Sunday, February 10, 2008


Having posted in recent days a few comments on Ségolène Royal's visit to Cambridge, I have been surprised to discover the depths of hostility that she arouses in certain quarters. Of course, since I follow French politics closely, I saw the way she was treated in the campaign by both her supposed friends and her avowed enemies. But Sarkozy, too, was and continues to be demonized. Certain excesses are inevitable in democratic politics. Still, I was not quite prepared for the abuse that could be unleashed by taking positions that Royal's detractors regard as approving or even insufficiently critical of her. Read the comments to several of the threads below. I am taken to task for failing to recognize that the former candidate is a "fake socialist," a "moron," a "Tartuffe," et j'en passe. The only possible excuse that my critics see is that I am a "naïf" and of course "a foreigner" who cannot possibly understand the complexities and subtleties or for that matter the plain and obvious truths of French political life, known to one and all of the bien-pensant. The fact that in a substantial number of the nearly 1,000 posts that make up this blog I have been rather severely critical of both Ségolène Royal and the left in general is of no moment to the critics who believe that I am at best a dupe and at worst an accomplice of "Saint Ségolène's" nefarious maneuvers.

I will not try to explain the vehemence of this outburst of negative commentary, but I think it's worth noting that, if anything, it inclines me to be a little more patient with certain past statements of Royal's that I once found exasperating. I didn't fully appreciate what she was up against.

Still, I will resist the temptation to compare myself to Joan of Arc. Saint Sebastian, perhaps. Masculinité oblige. Lucky me. I do believe that misogyny has something to do with the virulence of the attacks on Ségo, and I can't help noting that several if not all of the more outspoken negative commenters here have been women--something worth trying to understand, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

My mom hates HATES Segolene to the point she will literally buy magazines just to see if there is anything negative said about her in there (I am not kidding or exaggerating).

Inversely my younger brother is OBSESSED with Segolene and will not talk to you for weeks if you ever say anything ever so slightly critical of her.

As you can imagine, these two do not talk politics anymore and I am very glad I am living in another country LOL

Unknown said...

But why? Can you give us any insight into what motivates your mother and brother? Ségo has her faults and her qualities like the rest of us, but neither the one nor the other seems so egregious as to justify such monumental passions.

Anonymous said...

Royal Rumble between supporters and critics is more balanced than our good friend Goldhammer may suggest.

C'mon Goldhammer, what's up with this victim/martyr complex that's often in the air! I think St. Sebastian is going a little bit too far ... they're not all arrows here, some happen to be caresses :)

I've read much praise of Royal's backing the independence in a country of the Caribbean, why not include that in order to have a more fair and balanced assessment when you measure how much support or derision revolves around what has been called our "sexiest socialiste"!

Am I right to perceive that you or others find find Royal attractive in more than a political sense. That is the impression I got from previous articles.

Alas, maybe that explains the male/female devide on Royal.

Anonymous said...

I've read about and observed myself a certain amount of 'hillary bashing' in the US--both among conservatives and liberals. stanley fish wrote something about it in his NYT column/blog. it seems at times pathological, maybe especially among democrats.

do you think the anti-hillary sentiments are like the anti-segolene ones?

would it be way out of line to see some kind of similar misogynistic dynamic at work, do you think?

Anonymous said...

Poisonous anti-Ségo comments are part of the French penchant for bitter, destructive hatred which was diagnosed by Balzac as a disease of the French soul. I worked in a French company for 10 years and I was appalled at the incessant interpersonal cruelty that crippled production, ruined lives, and made the country's "fraternité" slogan seem like an ironic joke. Every American tourist has wondered: "What makes the French so vicious and mean/rude?" It is as if they labor under some primordial grudge, possibly arising from two facts of French life: maddening overdetermination in financial, educational, and economic life; and centuries of galling class disenfranchisement and inégalité under the former feudal and aristocratic system, which is still operative to some degree in France today.

Unknown said...

To the most recent anonymous, I don't think it advances matters to respond to anti-Royal screeds with an anti-French screed. And I have been an American tourist and have never found the French vicious, mean, or rude. Such generalizations are the very matter of xenophobic prejudice, and I reject them categorically.

