Sunday, October 24, 2010

La gauche, est-elle morale?

That is the title of a new book by Christophe Prochasson, who argues that an obsession with "technocratic" criteria of governance has alienated the Left from the moral core that ought to be at the heart of its politics.

I could not help thinking, as I read this review, of the debate between me and my critics over retirement reform. Which of us are taking the "moral" side and which the "technocratic?" At first glance, I might seem to exemplify the "technocratic" left, along with Strauss-Kahn, Rocard, and others who worry (too much?) about making sure that budgetary arithmetic is correct and that promises, when translated into numbers, add up. But perhaps it's too easy to indict us on that score. After all, there was a time when Mendès France embodied the moral conscience of the Left, and for Mendès, candor about fiscal realities was an essential part of left-wing morality. Indeed, Prochasson's distinction between the "moral" and the "technocratic" needs to be supplemented by another, between the "sentimental" and the "realistic." Sentiment is always against injustice, for example, even when its remedies seem likely to end in future injustices perhaps worse than the present ones.

To be sure, "realism" can be an alibi for conservatism, as the two great Alberts, Hirschman and Camus, pointed out long ago (Camus in his wartime editorials for Combat), Hirschman in a book somewhat overshadowed by his better-known works, The Rhetoric of Reaction.

1 comment:

FrédéricLN said...

""realism" can be an alibi for conservatism"

Sure, and a very honest point.

And sentimentalism can be a driver for progressive change.

But not every sentimentalism is that. The one that buys roses to make a gift may be; the one that pretends to make a gift and pretends to get roses for free, due to the generous intention, is not as progressive as that. It may be a mask for conservatism, too - conservatism with compassion...