Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I'll be on the road for a few days, attending the Society for French Historical Studies conference in Tempe, Arizona, where I'm a "featured speaker." I may get in a little blogging, but don't expect too much over the next few days. Feel free to leave comments here or point the way to interesting stories, since I won't have as much time as usual to scan the press and the Web. Back on Sunday. À bientôt.

Bourdieu Resurrected

In advance of a government push toward an ultimate solution of the retirement conundrum, a group of intellectuals, trade union leaders, and political leaders from the left of the Left and the left wing of the Socialist Party have launched a petition calling for a "broad mobilization of citizens" to stop what they see as an attack on a venerable French institution and linchpin of the French social model. The complexion of this group is reminiscent of the coalition that formed around the late Pierre Bourdieu in the wake of the massive 1995 strikes against Alain Juppé's proposed reforms.

But this time the sequence is reversed. In 1995, there had seemed to be a consensus of intellectuals and unions in favor of the reforms before the strike. The virulence of the public reaction came as something of a surprise to both government and reformists outside of government, and Bourdieu's intervention became a rallying point for a dissidence that revealed a real cleavage among the ranks of intellectuals (see Gérard Noiriel's analysis in Les fils maudits de la République--Noiriel is one of the signers of the new petition). Now--for the time being, at any rate--moderate reformists outside the government are relatively quiet, and the dissidence is raising its voice in advance of any popular protest, as if to lead a future movement rather than follow it (in the footsteps of Ledru-Rollin, who famously said, "Je suis leur chef, il fallait bien les suivre"). It remains to be seen where popular sentiment actually lies on this issue. It may be that the public mind has evolved since 1995. Or again, it may be that the relatively mild reaction to the reform of the special regimes back in 2007, when Sarkozy was at the height of his popularity, has lulled the government into a false sense of security.

With Sarkozy having retreated or been forced into a defensive posture on so many other fronts (Copé is now even calling for maintaining advertising on public TV during the daytime, and UMP opposition to the tax shield has not lessened), retirement reform is likely to loom as the defining issue of Sarkozy's presidency. Make or break, just as health care reform was in the United States. This may tempt his many enemies to go for broke in an all-out effort to defeat him as we move into the next presidential season. How the Socialists deal with this issue will therefore be a defining moment for them as well. They presumably will not want to sign on with the new rejectionist front. But where is the middle ground? What will they propose instead?

You've Got to Be Kidding

It just gets better and better:

At the same time, the Elysée has been pointing the finger at Rachida Dati and is determined to punish her (last week's post). It has leaked reports that its investigators (presumably police) have proof that the former darling of the President was passing on the gossip [about alleged affairs of both NS and CB). Claude Guéant, Sarkozy's chief-of-staff, got into the act today, telling le Canard Enchaîné on the record: "The President of the Republic does not want to see Rachida Dati any more". [What is this, High School Confidential?--ed.]

Dati is in turn threatening law suits against the boys at the Elysée. On RTL radio this morning [in picture], she insisted that Sarkozy would never say the things that his advisers were alleging and she hoped to have it out with the President him soon.