Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sarko Off the Record

An interesting recording of Sarkozy speaking off-the-record to a neighborhood association in Nanterre before the elections. Another view of the presidential style ...

Assouline Executes Badiou

When I wrote the other day about Alain Badiou's presentation of his new book, I was relying solely on the interview posted by Le Nouvel Obs. I have not read the book, nor had I heard anything about the seminar on which it was apparently based. Pierre Assouline, better informed, vehemently denounces both. I leave it to others to decide what it means that a seminar such as that described by Assouline can have been given at the École Normale Supérieure--assuming, of course, that Assouline's account is accurate.


An interesting exchange this morning in a chat published in Le Monde with Jean-Baptiste Prévost, the vice-president of the UNEF student union. A questioner asks why he, a student at the elite and selective Sciences-Po, opposes allowing universities to select students for admission. Here is the exchange:

Laurent W. : Pourquoi, alors que vous êtes étudiant à Sciences-Po, formation dont l'excellence repose bien évidemment sur la sélection (comme toutes les grandes écoles publiques), êtes-vous opposé à la sélection en université ? Vous empêchez par ce biais la création de filières d'excellence à l'université. C'est bien regrettable.

Jean-Baptiste Prévost : Je suis opposé à la sélection à l'entrée de l'université, parce que, notamment dans le cadre de mes études, je me suis rendu compte qu'elle maintenait la reproduction sociale à l'université. J'y suis également opposé parce que la France a besoin de plus d'étudiants qu'elle n'en a aujourd'hui. Nous sommes en retard sur ce plan par rapport aux autres pays de l'OCDE. Mais le vrai problème, effectivement, c'est de faire revenir l'excellence à l'université.

Now, what is so curious about this is its perfect and complete denial of reality. The argument goes as follows: "The status quo embodies a system of social reproduction. Extending the status quo would also embody a system of social reproduction. Social reproduction is bad. Hence we had better preserve the status quo, rather than make changes that would reproduce the negative elements of the status quo." Such is the syllogism, and as such impervious to the suggestion that change might also entail modifications attended to alleviate the unfortunate byproducts of selection. Nor does it occur to M. Prévost that competition for students among rival institutions might be a way to "bring excellence back to the university." And the fact that Sciences-Po has instituted a form of affirmative action to counter the social-reproductive aspects of selection seems to have made no impression. Prévost's protest against social reproduction would carry more weight if he were to propose effective ways of reducing its ills under the current two-tier system of higher education that he wants to preserve, and of which he is the protesting beneficiary.

PS Leadership Contest

Le Monde today passes in review six "outsiders" who might replace François Hollande at the head of the Socialist Party: Moscovici, Rebsamen, Valls, Peillon, Sapin, and Hamon. One might well quarrel with the label "outsider" for several members of this group, but all are no doubt possibilities. Of the lot I would prefer Moscovici and then Valls, perhaps Sapin. Hamon would be a step backward, Peillon (who opposed the European Constitution but rallied to the Lisbon Treaty) a disguised step backward, and Rebsamen a way of marking time and going nowhere. Moscovici is more seasoned than Valls and more polished, though the latter, more fiery and less "smooth" in the pejorative sense, might make a better candidate if it comes to that--though choosing a party leader is not necessarily choosing a candidate. I have less of a sense of what kind of leader Sapin would make. Moscovici is smart but can be snide, a characteristic acquired no doubt through too much service as porte-parole and political hatchet man. It doesn't always serve him well.