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Art Goldhammer

Art 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 Art Goldhammer

The Republicans Temporize

June 20, 2019

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With the news that Les Républicains are about to choose Christian Jacob as their new leader, it is clear that the party has no idea where it intends to go in the future. Christian Jacob is one of those politicians who has always gone wherever the power is at the moment, whether to follow Jacques Chirac, his first master, or Sarkozy, Copé, or Fillon in the years that followed. Fillon is supposed to have called him Rantanplan, after Lucky Luke’s dog, himself a parody of Rin Tin Tin, who came when he was called. LR, in order to avoid yet another guerre des chefs, has called, and Jacob has come, running and wagging his tail.
Of course, the chefs who remain chez LR are pygmies rather than titans and not really in shape for war,

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Whither Europe?

June 10, 2019

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It is now two weeks since the European Parliament elections, and the dust has yet to settle. It was a remarkable election in many ways–unprecedented, really. Normally, EP elections are referenda on incumbents; domestic issues outweigh European issues. It would be too much to say that domestic issues took a back seat this time; of course they always matter, or at any rate the “throw the bums out” reflex always counts for something. But this time a very different sentiment is what moved masses of voters, I think, a sentiment that conjoined the usual disgruntlement with a more ominous foreboding that things might be heading in a seriously wrong direction. Europeans, like Americans, have begun to worry about Big Things: Is the postwar

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From de Gaulle to Tartuffe

May 27, 2019

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To understand the collapse of Les Républicains, one has only to re-run one of the televised debates that preceded yesterday’s European elections. France2 had asked each of party representative to start off with a show-and-tell: each was to present an object illustrating the deep meaning of his or her party’s campaign. Le Pen’s choice was brilliant: she showed an image of a truck driver, one Loïc, who had suffered, she said, from the EU’s detached worker directive. François Bayrou, representing LREM, showed an owl–the owl of Minerva, he said, or Athena for the slower students in the class–and left everyone baffled as to what it meant. And then came Laurent Wauquiez, who held up a picture of a church. “France and Europe are

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Hot Take on the European Elections

May 26, 2019

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The polls were wrong. Despite a lackluster campaign, interest in this election was higher than predicted, and turnout rose. The contest between Macron and Le Pen ended about as expected, with Macron holding his own despite six months of Gilets Jaunes protests–a victory of sorts. But the big news was the collapse of the Republicans, who finished with only 8, despite polls showing that François-Xavier Bellamy–a fairly sympa fellow for a reactionary Catholic–might finish with as much as 15 (but it’s true that his numbers have been declining since hitting that high). This poor showing–compare with Fillon’s result in round 1 of the presidential–will make it difficult for Wauquiez to hold on as leader of LR. This is good

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May 2, 2019

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May 1, the tradition fête des travailleurs et travailleuses, turned out not be quite as apocalyptic as the authorities had warned, perhaps exaggerating a bit in order to frighten away potential marchers. Neither was it the convergence des luttes that Jean-Luc Mélenchon had called for. Most of all, it did not signify a renewal of the trade union movement, as Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT, had to be exfiltrated from the line of march, or rather one of several lines of march, by his security service when he was caught between the CRS and a contingent of Black Bloc anarchists. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen hid out in Metz, where she bizarrely denounced the EU (which she now, with her customary habit of acronymic punning, calls “l’UERSS”) for

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The Contradictions of Populism

April 30, 2019

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Since November 17 of last year, we have been regaled every Saturday with the lament of the Gilets Jaunes, those salt-of-the-earth French men and women who join together to protest the bloated state of pampered civil servants who batten themselves at taxpayer expense while good people in the provinces struggle to make ends meet. But at least one of those pampered civil servants turns out to be one of the more telegenic Gilets Jaunes, Un fonctionnaire territorial, Jean-François Barnaba. Barnaba has been collection 2600 euros a month for the past ten years for doing nothing. And now he has joined the ex-Front National no. 2 Florian Philippot, now leader of Les Patriotes and advocated of “Frexit,” on the ticket for the

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Macron, Act II

April 26, 2019

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After Gilets Jaunes Act XXIII, yesterday the curtain rose on Macron Act II. There were innovations in both form and substance. Let me begin with the form, where the change was more noticeable. This was the first press conference of this presidential term. The setting, the newly renovated Salle des Fêtes in the Elysée, was spectacular and made to seem so by the occasional cutaway shots showing the impressive gilt ceiling, the forest of chandeliers, the throng of journalists, and, seated at the head table, covered in white, alone, the president.
The table deserves comment. De Gaulle sometimes gave press conferences seated behind a table, but not a plain table like Macron’s, rather an ornate Louis XV antique–Macron used a similar prop,

