Thursday, February 14, 2008


Man does not live by politics alone. Bread is another matter. Via Pollyvousfrancais, the best baguette in Paris. Steven Kaplan might not agree. For the long view, read this. And if you've got a lot of bread to spend, try this. But be forewarned: it will cut into your pouvoir d'achat.

Boltanski on the State and Capitalism

Luc Boltanski chats at length about the relation between the media, the state, intellectuals, and civil society. He sees Sarkozy's communications strategy as the culmination of a long process, beginning with Giscard (but why not de Gaulle? why not the Third Republic after Sedan?), whereby conservatism transformed itself into a proponent of something called "modernity," conceived as an independent force acting on society from without and which conservatives were exhorted not to resist or adapt to but actively abet and desire. He also has some interesting remarks on the institutional evolution that led from the Conseil National Économique to the Conseil Économique et Social to the Conseil d'Analyse Économique (created by Jospin). Whereas the former two councils contained representatives of civil society, the latter is composed exclusively of economists who envision themselves, says Boltanski, not as governors but as pedagogues whose mission is to educate not only or even primarily those who govern but rather those who convey the exigencies of modernity to the broader public: journalists--and perhaps, modernité oblige, bloggers as well.

Underlying this intuition, I believe, is the notion that, as Boltanski puts it, there is no capitalism without the state, that the idea that "neo-liberalism" and "the state" are opposed is a foolish one, and that capitalism is rather in need of a constantly shifting array of institutions to redefine the essential mission of the state in keeping with its own functional requirements. Vaste programme, aurait dit de Gaulle.

The Memory of the Holocaust

MY has left this comment to an earlier post:

Another case of over-reaching?
I am deeply attached to the idea of naming those who were murdered, because the nazis wanted to rob them of everything including their death. Yet making a living child "adopt" a murdered child creates deeply conflicted reactions in me.
I am quite ill-at-ease with the idea of "entrusting" a murdered child's life and name to a living 10-year-old in order to help children "understand" the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis (haShoah).
This "identification" process seems dangerous for children this age. Currently the Shoah is part of the history syllabus "to be broached through a few concrete examples" and The Memorial produced a remarkable website for children that age, entitled 'Sarah's attic'. Have the previous policies been examined and found wanting? Did the CRIF ask for this measure? Are there foundations or precedents for this kind of process?
Isn't it another of President Sarkozy's "speak first/think later" ideas?

The proposal of the president's to which MY refers is discussed here. In essence, he wants every fourth-grader in France to be assigned the name of a victim of the Holocaust. The child will then become the "guardian" of that person's memory.

This device to facilitate "identification" with the past is similar to that used in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where visitors are issued "identity cards" bearing the image and biography of a victim. I have seen young children accept this identification readily, so I wonder if the burden is really as potentially "traumatizing" as some critics claim. Nevertheless, like MY, I am wary of the proposal, as I am wary of all approaches to history that encourage suspension of the critical faculties and identification with victims. As with the reading of the Guy Môquet letter, the device might nevertheless be useful if incorporated into a well-designed syllabus by sensitive teachers. That said, I still wonder, as does MY, whether Sarkozy has really thought through the complexities. To single out one group of victims rather than others will of course be controversial, but this is a type of controversy that Sarkozy seems to court rather than avoid. This is unwise and probably a disservice to the Jewish community that he clearly hopes will be pleased with his proposal. Some French Jews may be pleased, but others certainly will not.

Comparison: The Italian Case

On Telos, Francesco Daveri evaluates the economic policies of the now-defunct Prodi government. Many of the measures Prodi took to boost growth and productivity resemble Sarkozy's program: reduce social charges imposed as payroll taxes to decrease the cost of labor, increase labor market flexibility, liberalize services (taxis, pharmacies, mortgages, insurance), etc. Corporatist interests reacted defensively, and Prodi's popularity dropped. Structural changes failed to yield quick results. The government fell.

Of course France is a very different country from Italy in many respects, but still ....

(For the picture, thanks Polly)

La Droite la Plus Bête du Monde

Pierre Lellouche has denounced the "suicidal frenzy" of his colleagues on the right:

"La droite française, malgré la magie sarkozyenne à l'UMP, serait-elle redevenue, Sarkozy parti à l'Elysée, la plus bête et la plus lâche du monde", se demande le député de Paris .

Meanwhile, the right's mayoral candidate, the BCBG Françoise de Panafieu, seems bent on proving that if the right isn't bête, it's becoming day by day more grossière. She referred to her opponent Bertrand Delanoë as tocard (plug ugly: better translation: loser [see comments]) and then tried to pretend that her contemptuous comment was in reality sympa. And anyway, she said, why should she have to police her speech to fit the dictates of the politically correct. Which really is bête. (The article includes a video, so you can judge for yourself whether her tone was sympa or méprisant.)

ADDENDUM: Alex Massie says that when it comes to bêtise et lâcheté, the French right has serious competition.

Tiberi to Face Trial

Jean Tiberi, the mayor (UMP) of the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, his wife, and nine associates will face trial on charges of election fraud. The investigation, which dragged on for 11 years, was one of the longest in French history. Of course the president during all that time was Jacques Chirac, the former mayor of Paris, who was not keen to have the Tiberi saga aired in a public trial. The charges against the Tiberis in the weeks before a municipal election break with republican tradition, but then so did the failure of prosecutors to act expeditiously after completion of the investigation.

NOTE: I earlier stated, incorrectly, that Tiberi had been locked up. My mistake. Thanks to EL for the correction.

Daniel: "We Were Wrong, but ..."

Jean Daniel, the grand old man of Le Nouvel Obs, after a fair amount of tergiversation, finally comes right out and says it: "We were wrong." This of the decision to publish--"on our Web site, not in the magazine," as if this were somehow exculpatory--a text message alleged to have been sent by Sarkozy to his ex-wife. "If I had had the information that Airy Routier had, I would have been quick to avert my eyes." One senses something of the internal donnybrook to which this incident must have given rise at Le Nouvel Obs.

All this is to Daniel's credit. Less so is his effort to divert attention from the obvious breach of his own sense of journalistic ethics to Sarkozy's alleged part in "enticing" the press onto the forbidden terrain of his private life. What appears in the press is the responsibility of journalists. Politicians will seek whatever advantage they can gain, and if they sense a willingness of the press to lower the tone or shift the emphasis from public debate to private life and "personality," they will exploit it. Jean Daniel, as le doyen of the French press corps, friend of Albert Camus, and persistent voice for ethical journalism, knows that better than anyone. He shouldn't be shifting blame for what he clearly believes to have been a serious mistake by one of his own reporters.

Daniel concludes his editorial by saying that he will support the magazine in defending its errant reporter against criminal charges brought by Sarkozy. I'm less sure about the justification for criminal charges than I am about the journalist's transgression of ethical boundaries, so I won't protest this decision of Daniel's. The important point is that Le Nouvel Obs reset the needle of its moral compass, and Daniel's editorial is a first step.

Thanks to MY for the pointer.

Sarkozy le Jeune

I said the other day that the young Jean Sarkozy had something of his father's political style. If you don't believe me, watch these clips, which show Jean today and Nicolas at age 20 and 23.

An added bonus is Jean's pledge to support the candidacy of David Martinon in Neuilly "à mort."