To Eric, a friend made the same point to me. Here is what I said: "I've thought about the comparison with Hillary, which in some ways works, in others not. Nobody calls Hillary a "moron," and nobody says Ségolène "rhymes with rich," though she is sometimes said to hide a certain ruthlessness behind her "saintliness." The religious element--the comparisons of herself to Joan of Arc and Christ, really rankle with some. The charge of fraudulence attaches in her case to the notion that the saintliness is a pose, not that she trims her position to fit the latest polling. Of course the "fake socialist" allegation is leveled at any Socialist who flirts with the center; I don't regard that as specific to Ségolène. Misogyny is surely a factor, as I said in my post."

Anonymous said...

I guess a mix of misogyny, media democracy, inflamed political passions (hate towards Royal on both the Left and the Right) and simple personal bashing explains the whole thing. Put that on the Internet, and it gets even worse.

Royal seems to be fairer game for the worst kind of comments than other Socialist leaders for instance. Not that she is beyond critics, far from it, but it seems to be more difficult in her case to use the kind of balanced tone Arthur aims at on this blog. Royal has the capacity to gather strong critics both on the Right and on the Left, at a time when the quality of the political debate in France seems also to be shifting towards something more passionate, and personal than before. That it spills over on this blog is regrettable but barely surprising.

As for the comments on Mr. Goldhammer "l'étranger", I guess it is only compliment for a Camus enthusiast... I faced this in many forms (you cannot understand Nordic/English/Alsacian/Corsican matters because you are not Nordic/English/ etc), and it is simply ridiculous. Laisse courir, Arthur. Thanks for the blog, and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...


Je suis le fameux Anonymous qui semble bien vous embêter.
Mes posts ne vous ont visiblement pas plu. Je vous réécris donc que je ne suis pas en colère, ni contre vous, ni contre votre article, ni contre Ségo. Ce serait parfaitement stupide.
Mais c'est un comble ! Ne peut-on donner un avis différent du vôtre sans un peu de piquant et sans qu'il soit parfaitement déformé et amplifié ???

Quant à ma prétendu misogynie... sachez que je suis une femme !

Mais peut-être faîtes-vous une transposition entre HIllary et Ségo ? Hillary qui a été si attaquée et bien souvent en effet sur le simple fait qu'elle était une femme alors qu'elle a su montrer de nombreuses fois qu'elle était compétente et qu'elle maîtrisait ses dossiers. Mais c'est là que le bas blesse et que vous devriez arrêter la comparaison. Et en disant cela ce n'est pas reprendre les credos droitistes, mais son manque de compétence et de réalisme économique est malheureusement un trait du personnage comme vous l'avez signalé dans un de vos articles. Mais elle a sûrement des qualités humaines par ailleurs.
Et je crois qu'il ne faut pas comparer la gauche française et la gauche américaine. AUx Etat-Unis notre PS national serait communiste... étant donné que la comparaison vaut pour la plupart des pays d'Europe, voire tous...

Et puis après tout, celle qui se compare à Jeanne d'Arc et au Christ mérite bien quelques moqueries...

(Avertissement : Ce blog n'est pas de moi et si vous le consultez vous verrez que son auteur passe tous les hommes et femmes politiques au crible)

Allez ! Sans rancune...

Anonymous said...

Although I voted for her, I am not too found of Ségolène myself. I don't hate her or think she is stupid, though, and the two people I know who hate her (my mother and a close friend) both have good reasons. My mother knows her personnally and apparently had a bad experience with her she doesn't want to talk about. My friend, who was adopted, was horrified to see Ségolène pass a law that made it compulsory to put on the birth certificate of kids who were adopted "sous X" that they were adopted.
Because at the time such kids were born, the doctors advised the parents never to tell the kids they were adopted (as by law there was no difference) a lot of them learned about it when getting a copy of their birth certificates for a reason or another. You can imagine their shock.
My friend, although not one of these people (she always knew she had been adopted) is against all of Segolène's policies concerning adoption. Sego seems to care mostly about the mothers who abandon their kids, which is heresy to my friend, such an abandoned kid.
Not that she diabolizes the mothers, but she thinks once they've made their choice, it's over, they're not a mother anymore, period.

As for sexism from women, I think it might come from women who already wouldn't like Segolène, but because she's a woman, go as far as hating her violently, because she's "giving a false image of women". I think it comes from women who don't want to be associated with her, and are afraid all women are going to be judged in camparison to Sego. That in a way, she's representing all women, and in their opinions, not doing a good job of it.

