Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dolce far niente non più

In a development that may well influence the course of future negotiations on retirement reforms in France, the Prodi government in Italy has obtained from the unions an important concession: an increase in the retirement age and number of years of contribution required for full benefits.

Ideas Made Flesh

"Incarnation"--it seems to be on everybody's mind these days. Guaino sees it as the secret of Sarkozy's success. And now Malek Boutih has brought it up in a gathering of ambitious young cubs ready to challenge François Hollande for leadership of the pride and drive him off into the jungle to die. Arnaud Montebourg wanted to put across the idea that this wasn't just a revival of the Nouveau Parti Socialiste. That didn't work. Time for something new. But Boutih wanted assurances that this new effort wouldn't be just another "font of ideas not promoted by people." Incarnation, you see: politics in the Sarkozyan era needs bodies. Thinking isn't enough; you have to jog and cycle. L'homme est un coureur pensant (n'en déplaise à Pascal).

It would appear that there is no shortage of eager (self-)promoters ready to mount their vélos (and Bertrand Delanoë has made it easy for them, having stationed vélibs, bikes free for the temporary taking, at convenient spots around Paris). Manuel Valls was there, getting himself looked over as a présidentiable, no doubt to the consternation of Montebourg. But everybody made the right noises for now: this was a time for "collective ambition," not "personal ambition." The last thing these forty-somethings want is to reproduce the system of courants, which were less like streams than scavenging packs hunting in the tracks of the éléphants. Or so they say. Libé's metaphor for the quadragénaires today is lionceaux, but in the right light they look more like éléphanteaux.

See also here.

The Blog

This blog has now been in existence for exactly two months. In that time I (with some help from my collaborators) have posted some 72,000 words (I just counted them), enough to fill a short book. I don't know how many of you have read all of them, but I hope you've found at least some educational, entertaining, and/or provocative. Do let me know what you like, what you don't like, and what you'd like to see more or less of. Thanks for your support.

Guaino Speaks

Henri Guaino, President Sarkozy's plume and now special advisor, has spoken to Le Monde. It's a fascinating interview, full of things to comment on, of which I'll single out just one. I've been speaking in recent days about the presidential function of incarnation. Guaino takes up this same theme and proposes it as a fundamental feature of the Sarkozyan ideology: power, if it is to be responsible before the people, he argues, must be visible and incarnate. "Disembodied" rules are unsatisfactory. He draws a contrast in this respect between the European Union, which for him is precisely an apolitical institution of disembodied rules, and the Fifth Republic, which under Sarkozy will become again a state in which the incarnation of the Republic is the president. When asked what the most effective counter-power to the presidency is at the present time, he answered, the European Union.

This is a startling, almost shocking suggestion. It neglects the influence of states on the "disembodied rules" of the Union. It dismisses the role of domestic opposition. It implies that Europe is a concert of nations conceived as unitary actors with no voice other than that of the chief executive, the distillation of national sentiment in all its diversity. One would like to see Guaino expound this theory at greater length. It is worth recalling, incidentally, that Guaino directed Philippe Séguin's campaign against the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992. Ultra-Gaullist souverainisme appears to be alive and well and thriving close to the throne. Note, too, that Guaino was long associated with opposition to the franc fort, and that today Sarkozy is leading the charge against the euro fort.

In any case, read the interview. It will repay close attention. (Note in particular Guaino's stress on the complementarity of politics and markets, as well as his subtle justification of reduced inheritance tax on the grounds that it is more difficult for young people to establish themselves financially today than it was in the 60s and 70s, when jobs were more stable and inflation reduced the cost of borrowing.)

Enough of That Face

Didier Mathus, a Socialist deputy from Saône-et-Loire who handles audio-visual matters for the opposition, has filed a complaint with the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel. His beef? There's just too damn much of Sarko on TV. He invokes a "rule of thirds," according to which television news time is supposed to be divided equally between the majority, the opposition, and the government. The time allotted to the president of the Republic is not counted, because he is supposed to be an "arbiter" and not "speak in the name of a party or political group." Sarko, Mathus claims, has demonstrated a "media presence and volubility" that render the "rule of thirds" inoperative.

What to think of this maneuver? I tend to see it as evidence for the tension I spoke of yesterday between party system and republican spirit in France. The rule of thirds seems to embody an implicit interpretation of the constitution along the following lines. Majority and opposition represent the "party system." This is the lower order of politics, the arena of competing particular interests. The government, emerging from this lower order of competition, is partially purged of the taint of particularity. It has achieved a higher stage in the ascent toward the general interest. Hence it is entitled to a share of time equal to each of the competing party blocs. The president of the Republic marks the highest stage in this progressive purification. He is supposed to represent the general interest, the republican spirit incarnate. Hence his time is not counted.

Sarkozy's "omnipresence" has somehow disrupted this mythology. It seems to me questionable, to say the least, that Sarkozy is any more (or less) the head of a party than Mitterrand was. Yet Mitterrand's reserve, aloofness, and hauteur apparently rendered his participation in the party system compatible with his incarnation of the Republic, while Sarkozy's "volubility," "omnipresence," and in-your-face pugnacity do not, at least in the eyes of M. Mathus.

See also here.