Friday, June 3, 2011

The Left and Morality

La Gauche, est-elle morale? is the title of a book by Christophe Prochasson. I am reminded of it this morning by an article in Mediapart. I recall with some embarrassment that I once expressed skepticism about the book's thesis by suggesting that the "technocratic" concern with economic realism was itself a kind of morality, for which I took Dominique Strauss-Kahn as an example. This argument today makes me look rather foolish and Prochasson, by contrast, quite prescient. Here is Michel Noblecourt reviewing Prochasson:

On lira avec passion les pages qu'il consacre aux rapports entre la gauche et l'argent - « la critique morale s'est éloignée au profit du réalisme économique : une collectivité a besoin d'argent pour se développer, le nier reviendrait à l'appauvrir » -, la gauche et le corps - avec un Proudhon, adepte de la « foi conjugale » qui voit dans « l'esprit de luxure et de dévergondage » « la peste de la démocratie » -, la gauche et la mort, le suicide. Prochasson distribue des lauriers de « consciences morales » à ceux qui, tels Jaurès, Blum ou Mendès France, « cumulent les qualités suprêmes du militant : désintéressement, courage, intelligence et culture, allégeance aux principes, sacrifice ».


That passage about la foi conjugale and l'esprit de luxure et de dévergondage strikes home like an unerring arrow. In Mediapart he says this:


 Nous devons exiger de l'homme politique qu'il soit exemplaire, poli, courtois. Dans mon livre, je relaie la stupéfaction du rédacteur en chef de Réformeface à Pierre Moscovici qui menace de quitter un débat si on ne lui libère pas une place sur l'estrade séance tenante. Elle est révélatrice du malaise qu'engendre la discordance entre les comportements d'un homme de gauche et son éthique supposée.

A trivial incident, to be sure, but, as Prochasson says, a revelatory one. He adds:

Ce qui fait défaut à la gauche, c'est la fidélité à une morale ancienne. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, c'est Mitterrand en pire : il était patron du FMI, fréquente les patrons et travaille pour le capitalisme. Être socialiste ne va pas sans une certaine austérité morale. La démocratie est un monde gris, les couleurs, c'est pour d'autres domaines, pour le divertissement, pour le loisir. 

5 comments:

meshplate said...

I don't know enough about Pierre Moscovici to understand that anecdote. Can you elaborate please, Art?
Prochasson's position is on target, but will fall on stoney ground I believe.

Economic realism goes with, not against, the flow of the power of realized wealth against unrealized aspirations.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Moscovici was demonstrating arrogance.

meshplate said...

Thank you. In itself that's not a charge of that is particularly damning.

FrédéricLN said...

The "left" side in France is understood as the party of "the poorest against the wealthiest", "the people" against "the powerful ones", and so on. But the ruling part of the left (the networks, parties, people… that can become rulers of the country) have been, at least since Robespierre, people from the upper class, especially the urban "classe des affaires", say Wall Street (la "noblesse de robe", lawyers). That's surely not different from many countries including the United States.

Probably the condition for this coalition between a part of the urban upper class, and "the people", was that lawyers should advocate for the people, and voice their concerns.

When did that coalition between a part of the urban upper class, and "the people", break? Maybe when the left's lawyers were not interested any more into the workers' or pensioners' concerns, values, expectations. According to the "Voyage à l'intérieur du parti communiste" (1974), it was already the case then. Communist leaders they interviewed acknowledged that the working class had become "petit-bourgeois", has adopted conservative values. The "progressive" claim of the left slowly became an empty concern, with content-void policy orientations just intended to show a flag.

To be fair, the left still fights for the poorest ones (minimal income RMI during the Rocard administration, universal health insurance CMU during the Jospin administration). But the beneficiaries of such policies are a tiny minority, not an electoral majority. That's a matter of values, not alliances.

Workers, pensioners, now vote for the right (Sarkozy) and the far right; "les cadres" (managers, executives) vote for Socialists or Greens.

The Left became the side of those people who are rich enough to grant some generosity to the poorest ones, as far as the system remains as it is.

Moscovici's arrogance, Fabius many laws in favour of the richest ones, and so on, are no exceptions to the rule, it was a new rule: conservatism with compassion.

Martin Hirsch coming into a Sarkozy government, as well as Mulhouse's very "social-oriented" mayor Jean-Marie Bockel, just gave evidence that they expected even more social engagement from another kind of conservative - a energetic Republican, a fan of George W. Bush, our present President.

But Bockel's dismissal from Coopération, Rama Yade's moves, Eric Besson's anti-immigrants initiatives, could have comforted the left in he conviction that concern for the poorest still was on its side.

The DSK Sofitel case broke the tiny ice: compassion was perhaps not in his own package.

meshplate said...

Delanoé thinks it's DSK right to be a libertine, which it is. But does that qualify him to be President of France?

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