for 18 hours, but one of them was Eurodeputy Dominique Baudis, who is calling for an investigation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yglesias Reads Weber

Matt Yglesias, reflecting on the politics of the past few weeks, quotes from passages of Weber that I've quoted here many times.

However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends–that is, in religious terms, ‘The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord’–and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s action.

I would add just one point to Yglesias' reflections on this contrast. It is possible to harbor considerable doubt about the "foreseeable results of one's action." This uncertainty greatly complicates the commitment to an ethic of responsibility. Pascal's wager weighs the scale too heavily in favor of ultimate ends by positing an infinite reward for preferring the ultimate over the here and now. But the scales can be tipped in the same direction by attaching too low a probability to imminent (or immanent) success. As Tocqueville recognized, it is rather too easy to dissuade oneself from attempting that which is merely difficult but not necessarily impossible.

He's paid to write this stuff?

Alain Duhamel, I mean. Shouldn't a pundit deliver more than a primer? I think he's actually on holiday in Switzerland. This column seems to have been written by a robot. Maybe there's an iPhone app: "Phone-It-In," for the pundit in a hurry. And Libé actually publishes this garbage.

Diam's and Islam

On the controversy over the rapper's "conversion":

Les stars médiatiques devenues baptistes ou Témoins de Jéhovah sont pléthore. Ces conversions font souvent sourire, sans provoquer une telle bronca. "On n'en aurait pas parlé si elle s'était convertie à une autre religion, assure Meriem, une fan de Diam's, Française de 27 ans d'origine marocaine aux allures de cadre supérieur, présente au Transbordeur de Lyon. Ici, une femme voilée est une femme soumise, alors que c'est un choix personnel, un dialogue avec Dieu." Surfant sur l'idée que les signes chrétiens sont mieux acceptés en France, Diam's a placé sur son nouvel album, une chanson, Lili, qui plaide pour l'autorisation du voile à l'école en mettant en scène le mal-être d'une lycéenne convertie : "Elle n'est pas laïque cette nation/Elle craint juste la contagion."

Neglect pop culture at your peril. It's often where social ferment first appears.

"Des immigrés parfaits"

Tahar Ben Jelloun. A must read.

"Immense déception"

Read Alain Juppé's account of Copenhagen. This is about as frank as a politician ever gets.

And then there's this from Laurent Joffrin:

"Quelle chienlit ! ... Il est manifestement plus facile de sauver la finance que de sauver la planète."

But The New York Times plays it cool. After highlighting Obama's characterization of the "agreement" as an "historic breakthrough," John Broder writes: "The agreement addresses many of the issues that leaders came here to settle. But it has left many of the participants in the climate talks unhappy, from the Europeans, who now have the only binding carbon control regime in the world, to the delegates from the poorest nations, who objected to being left out of the critical negotiations."

Perhaps it's just differences of tone and house style, but I think it goes deeper (cf. the Washington Post). Climate change just doesn't have salience as an issue in the United States, even in the columns of a liberal newspaper, let alone in the country at large. The failure of the negotiations means that we will now be spared the spectacle of a ratification debate in the Senate, but it's not hard to imagine the rhetoric that would have been forthcoming.

In the meantime, Obama's reputation in Europe, hitherto almost inoxydable, has, I think, taken a severe hit. There was open dismay at the tenor of his speech, and his decision to negotiate separately with China, India, Brazil, and South Africa may have made pragmatic sense but alienated Europe, whose friendship he needs. Obama's political instincts are sometimes puzzling. Man does not live by charisma alone, and charisma, in any case, is not a renewable resource.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oy!

"C'est catastrophique pour le climat et pour la gouvernance mondiale."


Télézapping : C'est la cata... la catastrophe
by lemondefr

UPDATE: OK, maybe not a catastrophe, just a wet squib.

Lamont and Laurent on Discrimination

Michèle Lamont and Eloi Laurent write:

Study after study after study shows that discrimination against minorities is massive in the labor market, in the workplace, in dealing with the police, in gaining access to nightclubs, etc. French anti-segregation and anti-discrimination policies are simply not working, and no amount of grand rhetoric about “national identity” can change that.
The felicity of the French model, so often contrasted with the American one, has always been the inclusion of the downtrodden through active state intervention. It’s time for this grand nation to revisit its social contract.

Compassionate Conservatism Comes to France

Jean-François Copé, who thinks about becoming president whether he's shaving, showering, or moonlighting in corporate law, is thinking of taking up the "compassionate conservatism" theme. Apparently he's under the impression that it was invented by the British Tories. Or maybe he just wants everyone to forget that it was George W. Bush's campaign theme in 2000: that worked out well, didn't it?

Copé's operative word is fraternité. This is just a variation on the theme of "politics of presence." See my previous post, with its reference to Pierre Rosanvallon's discussion.

Chirac Mis en Examen

Jacques Chirac has been mis en examen by Judge Jacques Gazeaux. For those not versed in French legal niceties:

En France, la mise en examen (terme juridique remplaçant inculpation depuis 1993) est une compétence exclusive du juge d'instruction. Elle vise la personne contre laquelle il existe des indices graves ou[1] concordants rendant vraisemblable qu'elle ait pu participer, comme auteur ou complice, à la commission d'une infraction (article 80-1 du code de procédure pénale[2]). Si tel n'est pas le cas, une personne peut être placée sous le statut de témoin assisté.

