Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The German Social Democrats: A Model for the Future of the Left?

The German Social Democratic Party, the SPD, is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Le Monde devotes an interesting article to the party's history, drawing a certain number of contrasts with the French Socialist Party. This one intrigued me, especially Helmut Schmidt's bon mot:
Entre les Français et les Allemands, ce sont en fait deux conceptions de la politique qui s'opposent. "Les Français croient au primat du politique. Ils aiment penser qu'au lendemain d'une élection, tout peut changer. L'Allemagne est plus proche de la réalité. Helmut Schmidt avait même eu ce mot impensable en France : "Celui qui a des visions doit aller se faire soigner chez le psychiatre"", analyse Klaus-Peter Sick. Un réalisme qui explique sans doute également la proximité du SPD avec le mouvement syndical allemand : une autre caractéristique qui rapproche le SPD du Labour britannique et le distingue du Parti socialiste français. Celui-ci n'a toujours pas eu son "Bad-Godesberg", un congrès au cours duquel le SPD, en 1959, a abandonné la vulgate marxiste et assumé son réformisme.
On the other hand, as Le Monde notes in its next sentence, pragmatism is not without its disadvantages, and it doesn't always help to win elections. A second article ponders the trans-European effort to conceive of a new future for the social-democratic left, which seems to have run out of ideas. It seems that there is a new "Progressive Alliance" within the Socialist International, but this is not necessarily heartening to American Democrats who have witnessed the marginalization of the self-styled "progressive" faction within the Democratic Party over the last 50 years. The Progressive Alliance seems rather cool on the EU, a direction that admits of several interpretations, some hopeful, others less so.  A Dutch scholar, Prof. J. M. De Waele, has this to say:

En réalité, les crises ne sont pas bonnes pour elle [la gauche sociale-démocrate]. Elle est apte à partager les fruits de la croissance, pas les effets de la crise. Et elle est, sauf rares exceptions, incapable d'élaborer une alternative pour les vrais perdants de la mondialisation. Elle doit, par ailleurs, bien admettre que le cadre européen qu'elle défend n'est pas protecteur.
He goes on to say that what the left needs to do is to rethink its approach to globalization. It must admit that it cannot preserve the current hierarchy of labor in Europe and must instead adapt to the new competitive landscape. I have been making this argument for some time, though admittedly it's easier to make in general terms than to translate into specific policies. But there are some things that clearly can be done now: facilitate industrial restructuring, fund job retraining for displaced workers, encourage new investment, provide additional funds for education, government-backed R&D, increase opportunities for young researchers. This is not neo-liberalism, Government must play an active role, but it must not cling to the past in a haze of nostalgia for the achievements of the Trente Glorieuses. For one thing, those years did not seem entirely glorious at the time. For another, they ended in 1975. It's time to move on.

French Historian Shoots Himself Inside Notre-Dame, Invoking Heidegger and Renaud Camus

Dominique Venner, A French historian and extreme-right-wing activist, former member of the OAS, shot himself inside Notre-Dame, apparently to protest what he considers to be the Islamization of Europe. He invoked Heidegger and Renaud Camus in his suicide note:
Dans son dernier post de blog, intitulé "La manif du 26 mai et Heidegger", il affirme que "les manifestants du 26 mai [contre le mariage gay] auront raison de crier leur impatience et leur colère" mais que "leur combat ne peut se limiter au refus du mariage gay".
Selon lui, "le 'grand remplacement' de population de la France et de l'Europe, dénoncé par l'écrivain Renaud Camus, est un péril autrement catastrophique pour l'avenir".

University Reform: After Pécresse, Fioraso

University reform: always a contentious subject in France. The Collectif des Universitaires had no use for Mme Pécresse's LRU and has even less use for Mme Fioraso's reform of the reform, which it claims is a continuation and exacerbation of the LRU in all but name. The rhetoric of its diatribe is so overheated, however, that one's skeptical hackles are raised from the outset.

Nevertheless, a more temperate piece by Le Monde's Nathalie Brafman also makes the point that the proposed Fioraso Law does not represent a break with the spirit of the Pécresse Law:
Le texte que défendra Geneviève Fioraso, la ministre de l'enseignement supérieur, ne revient pas sur l'autonomie des universités entérinée par la loi relative aux libertés et responsabilités des universités de l'ex-ministre Valérie Pécresse, votée en 2007. "Ce n'est pas une loi de rupture", a assumé le rapporteur de la loi, Vincent Feltesse (PS, Gironde).
So it all comes down to what you think autonomy has accomplished. If you believe the Collectif, it has paradoxically made universities more dependent than ever on the ministry of education, shrunk their budgets, prohibited the replacement of retiring professors, and established "petty potentates" at the local level, wreaking havoc with the selection process and enforcing mediocrity.

These charges will likely get little hearing in the forthcoming debate, however, because the question of whether some courses will be taught in English (in order to improve French students' facility with the language) will monopolize the attention of the nation's representatives, even though fewer than 1% of courses are affected. This is one of those initiatives that, though well meant, probably won't accomplish much. Real competence in a foreign language takes more than sitting passively through a course or two taught in that language. But is the harm really so great? Why not try the experiment? Does this initiative really "sign the death warrant" of the language of Racine, as some critics (hysterically) claim? Asked and answered.