Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ferry Sows, Le Pen Reaps

Le Monde is right: Luc Ferry is proud of having roiled the pond by tossing in his huge rock, but the resulting waves are floating Marine Le Pen's boat (to stretch a metaphor):

M. Ferry assure qu'il n'a pas les preuves de ce qu'il avance, mais il s'est dit ravi d'avoir jeté un pavé dans la mare. Une telle attitude est indigne de la part d'un homme qui est l'une des cautions intellectuelles de la droite. Elle alimente un climat de soupçon généralisé qui ne peut que faire le jeu de l'extrême droite. Elle donne libre cours à la thèse du "complot", puisqu'il affirme avoir des témoignages de la part "des autorités de l'Etat au plus haut niveau"
Remember that it was Marine Le Pen who exploited Frédéric Mitterrand's confessions of culpable sexual tourism. Luc Ferry has now seemingly confirmed her thesis of tous pourris. Within the microcosm, he is saying, there are two kinds of people: sinners and those who turn a blind eye to their sins. Whether this allegation is true or not no longer matters. It has become an article of faith that "everybody knows," even if nobody seems to know precisely what "everybody" knew or whether what they thought they knew was mere rumor or something more substantial. The climate of suspicion is now total. France may have doubted that the presumption of innocence exists in the United States, but in France it now appears that the collective guilt of the entire political class is assumed on the basis of little more than a cloakroom rumor magnified by the power of the media. I don't think I've ever witnessed an unhealthier atmosphere in 40 years of following French politics.


Anonymous said...

I love this blog, and your informed commentary. That said, the alleged "climate of suspicion" which you characterize as "unhealthy" in France is not necessarily a bad thing. First if all, what is happenign in France is mild comapred with the public scrutiny one sees in UK tabloids. France is far from conducting a witch hunt. No one innocent is getting smeared. What is happening is that the "open secrets" that long circulated in corridors of power, are now being openly acknowledged by citizens who have no vested interest in keeping the "omerta." Previously, they would self-censor, or be silenced by power. Everyone still respects privacy regarding legal activities between consenting adults. But what we are seing is that very powerful public figures have lived double lives, have committed offensive acts, perhaps crimes, with impunity. I applaud this shift, if it means less hypocrisy in French society. Because lies, secrets, and hypocrisy lead to a truly "unhealthy" atmosphere and abuses, when political leaders who should set the tone, are not held responsible for their actions. That, in my opinion, is the "unhealthy" situation" - and not the revelation of ugly anti-social behavior. Today the Daily Mail named the aleged Moroccan orgy Minister as J--- L---.


The same J-- L-- who was vocal in defense of DSK. With friends like that!

MYOS said...

It's very scary and indeed very unhealthy.
Yet I can't blame Ferry for his initial statement - to me it's worse to hide such crimes (if they indeed happened) than to speak of them. As a result, there'll be an inquiry, which is what should have happened earlier in the first place. If he doesn't want to give the name of the person he heard about, he can at least give the police the name of the high-level officials who knew and didn't do a thing + the dates: it should be enough for a cursory check indicating whether something happened or not.

The repeated sentence "everybody knows", spoken by journalists and Ferry (either seen as a politician or as a Parisian intellectual) is far more damaging in my view.
It implies a vast conspiracy of silence (whereas I doubt there is!)

Also, don't they realize that by saying "everybody" they exclude almost all French people? Do they see what that implies? What does it mean about their concept of us v. them?

I bear in mind that until 10-15 years ago, a policy in Education Nationale or other institutions was to hush any hint of a problem and to discreetly transfer whoever was rumored to have interfered with kids. That such "hush and transfer" policy used to be par for the course in other ministère is not surprising to me.
So, Ferry's story of the "hush" doesn't sound so far-fetched to me, not because of a vast conspiracy but simply because it used to be the policy.

An example of such "discretion" that astounded me: I once talked with an older woman who used to be directrice d'école maternelle; she frankly said she'd voted for Royal in 2007 simply because she'd had the guts to change the 'discretion' game, whereby kids wouldn't be assumed to lie and the teachers 'who had slipped' - the French used was "qui avaient dérapé" - were discreetly transfered, but rather making it normal for an accused teacher to be suspended until further notice and even forbidden from classrooms; she even made mandatory for teachers to report suspected abuse instead of making such reporting an obstacle course. Also, until then, the new director would get the "new" teacher, sometimes without warning, an official reason such as family requirement or personal reasons stamped in the file. Sometimes info was passed down the line from school to school but if the transfer came from far enough there really was no way of knowing whether the new arrival had suffered something, was under suspicion, or had to relocate for family reasons. And of course the principal had to assign the suspected abuser to a classroom and could do nothing about it - Nothing, not even warn parents, as it was illegal. Plus of course it was the "easy" course to do nothing even if one suspected. The system was thus turned on its head when it became a professional fault to see signs of abuse and fail to report them. It seems astounding to think that school principal was talking of the normal rules and belief systems just 15 years ago.

