Saturday, May 12, 2012

Three Frances

Yet another sociological analysis of the vote. No surprises here, but interesting nonetheless.

"La gauche populaire"

Marianne2 has published the manifesto of a group that calls itself La Gauche Populaire. A more extensive statement can be found in a work entitled Plaidoyer pour une gauche populaire, signed by Philippe
Guibert, Laurent Bouvet, and Alain Mergier. Bouvet is also the author of a study entitled Le Sens du peuple, which presents an historical overview of the evolution of the left and of the recent cleavage, as Bouvet sees it, between the left-wing political elite and les classes populaires.

What does la GP (those of a certain age will have to be careful to distinguish between this group and la Gauche Prolétarienne of old) want? To understand this, one has to look at the fundamental premise of the manifesto: "L’élément structurant de cette élection était et reste l’inquiétude très forte des classes populaires sur la situation économique et la mondialisation." The authors argue, correctly, that the "Establishment" center-left has had a hard time responding to this "deep anxiety." What do they propose to do about this? Their response, like that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is long on symptoms and short on remedies:
La financiarisation et la planétarisation de l’économie ont depuis quarante ans liquidé les structures unitaires de la société française. La guerre de tous contre tous entretenue par le chômage de masse, la liquidation des grands récits et de l’encadrement des masses par des idéologies structurées, l’annihilation de l’ascenseur social, la déconstruction de l’histoire nationale au bénéfice de mémoires communautarisées, la réduction de la souveraineté populaire à l’opinion publique, puis de celle-ci à des segments communautaires : ce qui faisait République a été tellement mis en cause que nombre de nos concitoyens en sont venus à estimer que l’extrême droite pouvait en représenter la sauvegarde.
They then hark back to Jaurès in search of a politics adequate to this diagnosis, and what they prescribe is "more 'social' and less 'societal.'" This detour into the jargon of sociology may be clearer in French than it is in English, but I doubt it. Here is the authors' elaboration of the point:
Une ligne politique claire s’est imposée à nous : le commun plutôt que les identités, le social avant le sociétal, l’émancipation collective plus que l’extension infinie des droits individuels, seule cette ligne politique permettant de bâtir une majorité sociologique et électorale.
Is this actually a political program or the incantatory invocation of a state of society that no longer exists, when "working class" and "bourgeoisie" were indeed collective social and cultural identities? In any case, the theorists of la Gauche pop' are convinced that the "identity" issues raised by the right are not simply masks for underlying economic issues but constitutive of a social reality of which the economy is just one aspect:
Il importe de saisir que si cette insécurité culturelle est inséparable dans son appréhension, notamment dans les catégories populaires, de la dimension économique et sociale, elle s’en distingue tout de même. C’est à cette préoccupation-là que la stratégie « Buisson » (du nom du conseiller de Sarkozy issu de la droite dure) devait s’adresser autour du ciblage des musulmans et de leur « mode de vie » comme menace pour l’identité nationale (viande halal, prières de rue, burqa, etc.).
It's here that I have some difficulty following where their political line leads. On one level they are offering the sound advice that the feelings and instincts of the popular classes cannot be ignored or wished away, even if they express themselves in racist or xenophobic terms. But what exactly is to be done about this? Is the left-wing alternative to a Buisson strategy simply to validate the spontaneous judgments of the "authentic" underclass but without the anti-Islamic overtones? And how is that to be done? By substituting "financiarisation" for "islamisation" and "social" for "societal"? I confess that I am somewhat at a loss to see where this leads. The manifesto concludes on a high rhetorical note, a kind of Mélenchoniste lyricism with its allusion to Sieyès, its apotheosis of the Republic, and its invocation of the universal:
Cependant, être de « gauche », c’est croire à l’égalité sans ramener celle-ci exclusivement à la question sociale mais à ce qui tient ensemble en amont de cette dernière : l’égalité des conditions. La gauche est un moyen pour redresser le pays, et non une fin. Qu’est-ce que le peuple aujourd’hui ? Rien. Qu’aspire-t-il à devenir ? Tout. Au fond, ce qui relie « gauche » et « populaire » c’est la République dans sa dimension sociale et la nation dans sa seule version universaliste.
Do I reveal myself to be a hopelessly jaded intellectual or worse, a social traitor, if I say that I no longer thrill to this martial music? It seems to me to avoid all the hard questions in the name of an empty egalitarianism. What exactly does "equality of conditions" mean? As a Tocquevillean, I know that the phrase can be parsed in many ways. And its power to mobilize is no longer what it was when it stood in opposition to the ascription of status by birth and corporate membership (see my Collège de France lecture). I would like to see la Gauche pop' as something new on the political horizon, but in the end I find that it stirs me as little as the rhetoric of Mélenchon.