Fair Play

The UMP really ought to consider nominating footballer Nicolas Anelka to run EPAD or something. He shares the party's view of le bouclier fiscal:

"When you have lived and played abroad, you can never come back to France," he said. "France has a problem with money...
"In Spain and in England, people have big cars and do not hide them. The French hide what they own... That's not my mentality. When you're a football player and you have dreamed of buying a beautiful car, a beautiful house, you do it."
He was asked if he missed anything about France. "Nothing. You can't do what you like in France. I don't want to play football and pay 50 percent tax on what I earn. If some people are shocked, too bad. France is a hypocrite country."

The Litigious French

It is a common refrain in France that America is a litigious society, but rarely if ever* does an elected official in the US sue another elected official for name-calling, as Eric Besson has now done:

Eric Besson a décidé de porter plainte contre Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, membre de la direction du PS, et Gérard Mordillat, romancier et cinéaste.

If only Obama could sue all the Republicans who have compared him to Hitler and Stalin for advocating health care reform. Camba merely likened Besson to Pierre Laval, who really isn't in the same league with those two.

* True, William Westmoreland sued CBS for libel, but he wasn't elected.

No Insider Trading at EADS

After a lengthy investigation, the AMF has cleared 17 EADS employees of insider trading charges. The "moralization of capitalism" has its limits:

“It’s a major failure, and it puts the AMF in a difficult spot” said Stéphane Bonifassi, a lawyer in Paris who specializes in financial crimes, referring to the regulator by its French initials. “It raises the question whether, when it comes to insider trading, we are not very efficient in Europe about sanctions.”

Sarkozy of the North

President Sarkozy is treating Copenhagen as he has treated other international forums, as a good place to make headlines back home. "We are not here for a colloquium on the climate," he proclaimed. "We are here to make decisions." But this characteristic bit of Sarkozian rhetoric--the false dichotomization of talk and action, the personalization of the latter, the implication that heads of state are free to act at will, heedless of all prior constraints and competing interests, which must inevitably bow before their supreme arbitrages--is unlikely to impress China or the United States, which are at loggerheads over the issue of "measurement, verification, and reporting."

If Sarkozy has anything to offer on this score, he has kept it to himself. But by presenting himself as the Green Paladin, he "triangulates" the Socialists, caught between the UMP, which under Sarko has wrapped itself in the ecological mantle, and Europe Écologie, which has emerged as the environmental party to be reckoned with on the left. Needling Obama adds icing to the cake, and if the Copenhagen talks fail, Sarkozy has already designated his scapegoat. It's all working out rather nicely, even the joint arrival of Sarkozy and Merkel, who walked down the ecological aisle together, letting bygones be bygones.

As the neocons used to say, America is Mars, Europe is Venus, and apparently green politics is just a continuation of war and peace by other means. China, meanwhile, insists on remaining inscrutable--and jealous of its sovereignty. In post-sovereign Europe this smacks of archaism, whereas in imperial America it is perceived as a threat.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ads

Amazon has made it easy to include ads in blog posts, so I'm afraid you're going to see more of them. The blog is a labor of love, but that doesn't mean I have to be a love slave. A little remuneration for my time would be nice. You'd be doing me a favor if you visited our sponsors from time to time, and you might even find something you like. Avoid the Christmas rush and shop where you get your French news.

And in This Corner ...

I confess I didn't have the patience to read all of this, but if a slugfest between heavyweight professional provocateurs is your thing, here is Badiou vs. Finkielkraut on the national identity question.

Friends in High Places

Via Causeur I learn that Carla Bruni has a homeless friend, Denis, with whom she chats about "books and music." As it happens, I've just finished translating the chapter on "the politics of presence" in Pierre Rosanvallon's latest book, La légitimité démocratique. There couldn't be a better illustration of Rosanvallon's point than this little anecdote about the First Lady. Here is Rosanvallon:

Politics can end up being subsumed by representation. In a democracy of presence, the procedural and therefore programmatic aspect of democracy recedes into the background, and there is a tendency for “democratic representation” to be whittled down to little more than a way in which people can express their concerns to their leaders. ... It is not simply “identity politics” in the usual sense: giving minorities a chance to make their voices heard or to promote their own projects and demands. At a deeper level, what is involved is the construction of a vast mirror of civil society. It is as if the only purpose of government were to eliminate everything that is harsh or oppressive in daily life. In this sense, the politics of presence serves as a kind of social exorcism. It has a cathartic dimension. By inducing leaders to take notice of misfortune, it seeks implicitly to make misfortune more tolerable.

As François-Xavier Ajavon says, "On reste pantois devant cette orgie miniature de communication élyséenne, bien plus glaçante, en vérité, que l’actuelle vague de froid."

Laurent on Growth and the Environment

Here. Eloi Laurent, a leading French expert on the economics of the environment, looks at la croissance et la décroissance. (Ignore the typos in the piece: Le Monde's proofreaders seem to be asleep at the switch, but perhaps they'll wake up as the day wears on.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raoult Distinguishes Himself Yet Again



Exasperating fellow, M. Raoult.