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Macron, Act II

April 26, 2019

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After Gilets Jaunes Act XXIII, yesterday the curtain rose on Macron Act II. There were innovations in both form and substance. Let me begin with the form, where the change was more noticeable. This was the first press conference of this presidential term. The setting, the newly renovated Salle des Fêtes in the Elysée, was spectacular and made to seem so by the occasional cutaway shots showing the impressive gilt ceiling, the forest of chandeliers, the throng of journalists, and, seated at the head table, covered in white, alone, the president.
The table deserves comment. De Gaulle sometimes gave press conferences seated behind a table, but not a plain table like Macron’s, rather an ornate Louis XV antique–Macron used a similar prop,

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Youthful Indiscretions

April 25, 2019

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The otherwise dull-as-dishwater campaign for the European elections has produced one amusing passe-d’armes involving two rather surprising combatants: Nathalie Loiseau, the head of LREM’s list, and Edwy Plenel, the editor of Médiapart. Médiapart revealed that when Loiseau was a student at SciencesPo, her name appeared on a list of candidates for the far-right student organization UED (affiliated with the notorious extremist group GUD). This, to say the least, was a surprising place to find a colorless centrist like Loiseau, who at first denied any memory of having figured on the UED list (she claims to have been a Gaullist at the time) but then recovered a rather vivid memory of having agreed to run as a favor to a friend,

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From Democracy in the Streets to Democracy in Danger

April 24, 2019

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Above is the video of a talk I gave at the University of Chicago on April 17 at the invitation of Prof. James Sparrow. The text is below, for anyone who may be interested.

From Democracy in the Streets to Democracy in Danger
 “Who am I and why am I here?” You’re all too young to remember the 1992 presidential campaign, in which a little-known retired admiral named James Stockdale introduced himself with those words at the beginning of the vice-presidential debate. Admiral Stockdale seemed more than a little unsure about how he had ended up on a public podium in a situation for which he appeared to be totally unprepared. I find myself in a similar predicament. But the short answer to the question

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Mélenchon: “Federate the people!”

April 24, 2019

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon contains multitudes. After the Notre-Dame fire, he was among the most eloquent of commentators, intimately familiar with the history of the cathedral. But his familiarity with the vast panorama of French history did not prevent him from ludicrously comparing Éric Drouet, one of the leaders of the leaderless Gilets Jaunes, to Jean-Baptiste Drouet, the postmaster of Sainte-Menehould, le bon citoyen who recognized the king in flight from the Revolution and thus precipitated his arrest at Varennes.
Today Mélenchon appears in the pages of Libération in a spirited dialogue with editor Laurent Joffrin. He denies that he has transformed La France Insoumise into a cult of personality with himself at the

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On the Notre-Dame Disaster

April 17, 2019

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The Nation asked me to write a few words on the fire at Notre-Dame. Here is my essay. Thanks to David Bell for the accompanying photo, which perfectly captures my memory.

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The European Union Elections

April 14, 2019

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This year’s European Union elections are arousing even less interest than usual in France. It’s not hard to understand why. European elections are always a referendum on the sitting president, but this year the Gilets Jaunes and Grand Débat National present a far more interesting theater for venting feelings about Macron than the altogether too diffuse field of candidates for the European Parliament. In any case, European political conversation, such as it is, is dominated by Brexit at the moment, so the debate that might have been joined over Macron’s reform proposals has been completely marginalized. In any case, Macron’s proposals have long since been buried by the cool reception afforded them first by Chancellor

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Moment of Maximum Danger for Macron

March 19, 2019

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The gauntlet has been thrown down. An angry Édouard Philippe appeared on TV tonight to attempt to explain why the violence in Paris had gotten so out of hand on Saturday. His explanation: we (the government had a strategy), but it was not properly executed. In other words, blame the prefect of Paris, Michel Delpuech, who was summarily fired. Next weekend will be different, Philippe promised. But it may not be in his power to keep that promise. At the very least, the black blocs will now have every incentive to try to circumvent whatever new police tactics are attempted. And the government has now raised the stakes to the point where it will lose face if the violence succeeds, and therefore the police will be under

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The Newest New Left: Fragments of a Fraction

March 15, 2019

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Place Publique, the brainchild of essayist Raphaël Glucksmann, was originally intended to unify the fissiparous left. Having failed in that mission impossible, it will now take its place among the shards of the shattered vessel. Glucksmann will head the Place Publique list, which tomorrow, it is rumored, will be officially adopted by the Socialist Party under Olivier Faure as its standard bearer. Of course, this being the Socialist Party, there is no agreement about Faure’s decision to merge with Place Publique, so this latest unification will, as usual, probably leave more fragments littering the field than there were initially. It is an index of the misfortunes of the PS that it is now reduced to

