Friday, April 29, 2016

Ni-ni, et-et, hé-oh, aïe-aïe!, oy-vay!

Thomas Wieder has a long meditation on the blurring of the left-right distinction in France. The immediate pretext is of course Emmanuel Macron's (toujours lui!) declaration that his En marche! movement would be "neither right nor left," soon amended to say that it would instead be "both right and left." The amendment was a fine demonstration of Macron's, er, flexibility--some would say slipperiness.

Traditionally, of course, to say that one was neither right nor left meant that one was firmly on the right. Yet the attempt to escape the dichotomy once seemed vital to "reforming" or "modernizing" the left, at a time when would-be modernizers felt the need to disburden themselves of one piece or another of historical baggage, be it Marxist rhetoric, working-class identification, or a state-centric view of economic management ("l'État ne peut pas tout" was Jospin's famous last word before going down to defeat at the ends of Le Pen père).

But the historical baggage has largely been jettisoned, and the deeper allegation now is that there is no difference between Left and Right in power, whence Marine Le Pen's unkind cut in attaching the epithet "UMPS" to the governing tandem UMP and PS. Macron would like to recast the left-right dichotomy as a division between "progressistes" and "conservateurs." But this hardly advances the debate if one recalls that Sarkozy came to power in 2007 promising to "lutter contre tous les conservatismes." And Lampedusa's Leopard, arch-conservative that he was, knew that "everything must change so that nothing changes."

If progressivism means adaptation to changing conditions, in other words, the progressive may be the true conservative, so Macron's distinction will be of little use unless he is able to clarify the telos of his particular brand of progressivism. What kind of society does he envision once the labor code has been made more supple and competition has been introduced into hitherto protected domains of the economy?

The demonstrators in the streets yesterday protesting the El Khomri law, at times rather overzealously, think they already know the answer, but they are scarcely able even to formulate the question. "We are against unemployment," one of them said on France2 last night. Indeed. Who isn't? A protest mounted on such a complaint blurs the left-right distinction even more thoroughly than the program of En marche!

But it would be wrong to blame the protesters for their inarticulateness. Clearly, they have not been convinced by the solution on offer from the elite, even if they cannot say way. The real disappointment is that the elite, when challenged, has been unable to make its argument any more persuasive or its vision of the future any more vivid or appealing. One used to hope for les lendemains qui chantent. Today one would be content with un lendemain qui marmonne. But all that is on offer is slogans: Flexibility! Market! Competitiveness! Growth!

General de Gaulle once said that "if what you think the French need is autoroutes, you have to sell them with poetry." Today, the poetry is sorely lacking, whether it is from the right, left, up, down, top or bottom. The lexicon is that of an OECD report (no offense! some of my best friends work at OECD!). But with paving stones and fire extinguishers flying once again at police wielding shields and batons, it's time for one of France's innumerable énarques to start thinking in verse rather than prose. Surely some of these brillantissimes men and women remember their Racine and Molière, even if the alexandrines have been layered over by deep piles of Hayek.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nuit debout: Movement or Stasis?

As Jean-Claude Monod disarmingly admits at the outset of his "impression" of Nuit debout in Libération, it has become something of a cliché for graying philosophical heads to mingle with the crowd on the place de la République to try to glean from the assembled masses some inkling of what is going on. Is this a social movement, despite its apparent lack of ... movement--after all, its distinguishing mark is that it stands still, going nowhere, rather than marching on some Bastille of the imagination? Or is it yet another sign of social stasis--an indication that people are fed up with the way things are but have no idea where to go from here? Monod seems to come down, gently, on the side of the latter interpretation:
Ce mouvement est bien l’expression d’une «crise de gouvernementalité», selon l’expression de Foucault dans Naissance de la biopolitique, c’est-à-dire d’une façon de dire «nous ne voulons plus être gouvernés de cette façon». La crise de la gouvernementalité néolibérale est aujourd’hui patente, la subordination de la politique aux intérêts économiques dominants manifeste, le roi est nu… mais les contre-propositions sont peu lisibles, les alternatives économiques peu élaborées, l’organisation en mouvement durable incertaine, bref - «il se passe quelque chose», mais tout reste à faire.
I'm 3000 miles away, so it's hard for me even to form an impression of the movement, let alone an analysis. I hope that along with the philosophers, from Monod to the unfortunate Alain Finkielkraut, who was jeered by some of those gathered on the place when he tried to sample what was on offer, a few sociologists are at work among the demonstrators. I have seen very little about the social composition of the crowd: even basic data such as age, class and educational background, and employment (or lack thereof) are absent. We know that the movement has spread from Paris to dozens of other cities around France, but we, or at any rate I, have little information about how sustained the presence of demonstrators is elsewhere or whether the social composition varies from place to place.

