Saturday, May 19, 2012

Noiriel Analyzes the FN Vote

Historian Gérard Noiriel analyzes the FN vote. Key point:
A partir des années 1980, la bureaucratisation de la société et la crise de la grande industrie ont liquidé les mouvements de masse entraînant une perte d’autonomie du politique au profit des médias. La « démocratie de partis » a laissé la place à la « démocratie d’opinion ». Le retour de l’extrême droite sur le devant de la scène est à mes yeux une conséquence directe de ces mutations. Le triomphe de la politique-spectacle a créé en effet des opportunités dont s’est saisi Jean-Marie Le Pen, en développant la stratégie des « petites phrases » conçues comme des « bombes médiatiques » qui prennent leur place dans l’actualité au côté des crimes, des catastrophes, des procès etc.
Les journalistes, pris dans les rouages de cette machine médiatique, sont contraints d’accorder de l’importance à ces poseurs de « bombes », contribuant ainsi à l’héroïsation des leaders d’extrême droite. Puisque ces derniers sont devenus des personnages centraux du récit médiatico-politique, les électeurs se sentent autorisés à voter pour le Front National. La réputation sulfureuse de ce parti séduit tout particulièrement ceux qui n’ont plus rien à perdre et qui cherchent à exprimer de la façon la plus radicale possible leur refus d’une société qui ne leur fait pas de place.
This argument strikes me as superficially appealing but empirically unfounded. Is it really true that that the FN "particularly attracts those who have nothing more to lose?" There is a good deal of evidence suggesting that the answer is no. The FN has found support in many segments of society, including retirees and small businessmen who definitely have something to lose. Its working-class support has been increasing, and some of that may come from the unemployed, but some of it also comes from the employed, who have their jobs to lose and fear losing them to immigrants willing to work for lower wages.

What Noiriel wants to call attention to, I think, is the fact that most of the public discussion of FN voters is conducted by "the political-media complex," a fancy term for people like himself and me, who speak of FN supporters as the Other and have no direct contact with the milieux in which a vote for the FN is a live option. We impute attitudes and emotions we do not really fathom: hence the "suffering" narrative, which Noiriel rejects as confabulation. That may be true, but in what respect is "the nothing more to lose" narrative an improvement? Isn't it just another name for the same thing?

Where I think Noiriel is right is in his perception of the way in which Lepenist barbs and provocations, echoed by the media, are used to construct an anti-systemic image. For voters whose judgment is that "the system" has failed them, the response is to seek the candidate whose provocations seem most disruptive of what they see as the routinized and ritualized exchanges that constitute the mainstream discourse. In the ensuing surenchère of acerbic attitude, anti-system candidates compete with each other in a closed rhetorical universe that hives itself off as a separate realm of what Noiriel calls the "democracy of opinion," in which one opinion is deemed as good as another simply because it is voiced and without need for the kind of justification once provided by ideology in the "democracy of parties." Hence the intense media interest in the Le Pen-Mélenchon face-off in Hénin-Beaumont. Nothing of consequence will be decided here, but the battle of provocateurs will surely défrayer la chronique.

Who's Bluffing?

Henry Farrell has some wise words about the high-stakes poker game being played out over Greece:
It’s plausible that Greece is relatively indifferent to breakdown at this point – years of grinding austerity inside EMU seem barely preferable to the costs of exiting the euro. In contrast, Germany could see the collapse of the euro (and consequent very serious economic costs) if a Greek exit leads to the collapse of confidence in Spanish, Irish, and worst of all, Italian banks. If I were to lay a bet on which side is likely to fold first, I’d be putting my money on the Germans.

No PS-FG Accord for Legislatives

Negotiations between the PS and the Front de Gauche over the legislative elections have broken down. It seems that the Communists favored an agreement, but the Parti de Gauche balked.

Hollande and the Universities

Another prediction of mine seems to me coming true. I said that Hollande would not reverse the Law on the Reform of the Universities, better known as the Pécresse Law, if elected. The nomination of Lionel Collet, president of the U. of Lyon I and of the Council of University Presidents, as chief of staff under higher ed minister Geneviève Fioraso, seems to confirm this. Collet was not an opponent of LRU. Nor was I, although the details of implementation must be monitored carefully.

Mélenchon, parachuté chez les Ch'tis

Was it really necessary for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is hardly familiar with the town in which he has chosen to run for parliament, Hénin-Beaumont, to say this about the local FN, which has been tilling this ground for years:
Mais il ne peut s'empêcher de décrire à des journalistes le FN local comme "quatre alcooliques et dix dégénérés". "Au visage de la haine", il veut opposer celui de la "fraternité et du partage".
Mélenchon in a nutshell: the grand gestures to humanity--fraternity and sharing--on the one hand, the contemptuous dismissal of his opponents on the other. And the particular choice of words, "four alcoholics and ten degenerates," is especially unfortunate in light of the incident in a soccer stadium a while back, when a banner was unfurled that read "Pédophiles, chômeurs, consanguins : bienvenue chez les Ch'tis." Linking "degeneracy" with this region of northern France is really not something that a politician who wants to combat the prejudices that are the stock-in-trade of the FN should be doing.

Problems with European Banking

Nicolas Véron looks at what needs to be done to make European banks healthier.

Article in TNR Online

I've got an article on Hollande on The New Republic Online. An error has crept into the second paragraph, which should of course state that Mitterrand was president "from 1981 until 1995 (he died in 1996)."