Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bouvet's "Hollandisme"

Laurent Bouvet offers a careful, deliberate, analytical reading of what he calls "le Hollandisme" in power, which he sees as in many ways continous with Hollande's tenure as head of the Socialist Party:
Cette pratique du pouvoir, qui était déjà visible et sensible chez le premier secrétaire du Parti socialiste pendant dix ans, met en lumière un deuxième trait caractéristique du hollandisme : le refus de tout a priori idéologique, de toute position doctrinale figée.
For Bouvet, Hollandism, in addition to rejection of rigid a priori ideological doctrine, consists of what Dick Morris first named "triangulation" (LB: "son sens de l'équilibre et sa permanente quête d'un compromis entre des positions adverses, sinon antagonistes"), coupled with a "new sociology of power" characterized by a return of the énarques, banished (to a certain extent) by Sarkozy, and promotion of local leaders who had worked their way up through the ranks of power in socialist-controlled local and regional fiefdoms.

This is an intelligent analysis, and as Bouvet notes, it is too early to say whether Hollandism will actually bear the desired fruits. Using Bouvet's categories, however, one can hazard a few judgments. The "new" sociology of power is perhaps better seen as a return to the old sociology of power of the early years of the Gaullist Republic, Then, le pouvoir périphérique, as Pierre Grémion called it, governed effectively by striking a compromise between a highly technocratic and competent central state and flexibile, opportunistic local power elites. The challenges now are different from the challenges then, however, and one might argue that such a coalition was better suited to the needs of postwar reconstruction and modernization than to the Schumpeterian creative destruction required (to my mind--many will disagree) by the present conjuncture of the global economy.

Second, pragmatism can be a desirable quality in a president, but it must be tempered by a firm fix on the North Star: in plain language, the leader must know where he wants to go. Bouvet sums up Hollande's presumptive goal in a resonant formula:
de devenir en cours de mandat un grand président de gauche qui, grâce à l'efficacité de son action davantage qu'à son sens du tragique dans l'Histoire, changerait enfin la société française en réorientant ses choix économiques, en pesant sur le destin européen et en garantissant davantage d'égalité entre ses concitoyens.
Achieving these ends would indeed change the French perception of social democracy for the better, and Hollande wants to be remembered as "a great social democrat" as well as "a great president," but it would be reassuring if his intermediate goals along the way to such a fine destiny were more clearly articulated. It is hard to judge the efficacy of any particular policy or strategy against such a general aim as "reorienting France's economic choices and weighing on Europe's destiny."

Finally, flexibility and suppleness are fine things, but in the end, gouverner, c'est choisir, and firm choices have never been Hollande's forte. As Socialist leader he temporized; as President he has frequently, and quite properly, availed himself of the prerogative to remain above the fray. But there will come a time--there have already come times--when he must make his position known, and then we will see whether, as Texans say, he's all hat and no cattle or the real deal.

Cohn-Bendit Quits EELV

What had been a separation is now officially a divorce: DCB wants no more to do with EELV. In some ways, this is an odd dénouement to a long saga, since Cohn-Bendit had long argued that EELV should not run a presidential candidate of its own but instead try to exert maximum leverage on the Socialists. Others countered that without a candidate of its own, the party had no leverage: that was precisely the issue.

Now, both sides have their wish: the EELV leadership has become a (minor) appendage of the PS, bound by the doctrine of governmental solidarity to stifle the opinions of its own ministers when they differ with those of the government, and linked to policy choices unpopular with EELV voters. So EELV is both decapitated, as DCB wished, and impotent, which he claimed would not be the consequence of decapitation. His departure is therefore the logical culmination of his and his former party's contradictions.

But Dany's position in the French political spectrum was unique. He could not be intimidated by left-wing romanticism of the sort that Mélenchon successfully peddled for a while. He had grown up in the struggle against outmoded ideas of the universal working class, the vanguard party, and the "relative autonomy" of politics and economics. Yet he was anything but an armchair theorist of a new left. He thought of politics as a profession, requiring commitment and hard work, and not as a psychoanalytic transference leading to personal catharsis, a posture he often criticized in his comrades at EELV. The demands of that high and selfless ideal of politics were no doubt too great to attract people in the numbers required to form a political party, especially in the absence of tangible reward. So other Greens have become ministers, while Dany the Red once again retires from politics, possibly for the last time. Go in peace.