"This is not a revolt, Sire, it's a revolution." So Louis XVI was informed when he asked about the ruckus in the streets of Paris. We are not quite there yet in this year of our lords 2016, but we are inching, if not toward revolution, then at least toward a political upheaval that may spell the end of the Socialist Party stemming from the era of Mitterrand, which has recently been the subject of numerous reminiscences.
One sign of the shifting mood is the call for a "primary of the left"--meaning all the left, not just the PS--signed by a number of public intellectuals, including several I know well. Another is the 16-2 vote by the Socialist members Assembly's Commission des Lois to reject the déchéance de nationalité proposal that has caused such a furor on the left.
Since the déchéance proposal is clearly a symbolic proposal, whose practical effect is more or less universally acknowledged to be nonexistent, one has to ask why Hollande and Valls took this step. The only possible answer is political. They have given up on the classic Socialist strategy of running left and governing right. This was Mitterrand's formula, and Hollande faithfully executed it in 2012. But Hollande has no remaining credibility for a run on the left: his "hatred of finance" has been used up, his only remaining "leftist" cover is Taubira, who opposes him openly and defiantly on déchéance, and the economy has refused to respond to Macron's medicine.
Exploiting the somber post-terror mood in a France where the only rising political force is on the extreme right is his only hope. He calculates--and I hope he is right--that 30 percent of the first-round electorate has now permanently deserted the mainstream for the FN but that the FN has now reached an upper limit. Hence 70% of the electorate remains to be divided between the other contenders for a second-round slot. The far left and the ecologists have been whittled down to la portion congrue, let's say 10% at most. That leaves 60% to be divided among Socialists, Republicans, and centrists--and depending on the platform and the circumstances, the centrists might be induced to throw in with one of the other two. Hence Hollande's best shot is to do everything possible to ensure that the candidate of the Republicans is someone as unacceptable as possible to people in the center of the political spectrum--thus Sarkozy rather than Juppé (or some other less "marked" candidate).
Evidently he has concluded that the "security" theme is crucial and has chosen to mark his territory by taking a "hard-right" stand on a meaningless symbolic issue, stealing Sarkozy's thunder. So far it hasn't worked at all. It has sown chaos among Socialists while calling attention to the uselessness of the measure as a real contribution to improved security. This is yet another of those "debates," like the Sarkozy-era debate over national identity, that stirs a great deal of hot air while signifying nothing. Meanwhile, potentially more useful measures remain unconsidered, and energy that ought to go into scrutinizing what the police have been doing with their new powers under the state of emergency is instead wasted on high constitutional rhetoric applied to what is in fact une basse oeuvre politique.
The result of all this is obvious in the call for a broadened left primary and the vote of the Commission des lois. If Hollande intends to provoke a recomposition of the political landscape, he is succeeding admirably but losing control in the process. If we must have a party realignment, people are saying, why should the hapless and ineffectual Hollande be part of it. Valls, I presume, is hoping that when the smoke clears, he will be the one to pick up the pieces when Hollande, discovering himself to be a general without an army, is forced to drop out. But his calculation is probably as erroneous as Hollande's. He is now so thoroughly identified with the Hollande presidency that he will sink with it. Fin de règne, fin d'époque ... and then what? My crystal ball is as murky as it has ever been. But if I were the palace whisperer, I would be echoing the words that Louis XVI heard in 1789: "Ce n'est pas une révolte, Sire, c'est une révolution."