Thursday, January 10, 2008

Organic Intellectuals

Libération, with characteristic cynicism, sees Sarkozy's appeal to Nobel economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz to think about new ways to measure growth as nothing but a "cynical recycling of left-wing ideas": Attention! un cynique peut en cacher un autre. This is of course unjust. Guy Mollet's contemptuous comment that "France has the stupidest right in the world" was never quite true. But among the things that Sarkozy learned from his observation of American neoconservatives and British New Laborites is that it can be useful for politicians to rub shoulders with intellectuals. Politics is more than the clash of interests, and political ideas are more than a publicly presentable cloak for naked concentrations of power. Ideas alter preferences, dissolve old coalitions and catalyze new ones, and transform the rapport des forces. Gramsci knew this, and Sarkozy--who would have guessed?--made himself a disciple of Gramsci: "I made Gramsci's analysis my own: power is won with ideas. It was the first time that a politician of the right took on that fight."

This assertion should not be dismissed as mere Sarkozyan hyperbole. The fascinating article by Jade Lindgaard and Joseph Confavreux, from which the above quote is taken, makes it clear that Sarkozy's pursuit of new ideas was systematic, carefully planned, and of long duration. He had assistance: Emmanuelle Mignon, a brilliant énarque who is now his chief of staff, organized the effort. More information about her work can be found in this interview. I will have more to say about all this in the days to come.

Thanks to Éloi Laurent for the pointer to an interesting Web site: Mouvement des Idées et des Luttes.

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