Thursday, November 12, 2009

Empty Memory


Vincent Peillon: "La grande affaire, pour notre génération, qui n'a rien fait : ni la Résistance ni l'anticolonialisme, tout au plus Mai 68, va être d'écrire sa propre histoire. Nous ne pouvons pas être seulement les gestionnaires d'un mémoriel."

This is a bizarre statement but rather symptomatic, I think, of a state of mind that has plagued a Left brought up on an idea of politics filled with heroic imagery. It is as if ordinary life doesn't count and cannot summon up any passion or commitment. But what was the Resistance for, if not to make ordinary life possible again? For an interesting comparison, read Peillon's plaint against Lionel Jospin's apologia pro vita sua. Jospin ticks off the accomplishments of his government, and he's not exaggerating:

Priorité à l'emploi ? 900 000 chômeurs de moins, 35 heures mises en œuvre et emplois-jeunes multipliés. Croissance économique ? Constamment soutenue et supérieure à la moyenne européenne. Rétablissement des grands équilibres ? Baisse des déficits du budget et de la Sécurité sociale, et même de la dette par rapport à la richesse nationale. Parité entre les hommes et les femmes ? Inscrite dans la Constitution et introduite dans les scrutins de liste.

Lutte contre les discriminations ? Mesures antiracistes et instauration du pacs. Indépendance de la justice ? Scrupuleusement respectée. Sécurité des quartiers ? Création de la police de proximité. Respect des élus locaux ? Contrats de plan généreux et négociés. Immigration ? Politique ferme mais digne.

Soutien à la recherche, à l'éducation et à la culture ? Fin des coupes sombres et efforts budgétaires. Obéissance aux règles de la République ? Cinq ans de gouvernement sans scandale et d'administration conduite en transparence, hors de tout favoritisme.


A respectable bilan, to which Peillon's remark reads like an impudent "So what? Where is the heroism? Where is the emancipation? Where is the dialectical moment?" But as Max Weber liked to say, "politics is the long, slow task of boring through hard, dry boards." Jospin was good at boring boards (and crowds). It was an honorable effort, for which leftists dreaming of opportunities to prove their heroic prowess felt no gratitude whatsoever. In fact, they repudiated the idea that such unheroic governmental labor even shared the same conceptual universe as the final struggle of which they dreamed. And so the 2002 election ended as it did.


As Peillon's comment reveals, it is not so much the Right that has defeated the Left as the Left that has so divided itself internally, existentially, intellectually that it cannot be comfortable with any image of politics that is not also a simulacrum of combat. And of combat that is in any case liberally tinctured with fantasy: I would never speak ill of the Resistance, yet "Paris brisé, Paris outragé, Paris martyrisé, mais Paris libéré. Libéré par lui-même ..."--it was a lovely rhetorical turn, I will be the first to admit, but one that left an entire generation with a vision of emancipation as miraculous transmogrification. A lesson in the long, slow boring of hard, dry boards would have been more useful.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Blame it on Louis XIV. He kicked out the Protestants. Who were big on the valorization of the ordinary, hum-drum of daily activity. The Calvinist ethos. Bourgeois anti-heroism. Jospin was a Protestant before he became a Lambertist. A bourgeois through and through. Just like Peillon.


Chris P.

James Conran said...

I'm sympathetic to the idea that the Jospin government was broadly speaking doing the kinds of things a centre-left government should be doing in this day and age. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to the polls with the Left you have, not the Left you would like. I presume one of the reasons you and Weber see politics as being the slow boring of hard boards is that to achieve his goals the politician has to bring people with him, at the price of incrementalism.

Of course the self-indulgence of large portions of the French left is hugely destructive (in 2002 even the Trotskyist vote was split three ways if I recall) and threatens the viability of any centre-left government. But since we can't disolve the people, aren't these precisely the hard boards that need to be bored in the French context?

Forgive me for the obviousness of the point and the lack of solutions offered!