Thursday, February 28, 2008

Il Est Interdit d'Interdire

Odd French laws.

Political Insults: A Historical View

An interesting Web site for students of political insults across the ages.

Speaking of Tocqueville

Speaking of Tocqueville, I came across an interesting remark of his this morning:

Impetuosity, or what one might call legislative light-headedness, is the leprosy of democracy, and impetuosity leads to oppression.

Substitute "executive" for "legislative" and you have an interesting comment on the ills of the Sarkozy presidency. "Leprosy" is a rather strong word for this particular malady. (The quote is from a speech Tocqueville delivered in the National Assembly on May 25, 1848, OC III.3, p. 84)

Underemployed Archicubes

After the "French social model," the "French educational model" is now under pressure. The École Normale Supérieure, once the country's most prestigious institution, seems increasingly maladapted to the job market both inside academia and out. Graduates with highly specialized training in philosophy or literature find themselves teaching in lycées, where their talents and preparation are underemployed. So argues an article in Le Nouvel Obs, which Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences Po, reproduces on his blog--a trifle disingenuously, since the article ends with this observation:

D'autres anciens avouent même rêver secrètement d'un Richard Descoings, du nom du directeur de Sciences-Po qui a su anticiper les évolutions en se lançant dans l'invention d'un nouveau modèle d'établissement supérieur.

I'm on fairly intimate terms with the dreams of many academics, and I don't know one who dreams about administrators. Is this Sarkozysme come to the world of universities? All hopes pinned on a single energetic reformer? Not a good idea, I would say, though I would be the first to congratulate Descoings on some of his initiatives at Sciences Po. Still, the article points to important undercurrents in the world of universities, undercurrents that have been slowly reshaping the landscape for many years now.

And, à propos, right on cue, has just published an article on university reform with a good bibliography of recent books on the subject.

It's Catching

Sarkozy's crude outburst at the Salon de l'Agriculture--"d'homme à homme, assez viril," in the words of Jean-Pierre Raffarin--has set an example for other elected officials to follow. Jacques Peyrat, the mayor of Nice (ex-Front National, then UMP, but officially disowned by the UMP, which is running its own list headed by Christian Estrosi), has also been caught on camera. Except in his case, the exchange, however virile, cannot be characterized as d'homme à homme, since he addresses his unseen interlocutor as pétasse. (And there is no doubt that Peyrat didn't need any lessons in crudeness from Sarkozy.)

Will the Internet change the behavior of a certain class of French politicians? Or do they speak this way, as Sarkozy once suggested in debate at the National Assembly, because they think that this is the way le peuple speaks and that one explanation for the continued victories of the Right is that the Left "has forgotten how to talk to le peuple--you're not like them, you don't speak like them," as Sarko put it after he was attacked for his famous racaille remark.

Adieu Françafrique?

France will renegotiate all its military treaties with African states, and the new treaties will be fully transparent, says Nicolas Sarkozy. According to the president, this renegotiation marks a "continuation" of the decolonization process.

Sarko VRP

Sarkozy continues to peddle power plants in his presidential peregrinations. Today he sealed a deal for a coal-fired plant, to be built by Alstom in South Africa. As usual, Anne Lauvergeon, the head of Areva, was part of the presidential delegation and pitched a nuclear power station to the South Africans as well. The role of the French state in these deals remains, as always, ambiguous. Is Lauvergeon accompanying Sarkozy or vice versa? With all the talk of the president's diminution of the sacred office by his écarts de langue et de lit, it's odd that no one has remarked on the rather undignified posture of the traveling salesman head of state. Perhaps the French are too habituated to the practice to care.

Tocqueville in the News

Lucien Jaume, a noted historian of French liberal thought, has just published a new book on Tocqueville. Le Figaro seizes the occasion to take brief note of the book and then to remind the French yet again of just who Tocqueville was, as though they have a hard time keeping his precise identity in mind. The various contributors to this special section seem to think that the best way to situate Tocqueville on the intellectual chessboard is to associate him mnemonically with certain other pieces. Thus Jacques de Saint-Victor is at pains to point out that "liberal" does not equal "neo-liberal," ergo Tocqueville is not to be confused with Hayek. Nicolas Baverez links Tocqueville yet again to Raymond Aron, both of whom he redefines--I was going to say in his own image, but perhaps it would be better to say, in relation to what he calls "political liberalism." Ran Halévi, a disciple of Furet, rings some changes on "the revolutionary spirit" vs. "the democratic spirt" yet somehow manages not to mention the name of the late Jean-Claude Lamberti, who made this theme his own. Philippe Raynaud looks at Democracy in America.

It would no doubt have served Jaume's book better if Le Figaro had seen fit to devote more space to it rather than roll out these usual suspects to deliver up these old chestnuts, but, still, it's good to see Tocqueville's name once again laid before the French public.

Thanks to MZ for the lead.