Friday, February 12, 2010

Bouvet on the Veil and the NPA

Laurent Bouvet, with whom I often agree, here attacks the decision of the NPA to run a candidate who wears the veil, and I'm afraid that this time I can't agree with him or even make much sense of his argument, His first point is that parties should be doctrinally pure and therefore rule out "incompatible" allegiances. In his mind, it is absurd to think that a person can be "à la fois anticapitaliste, féministe, laïque et porter le voile." The problem is that "actually existing" human beings, like the "actually existing" socialist republics of yesteryear, are never as free of contradiction as theorists sometimes like to imagine. Socialists circa 1914 woke up to the rude shock that it was possible both to belong to the Workers' International and to support nationalist governments bent on making war on armies whose ranks were filled with one's comrades. Surely the set of commitments that Laurent ridicules here is less seriously contradictory than the jingoism of nationalist internationalists whose existence Marxist theory never satisfactorily explained. As I have explained in previous posts, I have no difficulty imagining a woman committed to anticapitalism and feminism, laïque in the sense of tolerating all forms of religious expression while according preference to none, and determined to wear the Islamic scarf as an assertion of her own identity (which may be simply a matter of ethnic belonging but may also signify religious belief, which Marx may have dismissed, as Laurent notes, as the opium of the people but which other socialists have found it possible to embrace).

Laurent's second point is that it's preposterous for a party like the NPA, predicated on antiliberalism and dedicated to the notion that freedom of choice is an illusion of "false consciousness" induced by capitalist ideology, to advocate the "ultraliberal" idea that what a woman chooses to wear can ever be truly a matter of "free choice." This is an adolescent exercise in polemical logic-chopping rather than a serious argument, but if the metaphysical point is pushed to its obvious conclusion, then there is no point to any so-called political choice: we are all merely the playthings of forces that surpass our understanding, and whatever happens will happen without human agency, as it has been foreordained. Only religious fundamentalists are so dogmatic in their metaphysics, and surely Laurent Bouvet wouldn't want to be taken for a fundamentalist: given his politics, that would be as bizarre as an NPA feminist wearing a veil.


As you may know, Google Mail has introduced a new "feature" (annoyance?) called Buzz, which allows you to follow the Internet tracks of selected gmail users. It can be linked to Blogger and to the Google Reader "shared" page. I've done this, so you can follow via Buzz all posts on French Politics, all the items from other blogs that I choose to share via Google Reader, and anything else that strikes my fancy, simply by following me (my Google user name is art.goldhammer ). Now, for some of you, this may be a bit too much garbage in your Buzz box.

Let me know if you like or hate this new linking possibility, and I may modify my behavior accordingly.

EU Blogosphere

Students of EU affairs will be interested in this rundown of EU bloggers on

Lagarde vs. Roubini

Nouriel Roubini thinks that the solution to the Greek debt dilemma (and the larger problem of bailing out the PIIGS, the weak sisters of the Eurozone) is to call in the IMF. Christine Lagarde categorically replies, "When PIIGS fly!" (and J.-C. Juncker agrees):

La ministre des Finances Christine Lagarde a expliqué vendredi sur RMC Info et BFM TV que «nous ne sommes pas aujourd'hui, au sein de la zone euro, les seize pays de la zone euro, en situation de faire appel au Fonds monétaire international» (FMI), ajoutant, «on en est pas là du tout». Déjà lors du G7 qui s'est tenu le 5 et 6 février, Jean-Claude Junker [sic], le président de l'Eurogroupe, avait formellement démenti l'idée d'avoir besoin de l'argent du Fonds.

Sen's Justice

A translation of Amartya Sen's Idea of Justice has just come out in France, remarkably soon after its appearance in English. The book is well reviewed here by Emmanuelle Bénicourt, who admirably draws out the key arguments: a critique of John Rawls' Theory of Justice based on Sen's contention, backed by his Nobel prize-winning work on social choice theory, that what Rawls calls "the original position" will not lead to agreement about principles of justice, as Rawls believed; and, second, that judgments about what is just are comparative rather than absolute.

I mention this review and this book not only for their intrinsic interest but also because I will be touching on Sen's critique of Rawls when I lecture later this year at the Collège de France on the subject of  "Fairness in Democracy" (May 7, 11 AM, for those of you who may be in Paris at the time).

Charity Shootout

The French foundation to combat muscular diseases (AFM) has filed suit for slander against Pierre Bergé, France's wealthiest myopathe, who accused the charity of misusing its wealth and urged people not to contribute to its recent telethon. When it comes to misusing wealth, Bergé knows a thing or two: he was convicted of insider trading for selling shares of Yves Saint-Laurent in 1992, just before the company issued a poor financial report. Once the mécène of Ségolène Royal, he has lately changed his mind about the former presidential candidate and reduced her to la portion congrue.

TGV Misses Station

In the US we recently had an airliner that overflew its airport while its two pilots claim to have been preoccupied with their personal computers in the cockpit. Now, in France, a TGV has missed its station. The Paris-Rennes was supposed to stop in Le Mans but didn't. The SNCF calls the incident "extremely rare." The inconvenienced passengers were returned to Le Mans by another TGV headed in the opposite direction. The engineer responsible for the "faute grave" will presumably be hung from a butcher's hook.

By the Numbers ... Buy the Numbers?

French GDP fell 2.2% last year--the worst performance since WWII. Of course this puts it in the same category as most other major economies. The bright spot was growth of 0.6% in the last quarter of 2009, but this was dimmed by the large positive contribution to GDP of inventory replenishment, which suggests that the economy may not yet be around the bend. On the other hand, household consumption was up 0.9% in the last quarter, but investment by firms was down and investment in housing was way down. Exports were also off, and government investment has decreased for the past two quarters despite the stimulus spending.

So, on the whole, a very mixed picture, which does not look like robust economic recovery.