Commentators remark on the similarity to the Occupy and Indignados movements, but we know that in the case of Occupy the social composition of the crowd changed over time, tensions arose among the participants, and there were conflicts with authorities in some places but not in others. We also know that these earlier manifestations of inchoate discontent found political prolongations in some places (Podemos in Spain, for example) but not in others, or at least less visibly in others (the extent to which Bernie Sanders, say, or Jeremy Corbyn drew on veterans of Occupy is not well understood). In short, there is work to be done on Nuit debout, and I hope there are chercheurs in the field doing it. In the meantime, testimony like Monod's is valuable for what it is--the impression of an intelligent and sympathetic but skeptical older head, wondering, as older heads must, what all these young people are on about.

ADDENDUM: A reader calls attention to this article on the social composition of the movement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hé oh Sarko! déboute Nuit debout

C'mon, guys, admit you miss him. The inimitable Sarkzoy, président anormal, pissing people off right and left. This time it's left: the Nuit debout people are "brainless," said the ex-president, and the government is gutless for letting them occupy the place de la République. It was vintage Sarko, divisive, polarizing, and above all ignorant, undiscriminating, and insulting: all the qualities that made Sarkozy the president he was and ensured that he would not be re-elected. But it was these same qualities that got him elected the first time, so he's back with the old program, the attempt to re-position himself as a mature, sage elder statesman having failed.

But, let's be honest, what folks on the right think France needs is un vrai chef: this poll tells us that 99% of supporters of both the Republicans and the FN agree on this point. Ninety-nine percent! And it's not just those bloody fascists on the far right. It's mami et papi back in the village looking for a tough guy to whip those brainless young slackers planting endives in the place de la République into shape and line them up in disciplined straight lines at Pôle emploi.

Perhaps this poll was taken before this month's encouraging drop in unemployment was registered. Surely these new figures are going to catapult le président normal back into the presidential race, scattering the crowds at République, Or perhaps that miracle will be effected by the enormous positive energy unleashed by Stéphane Le Foll's creatively named Hé oh la gauche!, which mobilized a phalanx of ministers to tell the world how well they were doing. Alas, the country seems not to have gotten the message, since the oddsmakers apparently still believe that Round 2 will be a Juppé-Le Pen faceoff.

Hé oh mon cul. Quel pays!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Two Articles on Structural Labor Market Reforms

To set the El Khomri law in perspective, these two articles are useful: here and here.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


No, the title is not a typo. The question on everyone's lips these days is, Whither Macron? Just as Macron intended. He has played his hand as Sarkozy played his during Chirac's fin de règne. Make your ambition clear, multiply the stabs at your boss to demonstrate your independence, endure his rebukes for a while, and then slam the door.

The latest round between Macron and Hollande is the lamentable EDF affair, detailed here (paywall). Supposedly a slap in the face for Macron, whose recent statements on the future of the Hinkley Point project were countermanded by Hollande 3 days later. But Macron has the last laugh: the €3 billion needed to rescue EDF will make Hollande's economic record look even sorrier than it does already, facilitating Macron's task of running against it--even though he will have only recently abandoned his post as Hollande's minister of the economy. Is it any wonder that voters have tired of these games? Yet they seem not to have tired--yet--of Macron, who is riding high in the polls.

