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Art Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer

Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.

Articles by Arthur Goldhammer

The Right Fractures

11 days ago

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The warning signs have been present for some time. Les Républicains are on the verge of a crackup. Caught between Macron’s LRM and Le Pen’s RN, the party’s electoral space has been shrinking. Without a strong leader to hold together its authoritarian nationalist and technocratic-managerial wings, it finds itself rudderless as its erstwhile supporters and cadre jump overboard one after another.
Petty chieftains out to save their own skins are heading in opposite directions: first Renaud Muselier, president of the PACA regional council, entered into a pact with LRM, and now Guillaume Peltier, the party’s no. 2, who began his career in politics in the youth wing of the FN, has shocked his comrades with a proposal for a “court of

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Patrick Weil, De la laïcité en France

19 days ago

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La laïcité–the distinctive French approach to the separation of church and state–has been a matter of contentious debate for decades. That debate has become even more heated in the past year as the Macron government has taken steps to regulate the practice of Islam in France. It takes a brave scholar to wade into such a tumultuous controversy.
Patrick Weil has the requisite courage. He also has practical experience that few other scholars can match, having served on the Stasi Commission, which considered the question of the wearing of veils (and other visible manifestations of religious affiliation) in public venues. Even more important, he has been able to gain some distance on the Franco-French view of the

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Policing the Police

23 days ago

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On May 19, the forces de l’ordre, as the French like to say, demonstrated throughout France. The demonstration had three purposes, two clearly legitimate, the third more questionable.
The first purpose was to express grief and elicit the sympathy of the public. A number of police officers have died in the line of duty. Most recently, a female officer was killed by a terrorist and a male officer died in the course of attempting to arrest a drug dealer.
The second purpose of the police demonstration was to complain about low pay, long hours, defective equipment, and generally poor working conditions. The short-handed police have frequently been required to work overtime. This was especially true during the Gilets Jaunes

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Can Marine Le Pen Win in 2022?

May 12, 2021

[unable to retrieve full-text content]I assess her chances in Persuasion. The short answer: yes.
The post Can Marine Le Pen Win in 2022? appeared first on Tocqueville21.

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The Contradictions of Religious Dirigisme

May 5, 2021

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Not long ago, in the wake of the murder of Samuel Paty by an Islamist extremist, the Macron government announced a new approach to the regulation of the Muslim faith in France. French universities would henceforth train Muslim clerics in order to reduce dependence on foreign-trained clergy. Mosques harboring “Islamist” and “separatist” groups would be closed. And Muslim organizations would be required to sign a “Charter for the Principles of French Islam,” essentially a declaration of compatibility with French republican values. In short, the state would take a dirigiste approach to Islam, setting conditions under which it would be tolerated. These conditions were justified in the name of national security.

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MayDay: A Study in Contrasts

May 3, 2021

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May Day in France is always marked by two starkly contrasting events: a march by trade unions commemorating the history of the trade union movement, and a speech by the leader of the Rassemblement National (previously the Front National) at the statue of Joan of Arc in the Place des Pyramides.
This year, the contrast was particularly stark. The labor march degenerated into chaos, Elements of the CGT came under attack by casseurs  from the Black Blocs. The event served as an apt metaphor for the chaos that defines the French Left today. The Left is adrift, rudderless, internally divided, and impotent in the face of a rapidly changing world whose contours it seems unable to grasp.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen pitched her

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Panel Discussion on Macron’s Presidency and the 2022 Elections

April 29, 2021

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On May 11, at 12 noon EDT, Harvard’s Center for European Studies will host an online panel discussion of Macron’s presidency and the upcoming 2022 elections. Participants will include Marc-Olivier Bherer of Le Monde, acting as host, former ambassador Gérard Araud, Prof. Cécile Alduy of Stanford, and Prof. Philippe Martin of SciencesPo. I will chair the session. Registration is required.
https://ces.fas.harvard.edu/events/2021/05/macron-french-election-2022-ces-harvard

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The Re-Demonization of the Rassemblement National

April 27, 2021

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Over the past decade, since taking over control of the Front National from her father, Marine Le Pen has successfully moved the party, now renamed Rassemblement National, into contention for the presidency. Her strategy has been dubbed one of “de-demonization” (dédiabolisation in French) but might be better described as a transformation of religious, racial, and xenophobic prejudice from the plane of the concrete to that of the abstract. She has draped herself in the robes of Marianne, defending the Republic from those who, she claims, would seek to denature it.
This strategy has carried her a long way. She survived the first round of the 2017 presidential election and seems on her way to doing even

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Les Splendeurs et Misères du Commentateur Politique

April 26, 2021

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These are difficult days for the political commentator. The normal political thrust and jab has been overshadowed by the universal preoccupation with the pandemic. Commentary on Covid is best left to experts, and those who dare to wade in despite the murkiness of the available facts are likely to see their hasty conclusions quickly overturned. Consider, for example, the initial comparisons of Germany and France, to the latter’s detriment. Sweeping statements were made about the reasons for France’s failures and the superior wisdom of Germany’s leadership. This broad-brushed condemnation of France, mostly by French commentators, now looks to have been premature and superficial. Even cautious Germans

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Why Are the Political Skies Darkening?