Microsoft Surrenders, EU Accepts

So now you'll have your choice of browser in Windows 7--if you live in Europe. Of course you always did have your choice of browser, but you didn't necessarily know you had a choice.

Political theorists may want to chew over the paradox of users being forced to exercise their freedom by the nanny (super)state. As an old techie, however, I want to register a complaint. For years, my first move in acquiring a new computer was to download Firefox. But the latest version of Firefox has a massive memory leak: I have to shut it down every few days as it slowly gobbles up all of my computer's memory. Has anyone told the EU? It's so annoying, I may even revert to IE or capitulate to one of the other empires (really, I ask you, is the greater good served by paying obeisance to Google or Apple rather than Microsoft? Opera and Konqueror users, please remain silent.) The anarchists among us will no doubt recommend Lynx. But seriously, this is the problem with the EU: it fights wars that aren't worth winning.

What's This All About?

Beats me.

Pince-sans-rire

I don't know what's stranger in the clip posted here: the regal set in which Thierry Ardisson sits enthroned before his retinue, like a monarch or an old-fashioned président de la République, or Valérie Pécresse, who is obliged to sit through Stéphane Guillon's routine like a stone. It's truly bizarre: Ardisson the entertainer gives himself the airs of a de Gaulle, while the minister, who has chosen to appear on a variety show in order to appear like a regular gal, is sadistically portrayed as a humorless sap while pummeled with humor of a singularly aggressive sort.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cohen Makes Sense


A very astute comment by Élie Cohen, which puts in perspective Sarkozy's claims to have outwitted the Brits and taken over the EU.

Maurice Allais Pleads for ... Protectionism

"Belief" in the dogma of free trade is sometimes taken as the quintessential credential of the economist--by people in a hurry. Those with more patience for subtleties know that the truth is actually more complicated. But Maurice Allais, France's only Nobel laureate in economics, isn't interested in the subtleties either. He offers a rather Manichean defense of protectionism: there is good free trade (between countries of roughly equal wage levels) and bad free trade (between countries of very different wage levels). And he doesn't even mention the Stolper-Samuelson theorem. Nor is he interested in the new trade theory (of Krugman et al.). Still, there is a likable cantankerousness about his argument of a sort that used to be characteristic of French economics.

As for the dogma itself, I am reminded that Paul Samuelson, who died on Sunday, was once asked by the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam to name one theory in the social sciences that was at once nontrivial and true. It took Samuelson a couple of years to come up with an answer: the theory of comparative advantage. That it was true, he said, is a matter of simple logic; that it is nontrivial follows from the fact that many intelligent people fail to understand it even after it has been patiently explained to them over and over.

About Those Baseball Caps ...

La secrétaire d'Etat chargée de la famille et de la solidarité, Nadine Morano, a déclaré, lundi soir 14 décembre, vouloir du jeune musulman français "qu'il ne parle pas verlan", lors d'un débat sur l'identité nationale à Charmes (Vosges). "Moi, ce que je veux du jeune musulman, quand il est français, c'est qu'il aime son pays, c'est qu'il trouve un travail, c'est qu'il ne parle pas le verlan, qu'il ne mette pas sa casquette à l'envers", a expliqué la secrétaire d'Etat à un jeune homme qui l'interrogeait sur la compatibilité de l'islam avec la République.


Yeah, Nadine, I hear where you're coming from. It annoys me, too, when I see young guys wearing baseball caps backwards. Of course most of them, in this part of the world, are native-born Americans who can probably trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower, for all I know, so I'm not sure what this has to do with le jeune musulman français, but I can assure you that even if all the young Muslim men in France started wearing berets tomorrow, you'd still have a problem with high unemployment in the banlieues, crime, deteriorating housing, high dropout rates, etc. You see, that cap is a sign, the verlan is a sign, the lack of a job is a sign--and signs are not causes. For causes, you have to look a little deeper. I would nominate you for the political connerie of the year prize, but I know that you've taken to suing people who make negative comments about your intelligence on the Web, so I've got to be careful.

A Billion Here, a Billion There

President Sarkozy announced yesterday that 11 billion euros from the Grand Emprunt will go to universities (4 billion of that in the form of unprecedented "endowments," fonds propres) and 1 billion to the digitization of French books (closing the door to Google's offer to do the job for free, but with strings attached).

That's a lot of money for education and culture, but in my view it's money well spent. In fact, it's absolutely the right thing to do. The university move will be controversial, because it means that Sarko is now putting money where his mouth was, calling for the creation of four "national champion" universities, to become "the best in the world," as the president modestly put it. To be sure, such virile language is more appropriate to the soccer field than to the campus, but Sarkozy is right to conclude that equality among universities is a fiction that not only cannot be sustained but has never been more than a thin veil over a squalid reality. Concentrating resources is, alas, a bitter necessity, and Sarkozy has made the right choice. Good consequences are sure to follow. So are protests and complaints. But as he has done in every other policy domain, Sarkozy has here made a strategic choice that will divide the opposition, win over some of its most ambitious members, and leave the losers scattered in helpless disarray. To bow to reality while at the same time routing the enemy is the essence of realpolitik, a game at which Sarkozy has proven to be very good indeed.

