Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 3

The Socialist Party is better at governing than at winning elections. So says Daniel Cohen. Why? Consider an element common to the background of nearly all the party leadership, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration:

Laurent Fabius, ENA 1973
François Hollande, ENA promotion Voltaire
Lionel Jospin, ENA 1961
Michel Rocard, ENA promotion "18 juin"
Ségolène Royal, ENA promotion Voltaire
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, professor at ENA

Among the main "ténors," only Jack Lang, the thespian, stands out.

De Gaulle famously said that "if you want to build the French autoroutes, you have to give them poetry." The technical details of governance bore them. Enarques are long on technical details, short on poetry. For this generation of énarques, who came into the political mainstream under Mitterrand, le Florentin supplied the poetry. But they were not content to remain, as an earlier generation of technocrats had done, in the wings of power. In the rebuilding of postwar France, during the first twenty or so of les trente glorieuses, the ideal of public service had been austere and antipolitical. The war had discredited the parties, the Fourth Republic finished the job, and de Gaulle's otherworldly prestige provided democratic cover for a technocratic regime, in which devoted civil servants decided what was best.

By the time the current generation of socialist leaders was coming of age in the mid-60s to mid-70s, however, this austere ideal had run its course. The ENA might be the route to the kind of influence once exercised by grands commis de l'Etat such as Pisani, Nora, and Bloch-Lainé, but that kind of influence had lost some of its appeal for a generation caught up in the turbulence of the anticolonial struggle, the thirst for participation, the politics of the street, and change from the bottom up. Mitterrand's ascendancy offered a bridge from the cabinet ministériel to the circonscription (a route quite different from the pantouflage, or move from government into private industry, followed by so many other énarques). Who can forget the television footage of the young Ségolène Royal asking Mitterrand, during an inaugural reception at the Elysée and right in the middle of a receiving line, for a circonscription of her own? Though nonplussed by the impudence of such a request in such a setting, Mitterrand nevertheless granted his young collaborator's wish, launching her on the career that brought her where she is today.

On the whole, the énarques of the 60s and 70s have not proved to be gifted politicians. Royal, up to a point, is the exception that proves the rule. Mitterrand recognized this deficiency in many of his brainy collaborators and tried to expose them to the promiscuous acquaintance that builds political savvy. Like Sarkozy, he had a taste for a range of humanity extending well beyond la gauche caviare: think of Bernard Tapie (under Sarko we have the equivalent with the deferred nomination of another costaud, the sélectionneur of the XV de France, to a position in the sports ministry) or the ineffable Michel Charasse, tonton's bosom pal, who, incidentally, gave his endorsement to Sarkozy (O! the ingratitude!). But the lesson of the master went unlearned. And the socialist énarques seem to hope that the party can be repaired without politics, as if a clever technical fix, a rejiggering of internal procedures, a new proportional formula for apportioning power among the various courants, a tinkering with the calendar of meetings and congresses and summer universities, can do the trick.

Jacques Attali remarked the other day that ENA graduates are no longer drawn to government. There are greater opportunities in business, he averred in an attempt to explain why there are so few énarques in power under Sarkozy. This is an important observation, and Attali's argument deserves close scrutiny. One can see it as a version of a pattern Albert Hirschman described in Shifting Involvements. But it suggests that the Socialists' plight is even deeper than it might appear. Not only does the training of the current leadership deprive it of the political skills to fight its way out of the impasse in which it is currently trapped. Its formation also leaves it unprepared to comprehend the shift from an administered to an entrepreneurial economy. The forces vives today are not what they were in the 50s, when Nora and Bloch-Lainé governed as technocrats in sublime indifference to the parties; nor are they what they were in the 80s, when Rocard and Jospin governed as technocrats in symbiosis with their party. Sarkozy's intimates are buccaneer capitalists and ambitious lawyers, not énarques (for further comment on this, see here). The Socialist leadership is confused by the ascendancy of a group it disdained as intellectually inferior and dominated from within the apparatus of government. Now outside the apparatus and out of phase even with the younger generation of ENA graduates, it finds itself disarmed.


David A. Bell said...

Hello Art,

I think that Attali's comment here is more than a little self-serving, and has a distinct whiff of sour grapes. If the énarques are no longer in government, it must be because they are no longer interested, not because they have been rejected...

Of course, the battle between lawyers and administrators is a very, very old one in France, to the extent that it arguably amounts to a leitmotif of French political history. Under the old regime, back to the fifteenth century, you had the quarrels between the parlements and royal governors and missi dominici and intendants, leading up to the great crises of the mid and late eighteenth century. The First Republic, a "République des avocats si jamais il en fût" was followed by the First Empire of the prefects. Tocqueville was a chantre des avocats, with his paeans to them in Democracy, and then in Book II, Chapter XI of the Ancien Régime, where he lamented the rise of not one, but two administrative monarchies. In teh 1870's came another République des Avocats, followed by the temps des administrateurs under Vichy, and then under the Fifth Republic. Now we may be seeing another swing of the pendulum.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Art, I strongly disagree with the teaming of DSK with the PS énarques under the motive that he once taught at ENA. These are two complelety different things (He also taught at HEC, and ENA, for most of the courses, employs contractual lecturers, not tenured professors). Mostly, it obscures a crucial difference between DSK and the others, which is that he comes from the academic world (like J. Lang), economics to be precise (he holds a Phd and the "agrégation" and currently teaches undergrads at Sciences-po). The reason why this is so important is because of the notorious lack of any serious economic formation at ENA (Michel Rocard, himself an Inspecteur des Finances, top-notch énarque has made this point forcefuly several times). This plays a major role in the favor given to ideological approaches of economic issues by énarques (all ideologies, including jumping from marxism-leninism into hayekism-friedmanism : as counter-intuitive as it may seem, ENA is an active foyer of neo-liberalism in France). The inability of énarques to access pragmatic understanding of evidence-based, up-to-date economics (Attali being one of the most seriously handicapped of them all) is in my view the key to understanding why and how the PS has been unable to rebuild itself on sound intellectual bases for the last quarter of century. The deeply confused campaign of Ségolène Royal on economic and social issues (where I think she lost the election), not to mention the joke of the "Projet socialiste", shows that the PS is still far from a reality check. I don't know if DSK can bring about this change (as a matter of fact, I doubt it), but at least he is intellectually equipped and has a (short) more than decent record as a Minister of Economics and Finance under Jospin.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your corrective. I find your argument quite persuasive.