February 9, 2021

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With the 2022 presidential election looming in the middle distance, it seems that everyone in France with the slightest modicum of presidential ambition is launching a trial balloon lately. The skies are full of unlikely lighter-than-air contrivances: Arnaud Montebourg, until recently employed as an apiculturist at the delightfully named Bleu Blanc Ruche, has launched his, trailing a banner emblazoned “Buy French!” in the hope of attracting both right- and left-wing sovereignists who recall his quixotic campaign to nationalize DailyMotion while marketing Frenchness by donning a sailor’s pullover. Eric Zemmour is off to the races, hoping to unseat Marine Le Pen as monarch of the far right, as long as it doesn’t

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Caesar Was an Ambitious Man

January 12, 2021

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‘Tis the weeks after Christmas, in the year before the next presidential election, and ambitions are stirring throughout France and Navarre. Le Monde dutifully warns that the French left is in danger of disappearing for want of unity: Arnaud Montebourg is once again engagé, after trying his hand at beekeeping; Ségolène Royal is seeking to recapture the magic of 2007; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon remains persuaded that “la République, c’est moi,” even though Yannick Jadot is convinced that green is the new red. Bernard Cazeneuve is lurking in the wings, discreetly as always, and others stand at the ready in case one of the prematurely ambitious falters.

Of course, the conventional wisdom, conveniently encapsulated in the

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Paradoxes of France

January 5, 2021

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This is the first of two reviews of Emile Chabal’s brief history of France since 1940: France (Polity, 2020).

Emile Chabal’s splendid new book is entitled simply France, without further qualification. What sort of book is it? A history or an interpretive essay? If a history, what period does it cover? The unadorned title offers no clue. If an interpretive essay, does it purport to present, as General de Gaulle famously did in his memoirs, “a certain idea of France,” fiercely personal and unique to its author and his experience of the country, or something less intimate, a vast panoramic landscape intended to awe readers with the sublimity of its all-encompassing view rather than orient them in the here and now?

The answer is

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First Le Maréchal, then Mlle Maréchal

December 28, 2020

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Is Macron’s flirtation with the far right intensifying? A week ago he gave an interview to L’Express in which, mine de rien, he dropped the names of Charles Maurras and Maréchal Pétain. Of course, he did so with a characteristically graceful pirouette, insisting that these are two important figures in French history, too important to be left out of any reckoning with the past. Indeed, they are, but did Macron invoke their names as an historian, with an eye to placing them in their context and critically evaluating their work, or did he intend to use them as icons to signal his affinity with demagogues of the far right such as Eric Zemmour, who seek to rehabilitate the exclusionary nationalism they represent?

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Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing

December 3, 2020

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Giscard-d’Estaing, who died yesterday, marked a transition in the history of the Fifth Republic. Or, rather, he should have marked a transition, but the “modernization” he championed proved abortive, and the “republican monarchy” he sought to overthrow proved stronger than he imagined. In a sense, he was betrayed by his aristocratic instinct, which outwitted his énarque‘s intellect. He retreated from his initial campaign to bring the presidency down to earth into a frosty hauteur that struck many as a failed simulacrum of Gaullian grandeur, and in the end he was replaced by Mitterrand, who displayed a more developed theatrical flair for the monarchical role.
Giscard began as a technocrat–the best economist of his generation,

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The All Too Candid Cameras

November 27, 2020

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Pandering to the police, which was the purpose of the notorious Article 24 of the so-called Global Security Law (see my previous post), has backfired, putting Prime Minister Castex and President Macron in the awkward position of being obliged to denounce police violence even as they are attempting to pass a law that would cover it up by making it illegal to publish images of police caught in the act of beating citizens, such as the four who launched an unprovoked attack on music producer Michel Zecler. They are now suspended, but so is Article 24, which has been farmed out to an “independent commission” for a rewrite–a move which The Financial Times describes as a “humiliating climbdown” for Macron. But even a humiliating

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De quoi le Parti Socialiste est-il le nom?