Of course in tinkering with the universities, there is always the possibility of setting off some uncontrollable student reaction. My guess, however, is that the failure of the resistance thus far to deflect Sarkozy from his course has left much of the rank-and-file dispirited and resigned to getting on with it.

Join the Resistance ...

... with a new video game, which allows you to play at fighting Nazis in Paris. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fronde!

The fronde on administrative reform continues with this news flash:

Le Sénat a adopté lundi, à la surprise générale, un amendement communiste supprimant l'article unique du projet de loi sur le redécoupage électoral. Le gouvernement a immédiatement demandé une seconde délibération sur ce texte. (AFP)

Trouble in the NPA

With polls showing the NPA drawing only 4% versus 7% for the Front de Gauche, Olivier Besancenot has had to face questions from his own comrades. Some will see a "leadership crisis" in this weekend's events, despite official denials and a final vote of affirmation. But one thing is clear: the wind is no longer in the party's sails, in contrast to earlier this year, when all the breezes seemed favorable.

What Copé Meant

When Copé said (see earlier post) that "the Internet is a danger to democracy," it was presumably this sort of revelation that he had in mind. It may also be what Rachida Dati had in mind when she said that "she didn't seek to attract the attention of the media."

Press Conference



Mon Dieu! What got into Laurent Joffrin? After getting the back of Sarko's hand for asking an impertinent question at the president's first press conference, he plays the role of lackey in the second--and doesn't even play it very well, mumbling and bumbling his way through to a whimpering finish.

As for Sarko's good humor, maybe Joffrin is looking good compared to Marc-Olivier Fogiel, the current journalistic object of the president's wrath.

Political Humor Prize

Reported by one of the contestants:

Pour la première sélection du Prix 2010 (les deux prochaines auront lieu en mars et en juin), le jury a retenu les meilleures petites phrase collectées depuis le 1er juillet dernier:

- Patrick Balkany, député-maire de Levallois-Perret: "Je suis l'homme le plus honnête du monde".

- Rachida Dati, députée UMP européenne: "Je n'ai jamais cherché à attirer l'attention des médias".

- Laurent Fabius, député PS: "Je ne suis pas une pom-pom girl de DSK".

- Claude Goasguen, député-maire UMP du XVIe arrondissement de Paris: "Une chose est sûre, ce ne sont pas nos suppléants qui vont nous pousser à nous faire vacciner contre la grippe A".

- Philippe Séguin, premier président de la Cour des comptes: "Ce n'est pas parce que les caisses sont vides qu'elles sont inépuisables".

Une mention spéciale a été attribuée par le jury à François Goulard, député-maire UMP de Vannes pour sa déclaration: "François Fillon a tellement de qualités qu'il mériterait d'être Premier ministre".

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Death of Paul Samuelson

One of the great economists of the past century has died. Funny to learn of it from a French source, when he lived not far from where I do, but such are the ways of communication in the modern world--a connectivity that Samuelson would have been the first to appreciate and no doubt to theorize.

MIT announcement. And Paul Krugman, on "a truly great man."

And from the Times obituary:

His speeches and his voluminous writing had a lucidity and bite not usually found in academic technicians. He tried to give his economic pronouncements a “snap at the end,” he said, “like Mark Twain.” When women began complaining about career and salary inequities, for example, he said in their defense, “Women are men without money.”

The Progressive Right?

And if the Right became the party of progressivism and modernity? If the Left were permanently ringardisée? Could it be happening in Germany? (article in German)

A Second Score for Copé

Copé makes my bêtisier today for a second time:

The legislation will not be based on from France's law of laicité, or secularism, he said. It will draw on two arguments: the protection of women's equality and public safety. The burqa, as it is popularly called in France, has nothing to do with religion, said Copé. "It is about extremists who are testing the limits of the Republic," he said on Europe1 radio.

The point on public safety, Copé said, springs from the fact that society requires people to show their faces. Schools, for example, should not be expected to hand children over after classes to people whose faces they cannot see.


Quote of the Day

«Et comment est-ce que vous prenez le fait d'être un symbole, parce que Madame de Fontenay vous a présentée comme ça: première Miss Beur, je ne sais pas ce que ça veut dire, mais en tout cas elle était fière...?» Et la nouvelle Miss France de répondre: «Je suis française, moi, hein. Je n’ai aucune origine. C'est juste... mes parents ont trouvé ce prénom joli, avec une jolie signification.» En effet, Malika veut dire «Reine» en arabe.

(h/t Kirk; for more on the reception of Miss France, see here.)

Profundity of the Day

“The Internet is a danger for democracy,” said Jean-François Copé, parliamentary chief for the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, in a recent radio interview.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

JJSS-VGE Debate

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr


Here's another historical clip. Since the name of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber came up yesterday, this caught my eye. Once again, one is struck by the tone and quality of the debate, which it would be difficult to match today.

Mitterrand on Socialism

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr


Thanks to Laurent Bouvet for pointing out this clip. Laurent notes the degradation of political language that separates now from then. Whatever you think of Mitterrand's record in office, you have to credit his rhetorical skill.

