Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bickerton on Badiou on Sarko

Christopher Bickerton, who has contributed to French Politics, has a new article on Alain Badiou's book on Sarkozy. Two noteworthy paragraphs:

Sarkozy’s love of crisis management – exemplified in the French presidency of the European Union, which was transformed into a permanent crisis-management machine, from Ireland’s no to the Lisbon Treaty, the Russo-Georgian war, and the global financial meltdown – is another symptom of his relative powerlessness. Resolving crises, especially diplomatic crises, substitutes for a longer term political programme; urgency has its own meaning and logic, like war, which absolves those involved from providing any meaning of their own for what they do and why.
Badiou decodes Sarkozy, but in a way that exaggerates his power and his purpose. Sarkozy’s boundless energy and forceful obsession should alert us to the vacuity of his political project. Far from being a neo-liberal demagogue or a state terrorist in the making, Sarkozy’s politics are pragmatic, short-termist and opportunistic. This corresponds to the underlying social disorientation and it is typical of both the left and the right. Sarkozy’s rise has signified not only the decomposition of the French left, but also of the French right.

Exactly right.

Leibniz Meets Voltaire

"Il y aura bientôt trois siècles, Leibniz et Voltaire, un Allemand et un Français, ont réfléchi à ce que pourrait être le meilleur des mondes." So begins the joint statement of Sarkozy and Merkel on European security. The ironies here are multiple. Surely the aide who penned this phrase for the two leaders knew that Voltaire's Candide was a send-up of Leibniz's all-too-sanguine rationalism. And surely a French president who likes to highlight his role as honorary canon of Saint John Lateran ought to squirm a bit at the implied analogy with the author of "Écrasez l'infâme!"

But leave aside these quibbles with this ill-conceived stab at historical literacy and consider the substance of the statement. It is remarkable for its robust reaffirmation of Franco-German cooperation on security matters as the heart of the European project, which it is. It is also remarkable for its emphasis on cooperation with the United States. And finally, it is remarkable for its blunt statement that EU-NATO cooperation is not what it should be.

The ball has now been firmly smashed into Obama's court. The two European leaders are saying that they want and need to do more on the joint security front. Is the United States prepared to respond constructively to their bid? We shall see. If I were Hillary Clinton, I'd be on a plane to Europe soon.

Finally, Sarkozy and Merkel stress the importance of a new "partnership" with Europe. Thus there is an overture to the east as well. Putin will no doubt be studying the communiqué as carefully as Clinton. It will be interesting to see what comes of it. At the very least, Leibniz and Voltaire deserve good marks for attempting to overcome their differences and look to the future.

Coup de Semonce

An IFOP poll has Sarko's approval rating down to 41 percent. In itself that figure would be neither surprising nor alarming, given the economic downturn. What should have Sarko concerned, however, is that the coalition he so laboriously assembled to win the presidency is coming apart at the seams. His support among FN sympathizers has declined by 30 percent; among Bayrou sympathizers, by 20 percent; and among PS sympathizers, 7 percent. It was his ability to draw from each of these groups that made him more than the representative of a party. If he is reduced to the UMP president, his legitimacy will shrink, and he will have a harder time maintaining control even within the UMP, where the frondeurs periodically rear their heads.