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.