Still, it's hard to imagine Macron getting the nomination of the PS or the broader left, where he is generally regarded as the symbol of everything that has deepened the rift between the government and its base. It's much easier, in fact, to imagine Macron as a potential prime minister under Alain Juppé, who might try to sell such an appointment as a reconciliation of center-left and center-right. Of course there would be howls from Republicans who might think they deserve the nod, but a number of the obvious candidates would seem to have disqualified themselves. Bruno Le Maire has taken a turn to the right in his presidential bid, so Juppé might hesitate to appoint him. Laurent Wauquiez has skated even farther right and in any case stuck his neck out as Sarkozy's liege man. There have been reports of a deal between François Baroin and Sarko that if the latter becomes president, Baroin will be named prime minister, in return for which he is quietly working as head of the association of French mayors to persuade Republican mayors not to dump the ex-president as damaged goods. NKM is too loose a cannon for a buttoned-down leader like Juppé, and she wouldn't bring him the cred with le patronat that Macron has earned with services rendered.

And of course if Juppé doesn't nominate Macron, the young Emmanuel will nevertheless have positioned himself nicely for a presidential bid in 2022 as the candidate of either left or right--such is his marvelous ambidexterity, a very desirable quality at a time when both the Socialists and the Republicans are threatening to come apart at the seams. The party landscape in 2022 may look quite different from what it is today, and no one is better placed to take advantage of a party realignment than Macron.

When you think about it, it's really a rather bizarre situation. The leading candidate on the center-right is a man who was not so long ago booed when he appeared before the party faithful. And the man who might be his choice for prime minister is similarly a bête noire for many in his own camp. The reaction against elitist rule is fueling the rise of the Front National, yet it's easy to imagine two énarques as the next president and prime minister. And they would likely come to office, as both Sarkozy and Hollande did, with approval ratings above 60%. France is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pierre Manent's Spiritual Nationalism

In The American Prospect I reflect on two European responses to Islam: Pierre Manent's peculiar spiritual nationalism and Alternative für Deutschland's "religious racism."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Two Reading Recommendations

A long but well-observed article on the FN in Harper's by Elisabeth Zerotsky.

And a new book by Catherine Collomp, Résister au nazisme, about the work of the Jewish Labor Committee in New York, which played an important role in rescuing endangered European Jews.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Will Hollande Drop Out?

Speculation has been rampant these last few days that François Hollande will not be a candidate to succeed himself in 2017. A TNS/Sofres poll released 2 days ago shows him running just ahead of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and losing badly to Marine Le Pen. With such numbers, as humiliating as they are disastrous, it is hard to see how he could decide to run again, either as a candidate in a primary or a presidential contender.

Everyone agrees that Hollande is no fool and, if nothing else, an authentic political professional. Hence if nothing happens between now and some date in the future (probably no later than September) when a decision becomes inevitable, he will read the handwriting on the wall and step aside. I agree with this conventional wisdom. But what then?

The poll cited above suggests that Juppé is by far the most likely candidate to succeed the current president. I also agree with this analysis. He is the safe choice for people on the right and acceptable to many on the left. But there will be a real scramble to redefine the left in general and the Socialist Party in particular.

The "social-democratic" Socialist Party has never really managed to coalesce. The post-Epinay party that Mitterrand created was not really social-democratic: it was rather an equivocal war machine that combined venerable Marxist rhetoric with Florentine suppleness in order to devour the Communist Party with its amoebic embrace. After destroying the Communists, Mitterrand went on to destroy the Rocardians, who might have defined social democracy with a French accent if they hadn't been displaced into the European arena, where, under the influence of the social Catholic Jacques Delors, they became something else. Hollande himself is an unstable amalgam of Delorian and Mitterrandian elements.