I don't feel the same, but that might be because I don't see her as representing all women, no more than I see Hillary as such. To me, Hillary simply is a politician I disagree with because of her censure policies, and because she's too much to the right for me. Even though I prefer Obama, who I find slightly more to the left, neither of them would have been my candidate of choice.

Hope I helped in your quest to understand women's opinion of Sego.

Anonymous said...

The ECB is right to be concerned about inflation. Inflation of comments that is...

Arthur, if I may add my 2 cents, I think that you will find the answer to your question in your own writings. You concluded your post The Personal and the Political, by the following sentence: "(...) [I] thought I understood a little better than before why she has such magnetic appeal to some voters."

As for a magnet, some will be appealed to her, other will be repealed. I don't conceal that I belong to the second category. I have deep antipathy toward Ségolène Royal. Is it unconscious misogyny? It may be, although I doubt it since this isn't a feeling I usually have toward female politicians.

I never met Mrs. Royal. Nor do I personally know anybody who did. My political & economical views differ with hers on numerous subjects. That alone does not explain my reaction (I disagree with Besancenot on pretty much everything, without any aversion to him). It's a gut feeling built from her debates or speech that I saw. I can't help but think that she's deceitful, bitter and narrow-minded. These are strong words, but I they accurately how I perceive her.

I really think that attitude toward her (positive or negative) is as much about feelings as rational political arguments. This came to me, when I noticed that my girlfriend (who is as apolitical as someone can be!) made biting comments against "Ségolène" each time she'd see her on TV.

Anonymous said...

Appreciated "Arthur Goldhammer",

Intuition, whether it is an accurate or poor judge of other people's character, is often used when characterizing the politicians we evaluate.

And for fair or unfair reasons, I get the impression that Ségolène Royal is interpreted as being much more than a fake socialist, but as an all around fake person, constantly constructed and re-constructed to win elections.

Is it fair for the public to react that way in relation to Royal and not to Bill Clinton? Probably not fair, but it's interesting to interpret why there is a possible lack of equity there. Nevertheless, I believe Bill Clinton never called himself a socialist nor did he consistently-eschew discussing issues by refusing to discuss the "bread and butter" details of his proposals.

Maybe Royal should understand this:

You can be vague and ambiguous with all the people, some of the time. You can be vague and analytical, with some of the people, all of the time. But you cannnot be vague and ambiguous with all the people, all of the time.

Politics, at its core, is about responsibility and accountability. At the core of my yet-too-preliminary assessment, I must admit that Royal is attempting to avoid responsibility at all cost.

P.S. I understand Goldhammer's point about not presenting an uber-generalized picture of the rude, mean and unwelcoming French anti-tourist. But, I must confess, even though I am not an Unitedstatesean ("American"), I do think there is something to that. I have seen more rude, mean and unwelcoming people in France than I've seen in Germany, Basque Country, Catalonia, England, Wales or Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Valpurga: for what it's worth, many Americans do regard Bill Clinton as "fake", or worse --- his right-wing opponents here (like Sean Hannity, who has a national radio show, and another on CNN) publicly accused him of rape. (But of course, Hillary's worse --- if you believe national radio host Rush Limbaugh, and millions of people do, she's a killer).

The "politics of personal destruction" has become a fine art here, particularly on the right. Which, I guess, raises the question of whether Sarko the Americo-phile has imported some of those tricks into France. It might explain a bit...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I went to bed after posting my first comment about my mom and my brother.

And the reason I shared the story is because ... I have no clue why. And neither of them can explain it when I ask.

Ask my mom why she hates Segolene and she will list all the gaffes and stupid things the woman made and said in her campaign. But then if you point out to her that 1) why should a bad campaign from the PS candidate bother a woman (my mom) who has been voting RPR-UMP all her life and 2)that she hated Segolene BEFORE all that anyway, she just answers that if you don't see it, then that's not her problem and that Segolene is ... just ... you know ... bad ... and that if you don't see it, you are probably taken in by her (I am gay for the record so she doesn't mean it *that* way) and yada yada. In other words, no way to know what the reasoning is here.

Inversely, asking my brother why he is so fond of Segolene gets him mad because he thinks asking why he likes her is a way to express doubt as to whether she should be liked in the first place. He gets mad and pouts for days.

As you can see, both completely absurd reactions but that they feel strongly about even if they cannot even explain it. At least when people loathe Hillary, they have built a ridiculous array of fake reasons to hate her (she is a socialist, or she killed Vincent Foster or something of that nature). And people worship Obama, they can explain the appeal even if ultimately it is quite an abstract one.

