Friday, December 4, 2009

Discretion

Esther Benbassa (h/t Susan Emanuel):

Avec son obsession des minarets, la Suisse n'innove guère. Jusqu'à la Révolution, en France, les juifs n'étaient autorisés à construire une synagogue qu'à condition qu'elle ne soit pas visible de l'extérieur et que le culte ne s'entende pas au dehors.

Yet Another Le Pen

Granddaughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, age 19, launches her political career.

Is the Vampire Dead?

Even those disappointed by the outcome of the 2007 presidential election could console themselves with one thing: Sarkozy had killed off the Front National. Or so went the conventional wisdom: by co-opting its favorite themes, xenophobia and insecurity, he had brought errant voters back into the fold of the respectable right. Even I allowed myself to believe this, although even at the time the logic seemed a bit peculiar: does one really discredit an ideology by adopting it? I suppose the idea was that the sulfurous issues would be buried by the avalanche of less questionable reforms with which they became associated.

But now it seems that the FN may be making a comeback. It isn't just the government's loss of control of the identity debate. It isn't just the Swiss vote on the minarets. It isn't just one UMP mayor's allusion to the ten million idlers who are supposedly living at the expense of la France qui se lève tôt. And it isn't just Marine Le Pen's clever exploitation of Frédéric Mitterrand's nomination. I think the source of the uneasiness lies much deeper. It's a reaction to the crisis and to the sense that at the midpoint of the Sarkozy presidency, not much has changed at the grass roots and it seems unlikely that much will change. So the old worries about decline, stagnation, and helplessness are resurfacing. In the midst of economic distress, workers' anxiety has not translated itself into working-class militancy, and the left has not managed to articulate a persuasive alternative to current policy. So what remains but the old demons? And against them the left seems to feel that it must raise the ghosts of once-vital ideals: in this editorial Laurent Joffrin manages to conjure up Valmy, the Commune, Jean Jaurès, and Jean Moulin in the space of a single sentence.

It's pitiful, really. And it's not Eric Besson's fault. He was just the Zeitgeist's useful idiot.

Credit Where No Credit Is Due

I wish the Shanghai rankings would just disappear. Sarkozy's ludicrous misuse of them is only the latest of reasons. But there are many others. The president has said that French universities suffer from a lack of evaluation of their results. If this is an example of how he proposes to use evaluation, taking credit for infinitesimal improvements in a dubious ranking for which his reform cannot in any case have been responsible, he would do better to roll dice.