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The EU, where all politics is local

March 11, 2019

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Yesterday, former French president François Hollande addressed a student conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School and then met with faculty and students to discuss European and trans-Atlantic politics (in the picture accompanying this post, I’m seated to Hollande’s left and former Greek finance minister George Alogoskoufis, who chaired the session, is to his right). I asked Hollande about German CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s reply to Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for European reform. His response was in essence that it was going to be very difficult to get Franco-German agreement on social and economic issues and that the only promising area for increased cooperation in the near term was border security and

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The “Social and Ecological” Contract

March 5, 2019

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As France’s political parties wither away, French civil society may be organizing itself to fill the void. Perhaps that is too optimistic a read of what those perennial civil-society reformers, Laurent Berger and Nicolas Hulot, are up to with their “Social and Ecological Pact.” But something needs to fill the void left by the evaporation of the parties and the unwillingness of the Gilets Jaunes to translate protest into policy. What Berger and Hulot are proposing looks very much like a political agenda aimed squarely at Emmanuel Macron. They call for taxing wealth, undoing Macron’s cut in housing assistance, and, of course, reinvigorating the ecological agenda that Hulot was prevented from implementing when he was

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Macron, Marathoner

February 26, 2019

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Emmanuel Macron has stolen the thunder of the Gilets Jaunes by embarking on a Magical Mystery Tour. Calling the traveling Macron show a Grand Débat National is an ingenious camouflage. Jupiter’s descent among the people, “ceux qui ne sont rien,” is nothing less than a brilliantly stage-managed road show. But will it prove to be a farewell tour, the final extravaganza of a once-promising rock band that has passed its sell-by date, or the beginning of En Marche!’s Second Révolution [sic, ©]?
The media are dazzled. The coverage is reminiscent of the favorable, not to say adoring, coverage Macron received during the campaign. The president’s huge crowds are measured, his appearances are timed (7 hours in Grand-Bourgtheroulde, an

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Il faut savoir terminer un fiasco

February 18, 2019

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Fini la comédie! Il faut savoir terminer un fiasco. For more than three months now, all the thinking and (especially) talking heads of France and Navarre have been trying hard to make sense of the Gilets Jaunes. The protests have elicited as much sympathy as puzzlement. Indeed, the inscrutable character of the movement contributed to the sympathies it aroused even from unexpected quarters. The charge that the presidency of the Fifth Republic is nothing more than a republican monarchy is an old and familiar one, and Emmanuel Macron’s manner of exercising the powers of his office only exacerbated long-standing discomfort with the institution. At bottom the GJ were an expression of class and cultural resentment, an

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The Benalla Affair Explodes

February 11, 2019

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At first I minimized l’Affaire Benalla. When the story of his video-recorded misdeeds first hit the news, I appeared on France24 and expressed my firm opinion that what happened on the place de la Contrescarpe reflected nothing more than the inflated self-importance of a 26-year-old kid from les quartiers to whom Macron had imprudently given a leg up. Certainly it did not rise to the level of une affaire d’État, as many others seemed to believe.
With the latest revelations, however, that position can no longer be sustained. Benalla’s self-importance was inflated, to be sure, but it led to more than an unimpressive collar in the middle of a lackluster demonstration. Benalla, despite his tender age, was a man of grandiose

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The New Italian Wars

February 8, 2019

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It’s back to the Renaissance: France and Italy are at war. Will we witness a new Battle of Marignano, where the French were victorious, or a Battle of Pavia, where they weren’t? In case you missed the news that prompted this question, France has recalled its ambassador to Italy after a series of attacks on Emmanuel Macron, first by Matteo Salvini, then by Luigi di Maio. Frictions between European partners are hardly unusual, but rarely do they reach the level of an ambassadorial recall.
What’s going on? Among the commentariat, it’s common to say that di Maio and Salvini have both found fun and profit in France-bashing and are playing out their own domestic rivalry at France’s expense. Di Maio even traveled to France to meet with

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The Anti-Political Turns Political

January 28, 2019

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The Gilets Jaunes, contemners of a political system they regard as rotten to the core, are in the process of discovering that the anti-political invariably leads to the political. Two “leaders” of the determinedly leaderless movement have now founded political parties. Ingrid Levasseur, a nurse, will head a list in May’s European elections. Jacline Moraud, one of the historic “founders” of the GJ movement, has formed a party, Les Emergents, which will not run a list in May but which nevertheless intends to join the political fray.
The decomposition of the political party system begun by Macron’s insurgent candidacy thus continues with the inevitable fragmentation of the anti-Macron movement. This is of course

