Wednesday, May 09, 2007

This "duel" between two French intellectuals from Le Nouvel Observateur about which candidate is best positioned to serve France's interests:

Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Levy conduct a passionate discussion in the Nouvel Obs about their engagement in the French election campaign. Although it took place two weeks before the second round of elections, it opens up a number of perspectives for the future. Levy, who backed Segolene Royal, speaks openly with the interviewer about how irritated he was by Glucksmann's support for Sarkozy. "What surprises me, was that he was so quick to rally to Sarkozy's side and with such fire – a passion that for thirty years, we have reserved for Bosnian resistance fighters, Chechen martyrs and Soviet dissidents, to whom we were grateful for vital lessons in the taste and meaning of freedom." BHL accuses Sarkozy, who during the election campaign called for a ministry for immigration and national identity, of a populism reminiscent of Le Pen. Glucksmann replies: "As for this splendid 'ministry', you know as well as I do that Sarkozy's concept of national identity is not ethnic but republican and touches on successive waves of immigration in which his own family also took part. Sarkozy has freed us from the burden imposed by the Front National on democratic life in France."

Here is a translation of their respective replies to the opening question:


For thirty years they have not disagreed. The two prominent figures of the “New Philosophy” have shared many a-project. Now the Sarkozy/Royal presidential campaign pulled them to opposite sides. They agreed to cross their proverbial swords for “Le Nouvel Observateur” in a spirited and enlightening debate:

The Nouvel Observavteur –

To begin, can each of you provide three reasons why you voted for Ségolène Royal or Nicolas Sarkozy?

Bernard-Henri Lévy:

As you know, I repeatedly explained in your pages that initially Ségolène Royal was not my ideal candidate since I was a supporter of Strauss-Kahn. But right now, and since you ask us for three reasons, here are mine. First, because the candidate is a woman. Her election would have been a real leap forward for our sexist and misogynist country which has yet to totally discard the feudal mindset and which has some real problems with equity and equality. Secondly, because of her style, flexibility, her embrace of participatory democracy, even her Girondist [1] leanings, all of which seem to me to place her in a better position to effect the much-needed reforms in France today. And finally, her stated positions on a number of pressing subjects in the international arena: On Iran, for example, she expressed determined resolve; on Darfur, and like Bayrou, she took up a courageous stance on the possible boycott of the Olympic Games of Beijing…

Andre Glucksmann:

Nicolas Sarkozy is capable of drawing up and carrying out a radical and courageous accountability report, in which he puts the blame on adversaries and partisans alike. France’s malaise did not start five year ago, it goes back thirty years. Three decades marked by an absence of clear-cut and thoughtful reforms plunged our country into stagnation unlike any of our neighbours. Sluggish growth levels, record unemployment rates, accumulated frustrations: France could not, did not know how, to get aboard the forward-moving European train. Sarkozy’s platform puts forth three ambitions: First, he dares to puncture the Franco-French socio-economic model that leaves so many of our compatriots on the sidelines. He wants to set free our crippled labour market. Secondly, with the victory of “No” vote in the 2005 referendum, France caused Europe to stop in its tracks. The notion of European reconstruction means we dare to say that a new referendum will likely injure the European Union further. In order to re-ignite European vigour, Sarkozy promises to adopt the minimal necessary constitutional amendment in parliament. Lastly, my third reason: For a long time now Nicolas Sarkozy, criticized the French realpolitik vis-à-vis international relations. He was the first to keep the subject of human rights firmly within the French debate over Chechnya or Françafrique. He held on to his positions even at the risk of a total split with Jacques Chirac, Dominique de Villepin, Hubert Védrine or Jean-Pierre Chevènement. These three purposes converge into a coherent movement to revitalize the political will, and that presupposes the inevitable divisions that are essential in a vibrant democracy.


[1] The Girondists represented the principle of democratic revolution within and of patriotic defiance to the European powers without.

(Translated by contentious N)

The general criticism levelled at Royal was that she lacked an articulate programme for the rehabilitation of France, that she speaks from a place of emotion and conviction but with very little substance and factuality. BHL's response above seems to re-affirm that perception: while Glucksmann speaks of Sarkozy's positions by citing concrete examples and coherent, fact-based planning, BHL can only conjure up Royal's gender, "style, flexibility, her embrace of participatory democracy". In my humble opinion, France chose well.

However, it is early days yet and some sceptics are already voicing their concerns that he may not be able to "ditch the accordion" ...


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