November 24, 2020

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What’s in a name? Not much, or perhaps all too much, in the opinion of Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure. In an appearance this morning on France Inter, he announced that he would push for the party to change its name, because the adjective “socialist” no longer conveyed what it stood for. “What is that?” inquired the interviewers. Well, that remained to be seen, responded Faure, with characteristic decisiveness. There would first need to be a debate among “socialists,” and then a consultation with the broader left (including, apparently, the Greens, but not Mélenchon), and then perhaps with the country at large. And Anne Hidalgo would of course have to be part of it, even though she is currently feuding

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Separatism or Diversion?

October 2, 2020

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I’ve been quiet for so long that some of you must have concluded that this blog had ceased to exist. The political situation here in the US has been so anxiogenic that it has been hard to concentrate on France. But Emmanuel Macron’s speech today on the subject of “separatism” has awakened me from my slumbers. It signals, if nothing else, the beginning of the 2022 presidential race and tells us something about how Macron plans to position himself on the political chessboard. But the subject deserves a closer look on its own merits.
The French Republic is founded on the premise that it is “une et indivisible,” and the current president’s hostility to “separatisms” and “communitarisms” is, to take him at his word, intended to

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The EU Survives

July 22, 2020

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European summits are odd affairs, in which the high and mighty are reduced to pulling all-nighters, like second-year students obliged to endure a college bull session–which by some accounts these meetings resemble. There are the conciliators and the prima donnas, all duly described by the EU press, which must wait outside closed doors through white nights in the hope of catching word of the irritation of Leader A, the witty repartee of Leader B, or the pounding of fist on table by Leader C. The sessions drag on longer than expected. The caterer is not prepared, and Europe’s potentates must make do with improvised sandwiches. Hopes are raised, then dashed. Despair mounts. And then, at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute an

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The Castex Government

July 6, 2020

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Emmanuel Macron’s self-reinvention did not get very far. The just-appointed Castex government is as unexciting as the new prime minister himself. After Philippe, Castaner and Belloubet were shown the door. Darmanin was moved to interior. Le Maire, Blanquer, and Le Drian remain in their posts.
So what distinguishes the new government from the old? Nothing, really, except that Macron is no longer the young man in a hurry who was going to reshape everything and transform French politics from top to bottom. By essentially keeping the old government in place and firing his popular prime minister, he demonstrates that he has failed to make good on his promise.
The new prime minister is slightly farther to the right than the old: he

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Macron bis has begun

July 3, 2020

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There should be no surprise about Macron’s dismissal of Édouard Philippe: any prime minister who is more popular than his president is ripe for sacking. And it is doubtful that Philippe would have been so assiduous about regaining his mayoral post in Le Havre if he had expected to be kept on. Still, he had demonstrated a quiet competence that might have counted for something. But perhaps Macron wanted to avoid any possibility of his PM building a presidential candidacy on disloyalty to his president, as Macron himself did successfully in 2016-17 and as Valls attempted to do much less skillfully.
The president might of course have chosen a figure as substantial as Philippe to replace him–Bruno Le Maire, say–but Le Maire is also a

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Green Wave?

June 29, 2020

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Yes, the Greens did very well in yesterday’s Covid-delayed second round of municipal elections. They captured some major prizes: Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, and, most surprisingly, Bordeaux. They retained Grenoble. They came close to winning in Lille, the fiefdom of former Socialist PM Martine Aubry, and Toulouse. In short, a fantastic showing in all of France’s largest cities, save Paris. They have the wind in their sails–or should I say in their turbines?
But what does it all mean? The Green vote actually signifies a number of different things. First, it surely expresses growing concern about the environment, especially among urban professionals. Second, it embodies a vague and not always clearly formulated protest against the current

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Mediapoliticking Comes to France

June 3, 2020

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A movie star and a reality-TV buffoon have won the presidency of the United States in recent years. Is it conceivable that the mantle of Charles de Gaulle will devolve upon a 9/11-denying film clown like Jean-Marie Bigard, a televisual vulgarian like Cyril Hanouna, or a provocateur of the infotainment circuit such as Éric Zemmour? The French media are full of speculation that one of these men might challenge Macron in 2022. Macron is reportedly worried enough about this possibility that he placed a telephone call to Bigard, facilitated by yet another entertainer-cum-politician, Patrick Sébastien.
Or–another interpretation–Macron may actually be trying to instigate a candidacy by one of these media populists, whose

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The Future of the EU: Too Many Plans, Too Many Hands

May 28, 2020

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There are now numerous Covid rescue plans on the table for European leaders to consider. There is no need to run them down here because Prof. David Cameron of Yale has provided an excellent summary of their provisions. Briefly, the central bone of contention is whether EU assistance will be provided in the form of loans, ultimately to be reimbursed by member state recipients, or as grants. In both cases, the EU itself will amass the funds to be disbursed by borrowing in its own name, and it will repay those loans in one of two ways: through taxes it will somehow acquire the power to levy, or through repayment of secondary loans to member states. There is also a further question: to what extent will

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Virage à 1 km–mais à droite ou à gauche?

