Tuesday, March 25, 2008


nonfiction.fr has a review of a book by Laurent Bonelli, La France a peur: une histoire sociale de l'insécurité, which explores the question of how the theme of insecurity came to occupy such a prominent place in French political discourse. The destabilization of once-stable working-class neighborhoods is one factor. Another is a change in the attitude of the Socialist Party, circa 1997, under Lionel Jospin (the Villepinte colloquium is mentioned). Jospin began to denounce social explanations of the causes of delinquency as "sociological excuses," thus joining the discourse of the right on the subject. Various elected officials also distinguished themselves from the pack by emphasizing the security theme. Among them were Julien Dray, Bruno Le Roux, Jean-Marie Bockel, and Jean-François Copé.

Death of Hazel Barnes

Hazel Barnes, the philosopher and translator of Sartre's L'Être et le Néant, died on March 18.


Vol. 28, no. 2 (2007) of The Tocqueville Review contains a paper of mine entitled "Falsehoods Not Intended to Deceive: Popular Sovereignty and Higher Law," which is an interpretation and critique of Bruce Ackerman's reading of United States constitutional history. Despite the 2007 date, this issue is hot off the press. I received my copy yesterday. Non-gated version here.

Nouvel Obs FNACkered

Denis Olivennes, the CEO of the FNAC, will become the new director of Le Nouvel Observateur. Claude Perdriel, his predecesor at NO, said that Olivennes is "at once [sic] a social democrat respectful of the market economy but on the left." It would be easy to comment ironically on this rather maladroit characterization of la gauche caviar, but since I hover somewhere in this neighborhood of the political spectrum myself, I will be gentle. I am also--to the chagrin of many of my friends--an habitué of the FNAC. What the stores lack in charm, they make up in efficiency: the bibliophile with but a short time in Paris or Nice or wherever can fill his trunks and spend his limit in the FNAC's well-stocked aisles. I trust that M. Olivennes will prove equally efficient and modern in his communication of the news.

Le Nouvel Obs has a circulation of 535,000+ weekly, and its Web site receives 10 million hits per month. Olivennes was appointed by Sarkozy to head a commission looking into illegal downloads via the Internet. He also played a role in Sarko's proposal to eliminate advertising from France2.

ADDENDUM: And what does Le Nouvel Obs empire rest upon? With a discretion worthy of Henry James, I shall refer to it only by its French name, le sanibroyeur SFA. When one reports the often melancholy news, I suppose il faut broyer du noir.

Collomb Speaks Frankly

Gérard Collomb, the newly re-elected mayor of Lyon, is not a man to mince words. When asked whether a PS proposal to increase purchasing power by raising the SMIC and the minimum retirement benefit was a good idea, he said: "Purchasing power will increase only if our businesses prosper. We must therefore invest in research and universities. To put it bluntly, it's pointless to pile promise upon promise with the idea of pleasing as many categories of voters as possible. The 101 propositions in our 2007 Presidential Pact were a mistake. It's better to offer a credible program than to spout nonsense."

The Senate

The French Senate is a most peculiar institution. It exists on sufferance, with diminished real power, because bicameralism has always suffered from an association of the upper chamber with aristocracy, despite Tocqueville's heroic if disingenuous effort to persuade his compatriots that it was merely a different and more refined emanation of the general will. The Fifth Republic has a Senate that has indeed been "aristocratic" in the sense of embodying changeless continuity: it has never been controlled by the Left. Its members are indirectly elected by some 150,000 local élus known as grands électeurs. Yet despite the fact that the Left is now clearly in command at the local level, control of the Senate will not change hands. To be sure, it would not matter much if it did, since the government can always choose to break a deadlock by granting the National Assembly the power to pass a bill without Senate approval. But the symbolic significance of genuine alternance in the Senate would be worth something, as Jean-Pierre Bel writes in Le Monde. The Balladur Commission has recommended a reform of the way in which senators are chosen. What will come of it remains to be seen.

The Right Frays

The Right managed to maintain a fair semblance of unity through the first round of reforms. It had the wind in its sails and the coast of the Promised Land in sight. So it passed the TEPA act (which cut taxes here and there to the tune of 14 billion euros) with nary a dissenting voice. Suddenly, however, in the wake of what the prematurely disgruntled Jean-François Copé has called a "thrashing" (un dérouillé) in the municipals, others have found their voice. In retrospect, the problem with the TEPA suddenly looms large: it was too generous to the rich, with its tax shield and estate tax reform. "Justice" is the watchword of the new dissidents of the center-right. As one of them, Charles de Courson of Nouveau Centre, puts it, "Le thème de la justice, c'est bien un truc de centriste, non?"

Well, I would have thought that "justice" merited somewhat more full-throated praise than un truc de centriste, but it's a start. Twenty deputies signed a petition in which they pledged in regard to future legislation that "Nous resterons très vigilants vis-à-vis du contenu des réformes, qui ne peuvent se faire sans esprit de justice." One member of the group offered a blunter assessment: "Les 15 milliards pour les riches, on se l’est pris dans la gueule pendant toutes les municipales. Maintenant, il faudrait enfin comprendre qu’on ne travaille pas que pour ceux qui payent un ISF." ("The 15 billion for the rich hit us smack in the face in the municipals. It's finally time to understand that we're not working only for those who pay the tax on large fortunes.") The Socialists could use un truc de centriste like that.