The State Will Support Private Universities

The state will contract with various private higher educational institutions, including Instituts catholiques, in support of their programs.

I am curious about the rationale for this decision, which is not discussed in the article cited. There is not enough money to run the public universities. Is the funding of private competitors intended to alleviate pressure on the public system or to increase it by siphoning off not only funds but students? Is there a strategy here, or merely a provocation? Or is it just that the government would rather appear to be doing something than doing nothing? "Starve the beast?" Is that the strategy?

Guaino Defends History

Henri Guaino, the president's plume, signed a petition opposing the government's policy of making the course in histoire-géo optional in terminale S. He was apparently rebuked for this at a cabinet meeting by Raymond Soubie. Guaino replied that he preferred standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Alain Finkielkraut and Max Gallo to signing on with Luc Châtel.

Here is material for some French Bob Woodward's next book. The momentous clash of titans at the very highest level of government--this is the stuff of stirring journalistic best-sellers. And what divides our titans? Not whether to stimulate the economy or restrain the deficit. Not whether to increase the French contingent in Afghanistan or sell assault vessels to the Russians. But whether to teach France's best and brightest history in their last year of high school.

The General must be turning over in his grave.

Défense de l'identité nationale

The ultimate symbol of French national identity--Johnny Hallyday--was said by his impresario to have been the victim of a vile "massacre" by a physician known as "the surgeon to the stars." This attack has now elicited a riposte by two masked hoodlums, who allegedly assaulted Dr. Stéphane Delajoux last night in Paris. And so the debate on national identity has taken a rather more muscular turn.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Diversity and the PS

One way for the Socialist Party to respond to the right's move to occupy the ground of "identity" would be to open up its own leadership ranks to greater diversity. But that doesn't seem to be happening. Why not? Is it because the left buys the right's argument that "the French people" are too anxious about their own identity to meet the challenge? Or is it because the PS' own internal power struggles are such a diversion that it is incapable of thinking strategically? I favor the latter interpretation and find some support for my view in this article.

Pivot Slices Through the Gordian Knot

Identity crisis? What identity crisis? Just protect le vin beaujolais, symbole de l'identité française! Who says? No less an authority than Bernard Pivot, almost a symbol of French identity unto himself.

More Identity Talk

From the Institut Montaigne.

"The Gorbachev of the CGT"

Bernard Thibault has been re-elected to a 3-year term as head of the CGT. He is, according to Bernard Vivier, "the Gorbachev" of that trade-union confederation, once close to the Communist Party. Well, that might be a bit much. He hasn't torn down any walls or signed any strategic arms treaties, but he has, like Gorbachev, shown himself willing to negotiate with "the enemy." And like Gorbachev, the representative of what Reagan called "the Evil Empire" who became rather too chummy with "the Great Satan" for some of the generals back home, Thibault is not uncontested within his own bailiwick. Before being re-elected by a comfortable majority (a feat that eluded Gorbachev), he was booed for his alleged coziness with le pouvoir and in particular with Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he seems to get on rather well.

I've never met Thibault, only seen him on TV. But I did meet one of his predecessors, Henri Krasucki, who came to Harvard once and told such thrilling tales of deportation, resistance, les 75,000 fusillés, et toute la ribambelle that one never got down to the brass tacks of union politics as practiced by the pre-Thibault CGT and whether le bilan était globalement positif or not. Which was probably just fine with M. Krasucki.

UPDATE: For Eric Dupin's analysis of the changes in the CGT under Thibault, see here.

My Contribution to the Counter-Debate on Identity

As I mentioned yesterday, a "counter-debate" on French national identity will be held today at the University of Nantes. Contributions have been solicited from various people outside of France. Here is mine:


De quoi a-t-on peur? C'est la première question qui se pose quand on regarde le tohu-bohu qui passe pour le grand débat sur l'identité nationale lancé par le ministre Eric Besson, dont le portefeuille démesuré confond l'identité, l'intégration, et l'immigration. Car en règle général on ne s'interroge pas sur son identité quand on est sûr d'en avoir une. La crise de l'identité n'afflige que l'adolescent ou la nation qui font face à un avenir incertain, donc effrayant, et qui ne savent pas se résoudre à un certain nombre d'adaptations nécessaires.


À lire la contribution à ce débat du président de la République (Le Monde, tribune, 9 déc.), on pourrait penser que, contrairement à ce que je viens d'affirmer, le peuple français, tout comme le peuple suisse, sait exactement où il veut aller. La peur de l'avenir se situerait, selon le président, entièrement du côté de l'élite, qui ne fait pas confiance au bon peuple. Cette élite souffre, dit-il, « d'une méfiance viscérale de tout ce qui vient du peuple […] ce mépris du peuple […] finit toujours mal ». Étrange raisonnement que celui du président, qui, tout en affirmant que le bon peuple a bien saisi les contours de l'identité nationale en rejetant toute expression trop voyante ou ostentatoire de l'appartenance religieuse, exclut du soi-disant consensus identitaire tous ceux qui justement ne partagent pas ce jugement. Étrange procédure, qui consiste à construire une identité à partir d'une série de dichotomies : peuple/élite, accueillants/accueillis, France du oui/France du non, etc.