But in the anecdotal evidence I have, people cannot even tell you why Segolene attracts such strong reactions. Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Goldhammer unfairly characterizes my comments about the French “penchant” for belligerence and combatitiveness as "anti-French” and “xenophobic.” Why is it that one cannot say the French can be rude or mean or vindictive –- which is a common observation by innumerable observers over the past 400 years -- without being accused of being “anti-French” and “xenophobic”? We are not saying these are unique French characteristics. But to deny that they play a significant role in French life is just wilful blindness. If you shop at Printemps in Paris and then shop at a mall in New Jersey, you will instantly know the difference in terms of employee satisfaction, workplace culture, and customer service.

Prof. Goldhammer is fortunate to have been treated well in France “as a tourist.” So have I. But the tourist’s viewpoint is very different from the daily lived experience behind the scenes, in the workplace and in government offices.

I reported my observations from ten years of working beside hundreds of French people. I call that a fair empirical sample, not the voice of prejudice. When you have done as much time shoulder to shoulder with “nos chers compatriot(e)s” in the salt mines of French bureaucracy, then you can compare your findings to mine.

A final word on perspective: a Harvard professor like Mr. Goldhammer is not likely to be exposed to the dark side of the French character in daily life. To the French establishment, Prof. G. is one of the elect, a key player in the American intellectual establishment, hence a high value target to be wooed and courted. Make no mistake, the French cultural attachés in New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Miami, Houston, and San Francisco have an explicit mission to flatter and befriend American movers and shakers, with grants, awards, champagne parties, and "decorations” (like AG’s Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). Some call this “cultural diplomacy.” Others call it propoganda. The French know its true purpose: to win unthinking allies and to stifle criticism.

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous,
While I am perhaps as susceptible to flattery as anyone, I am not a Harvard professor, merely an affiliate of the Center for European Studies. As John Maynard Keynes once said when he was mistakenly addressed as "professor," "I will not accept the indignity without the emoluments." In any case, I was a humble and impecunious student and writer in France long before anyone there knew my name, other than my friends, so I think that my anecdotal experience is neither more nor less credible than yours. My wife attended a French school for a year as a child. She and I and many of our friends have spent a good deal of time in France. So I draw on a range of testimony when I say, with all due respect, that I would like to know more about the attitudes that "innumerable observers over the past 400 years" took with them to France prior to any experiences they may have had there. As for the comparison of the Printemps with the Paramus Mall, well, I'm afraid I know New Jersey quite as well as I know Paris: I grew up in Plainfield. I assure you there are "rude, mean, and vindictive" people in both places.

Anonymous said...


If you want to start applying generalities to the whole country, you might as well not take Parisian experiences as your index.

The experience of 400 years of tourists shows that Paris is not France.
(And even in this place of darkness & evil, there must be a few good locals, since people came visit for at least the past 400 years...)

Anonymous said...

On Feb. 10, 2008 Goldhammer marvelled and puzzled at “the depths of hostility” of the French against Segolene Royal. I suggested an obvious explanation that some French have a “penchant” for attack and critique, even meanness, which is simply a sociocultural excess to be factored in or out of objective analysis of French affairs. Goldhammer called this generalization “xenophobic” (while indulging in his own generalizations about France, when convenient).

Now France's wrath has focused on Sarkozy. Today the UK Times’s Charles Bremner summarizes the cacophony of French criticism and attacks on Sarko, here:

He notes that Prime Minister François Fillon delcared that the President has become "the target of scandalous personal attack which has gone beyond all limits.” So even the French PM admits French attacks -- in this case on Sarko, but the principle of attacking the Powerful, the Prominent, the Other, is the same -- have passed beyond rational, measured responses, into an area -- dare we say -- of gratuitous, vicious, vindictive, cruel, and mean offense. I rest my case.

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous,
In the time of Bill Clinton's troubles, he was "the target of scandalous personal attack" that went beyond all reasonable limits. The Swift Boating of John Kerry was as mean and vindictive a political sandbagging as can be imagined. Does this mean that "Americans are a mean and vindictive people"? Your original comment did not circumscribe the charge to "some French," as you do know. It spoke of a trait of national character. I rest my case. But in rebuttal of your parting shot, I would add that thought is impossible without generalizations, but not all generalizations are admissible.