Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I had high hopes when I learned this morning that Libé had gone into the suburbs and housing projects in the company of young journalists from a publication of the suburbs called Fumigène to take a look at Sarkozy's first two months from the point of view of the excluded. The articles proved disappointing, however. You can judge for yourself: here, here, here, and here.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to learn that in the Zone Urbain Sensible (ZUS) of Hérouville, a suburb of Caen, the unemployment rate is 30 percent and half the households fall below the poverty line. These are painful numbers to contemplate, and particularly painful to me as a translator of Tocqueville, because Hérouville is the family name of the current occupant of the Château Tocqueville, a great-nephew (I think) of Alexis (that's him in the photo--click to enlarge, on the right, standing inside the castle dovecote, at once not far yet worlds away from the ZUS of which he is the namesake). Alexis, I'm sure, would have been distressed to think that a place bearing the name of his kinsman had become so alienated from Parisian opinion that a leading newspaper would have to mount an expedition, as to some exotic isle, to inquire about what life might be like there; that it would have to ally itself with native informants in order to do so; and that it could return with so little insight into the mores of the inhabitants. He would have been distressed that the government of France should want to shield itself from the realities of life in such a place by resorting to an empty abstraction, a euphemistic acronym, to describe it. He would have noted the irony of that acronym, of the application of the name ZUS to a place incapable of hurling the least thunderbolt and about as far from Olympus as can be imagined.

But perhaps he would have taken heart from the story of the young delinquent who has found a new vocation as a Socialist militant. "The party is tired," says Kader. "We've got to commit ourselves to change it from within." The local party elected a deputy and is now setting its sights on city hall. A small ray of hope, perhaps, though it might be spoiled for Tocqueville by the degree of enmity toward the government and its chief evident in the young man's language. The conception of politics as a war between friend and foe, so congenial to Carl Schmitt, is not one that a civic republican can embrace, but Tocqueville, who was at heart as much a civic republican as an aristocrat, would have wondered whether a Republic can secrete in its bosom a place like Hérouville and still survive.

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