All The More Reason


Presidentielles 2007: La Nausée
April 13, 2007, 11:24 am
Filed under: French Politics, French Presidential Elections, Nicolas Sarkozy

In North Korea, a request to meet the President will be met with a certain amount of bemusement. He’s dead, you see. Kim-Il Sung, who passed away in 1994, was not only President for life,but President for all eternity. It’s a nifty constitutional innovation, and one that Jacques Chirac doubtless wishes he had instituted, now that the short arm of French law is finally within grasping distance of his frock coat.

In a sense, though, France shares some common ground with the Democratic People’s Republic. North Korea may be the only state to have a dead President, but France is surely the only country on earth to have a dead electorate. The final stage of any political campaign is crucial; the key messages and attack lines are remorselessly hammered home at every available opportunity. In les presidentielles francaises, however, the main point of interest in the final week has been which candidate’s programme would be looked upon most favourably by Jean Jaures, the former French leader of the Socialist International (and by ‘former’ I mean this in the most profound sense- Jaures died in 1914).  

For presidential candidates in France, l’approbation of the living is not sufficient: one must also, it seems, make an appeal to the collective conscience of the nation’s deceased. Having to find a message that resonates not only with the electorate of 2007, but that of 1907, 1848 and – in the final republicain analysis – 1789, is symptomatic of a peculiarly French maladie; a form of motion sickness that only enables you to comfortably travel forwards when seated in a backwards facing position. 

Nicolas Sarkozy is proclaiming himself the heir to Jaures’s legacy, the implication being that the Socialists themselves have betrayed his values:

‘The Left has disowned Jaures’ republic…and forgotten its workers. [It has] confused “liberty” with laxisme. Instead of “property for all”, it is the defender of “social housing for all”…it is incapable of fighting injustice.’

The rhetoric chimes rather well with Sarkozy’s message to his compatriots that they must, quite simply, ‘work harder’. Whether dressing it up in the colours of the Front Populaire of Leon Blum and Jean Jaures will sweeten the medicine that the electorate so stubbornly refuses to take remains to be seen. As so often on the Left (and on the far right), appeals to folklore and a common heritage tend to trump loftier considerations of logic and good sense. The next chapter of the book must always stay true to the narrative. For a ‘revolutionary’ country, this is a deeply conservative instinct.   

Michael P

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