Friday, May 24, 2013

Michel Crozier Dies

Michel Crozier, the eminent sociologist best known for The Bureaucratic Phenomenon, died last night at the age of 91. His book The Actor and the System was the first I ever translated.

French sociology also lost Raymond Boudon and Robert Castel earlier this year, which has been a grim season for a discipline that blossomed in the 1970s and 80s.

Lagarde Is Named as a "Témoin assisté"

Ah, French law. How to explain what un témoin assisté is, and why the director of the IMF is one as of today? In the old days, a "person of interest" in a criminal case could either be a "witness" (témoin) or "indicted" (inculpé). In 1987, however, the law was changed: one was no longer indicted but rather "mis en examen," that is, placed under official investigation. Short of that, but somewhere this side of exonerated, was created the new status of témoin assisté, no longer a simple witness but not exactly an accused. Presumably this was meant to preserve the "presumption of innocence," thought to be somewhat compromised by indictment or its more modern counterpart, which suggests at least a preliminary belief in the person's involvement in the commission of some crime.

The témoin assisté has certain rights, including the right to have an attorney examine the case files and appear with the witness, to insist on confrontation with accusers, and so on.

To a simple-minded Anglo-Saxon, it all seems rather a muddle, and for now it probably won't affect Lagarde's IMF position. The Fund has declared its confidence in her and knew about the allegations when it hired her. But it also declared its confidence in DSK before dumping him--not that the cases are in any way comparable.

I suspect that Lagarde, as a veteran litigator in the US, will plead that the use of a panel of private arbitrators to settle a complex lawsuit involving teams of corporate lawyers on both sides was a perfectly reasonable way to proceed and far more likely to be fair and efficient than a jury trial. How was she to know that there would be reason to doubt the neutrality of the arbitrators? Or whatever.

There will be so much smoke blown here and there before this case is over that I doubt anyone will know what happened in the end. And who really cares whether the bankers diddled Tapie or Tapie the bankers? The state should have gotten more out of the deal, but in the grand scheme of things, it's a pittance. Anyone who can say what Justice is in this case has more patience than I have. But resonant words will be spoken, no doubt, and grand claims advanced, and in the end there will be a settlement, and perhaps someone will go to jail. But I doubt it will be Christine Lagarde.

"Culture Is No Longer a State Priority"

One thing we learn from this morning's Le Monde is that "culture is no longer a state priority" in France. Another is that François Hollande does not read novels. A third is that his culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti, has cut the cultural budget by 30 2%. "What would people have said if the Right had done that," mused former right-wing culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.

That said, does it matter? I've often been critical of the way the cultural ministry has spent its money over the years. Too much was squandered on pseudo-prestigious eyewash and subsidization of the ephemeral. Still, le patrimoine culturel is immense, and it needs to be tended carefully. Cheese-paring will eventually lead to rot.

But preservation is not the sexy part of the culture minister's mission. "Innovation" is what always gets the attention. Filippetti has shown little interest in this. Yet surely there are projects that an ambitious, left-leaning miner's daughter, even serving a president who eschews literature, would find worthwhile, even in an age of austerity.

The promotion of French scholarship abroad comes to mind. Yet the budget reductions in Paris are all too obvious in the reduced subsidies available on this side of the Atlantic for scholarly travel, conferences, and publishing. In high Parisian precincts it is apparently now believed that the market can be left to its own devices in this regard. Ironically, at the same moment, the "cultural exception" has been asserted in trade negotiations, precisely because, it is averred, the market does not know best.

It is a strange schizophrenia that afflicts France these days. Culture--in its old and venerated sense as a jewel in the crown of the State--is defended these days by the ministry of foreign trade but relegated to an orphanage by the ministry of culture.