Ministerial Parity

Le Monde asks whether there are enough qualified women to enable François Hollande to fulfill his pledge of ministerial parity. Aubry and, yes, Royal will surely get portfolios, and it's not difficult to imagine, say, Anne Lauvergeon as minister of industry. Among up-and-coming Socialist women, Aurélie Filipetti, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, and Delphine Batho could be in line for lesser posts, and there are undoubtedly others I've not even heard of who are under consideration. And Hollande could go outside the ranks of professional politicians, as Sarkozy did when he appointed Lagarde.

That said, is parity a good idea? Is it a useful criterion to apply when appointing a government? While recognizing that France is seriously backward when it comes to bringing women into public life, I've never liked the parity law, and its failure to produce the desired result in spite of sanctions on the parties shows that the root of the problem is deeper than legislators believed when they passed the law. More important than achieving numerical equality, I think, is appointing women to top posts. Credit where credit is due: Sarkozy did well in this regard. I doubt that Hollande will match him, but he might.

Will a woman get a regalian ministry under Hollande? I think there are too many elephants at the trough. Aubry is the best placed, but for what portfolio? Unless it's prime minister, and I still think that job will go to Ayrault, despite his 1997 conviction on corruption charges. Foreign affairs: Fabius or Moscovici. Justice: Vallini. Finance: Sapin. Defense: whichever of Fabius or Moscovici doesn't get foreign affairs, although I suppose this could go to Aubry. And places will have to be found for Valls, Montebourg, Bartolone, etc. Of course one can always multiply ministries and secretariats of state to accommodate the party faithful, but when you add up all those limousines and motorcycle escorts, the benefits of a 30% reduction in the president's salary can disappear pretty quickly. It's all a bit of a sudoku puzzle for Hollande to solve on his way to the G8 meeting or to Berlin on the night of his investiture. But the government is to be announced the following day, so he will surely have made up his mind before then, if he hasn't already.

How Vulnerable Is Copé?

Jean-François Copé is already throwing his weight around as leader of the post-Sarkozy UMP, but how secure is his position, really? A poll suggests that Fillon and even Juppé have far greater support among the rank-and-file.

Already the Hit Show of the Legislative Season

Mélenchon-Le Pen, Season 2, is already the hit show of the legislative round. The screenwriters will no doubt come up with some salty dialogue to match these exchanges from Season 1:
Le 18 janvier, à Metz, Jean-Luc Mélenchon ouvre le feu et qualifie la présidente-candidate du FN de "semi-démente, qui propose des solutions auxquelles personne ne peut croire". Il donnait ce jour-là un meeting sur ces terres lorraines frappées par la désindustrialisation pour commencer "l'opération de nettoyage par rapport à la prétendue présence du FN dans les milieux ouvriers et employés". "Cette Mme Le Pen, qui n'a aucune espèce d'imagination, passe son temps à faire des emprunts forcés pour dire : je parle comme Mélenchon. Voyez mes ailes, je suis un oiseau. Et de temps à autre, je suis xénophobe, voyez mes pattes, je suis un rat. Cela nous fait une chauve-souris."

Dès le lendemain, Marine Le Pen riposte : Mélenchon "perd ses nerfs, je comprends ! C'est quand même pitié de voir quelqu'un qui se présente comme étant le défenseur des ouvriers n'attirer" que 2 % de leurs intentions de vote, ironise-t-elle. Tout en dénonçant "un vrai dérapage", la présidente du FN considère : "Tout ça, c'est du cinéma, c'est un grand comédien, M. Mélenchon. Devant les caméras, il éructe, il menace, il insulte. Mais en dehors des caméras, c'est un homme charmant, affable, presque un petit garçon."