Just Above Sunset Archives

February 23, 2004: We have John Ashcroft and they have Nicolas Sarkozy

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)

A note from France on a petition rather unlikely to surface over here in Des Moines - even if that Iowa town has a sort of French name.  Des Moines?  The monks?

What of us lefties in Boston and Hollywood (Bois de houx)?  Ah, are we among the "caviar gauche" - moaning about the condition of society while doing little to improve it?  And are the intelligentsia, notably those one might call the "professional civil libertarians," hindering crime prevention?

This wire item of note:
French elite unite over government 'war on intellect'
Philip Delves Broughton, The Telegraph (UK) (Filed: 18/02/2004)

Here's the gist of it:


France's heavily subsidised intelligentsia accused the Paris government yesterday of waging a "war on intelligence".

More than 20,000 academics, artists, writers, doctors and lawyers have signed a petition decrying the "new state anti-intellectualism".

Eight thousand of the names were published yesterday in the cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, alongside a manifesto that called on all the groups threatened by the government's attitude to unite.


And just who are these people?

Among the more prominent signatories were the philosopher Jacques Derrida and the film director Francois Ozon, who made the recent hits 8 Women and Swimming Pool.

And what's the problem?

The petition aims to bring together the diverse groups who have a gripe with the government. These range from freelance performers, whose pay and benefit entitlements have been reduced, to lawyers, who oppose the government's stringent new crime bill. Teachers, doctors and researchers are seething over budget cuts, while psychiatrists must now obtain proper scientific qualifications.

All have staged independent demonstrations and strikes, but to little effect.

In their manifesto, the intellectuals complain of "the simplification of public debate ... for or against headscarves in schools?  Psychiatrists or charlatans?"

They complain of "an extremely coherent set of policies" aimed at "impoverishing and weakening all areas of life considered unproductive in the short term, useless and dissident".

Ah, this is in defense of the useless in life.  Of course!

I am rather fond of the useless in life, myself.  Words I often hear? - "
I know it's amusing, and even beautiful, and thought-provoking, and real cool... but is it USEFUL?"  How tiresome!

Well, who are the Malvolios in France out to make us all attend to only the pragmatic?

The prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and the interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy have been making sounds.  Raffarin has celebrated the demise of the "1968 political generation", whose ideas were forged in the 1968 student protests in Paris.  Bunch of bums, of course.

Sarkozy was the one who attacked France's "caviar gauche" for "moaning about the condition of society while doing little to improve it."  He has blamed the intelligentsia, notably those he called the "professional civil libertarians", for hindering crime prevention.

Useless folks!

And it seems the intellectuals are complaining that no political party has taken up their cause.  No kidding.  As they say out here... DUH!

And the world, and France in particular, becomes more like the United States every day.


My friend Ric in Paris, creator and editor of MetropoleParis added some detail for me:


I haven't time to comment on this tonight.  France's intelligentsia has a 'voice' whenever it wants to use it - but this is frivolous compared to what the government is really doing to ordinary folks.  A joke.


Unemployment benefits cut.  Teachers' aides laid off.  Hospital staffs cut.  The 4th airline within a year allowed to disappear - leaving thousands of employees and crews stranded on runways, not to mention passengers.  And more 'reforms' to come.


The Restos du Coeur fed many more needy this year.  Mothers with multiple children slashed off welfare.  'Welfare' that is a quarter the minimum wage.  Nothing to rent in Paris, of course, for people lucky enough to have the minimum wage.  Factories close suddenly and the govt promises retraining, etc, and two years later still no jobs.


Reimbursements for medicines cut.  Number of medicines eligible for reimbursements slashed.  This is for people with the state med cover.  People who started work at 15 or 16 and expected to retire after 40 years, have to work 2 years more - to pay the 'social deficit.'


600,000 suddenly thrown off unemployment 'benefits' on 1 January 2004.  Called social reform by Raffarin, Sarkozy and Co.  It goes on and on. 


Conservative pinheads.


And what are these Restos du Coeur places?  You probably figured that out already - over here we call them soup kitchens for the lazy bums and despicable homeless.  Leave it to the French to associate them with matters of the generous heart (coeur).   Ah well.


What Raffarin, Sarkozy and Company are up to is bringing to France the "new era of personal responsibility" - sometimes known as you get what you pay for and if you cannot pay for it, you loser, you don't get jack.  You get what you deserve?  Our punish-the-freeloaders conservatives are just like theirs.  Pinheads, as Ric comments.


What it is coming to, worldwide, is the war between those who believe in community (we're all in this together) and those who believe in Darwinian competition (assuming personal responsibility and not whining that others should help you with anything at all, ever). 


Do you value the individual, and individual rights?  Then community and social cooperation are the enemies.  Those things weaken people and make them believe they're victims - and inhibit them from success.  And make the innocent successful people pay for deliberate laziness - and thus just steal money from the successful hard workers.


The other side?  Do you believe in cooperation and mutual aid and comfort when things go sour?  Then you're a bit put off by all the unemployed and homeless, instead of being appropriately gleeful.


Which side is winning?  Not the second group.


The French Socialist Party is dead.  Jospin killed it.  And we never really had one over here.


As further background on French politics and particularly on the Islamic headscarf issue, one might read this from The London Review of Books


What to Wear to School

Jeremy Harding, Vol. 26 No. 4 dated 19 February 2004  

What did Sarkozy think he was doing?  Difficult to tell: he is an impassioned, ambitious and scary figure, who has staked his reputation so far - and his future as a possible president in 2007 - on the major law and order issues. 

A politician running on law and order, and fear of the Muslim hoards?  How American of him!