Il faut dire que tout n'est pas à rejeter dans ce texte. Il parle, par exemple, de respect de l'autre. Mais il y a, me semble-t-il, une certaine asymétrie dans l'idée de respect telle qu'elle se trouve déployée ici. « Respecter ceux qui arrivent, dit le président, c'est leur permettre de prier […] Respecter ceux qui accueillent, c'est s'efforcer de ne pas les heurter, de ne pas les choquer, c'est en respecter les valeurs, les convictions, les lois, les traditions, et les faire – au moins en partie – siennes ». D'un côté donc on permet, on a le bon vouloir d'accorder, de grâce. De l'autre on a le devoir d'accepter, de subir, de se soumettre, de ne pas choquer, de se montrer humble et discret.


En fait, l'idée force de ce texte, c'est la discrétion, c'est la non-ostentation, pour employer un mot qui figure déjà dans la décision sur le port du voile à l'école. Tout se passe comme si la minorité déjà trop visible pour certains serait contrainte à réparer cette visibilité offensante, provocante, ou agressive par un effort de discrétion, de dissimulation, de dénégation de soi-même. À ce prix, et à ce prix seulement, le peuple accueillant lui permettra de se survivre à elle-même, comme une sorte de fantôme, en prenant désormais « les valeurs, les convictions, les lois, et les traditions » de ses hôtes pour siennes propres. Mais ce n'est pas là la tolérance, c'est la conquête. Et l'idée que la coexistence passe par la conquête bafoue justement l'un des héritages les plus chers de l'âge des Lumières et donc des valeurs, convictions, et traditions de la France : la tolérance. « Rien ne serait pire que le déni », dit le président, en se référant à ce qu'il prend, lui, pour les vœux de la majorité. Mais cela vaut autant, sinon plus, pour les aspirations de la minorité. Il ne faut pas les nier, les bafouer, les reléguer à se cacher derrière une humilité imposée.


Two Presidents on "Identity"

Obama:

And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
...

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached -- their fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.



Sarkozy (Le Monde, tribune, Dec. 9):

Les peuples d'Europe sont accueillants, sont tolérants, c'est dans leur nature et dans leur culture. Mais ils ne veulent pas que leur cadre de vie, leur mode de pensée et de relations sociales soient dénaturés. Et le sentiment de perdre son identité peut être une cause de profonde souffrance. La mondialisation contribue à aviver ce sentiment

La mondialisation rend l'identité problématique parce que tout en elle concourt à l'ébranler, et elle en renforce en même temps le besoin parce que plus le monde est ouvert, plus la circulation et le brassage des idées, des hommes, des capitaux, des marchandises sont intenses, et plus on a besoin d'ancrage et de repères, plus on a besoin de sentir que l'on n'est pas seul au monde. Ce besoin d'appartenance, on peut y répondre par la tribu ou par la nation, par le communautarisme ou par la République.

L'identité nationale c'est l'antidote au tribalisme et au communautarisme. C'est pour cela que j'ai souhaité un grand débat sur l'identité nationale. Cette sourde menace que tant de gens dans nos vieilles nations européennes sentent, à tort ou à raison, peser sur leur identité, nous devons en parler tous ensemble de peur qu'à force d'être refoulé ce sentiment ne finisse par nourrir une terrible rancœur.

"The Debate" Comes to le 93

The great debate on national identity came to Seine-Saint-Denis yesterday. The prefect, under whose auspices the official debate is organized by order of the Minister of Immigration, Integration, and National Identity, admonished the audience: "En laissant la parole à la salle, Nacer Meddah, préfet de Seine-Saint-Denis, conclut: «J'espère que les échanges seront emprunts de dignité.»" Well, anyway that's the way Libé saw fit to print his words, which I suspect were rather empreints de dignité. For the rest, you can read the account in the linked article. At least one member of the audience came away happy: Eric Raoult. He was so pleased, in fact, that he wants to repeat the exercise annually: "Le député UMP de Seine-Saint-Denis et maire du Raincy a trouvé le débat «très beau, très émouvant». Tellement fertile, en fait, qu'il faudrait selon lui en tenir «un par an»."

The Political Variety Show Continues



To follow up yesterday's smash hit by the UMP, here's Europe-Ecologie. What's next? Aubry and Hamon as Rogers and Astaire? Besancenot, Royal, and Bayrou as The Rainbow Coalition? Estrosi, Vanneste, and Besson as Les Trois Mages?

Unfriendly Skies

Another Rio to Paris flight ran into trouble over the Atlantic:

In an attempt to "shed light" on the crash of Flight AF447, which went missing while flying over the Atlantic, the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) said it was looking into what triggered Flight AF445 to issue a mayday signal flying the same route on 29 November. "We cannot ignore such a coincidence," said a spokesman.

The A330 airbus – the same model as the aeroplane which went down on 1 June – was four hours into its flight to the French capital when it hit heavy turbulence, an Air France statement said. "[The aircraft] performed a standard descent in order to avoid a zone of severe turbulence and get back to a less turbulent level of flight."

