Saturday, December 9, 2017

Édouard Philippe

Has there ever been a quieter prime minister than Édouard Philippe? He's certainly a change from Manuel Valls. For insight into his personality, I recommend listening to a podcast of this morning's Répliques, in which Alain Finkielkraut and Philippe discuss not politics but ... books.

Finkielkraut, armed with his bottomless chrestomathy of high-brow quotations and his endless supply of cut-and-dried and unalterable préjugés (no one reads anymore, the Internet has killed culture, France's teachers have abandoned the young, the schools reenact The Lord of the Flies, etc.), wants to enlist Philippe in his quixotic crusade to save the Republic, but Philippe will not be drawn. "Do you listen to music when you read, M. Finkielkraut? Some people say they can't. It's impossible. Well I do, so I know it's not impossible. And perhaps it's the same with the Internet and with electronic devices. Let me tell you about my daughter. She is seven and reads a lot, as everyone in the family does. And she discovered reading through an electronic device. So the two are not necessarily incompatible." (I'm quoting from memory, not verbatim.)

I find Philippe straightforward, plain-spoken, intelligent but undemonstrative and without designs on you (unlike Macron, whose use of cultural references invariably suggests a certain strategic cunning). Why had his parents advised him to read Cyrano de Bergerac? Because his ears stuck out, his classmates taunted him, and he suffered from his physical defect. So he read the play, but it didn't speak to him in that hour of need. He rediscovered it years later, thanks to a film. And he wasn't ashamed to mention it as a text that was important to him even though he knew it was dismissed as a minor work which he had never been mentioned in all his years of study.

Philippe gives every impression of being that rare thing in politics, a man content to cultivate his garden without aspiring to become either the sun god or the Sun King. Jupiter has found the perfect complement.

4 comments:

mpz13 said...

Thank you for teaching me a new word, in French and English: chrestomathy and chrestomathie. I'll try to drop it into a conversation as soon as possible. Excellent portrait of Finkie and I admit that I feel more comfortable with the general behaviour of E. Philippe rather than Macron (Jupiter never was one of my heroes...).

Mitch Guthman said...

A friend might tell Macron that it’s the quiet ones you need to watch out for. If he had a friend, that is.

Anonymous said...

Repliques is an under-appreciated show: the guests are interesting, they are allowed to talk, and Finkielkraut's erudition and rhetorical skill are put to good use. Whenever you see him in other settings (or read him) he will repeat the same five points over and over in a disagreeably polemical fashion. Finkielkraut is the same man on Repliques, of course, but there he is interested in having a conversation. I can't imagine an equivalent of the show in the United States, even on NPR. (About conservative media in the US the less said the better. I guess the WF Buckley show on PBS was our version of Repliques, but Buckley was no Finkielkraut.)

As for Philippe, I think Mitch is right. I see no reason at all to assume that Philippe is content to cultivate his garden. Like every French politician of his stature I assume he wants to be president. He is not quite as young as Macron but he is still young, and I assume quite ruthless. He is smart enough to see that he has nothing to gain by rocking the boat right now. If that should change, he will be no more loyal to Macron than Macron was to Hollande.

Robinson said...

I share Art's general positive impression of Philippe- he is well spoken, smart and honest. I like Philippe better than Macron, in fact. It is natural for a moderate conservative like the PM to pursue something like the agenda of the present government. I'm rubbed the wrong way by socialists, or ex-socialists, who insist that the present course is the only possible one: by doing so Hollande and now Macron have destroyed the PS and pushed what is left of the French left into the hands of Mélenchon.

Surely we would be better off Philippe were implementing exactly the same agenda he is now, but under President Juppé. Then it might be possible to construct a responsible left-wing "loyal opposition."

Like the other commenters, I don't think that Philippe wants to "cultivate his garden." For now he is the symbol of Republican collaboration with Macron, and his career depends on the success of Macron's economic reforms. But course he wants to be president some day- they all do!