Everybody now seems to love the French. The current President and self serving lifetime politician Jacques Chirac will soon give way to Nicholas Sarkozy who apparently wants to dance with, not damn the US.
Roger Cohen writing in the New York Times, May 9, “Sarkozy’s Victory Shifts French Political Truths,” along with other US commentators / cheer leaders, have suggested that the French election produced the US-friendly President Sarkozy because the French have finally woken up to the error of their ways!
According to this perspective, the French social safety net is anachronistic. And so it goes, in a repetitive narrative that is tiresome and politically misinformed. Hard won rights and adjustments managed by thoughtful policy makers in Paris over the past 10 years, such as the 35 hour week are bad! No explanation as to the reason the 35 hour week was introduced to keep people in work, for one thing. Long holidays are a disgrace for Protestant work-a-holics writing against hard-won victories for working people in France. No doubt, if someone argued that drinking French wine could be shown to cause socialism, that would get a run as well.
Where do US commentators get off providing half-informed analysis of the election results? The short answer is that they are pathologically opposed to social justice policies.
Watching France 24, on C-SPAN during the French election analysis on Sunday, May 6, a Bloomberg correspondent on the panel launched a diatribe against one of his fellow panelists who had explained the complex relationship between various elements of the French Left.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, people,” this Neanderthal bleated. He continued that leftist political parties are irrelevant and have been for 20 years in every other country in the world and so it went.
The facts on the ground are of course, dramatically different. French politics and the French Left is a highly fragmented, even nuanced beast. It cannot be reduced to the Tweedledum and Tweedledee model preferred by limited-attention-span commentators in the US. Nor can it be reduced to the econometric madness of simplistic business school positivism some countries do have social policies!
For millions of people around the world, the French left has operated since World War 2, as the academic and creative gold standard. The French left has produced the riches of a deep and abiding intellectual inquiry, manifested since the Revolution(s) (whether Marat Sade or even Karl Marx writing on the Paris Commune), and in recent years by the work of Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Claude Levi Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Simone de Beauvoir, Fernand Braudel, André Malraux, Jean-François Lyotard, Felix Guattari, Giles Delleuze, Guy Debord, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard (too few women).
We ciould include film makers and articts, but the point stands on the academic intellectual community alone who have made a monumental contribution to creative and critical thought. Has any other country offered such a diversity of perspectives for progressive knowledge production and improved governance?
Could it be that the real agenda of the US mainstream media is to deny and destroy the contributions that French intellectuals have made to democratic theory and practice? Could the loud cheers in favor of Sarkozy’s election really be masking the endless efforts of the right to roll back taken-for-granted progressive policies? In this case, destroy the generation of 1968, in much the same way that Vice-President Dick Chaney and Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld wanted a victory in Iraq to undo the liberalism they associated with the US loss in the Vietnam War.
Sarkozy claimed during the election campaign that the the heritage of 1968 should be “liquidated,” as much as for its success in reform as for what (“The Economist,” May 12) claimed Sarkozy said was their “moral and intellectual relativism.”
Perhaps some solace can be taken from the substantial youth vote for Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. Alternatively, US commentators like Cohen failed to note that Sarkozy pickup up the votes of the racist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
France gave the US The Statue of Liberty. This symbol of French achievement in the quest for human dignity liberty, equality, fraternity – should not be permitted to turn into the Statue of Bigotry, as Lou Reed argued in “Dirty Boulevard’s” from his New York album. It remains to be seen if Sarkozy’s friendship with the US is part of a larger strategy to undermine those other shared ambitions of liberty and equality.
MARCUS BREEN teaches in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, Boston. His most recent book is Rock Dogs: Politics and the Australian Music Industry. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org