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Redistribution Under Macron–Updated Figures from the IPP

January 24, 2019

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The IPP has released a new report on the cumulative effect of Macron’s budgets since taking office (h/t Ashoka Mody). Here is the executive summary:
Cette note étudie les réformes des impôts et transferts portant sur les ménages qui ont été introduites par le budget 2019, en incluant les mesures les plus récentes annoncées à la suite du mouvement des « gilets jaunes ». Les résultats indiquent un gain moyen proche de 1 % du revenu disponible pour une large partie des ménages, principalement les bénéficiaires de la prime d’activité et les ménages concernés par la baisse de la taxe d’habitation. Nous analysons également les effets des réformes menées depuis le début du quinquennat, c’est-à-dire

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Comme une lettre à la poste

January 14, 2019

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I try not to be cynical–well, not too cynical–about politics. Too many people already are. But when the president formerly known as Jupiter takes up pen and paper and asks his citizens–ceux qui ont réussi comme ceux qui ne sont rien–to help him figure out how to run the country, my patience wears thin. Of course, he doesn’t mean it: a few sentences in, right after saying no subject is taboo, he indicates that restoration of the ISF is off the table. And he notes that he was elected on a platform of reform, which he intends to carry through. Nevertheless, he will be glad to hear suggestions from all of France and Navarre concerning matters such as adding a dose of proportionality to legislative elections, admitting

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Marine Le Pen’s New Look

January 11, 2019

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Detest her politics as one must, one also has to admire the way Marine Le Pen has played her cards. After her disastrous performance in the final presidential debate, she seemed to have no cards left. Rather than fight a losing battle with the seemingly invincible Macron, she withdrew from the field to bandage her wounds, regroup, and await the enemy’s inevitable misstep. Her patience has been amply rewarded. The Gilets Jaunes appeared as the answer to a prayer: out of nowhere emerged a movement not instigated by the now-renamed Rassemblement National but wholly in harmony with its anti-elitist message. Still she waited, aware of the danger of mounting the back of an unpredictable beast. Better to let it trample the adversary

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Beyond the Hexagon

January 9, 2019

[unable to retrieve full-text content]I look beyond French borders to consider the evolving political situation in Europe’s four largest economies in the winter issue of The American Prospect.
The post Beyond the Hexagon appeared first on Tocqueville21.

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Competition: La Bataille du Rail

January 8, 2019

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To hear the Gilets Jaunes tell it, you’d think the government has nothing on its mind but how to squeeze the last centime out of the harried taxpayer. But every once in a while one is reminded that the government in fact has bigger–or at least other–fish to fry.
There is China, for example. To combat the Chinese rail juggernaut CRRC, Alstom and Siemens want to hook up to keep Europe in the high-speed rail game. But the European Commission seems to think that Alstom and Siemens are actually less interested in battling the Chinese dragon than in warding off competitors on their home turf. Hence a battle royal has shaped up, with Germany and France pushing to portray the merged Alstom-Siemens as a “European champion,”

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The Wrong Way to Reform

January 2, 2019

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In his New Year’s vœux to the nation, Emmanuel Macron listed the reforms that would be at the top of his agenda for 2019. In particular:
“Le gouvernement dans les prochains mois devra poursuivre ce travail pour changer en profondeur les règles de l’indemnisation du chômage afin d’inciter davantage à reprendre le travail”.
It turns out that even before the president spoke these words, the government had issued a decree, without prior consultation with the trade unions or others with a particular interest in this reform, that took a much harsher stance than had previously been announced or debated. The crux of the matter is the treatment of the unemployed who fail to show up for the required periodic interview at the

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Mes vœux et les siens

January 1, 2019

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If I thought my opinion carried any weight in the world, I would be more circumspect in expressing it. I would worry that my exasperation with Emmanuel Macron would push him toward failure, which is the last thing I want to see, because I fear its consequences. If I thought there were any chance that my criticism would be heard in high places and encourage a course correction, I would express it more forcefully. As it is, I know that only we happy few care what I think, so I will be neither more nor less circumspect but merely ambivalent, reflecting both the depth of my confusion and the height of my consternation.
Macron in recent months has rung a series of changes on his public image. He showed defiance when the Benalla story

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A Tale of Two Languages

December 27, 2018

[unable to retrieve full-text content]My latest on the state of France in The New Republic.
The post A Tale of Two Languages appeared first on Tocqueville21.

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