Sunday, December 30, 2007

Euro as Reserve Currency

The FT reports that the euro made substantial gains against the dollar as a reserve currency over the past year. The long-term implications are significant--but in the long run, as has been said, we are, if not dead, likely to have forgotten the turbulence of transition that lies between now and then.

Cultural Realities

A certain amount of ink has been spilled in the tiresome and predictable debate sparked by Time magazine's screed on "the death of French culture." Writing well before the fact (in Le Débat of Nov.-Dec. 2006, pp. 153-157), Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent, a maître des requêtes at the Conseil d'État, notes rather a remarkable stability in the relation of a large part of the French population to certain types of cultural production. For instance, 55 pct. of French adults have never been to the theater, and only 16 pct. go as often as once a year; 71 pct. never attend a concert (including rock and jazz concerts), and only 1 in 10 go as often as once a year; 76 pct. have never seen a ballet, and only 3 pct. attend the opera regularly. 38 pct. of adults never read a book (not even an "illustrated novel"), while 36 pct. never read the newspaper. These figures have remained more or less constant over the past quarter century.

The Left of the Left

In a conversation the other day, I casually dropped the phrase "Trotskyite students" in speaking of the anti-Pécresse Law agitation, and a colleague who studies Europe in general but not France in particular expressed astonishment that anything as archaic as Trotskyism could survive as a coherent political identity in 2007. This led to a more general discussion of the "left of the left" in France and whether France is exceptional in the tenacity of its extreme left and, if so, what might account for it. Then, while cleaning up my office, I came upon an old issue of Le Débat (no.l41, Nov.-Dec. 2006) that had somehow wound up at the bottom of a pile and gone unread. The issue contains several articles examining Philippe Raynaud's book Autour de l'extrême gauche plurielle. Marc Lazar explicitly takes up the questions I raise above and notes (p. 88) that despite the importance of the subject for the continued political debility of the broader left, the current sociology of the extreme left in France is "still not very well known." He cites some recent work suggesting that the cadres of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and ATTAC are generally young and well-educated and that many work in the public service sector. Those who vote for the extreme left comprise a shifting array of groups, but among Olivier Besancenot's 4.3 percent of the vote many were young and fairly well-educated, including many students, mid-level professionals, and primary- and secondary-school teachers (but which ones? what is their background? what differentiates them from others in the same occupational groups?). There is also some discussion, rather unsatisfactory, of the historical basis for Trotskyism's influence in France (including a reference to Pierre Grémion's interesting ideas about the unique French construction of the term "progressivism" and the various mutations it has undergone in the eras of anti-colonialism, tiers-mondisme, Maoism, anti-globalizationism, anti-American/imperial/ism, etc). But Lazar's article and the others on related themes raise more questions than they answer. The subject deserves further study. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.