May 26, 2020

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The pandemic has presented Emmanuel Macron with an opportunity. He can now reimagine his presidency without appearing to have been forced into retreat by the Gilets Jaunes and opponents of his retirement reform. The first moves have already been announced: more resources for hospitals, including long-demanded and long-resisted salary hikes and new hires, plus an 8 billion euro bailout for the auto industry. With Merkel now having come around on debt mutualization, one could almost imagine a reboot of the Macron presidency back to its hopeful early days, but this time with un virage à gauche rather than à droite.
But the right still holds the top posts in the Macron administration, and two of its ambitious

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A Long-Awaited Breakthrough?

May 18, 2020

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It took a pandemic, but Germany’s Angela Merkel has at last agreed with French president Emmanuel Macron that a fiscal response to the crisis is necessary, that it will be achieved by increased spending from the common European Union budget, and that it will be financed by common European debt. As Le Monde says, this is nothing short of a “revolution”:
Mais le fait que le couple franco-allemand se soit mis d’accord sur les grandes lignes d’un plan de relance financé par une dette commune des Etats européens, émise par l’Union et dépensée par le biais du budget européen, est en soi une révolution. Car ce sont deux tabous qui sont finalement tombés outre-Rhin, au fil de ces dernières semaines.
To be sure, there are caveats.

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Macron at Midterm

May 11, 2020

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These are difficult days for political commentators. Politics-as-usual has given way to quarrels over the Covid-19 response. Commentators can choose one of two courses: concentrate on the errors, inevitably plentiful and satisfyingly concrete, of the powers-that-be, or speculate about the unknown and unknowable future, which offers an enticingly blank canvas to be filled with figments of one’s political imagination: Will it be globalized capitalism that disappears, or open borders, or everyday freedoms, or the corner pub and grocer?
French political commentary, as much at sea as political commentary everywhere, has filled the empty column-inches with two regular staples. As long as the Fifth Republic has existed, crises have given

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Two Articles Published Elsewhere

April 29, 2020

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I reflect on the corona crisis and the concomitant “Rebirth of Tragedy” at The Public Seminar. And I summarize France’s just-announced deconfinement policy for The American Prospect.

Tags: Covid
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Melvin Richter, 1921-2020

March 25, 2020

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Tocquevillians recently suffered a major loss: Melvin Richter, the great historian of political thought, died a little over a week ago. Mel was the kindest of men, and intellectually generous in a way that not all great scholars are. He and I shared not only an interest in Tocqueville but also a past as military linguists: the Army taught Mel to speak Chinese as it taught me to speak Vietnamese. We liked to laugh together about the absurdities of military life and the pitfalls of translation. Tocqueville was not the only object of his scholarly interest–far from it–but I am happy to say that Tocqueville absorbed him right to the end of his life, and he has left us the gift of a book on the theorist of democracy now in press.

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Municipal Medicine

February 17, 2020

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Until last week, the impending municipal elections in France were distinguished only by the eagerness of candidates across France to dissociate themselves from any of the political parties, affiliation with which was seen as a dead weight. There was a bit of a kerfuffle around a memo from interior minister Castaner instructing prefects not to tag candidates as belonging to the left, right, or center–nuançage in the somehow colorful yet colorless language of French officialdom–for which he was duly rebuked by the Conseil d’État.
But then came Griveaux-gate: the former government spokesperson and LRM candidate for mayor of the city of Paris suddenly became the French Anthony Weiner, exposed, as it were, by the machinations of a

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Municipal Medicine

February 17, 2020

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Until last week, the impending municipal elections in France were distinguished only by the eagerness of candidates across France to dissociate themselves from any of the political parties, affiliation with which was seen as a dead weight. There was a bit of a kerfuffle around a memo from interior minister Castaner instructing prefects not to tag candidates as belonging to the left, right, or center–nuançage in the somehow colorful yet colorless language of French officialdom–for which he was duly rebuked by the Conseil d’État.
But then came Griveaux-gate: the former government spokesperson and LRM candidate for mayor of the city of Paris suddenly became the French Anthony Weiner, exposed, as it were, by the machinations of a

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