MYOS said...

(BTW I'm not just using that story as proof: you can check policy and recent history books)

Atlantico, which tries to be the right's Slate, has an article:

I also worry that this may derail the jump forward for women that the post-DSK fallout let me hope for.

Anonymous said...

Mr Goldhammer
"I don't think I've ever witnessed an unhealthier atmosphere in 40 years of following French politics"

But its not happening in a vacuum is it. The European Socialist post-WW2 big state EU construction is under severe strain and could fall to populists for several reasons: it left the voters behind -- the EU machine is profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable; the Socialists have not been honest about their aims to engineer change through overpowerful and overbearing, expensive State machines, so voters are disenchanted; and most important of all, the debt tsunami dumped by North Atlantic casino bankers, is now overwhelming EU sovereigns, the common currency and the EU banking system.

Voters are furious and deeply frightened, the powder kegs are being primed, the matches are in the hands of Greeks and Spaniards.

Alex Price said...

There is a style you see in the French political/intellectual sphere that doesn’t exist in the US. I would describe it as flamboyant, comical vanity, and leading examples today would include Bernard-Henri Lévy (who more or less defines the type) and Dominique de Villepin. Watching Luc Ferry’s performances in the last couple of days, it struck me that he belongs in this group as well. The outburst on Canal+ that triggered this affair was more than anything else about getting attention. He boasts like a teenager. The stories that I’ve heard! Personally, from the highest authorities! The prime minister! Then, appearing on LCI to defend himself, he flicks back his hair (and when was the last time you saw a politician or any adult male do that, other than, say, Mick Jagger?) and pronounces it “shameful” (“une honte”) that the press could suggest he accused anyone of anything. He himself sees no reason to regret his behavior; he is proud to have “rocked the boat” (“jeté un pavé dans la mare”), to have made such a useful contribution to political life.

Cincinna said...

"Everybody knows" obviously doesn't mean the French people. That is what the high level coverup was about.
When I said "everybody knows" I should have clarified that. Everyone who had dealings at the rue de Valois Ministry could see for themselves what was going on.
The reason that this story has "legs" is that so many people know the history.
Denouncing someone indirectly without giving his name is a terrible thing to do. I question Luc Ferry's motivation, and his wisdom.
The defense against slander is the truth. And although I
think what Ferry did is reprehensible and cowardly, I don't doubt its veracity. The people who covered up for DSK and all the others are equally reprehensible.

Alex Price said...

A headline in Libé sums things up well: "Ferry, exister à tout prix" ("Ferry, getting attention whatever the cost").

The Nouvel Obs online also has several articles on Ferry, each one more caustic than the next.

meshplate said...

I find it very hard to believe that Luc Ferry would risk his personal credibility and reputation in their entirety for the sake of facts he was not certain about. The political/journalistic class is now jumping down his throat (closing ranks is what it looks like - when you don't like the message, shoot the messenger) because he does not have proof. Well, those he is denouncing without naming are precisely those who do. I assume he will give those names to the police this morning. Since hushing up a crime makes these people accessories, I also assume they will do everything to deny that they participated in a cover-up. All in all, therefore Luc Ferry has put himself in considerable personal risk. That takes moral courage and conviction.

meshplate said...

PS Le Monde's article is typical of its kind: if Ferry doesn't have proof, so he should shut his face. It's nothing more than vicious slander, they assert (and they know?). And doesn't Ferry realize what he says is grist for the FN mill? What twisted arguments! No one has been slandered, no presumption of innocence has been violated, which in any case is a legal and not a moral notion. What's the argument here? Ferry want to make a serious point and everyone automatically screams presumption of innocence, slander! And he should have a strategically elastic moral attitude to crimes because one should never do anything that might favor the FN! If this were events taking place in the US and the French media were commenting on them, you can be 100% assured they would take similar charges seriously.

meshplate said...

My last intervention on this point: if this were a normal country, the press would do their best to verify Ferry's claims BEFORE if necessary denouncing him. What in the name of god is this journalistic reactionary aggression mouthing the very same criticisms in the same words as the political elite? It's perverse.