Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Summit Meeting of French Philosophers

This discussion among a Pléiäde of French philosophers (Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hippolyte, Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Alain Badiou, and Dina Dreyfus [Claude Lévi-Strauss's first wife]) is an incredible document (if you're into this sort of thing, as I was in my misspent youth). (h/t to Stefanos Geroulanos both for the lead to the video and the correction of my misidentification of Dina Dreyfus).


Tensions are running high within the Ayrault government. Arnaud Montebourg refused to share a couch with his prime minister and other senior colleagues the other day, despite the presence of cameras to record the scene. Now Pierre Moscovici has given signs of displeasure at the PM's proposal to make changes at the finance ministry in furtherance of his new proposal to complete a thorough overhaul of the French tax system by 2015.

Make no mistake: a thorough tax overhaul is essential. The government's approach to budget-balancing by laying on new taxes, and particularly regressive taxes like the VAT, has been counter-productive. A tax revolt is brewing. I heard plenty of grumbling about tax hikes during my recent trip to Paris (the atmosphere seemed eerily familiar to my American antennae). But it's surprising that the initiative seems to be coming from Ayrault, whose forte, if he has one, is not economic policy. As usual, there is considerable lack of clarity about what the plan is, who initiated it, and even whether or to what extent the president supports it. Illegibility is a hallmark of the current regime.

It may be that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering in anticipation of a remaniement. Or it may just be another reflection of the apparent confusion that has sapped confidence in Hollande's leadership.

Is NKM Going to Lose in Paris?

There are politicians whom the press anoints as "young hopefuls," whose every move seems not so much a fulfillment as a promise of what comes next. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was one such. Her star seemed perpetually on the rise, and her reputation grew faster than her list of accomplishments. She is among the few in the UMP who have established solid anti-Front National credentials, so that if the party implodes, she can be there to pick up what pieces might remain in the center of the political spectrum (she will have competition among the debris rakers, starting with Bruno Le Maire and François Baroin).

But a funny thing has happened on her way to the top. Some of the people she has elbowed aside aren't happy and are elbowing back. Even though Rachida Data seems to have quieted down, there remains opposition to NKM's parachutage into the Paris mayoral raise. The Tiberis, perennial troublemakers, are among the dissidents, but there are others. The problem seems to be that politicians whose ambitions are more circumscribed than NKM's are determined to cling tooth-and-nail to whatever petty fiefdoms they have carved out for themselves, even if the domain is nothing more than a lowly spot on the ticket of one of the city's arrondissements. If NKM can't put down these minor eruptions, her capacity to lead a national ticket will be in doubt. So the mayoral race is worth watching as a test of the tactical smarts of a young présidentiable.