Valls and Macron would both like to jettison the last vestiges of social democracy à la française and become full-throated social liberals, with a more authoritarian tinge in the case of Valls and a kinder, gentler face in the case of Macron: the scowl versus the smile. It's hard to predict how either one would fare electorally if finally cut loose from the legacy of the old PS. Both men represent a giant step away from the French tradition of the ideological party and toward the politics of personality, American-style, where the fading Sarkozy has also pitched his tent. At the moment, Macron's popularity is rising while Valls's is sinking with Hollande's, though not quite to the same depth. In a multiway contest, however, neither man enjoys a secure electoral base, and la nébuleuse gauchiste of greens, Mélenchoniens, communists, Trotskyists, etc., still has life in it. The nascent but rudderless Nuit debout! movement might yet find its Bernie Sanders, Pablo Iglesias, or Yanis Varoufakis despite its avowed distaste for leaders or direction. Thomas Piketty anyone? (The suggestion has been made and batted aside by l'intéressé, but in such matters one never knows where history will turn next.)

In short, a Hollande withdrawal will precipitate a free-for-all and a likely victory for the staid but tested center-rightist Alain Juppé--in a best-case scenario. The worst is too horrible to contemplate.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hollande Show Is a Bust

Leaving content aside, Hollande's last gasp was a ratings disaster:

3, 5 millions de téléspectateurs
3 474 000 téléspectateurs ont regardé l’émission « Dialogues citoyens » avec François Hollande sur France 2, jeudi 14 avril, soit 14,3 % de parts de marché. Le chiffre est mauvais pour le chef de l’Etat, qui lors de l’émission « Face aux Français » sur TF1, en novembre 2014, avait capté l’attention de 7,9 millions de téléspectateurs. Depuis le début de son quinquennat, M. Hollande enregistre des audiences en baisse : 5,5 millions de téléspectateurs lors de son passage au « 20 heures« de TF1 en février (alors que la moyenne de ce JT est de 5,8 millions) ; 2,8 millions pour son passage sur M6 dans « Capital » en 2013… En 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy avait attiré 8,3 millions de personnes devant le petit écran pour un « Face aux Français » sur TF1.
It's become painful to watch him. He resembles a dying fish flopping about in a puddle of water.

Production values: Who designed this set? It makes Hollande look like the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise--which I suppose is an improvement over captain of a pédalo, but still ...

Even the Pretorian Guard admits failure:
Attaquer le format de l'émission, c'est aussi l'angle d'attaque du porte-parole du gouvernement Stéphane Le Foll, ce vendredi matin. S‘il salue «la cohérence» et «la volonté d'être juste» manifestée par François Hollande, le ministre de l'Agriculture brocarde «ce type d'émission» qu'il juge «toujours difficile et long». S'il reconnaît que le discours de l'exécutif a encore eu «du mal à imprimer», le proche lieutenant de François Hollande tente de positiver: «ce n'est pas parce que c'est difficile qu'il ne faut pas le faire. L'exercice est long mais nécessaire».
Long indeed. I certainly couldn't bear it. Here are some brief excerpts. This one was rather delicious:

Le dernier citoyen a interpellé le président est Marwen Belkaïd, un étudiant qui a voté pour la première fois en 2012, et pour François Hollande aux deux tours. "Nous avons vécu quatre années de reniement, notamment sur la jeunesse. Vous candidat, vous affirmiez que la jeunesse était une priorité". Mais "beaucoup de jeunes ne se demandent plus s'ils vont être mangés, mais à quelle sauce ils vont être mangés.", dit-il.
Léa Salamé showed a good deal more punch than the always lamentable David Pujadas. When Hollande asserted that he and Merkel have "identical positions" on immigration, Salamé replied, "You're joking." Alas, Hollande was not fazed and seemed not to get his own joke.

Representativity: The four individuals chosen to "represent France" in this "citizen dialogue" were a female CEO, a male FN voter (bus driver, formerly voted left), the mother (Franco-Française) of a jihadist killed in Syria, and a (minority) student participating in the Nuit Debout movement It was a rather odd sample, to say the least.

