NICOLAS SARKOZY AND THE FUTURE OF FRANCE
"Red Reactionary, smells of blood, only to be used when the bayonet rules". King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia on Otto von Bismarck-Schonhausen, circa 1848.
"The statesman manipulates reality; his first goal is survival; he feels responsible not only for the best but also for the worse conceivable outcome. His view of human nature is wary; he is conscious of many great hopes which have failed, of many good contentions that could not be realized, of selfishness and ambition and violence. He is, therefore inclined to erect hedges against the possibility that even the most brillant idea might prove abortive and that the most eloquent formulation might hide ulterior motives".
"The White Revolutionary: Reflections on Bismarck", Henry A. Kissinger, Daedalus (Summer 1968), pp. 888-924.
"The French are not afraid of change. They're are waiting for it....It's politics that has gradually become sclerotic, predictable, and rigid over the past few years, not society".
Nicolas Sarkozy, Testimony: France in the 21st Century. (2007).
One thing that is certain with the confirmation of Sarkozy's victory in the French Presidential poll: la belle France, will never be the same again. In a nutshell, unlike the elections of 1981, 1988, 1995, 2002, a majority of the French electorate have decided to forgo a continuation of the status quo ante. For better or for worse. While the worse imagery of the more primitive elements of the Anglophone press and media, are widely inaccurate in conveying the current situation in France, even a Francophile would not deny that in the last twenty-five years, France, has slipped a bit, in the world economic league tables. As per the British periodical the Economist, French per capita GDP, is today only the 17th highest in the world, whereas in the early 1980's, it was the 7th highest (see: "France's Chance", in www.economist.com). It would appear that psychologically even more than the figures conveyed by mere numbers, France's image of itself has declined, if not necessarily drastically, then sufficiently so that France has in recent years come to be seen as the new 'sick man' of Europe (replacing Germany in the role). With every attempt dating back to the mid-1980's, if not earlier to change and reform the existing French domestic economic structure, subject to "blockage" (in the Michel Crozier sense of the term, id est, La Societe Blocquee), by self-interested groups (students, farmers, pensioners, white collar, government labor unions), the idea of France being transformed appears as utopian as say it appeared in Great Britain, circa 1979 (see for a typical example, Craig Smith's pessimistic article in the Sunday New York Times on the eve of the Election: "Forget who will win in France. Change is the loser",in www.nytimes.com).
The contrast of course begs the question: is Sarkozy the French Thatcher? Yes, and no. By 'yes', in the sense that both figures are by both instinct and experience, authoritarian leaders, who do not necessarily wish to await the emergence of a consensus prior to acting. Both figures appear to recognize that society has reached a cul de sac, and, the only means of getting out of the same, is by virtue of a sharp break with the past. Like all such 'breaks', the elements of discontinuity will be more superficial than substantive. At least at first. And, like Thatcher, Sarkozy is (by his upbringing and education, rather than by his sex) in the galaxy of the French political elite, a "nouvelle homme", a new man. Not only by virtue of his being a secondary generation Frenchman (albeit a descendant of a minor Hungarian nobleman), but also by virtue of the fact, that he is the first head of the Fifth Republic, who was not educated at one of the Grand Ecoles, nor is he a graduate of the elite Ecole National D'Administration, the finishing school of the bureaucratic and political elite of the Republic. Unlike many of his rivals (Alain Juppe, Dominique de Villepin, Francois Holland, Segolene Royal, Dominique Strauss-Kahn) on both the right and the left, Sarkozy, for good or for ill, speaks the demotic language of the non-Parisian, middle classes. Hence, the accusations by some that Sarkozy is a figure of Bonapartist, demagogic tendencies. An accusation which obscures more than it reveals. The similarity with Thatcher, whose petite-bourgeois persona, also appeared out of place with the much more mandarin style of Sir Geoffery Howe, Francis Pym, William Whitelaw, Edward Heath, Sir Ian Gilmour, Lord Carrington, et. al., is again quite apt.
By 'no', in the sense that Sarkozy is not the french Thatcher. One simply refers to the fact that, unlike the so-called 'iron lady', Sarkozy, is not, neither by the logic of his own thinking, nor by anything else, an adherent of what is referred to in France as 'liberalisme'. Id est the ideology of free market capitalism. As the Financial Times, among other publications has observed, during his brief time at the Louvre, as Minister of Finance, Sarkozy, was as etatist in his policies as any of his predecessors in that post. Which is not to say that Sarkozy will not endeavor to break the back of those elements which are blocking France from reaching its full potential. What it does mean, is that unlike the Anglo-American adherents of free market capitalism, Sarkozy is not an ideologue. Sarkozy's only ideology, like all erste-klasse politicians, is a confirmed belief in himself, and pursuant to that, he will do anything that he conceives as firming up, his political star. Does that mean that Sarkozy, will follow the well-worn path of accommodation and compliance with the status quo ante, `a la Chirac and Juppe in 1986 and 1997? No, it does not. While he is without a doubt both a pragmatist and an opportunist, Sarkozy is also a man who can see that he will go down as a failure if he does not seize this unique opportunity, which a majority of the French electorate has given to him, to embark upon his policy of 'rupture' (see on this theme Nicolas Beytout's article in Le Figaro, "Victory for Movement", www.lefigaro.fr). Indeed, to an extent which is belied by his activist, 'le Sarko' image, Sarkozy, has to an unusual extent, re-thought many of the premises of the Fifth Republic, from top to bottom. Which is perhaps the chief difference between Sarkozy now, and Jacques Chirac circa 1975 (then given the very Sarkozy-like nickname 'the bulldozer'). In the case of the latter, tactical maneuvers, often enough action without forethought, became a substitute for any type of strategy whatsoever. In that case, Sarkozy despite his being tarred as a man of action and violence, is much more akin to the Bismarck of 1862-1871, than that of 1848-1849. He is the 'White Revolutionary', rather than the 'Red Reactionary'. For better or for worse. Prepare for a rough ride!