Monday, June 16, 2008


It seems that this blog was award an E! for Excellent prize by the Progressive Historians' blog back in April. I just discovered this today. Thanks. It's nice to be appreciated. Check out the other prize winners. It seems that I share the honor with a blog about excrement. I don't know whether this says something about me or about France.

Desire and Suffering

"Can one desire without suffering?" This was one of the questions on this year's bac in philosophy. France for a long time made philosophy the center of its educational curriculum. The history, from the Napoleonic era to the present, is briefly recounted here, although the extremely important influence of Victor Cousin is omitted entirely (for that story, see Jan Goldstein's book). Lately, however, the bac en philo has come under increasing attack. For some, it makes no sense in the era of massification, as Le Monde puts it. Of course la massification de l'éducation is just another name for democratization, and I think that equating democratization with degradation and falling standards is a rather loaded way of putting the problem.

To be sure, if one watches the video of students at the Lycée Condorcet emerging from the test (scroll to bottom for video), it's hard to imagine any of these young people having much of interest to say on the question of desire and suffering. But the real story is not whether the "massified" student is more or less mature than those who sat for the bac in the 19th century. It was (I think) Tolstoy who wrote that "the aristocrat takes gratis from life what the commoner must spend his first thirty years acquiring." These young students may know more about desire and suffering in 10 years' time than they know now. But already the educational system is sending them the message that they need not bother their heads with such fluff: the "coefficient" of the philo grade may be 7 on the literary bac, but it is only 4 on the econ-soc bac and 3 on the scientific bac. The clear implication is that philosophy is a purely decorative subject, fit to be an ornament of the literary mind but no longer the "queen of sciences," ethical guide, beacon to the citizen, or any of a myriad other justificatory appellations that used to be bestowed on it. Students, not being fools even if their appreciation of the relation between desire and suffering, however existentially acute, may fail to pass philosophical muster, adjust their investment of time accordingly. Perhaps the schools need at last to admit that Victor Cousin is not much of a mentor to the 21st century.


Beefing up French intelligence is one of the priorities of the defense white paper that is to be issued tomorrow. On the white paper in general, see the excellent series of articles by Judah Grunstein on World Politics Review.

Overall, the army is to be reduced in size by 17 percent, the air force by 25 percent, and the navy by 11 percent. The decision about a second aircraft carrier has been postponed, even though the reason for it is that the one existing carrier is often out of service for longer periods of maintenance. Rejoining NATO seems to be central to maintaining France's military posture with reduced forces.

Report Card

Remember the grades that ministers were supposed to receive? They were all being watched by Eric Besson and the consulting firm Mars & Co. The first report card has now leaked out. Only 9 ministers have been evaluated so far. Top grades go to Dati, Morin, and Bachelot, and Barnier. Passing grades to the two Xaviers, Darcos and Bertrand. "Could do better" to Pécresse, Alliot-Marie, and Albanel. But the laggards are exonerated by the grader's comment: "Difficulties due essentially to conservatism in their area."

The prime minister characterizes the reports of a report card as des supputations.

Why Did the Irish Vote No?

Two views of why the Irish voted no on the Lisbon Treaty: Eloi Laurent and Kevin O'Rourke.