Haberdashery: They say that Carla Bruni advises Nicolas Sarkozy on what shirts to wear. Hollande should hire her. His sleeves are too long. The fabric is too white. He looks like a boy who has outgrown his Sunday suit but hasn't had time to buy a new one before his First Communion.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Facing the Music

François Hollande is to go on France2 tomorrow night to "face the nation" in a "citizen dialogue" that is supposed to be his last chance to inject life into his dying presidency. For Malek Boutih, however, that presidency is already dead:
François Hollande est d’une génération qui a appris par cœur la différence entre les sovkhozes et les kolkhozes, il reste sur de vieux schémas. Pour lui le monde des réseaux sociaux, d’Internet et de la mondialisation, c’est de l’hébreu.
That may be the cruelest thing ever said about Hollande, about whom many cruel things have been said. What's more, it's inaccurate. Hollande came too late to have bought into the Soviet dream or even its Euromarxist version. He never even shared Mitterrand's Voltairean version of Marxism (like religion, a fine palliative for the peasants). The only illusion that had any future in his system of beliefs was the technocratic one: with the right policy mix, any political difficulty can be finessed. That is the dream that has foundered on the reef of populism.

Hollande is deluding himself if he thinks he can rescue that dulled dream via a televised communion with his flock. He has never had a gift for le petit écran. Every time he has engaged in an exercise of this sort, it has been an abject failure. He must know this, so one can only conclude that he has no other options left, or else, as an unnamed former minister told Le Monde, he has utterly lost touch, as other presidents have done before him:

C’est très mal embarqué. Hollande a dilapidé tout son crédit acquis après les attentats. La dernière séquence, révision constitutionnelle et “loi travail”, est une catastrophe qui l’a déjà achevé. Hollande sentait le peuple, aujourd’hui il est comme Sarkozy ou Chirac avant lui à l’Elysée, il ne sent plus rien.
So speculation is reduced to wondering whether the president will "reassert his authority" by putting Macron back in his place, as Chirac tried to do with Sarkozy with his famous "je décide, il exécute." And we know what that amounted to. Indeed, the only way Hollande can galvanize the country tomorrow night is to do what Lyndon Johnson did in 1968, to announce that he will not be a candidate to succeed himself in order to devote his full attention to unmaking the mess that he has created. I hope he does. Otherwise France is doomed to remain mired in the gloom of his ebbing presidency until it draws its last breath.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Cruelty of Politics

The profession of politics is hard on its practitioners. Their audience is fickle. Often it wants to be deceived. Seduction must be accomplished at a distance with the crudest of instruments. Rehearsal is difficult: one can perform well in committee or before a small audience yet fail dismally when attempting to look an entire nation in the eye.

The latter trick is one that Emmanuel Macron attempted to perform last night on France2. At several points in his interview with Laurent Delahousse, he turned from the interviewer to stare directly into the camera's gimlet eye as if to speak one-on-one to each person in the audience.

He did this only some minutes into an interview that started off awkwardly, He seemed slightly ill-at-ease, despite evident practice with a media coach. The real thing is never quite what you expect. But eventually he settled into his role of glibly repeating talking points with appropriate hand gestures, projecting forcefulness, and fending off Delahousse's feckless attempts to get him either to announce for the presidency, disavow Hollande, or declare war on the Socialist Party. Macron was prepared for all these lines of attack and batted away the interviewer's questions easily, leaving Delahousse looking increasingly frustrated.

So we learned only that Macron had cleared his launch of En Marche! with both Hollande and Valls--where "cleared" undoubtedly means that he told them to expect a slap in the face and, if they didn't like it, he would resign. Macron is--fortunately for him--in a can't lose position: having catapulted himself ahead of all the other quadras of both the center-right and center-left and launched a movement that explicitly declares itself to be ni-ni, he is in a position to remain as minister (or become prime minister) no matter who wins or to run for president should Hollande drop out. His commitments to apple pie and motherhood--or should I say crème caramel and motherhood--were stunningly bland, though delivered with soulful eyes caressing the camera's lens: I'm working for a better tomorrow for each and every one of you, etc. It can't be easy for a man reputed to be equipped with a penetrating mind and a sensitive ear--his piano teacher trained him so well that he married her--to reduce himself to such shameless and tin-eared simple-mindedness, mais il fait à la France le don de sa personne. Greater love than that hath no man.

