Sunday, February 20, 2011

True Believers

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has the knack of arousing strong passions. Periodically, I receive comments from his adepts. Here is one that just arrived, although the post to which it was connected appeared a month ago:

As a French, I was really interested to see some Americans getting interested about French politics! Usually it is the contrary you know...
So, congratulations for being open minded up to the point to read about J-L Melenchon, who created the Left Party "Parti de Gauche" in France 3 years ago, following the German "Die Linke" from Oskar Lafontaine.
I spent almost 3 years in US. I know Melenchon's arguments must appear weird to most American people. However you should know that Melenchon, at first a philosopher, has been for many years one of the most interesting and thought-provoking men in French Politics. I think one of his central arguments is that a society that submits itself to "a body without a head" like the international free market, without inventing a new political power to counterbalance it, is actually gradually giving up democracy.

The assumption here seems to be that if one isn't French, one needs extra help to understand a thinker of Mélenchon's subtlety. The writer seems not to consider the possibility that I might actually be quite familiar with the thought of this "philosopher" and still disagree with him profoundly. If only I immersed myself more fully in the "World according to JLM," she implies, the scales would fall from my eyes and I would join the ranks of his supporters.

This is a curious attitude, and one that I don't detect in the brickbats coming at me from other parts of the political spectrum. But perhaps that is because they have already written me off as an irredeemable social liberal, left apostate, or crypto-Sarkozyste. In fact, although I am an American, je ne suis pas un Américain à l'image des banquiers d'investissement, des managers de hedge fund, et autres suppôts du corps sans tête qu'est "the international free market," to borrow a phrase from my would-be instructor in the ways of capitalism. I don't find Mélenchon's thinking in any way "weird." Indeed, it is all too familiar. But certain adherents seem to be discovering this particular critique of capitalism for the first time.

I assume that the writer is young. There is something rather touching about her faith, and it ill behooves me, as an aging intellectual whose radical passions have waned, to attempt to dissuade her from pushing on with it. I used to take a dim view of people in my position, before I became one of them. So I accept the criticism indulgently, though it doesn't in the least shake my conviction that to embrace Mélenchon would be a seriously wrong turn for the French Left.


Mark said...

The young revolutionary drifting ever rightward with advancing years. Never trust anyone over thirty was and remains it seems the shibboleth to this kind of politics. Not so sure it's fair to pick on this young writer who makes rather naive assumptions about Americans and their politics. Authenticity vs bad faith still have a certain resonance today though, although I am sure you won't accept that Art.

Rachel said...

Your reaction is quite weird and seems a bit arrogant, and you accuse this Mélenchon supporter to be the one who's acting arrogantly... He didn't write : "I know Melenchon's arguments must appear weird to you" but to "most Americans", which isn't far from the truth, really. Obama's been called a dangerous communist ; imagine what some Americans would call Mélenchon... who's actually a Republican (and the meaning of this term is still that of the Lumières and of the French Revolution here in France).

The truth is Mélenchon's party Le Parti de Gauche is full of intellectuals, like the economist Jacques Généreux. This Frenchman's exagerating a lot when he calls Mélenchon a philosopher, but there's some truth to it : he's an intellectual who's written fascinating books about the history and the current state of the Left in France and Europe.

To have an example of his political analyses, take a look at this video about the social democratic model - and it even has English subtitles :

I'd also recommend all the series of videos of PG conferences, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and elsewhere, such as "Gouverner face aux banques" : or this video about the Lisbon Treaty who's also particularly intresting :

À plus !

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Dear Rachel, Perhaps you're too young to remember the Centre d'études, de recherches, et d'éducation socialiste of 1971. Mélenchon is following a similar path, without the études, recherches, or éducation.