Monday, January 28, 2008

The Left of the Left

La Forge describes itself as an "independent think tank" of intellectuals, academics, bureaucrats, and activists who "analyze and decipher society and advocate solutions." Its founders include Benoît Hamon, a left-wing Socialist, and Noël Mamère, a Green. It is close to the anti-globalization movement, as indicated by the presence of the economist Liem Hoang-Ngoc, who is also a member of the scientific committee of ATTAC.

La Forge has released what it calls a "contre-expertise" critical of the Attali Report on numerous counts. I don't want to take the time to examine this document in detail, but I do want to call attention to a quote from (former no. 2 at MEDEF) Denis Kessler that appears in the report and that has been cited numerous times in the press in recent weeks. Kessler said that "the French social model is a pure product of the Conseil National de Résistance. It is the result of compromise between Gaullists and Communists. The time has come to reform it, and the government has set itself to the task." For La Forge, the Attali Report is the blueprint for reversing this "model inherited from the postwar years."

One could write a book about the implications of this rhetoric as employed by both the right (Kessler) and the left (La Forge). I must avoid the temptation to turn this blog post into a first chapter. Nevertheless, I think it is worth calling attention to this latest avatar of the Vichy syndrome. The Sarkozyan policy, we are given indirectly to understand, is nothing less than an attack on the Resistance. It is the return of foreign Occupation, a reversion to the Dark Years. This is not the first attempt to link Sarkozy to Pétain. Alain Badiou explicitly makes the connection in his book De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?

Is French political thought particularly prone to this sort of mythologization of memory? Is it possible to approach the present directly in France, without recourse to specious historicization and paranoid lieux(-communs) de mémoire? I sometimes wonder.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Art - I couldn't agree more. Invoking the genuinely desperate ideological struggles of Vichy, the Resistance, Gaullists and Communists to "explain" today's problems is intellectual self-satisfaction(j'allais dire masturbation), a sign of historical memory but a woeful lack of common sense. Perhaps it is somewhat relevant to the current president's outlook to remember that Sarkozy was appalled by mai 68, but not very much.

The light side of such historical references is to say that Sarkozy "is more Bonaparte than Talleyrand," witty mais pas tres serieux.

Tom Holzman said...

Art - you ask whether the French are particularly prone to this sort of political mythologization. I would say the Americans do not do a bad job at it. Democrats regularly reference Kennedy (e.g., Teddy's speech yesterday endorsing Obama). Republicans try to wrap themselves in the mantle of Reagan and attack the Great Society and the 1960s counterculture as the root of current evils. So, this tendency is alive and well in the Etats-Unis.

In addition, I have not read any of the documents at issue, but I cannot say that Kessler is historically off-base. The French Model does come out of the war and its aftermath and does represent a certain distillation of the positions of various Resistance groups. I am not familiar with the Attali Report, but if it is a blueprint for moving away from or reversing this Model, then it is perhaps an attack on, or at least a reconsideration of, the Model in the current economic and political context. Moreover, I do not see any explicit reference to Vichy, although I can see the implication. Ultimately, while I do not find Kessler's hyperbole helpful to my understanding, it is not much different from what goes on in the good ole US of A.