Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018


For the launch of the new Tocqueville21 site, which officially opens today, I've written a post on the contemporary meaning of equality. This link will take you directly to the post, and this one will give you all my blog posts, just as if you were reading French Politics.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Daniel Lindenberg Is Dead

Daniel Lindenberg, sociologist and historian, is dead at 77. He is best known for his polemical book, Le Rappel à l'ordre, which unleashed a bitter polemic in the French intellectual left. Lindenberg identified certain intellectuals generally considered to be on the left as "new reactionaries." The book, and the storm that followed, revealed new lines of cleavage around race and ethnicity rather than class. Although more heat than light emanated from the debate, the hullabaloo around the book set the terms of intellectual politics for the next two decades.


Word comes today that the gendarmerie is readying 30-40 squadrons for the purposing of removing the so-called zadistes (defenders of the zone à défendre, or ZAD) at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This is likely to turn into a bloody mess, not because the gendarmes want it that way but because the situation does not lend itself to an easy resolution. The zadistes have been preparing for this assault for years and are “dug in,” while the police will be under pressure from the government to be quick about it in order to prevent reinforcements, including Black Bloc elements, from streaming in from across Europe in defense of “resistance.” I can imagine some new word emerging from the confrontation: dézadisation, perhaps. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a synonym for bérézina.
I will not venture to comment on the principle(s) at stake. This case has been argued back and forth for 50 years. I thought Hollande should have acted to clear the site when an apparent “final judgment” was issued giving the go-ahead to the airport, but now there has been a new report saying that region could be just as well served by expanding an existing airport. Nicolas Hulot has apparently suggested an airport with a circular runway: I wager he’s never landed a large jet.
Macron not being Hollande, I imagine he will seek to be decisive and definitive. I suspect he will favor going ahead with NDDL. I love the Norman landscape as much as anyone, but I think it will survive the new airport, and a majority of the region’s voters have approved. Due process has been observed, no doubt with the usual quota of inaccuracies and misrepresentations. But at some point this has to end in a country where the rule of law is respected. I thought Hollande should have made this clear. When I asked Ayrault (a champion of NDDL as everyone knows, long before he became PM) why his government backed off enforcement, he rolled his eyes and said that I should ask the president–as lucid a commentary on Hollande as chief executive as I have seen anywhere.
I hope things go well, but I’m not at all confident they will. The aftermath could haunt Macron for years to come.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The New Tocqueville21 Site

The new blog site is not quite open for business, but the designers have been working on it. You can check out the current configuration here. The link will take you directly to my blog posts, so your experience should be similar to reading the current French Politics blog. If you want to sample the contributions of my colleagues as well, you can use this link (NB: there's not much there yet). Again, the official launch date is Jan 15.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Is There Still a Socialist Party?

Today, sans surprise, we learned that Stéphane Le Foll will be a candidate for the post of First Secretary. A grand thing, by the sound of it, First Secretary, with a long line of illustrious forebears extending back to Jaurès and Blum by way of Jospin and Mitterrand ... and, hélas, François Hollande.

But is there a party left to head? Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, much touted for the post, declined the honor, no doubt having concluded that there must be a better way to further whatever political ambitions she has.

A party that fared so badly in the presidential and legislative elections that it had to sell its headquarters to stay afloat is a party in deep trouble. All three primary contenders for the presidential nomination have more or less vanished from the scene, even if Hamon maintains his First of July Movement (a name that suggests Fidel Castro's ragtag band of guerrillas taking to the mountains in the hope of an eventual return to glory--rather a long shot in Hamon's case, I would say, although it didn't look good for Castro either). Valls has been swallowed up by a phalanx of Marcheurs, and Arnaud Montebourg--Where is Montebourg anyway? Since being dumped by Aurélie Filippetti, he is off the radar. And where, by the way, is Fillippetti? One might have expected her to be in the leadership contest, but she's keeping a low profile lately.

Le Foll was perhaps the loyalest of Hollande's foot soldiers, but back in the day, when the Socialists controlled the lion's share of départements, did anyone think of Le Foll as a potential leader or présidentiable? I think not. So the fact that he is now the leading contender for the top post tells you something about the party's fortunes. The rump seems torn between throwing in its lot with Macron and throwing itself as a human sacrifice on the altar of Mélenchonism. Le Foll would then represent the resistance to the latter tendency. No one ever accused him of eloquence, but standing by admiringly while the Demosthenes des Insoumis declaims holographically in Paris and Lyon is not in his nature.

My best guess is that the PS is dead for now and will be reborn only if and when Macron falters sufficiently to create an opening between the Mélenchoistes and the Marcheurs. And that day may never come. Politics abhors a vacuum, and five years is a long time to wait for one's identity to emerge.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Whither Germany?

This is a question that matters a lot for French as well as German politics. I describe the quandary here, in my latest piece for The American Prospect.

The Gaullo-Mitterandian Consensus?

Boulevard Extérieur has organized a very interesting debate on the premises of French foreign policy, responding to an article in Esprit by Justin Vaïsse. Worth checking out.

Macron Goes to China

Has there ever been a luckier politician than Emmanuel Macron? Fortuna smiled on his presidential run. Opposition to his reforms collapsed with a whimper. And now he is poised to propose himself as the world's principal interlocutor with China. A truculent Trump has taken himself off the table, and Angela Merkel has been sidelined by domestic political complications. So Macron is free to take the long view, which appeals to the Chinese. He is free to push for action on climate change, an issue on which Trump's stupidity and unilaterlaism play into the hands of cannier competitors. Behind him he has some of Europe's mightiest industrial powers, with Airbus and Areva in the vanguard. Boeing can only look on helplessly as Trump squanders America's soft power. The Asian theater is ready-made to showcase Macron's talents, and he is likely to avail himself of this opportunity to make himself a force to reckon with on the world stage. Well played, but also, what luck!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Je fais ce que je dis ...

... and apparently the public approves. Macron's approval rating, which had dipped as low as 32% over the summer, prompting hasty judgments that his presidency had already foundered, is back to 42 in the latest survey. Whether this connotes approval of Macron's policy, a favorable judgment of his style (je fais ce que je dis), or a reflection of improved economic conditions, the fact remains: Macron has come back from his initial slide, as neither Sarkozy nor Hollande did.

Still, one has to put this in perspective. Donald Trump, the most disastrous president in American history, currently enjoys an approval rating of 39% and has also come back from summer lows, Lord only knows why, since his incompetence and corruption become more manifest every day.

Still, it is important to note that Macron's approval has kept rising despite his tough talk on immigration, his persistence in enacting unpopular tax and labor-market reforms, and various gaffes and snafus. Fortune continues to favor him, and as Machiavelli pointed out long ago, no politician, no matter how great his virtù, can succeed without the blessing of fortuna.