The airline insists the emergency signal was not sent because the pilots believed they were in danger.

But, according to French media reports, the jet descended by far more than 300 metres – which is the standard procedure for avoiding turbulence – causing panic on board. Le Figaro reported that the plane plunged from 11,000 metres to 9,300 metres and quoted one passenger as writing afterwards that the aircraft appeared to be "no longer under control".


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Contre-Débat

Goulven Boudic of the University of Nantes is organizing a "counter-debate" on national identity. This is to be an international forum, with participation solicited not only from Nantes but around the world. I have submitted a short written intervention, which I will post here tomorrow.

Le Défi Américain

Dominique Nora reports on the "cleantech" revolution in Silicon Valley. I was struck by this sentence in the review: "Chez nous, l'écologie, c'est surtout la loi. Là- bas, c'est des gens." It takes us back to the 50s and le défi américain. That was of course Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber's notion that the Yanks had found the high road to modernity and that Europe had better follow the same route or risk oblivion. Then as now, perhaps un juste milieu would have served both sides. And it's not clear that Europe--with its lead in wind and nuclear power and research on solar power--actually lags in technology, even as it leads in regulation. But the American entrepreneurial machine is a formidable generator of energy and shouldn't be underestimated. And technology has often proven to be a less painful means of altering human behavior than government intervention--albeit, to be sure, for the worse as well as for the better.

Speechless



And these folks made fun of Ségo's Web site? (h/t Charles Bremner)

Bonus Tax

The "moralization of capitalism" has been given a symbolic fillip by Sarkozy's decision to tax banker bonuses 50% this year only. Since Britain took this step previously, Sarko feels safe in following suit: he doesn't risk losing financial services business to the City. On the other hand, he also promised yesterday "never" to reconsider his broadening of the tax shield for the wealthy. It seems that the moralization of capitalism is sometimes a deterrent to excess and at other times a disincentive to animal spirits. Trust the government to know which is which.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winock contra Sarkozy

Historian Michel Winock looks at Sarkozy's Le Monde column with historical lenses:

Ce qui déconcerte, c’est que toute la première partie du propos présidentiel porte sur la votation helvétique sur les minarets. Il fustige ceux qui ont critiqué ce verdict des urnes : « Réactions excessives » et « méfiance viscérale pour tout ce qui vient du peuple. La référence au peuple, c’est déjà, pour certains, le commencement du populisme. Mais c’est en devenant sourd aux cris du peuple, indifférent à ses difficultés, à ses sentiments, à ses aspirations, que l’on nourrit le populisme. Ce mépris du peuple, car c’est une forme de mépris, finit toujours mal. »

Un pareil discours aurait pu sortir, il est déjà sorti,de la bouche du général Boulanger en 1888-1889. Les adversaires du populisme, n’en déplaise à Nicolas Sarkozy, n’ont aucun mépris du peuple ; ils méprisent les démagogues qui jouent avec les « sentiments », les émotions, la peur répandue dans les couches populaires, qu’ils attisent de leur mieux en dénonçant les boucs émissaires. Qui a vu ces affiches du parti populiste helvétique représentant des minarets sous la forme d’une batterie de missiles plantés sur le drapeau suisse a compris la manière de la xénophobie agissante. Ce peuple, cette majorité électorale aurait-elle forcément raison, toujours raison ? Le « peuple » n’a-t-il pas acclamé Mussolini, chéri Hitler, pleuré à la mort de Staline ? Ce n’est avoir du mépris ni pour le peuple ni pour le suffrage universel que de s’opposer aux prophètes de malheur, aux tribuns racistes, aux ennemis de la démocratie.

Money Matters

Fitch has downgraded Greek sovereign debt to BBB. What will happen if Greece defaults? The EU has a no bailout clause, but you have to wonder what might happen.

Seuil

Anybody know what's really going on at Les Éditions du Seuil? Thierry Pech quit abruptly; Olivier Bétourné is now taking over. Feel free to share gossip and rumors.

The History Question

Will the proposed downgrading of histoire-géo in terminale S create (or reproduce?-Ed.) a generation of historically illiterate leaders, as critics claim? Or will it establish a new equilibrium in the lycées, as proponents contend? Here is a rundown of the debate.

Universities

French universities are often compared unfavorably to their American counterparts. No selection at entrance leads to high failure rates. Teaching is underfunded, and professors receive little support. The Université de Picardie is not Harvard. True, but neither is East Podunk Community College, which is probably a better comparison:

Low-income students are increasingly forced to attend inexpensive but under-resourced, non-selective universities and community colleges, where student results are often astoundingly bad. The average graduation rate at four-year colleges in the bottom half of the Barron’s taxonomy of admissions selectivity is only 45 percent. And that’s just the average–at scores of colleges, graduation rates are below 30 percent, and wide disparities persist for students of color. Along with community colleges, where only one in three students earns a degree, these low-performing institutions educate the large majority of Pell Grant recipients. Less than 40 percent of low-income students who start college get a degree of any kind within six years.

...
Why is the quality question so obscure, when the cost question is so well-known? In part because it has been masked by the American higher education system’s unchallenged reputation as the best in the world. Unfortunately for the average collegian, this notion is entirely driven by the top 10 percent of institutions and the students who attend them–Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the like. Much of the rest is a sea of mediocrity, or worse.