And you know, France is in such a parlous state that one can't help but wish him luck. He's far from the worst on offer and perhaps even one of the best, though I really can't be sure of that because so far the hype has exceeded the performance by a wide margin. But caught as he his between a rock (Valls) and a soft place (Hollande),* what else could one expect?

* For the benefit of my French readers, I note that the English play on words could be translated into French as "entre le marteau et la brume."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Macron Makes His Move

This was telegraphed so far back that it was about as much of a surprise as this morning's sunrise, but now it's official: Emmanuel Macron has launched a "movement." It's called "En Marche!" (a little muscular for a technocrat) and is described as "neither right nor left," which in the old days we used to say meant "definitely on the right." But we're through the looking glass now, people, so maybe right is left and up is down.

We know that Macron is popular, but we don't know if his popularity means anything more than "at least he's not one of the same old faces." He says he isn't after the 2017 nomination, but there's little doubt that he'll take a shot at it if conditions are right. If not, he's got a long future ahead of him. He doesn't really have a style yet, because thus far he's had to confine himself to pot shots and petites phrases.

I imagine there are some raised eyebrows at Matignon and the Elysée. Valls is probably livid. The one question in my mind is whether this move means that Hollande has let it be known privately that he's not going to run. If he hasn't done that, then this declaration of independence by a young upstart might be seen as intolerable impudence. Mitterrand, one can be sure, would have cut off his head as surely as Caligula removed the heads of statues to replace them with his own. Valls would probably like to cut off another part of his rival's anatomy, but this is hardly the moment to start bloodletting in the Council of Ministers, with students in the streets and the Loi El Khomri still pending. But it should be an interesting summer and fall.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Adam Shatz on "Islamophobia"

Adam Shatz writes soberly and convincingly about this highly charged issue.

Cohn-Bendit: La primaire à gauche est foutue

I happened to be in Paris when the idea of a "primary of all the left" was launched, so I know that it created quite a buzz--but I never quite believed in it. Now Daniel Cohn-Bendit confirms my understanding of why it would never work: Quite simply, the various components of the Left hate each other more than they want to win an election, especially if there is the slightest possibility of being obliged to coalesce around François Hollande, who has become the bête noire of everyone except his own inner circle. As long as the price of entering a left primary is a pledge to support the eventual winner, even if it is Hollande, it's a non-starter. Meanwhile, the remaining Hollandais refuse to commit their man to participate in the primary if he decides to run.

The only way out would be an early withdrawal by Hollande, which doesn't seem to be under consideration, even though it's hard to see how he thinks he can possibly win. Cohn-Bendit considers a deux ex machina in the form of Nicolas Hulot, but Hulot's is not a candidacy I can believe in. So at this point the Left looks certain to be headed for utter fragmentation in the first round, leading to a total rout, with the Socialist Party reduced to historic post-Epinay lows. This will mark the definitive liquidation of the Mitterrand era and a complete recomposition of the French party system.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Clash of Specializations

Thanks to my fellow blogger Arun Kapil, who alerted me to this update of the ongoing war between Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel. I find this episode particularly distressing, because I have learned from both scholars and think that to be asked to choose between two incomplete and inadequate formulations--l'islamisation de la radicalité ou la radicalisation de l'Islam--is not likely to contribute to our understanding of homegrown terrorism. Kepel seems to be the aggressor here, and in addition to Roy he has also attacked Jean-Pierre Filiu, another respected scholar from whom I have also learned. This clash of specializations is as unseemly as it is un-enlightening, and with Jean-Claude Guillebaud I wish that the scholars involved would try to formulate their disagreements not as sound bites but in phrases better suited to exploring the underlying issues.