Since French universities must admit more than 60 percent of each age cohort, their pool includes many students who fit the profile of community college students in the US. Sarkozy and Pécresse should bear this in mind the next time they ogle the Shanghai rankings.

Bottoms Up!

The fesses-tering obsession of the French revealed: the secret of French national identity can now be told. Hint: it isn't culinary, it's cul-inary. (h/t Polly, Bill).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Inside the Elysée

Two views of the factors behind the departure of Emmanuelle Mignon, the ascendancy of Claude Guéant, and the status of Henri Guaino: Le Monde and nonfiction.fr.

Sarkobilan

Journal announcement:

Modern and Contemporary France has just published a special issue on the The Sarkozy Presidency... I believe this is the first collection of articles to offer a mid-term 'bilan' of the presidency and I hope it will be of interest for both research and teaching purposes. Guest edited by Philippe Marličre and Joseph Szarka, it contains articles on ideology, political strategy, economics, media and European policy and can be consulted at:
www.informaworld.com/cmcf
The introduction is also available to non-subscribers as a free download.

Rebirth of the UDF

Hervé de Charette has quit the UMP in order to revive the flagging fortunes of the Giscardian party, the UDF, which had been all but absorbed by the UMP. The national identity debate seems to have been the last straw:

«Quand je vois qu’on en est à l’extrémité de se passionner pour cette affaire des minarets, j’ai honte», a-t-il dit. Selon lui, «on ne peut pas refuser de laisser leur place et leur libre-choix à ceux qui ont une religion, même si elle n’est pas la mienne ou la vôtre».


This comes on the same day that Sarkozy declared that instead of condemning the Swiss vote on minarets, one ought to try to understand what the Swiss people meant by voting as they did. His answer: they were rejecting "ostentation" in the display of difference and refusing a "denaturing" of their way of life by alien influences. Ostentation and denaturing: those are arguments that apply not only to minarets but also to McDonald's, Toyota, and Lady Gaga. Of course couscous-merguez, le canard laqué, and presidential appearances before the joint chambers of the legislature are as French as Obélix and Astérix. If nothing else, the Sarkozy presidency has made us accustomed to l'arbitraire in all domains.

Here is Sarkozy's full essay.

Pantheon Controversy: Camus's Daughter Speaks Out

Here:

« Se lancer sur l'idée de récupération et pouvoir déverser toute cette haine contre le président, j'ai vu ça, ça a été extrêmement violent. J'ai vu mon père transformé en missile anti-Sarkozy, ce qui est aussi une forme de récupération finalement.

D'abord, moi, je suis une citoyenne républicaine, et le président de la République a été élu démocratiquement. Pour moi, il représente mon pays. Je respecte le président de la République en tant que représentant de mon pays. Je tiens à la démocratie.

Après tout, qu'un homme d'Etat ait l'idée de se tourner vers Camus, c'est déjà étonnant. Les hommes de pouvoir n'aiment pas Camus habituellement.

Je préfère pour le moment ne pas dire ce que j'en pense, parce que je trouve, une fois de plus, peut-être parce que je suis la fille de mon père, que les choses ne sont pas si simples.»

Monday, December 7, 2009

Le Roi des Cons



Would that life were so simple.

Trashissime

So it turns out, according to Charles Bremner, that the Miss France contest is not really about feminine pulchritude but rather about French national identity:

Part of the reason is nostalgia. Miss France symbolises a stable, rural golden age that figures in the collective imagination -- and which President Sarkozy sees as the key to French national identity. Miss France is supposed to carry French elegance to the four corners of the world but much of her job consists of travelling the country awarding prizes at agriculture shows and village fêtes.


The boss lady, Geneviève de Fontenay, is outspoken:

She does not mince her words, drawing a contrast between her wholesome pageant and the sexual exhibitionism of the age. "I have never shown off my fesses (bottom) and I will never do so," she said recently. (Her contestants' swimsuit parades are presumably for showing off character). Last summer, she took a swipe at Carla Bruni over her celebrated former love life and changing politics. Bruni, she said "sleeps left at home and on the right at the Elysée Palace, and embodies a 180 degree turn from former first ladies."


But there is also high-level commercial intrigue:

In the Saturday extravaganza, Fontenay denounced "Secret Story", a popular TV reality show, as "trashissime" -- ultra-trashy, and warned the new Miss France to stay away from it. The show in question is produced by Endemol France -- the same company which now owns Miss France. Her tension with Endemol explains why Fontenay was only allowed brief remarks in the ceremony.


Indeed, it seems that le banalissime and le trashissime have now merged to produce le dégueulassissime. And for the icing on the cake, there are allegations that the new MF was chosen for her Arab-sounding first name, Malika, even though she is actually une Française de souche.

Today there are claims on the internet that the contest was loaded in favour of Miss Normandy, partly because she has an Arab first name. Fontenay said before the contest that she hoped that a woman of Arab background would win one day. Miss Menard is, it turns out, pure Norman. Her parents just liked the foreign name.

The best of both worlds, quoi!