Do the French perceive themselves as « statists », obsessed to keep the central role of their King in every sector of public life. Since the five centuries they lived under Roman rule – and many more under Church theocracy – the French could not think of any way of government other than from the center. The kings aligned themselves with the political manners of their predecessors. The French Revolution, too. Under the French monarchy, the administration has preceded the building of the Nation. Critical of the quasi-monarchic nature of any French regime, Mirabeau considered this inevitably matched the French spirit: « the fury of governing and the mania of regulations ». But one has to distinguish between the innate and the print of History.
– Centralism is a phenomenon that self-fuels. The more the State intervenes, the more it infantilizes its citizens, the more the latter are disempowered, the more they will become sensitive to the little music of the « Daddy-state » or « Mom State ». This odd distrust for individual freedoms incites the French to live in a mood of envy (a bit of jealousy, a bit of suspicion). As they expect too much from State, which, by nature, cannot accomplish everything, they will become frustrated with the success of others and capricious. Behind these feelings lie the roots of egalitarianism, a devouring trap in the heart of the « French exception ».The faith in omnipotent State also reflects a French failure to develop counter-powers. The comparative history of parliamentarianism in France and in the UK, for instance, provides a striking illustration of that. In France, Parliament ceased to convene during two hundred and fifty years, between 1484 and 1560, then between 1614 and 1789! On the other side of the Channel, it was omnipresent, watching over the principle of consenting to taxes. This principle was lacking in France, as the King had arrogated to himself all powers. Similarly, the US Constitution was designed to protect citizens from abuse of power. Conversly, the French Constitution has focused on the extent of State’s powers.
– So, is freedom the great loser in the history of France ? Great French intellectuals of the eighteenth century, from Montesquieu to Rousseau, have looked at individual freedoms with a bit of suspicion, much preferring notions of « rule of law » or « general interest ». If the liberals were able to make their voices heard in the early nineteenth century, like Jean-Baptiste Say, Frédéric Bastiat, Madame de Stael or Benjamin Constant, this did not last, even if the industrial revolution can be seen as a breakthrouh of ideas before one of technologies. If private liberties, by nature, plastic and resilient, has made their way in the minds of the French and feed their inventiveness. But, as such, they were of little effect on the individual emancipation of citizens.
« Declineists » will say: « look, the evil is so deeply rooted, it is 1000 years old ! How do you want to get rid of a millennium ? » Quite the opposite, in fact ! Analysing French DNA can help explaining why reforming France with forceps – through the imposition of « prevailing (anglo-saxon) standarts » and without considering its identity –
would be a pure illusion, leading to a certain failure. On the other hand, by mobilizing History, literature, religion and psychology, the French could expose themselves to self-criticism, without discarding their repulsion for naive « liberalism » (synonymous for big business predation, lobotomized consumers and poisonous food). As in judo, they would draw energy by relying on the strength of their opponents and steer the debate on another track. Because this is France, the emancipation could not take place against the State, but through social forces willing to phagocyte State. Along this line, the very nature of State would evolve dramaticaly into something much more in line with the present time and the prospective future.
– Will State ever agree to quit its omnipotence? Submission to such a fate is under way. For decades, French citizens have heard the State sobbing, every now and then, telling them that « it cannot do this or that, or even anything they want … as it is too broke and naked » (which is not the case of a large chunk of society). The 15 million French devoting their time to associative activities constitute some kind of counterweight to « statism » and they tend to realize that they count, when it comes to such new issues as accepting and integrating migrants and refugees or preventing climatic change.
The French quasi-monarchy does not go uncontrolled. French Press is relatively free from State, probably less from business (but to a lesser extend than most counterparts in Europe). It is offensive and often operates as a watchful whistle-blower and a powerful counter-power, as seen in the 2017 presidential elections. Justice is vigilant and notably harsh to failing politicians. Local communities systematicaly rebel against State, like everywhere else in the Western world. « Girondism » (anti-centralism) is even dominant in the French regions as a resistance to Parisian « Jacobinism », widely disliked. In terms of money and skills, it is clear that French central state is quickly shrinking to some dry skeleton.
So, fancies of « strong central leadership » are gradually switching focus towards Brussels and the European Union. But only for matters of broad policies (finance, consumer rights, defense, climate, security …). “Subsidiarity” works as a limit to statism : “let them not meddle with my village affairs, my family, my culture, my hobbies and my food !” (almost like in the US).
– Paradoxically, centralism might have something good, but for a short while only : when the French send to the top power position someone with an enlightened mind, this may liberate their energies, mobilize the levers of the State (or Union) at the service of a grand collective ambition. Moreover, a healthy conception of the necessary reforms – not as a punishment of the citizens but as an « fresh upsurge of French talent and audacity » – could change the prevailing pessimism into a new fervor. But, as, politically speaking, the « providential man » is always short-lived enjoyment quickly followed with popular disfavor, the French type of « monarchic republic » seems worn out and in a dead end, even after harvesting some initial successes, like overcoming the peak of financial or geopolitical, military crisis.
– Because France is France, the alliance of desire for transformation and a form of transcendence could work fine in its specific case, despite the reknown capricious moods of its citizenry. An alternative option for this country would be to learn to think in terms of check and balance, with a multiple head Executive, a strong Parliament, involved to the practice of government, an empowered civil society and a totally independant judicial branch of Government. Too bad, the Brexit may cut France and the rest of the world from what used to be a rich source of experiences, next door to Calais.
Because they are aging and worried about their country (declining) position in the world, the French will, one day, rally around more solid recipies for a steadier democracy. They might reinvent and modernize the model, pretending that it has always been theirs. Distanciating themselves from the most archaïc « statist » prejudices but also keen to defend the benefits State missions of the future, so to cope with the power of markets, finance, the global predation of ressources, they might well elaborate some new brand of governance for the global world, that would be interesting for many others. Maybe, as soon as 2022 ?
(Some elements of this blog edito have been partly inspired by an article by Mathieu Lainé, in Le Point of 11 january 2018, as well as the picture – thanks)
Geopol Teddy wishes you a most fantastic New Year.
Due to the winter break, Teddy puts his geopolitical cogitations on hold and will focus on the fundamentals.
– Weak Inside, presomptuous outside, an over-engaged France fleeing its realities
Interviewed by BFM TV, the former prime minister and foreign minister did not mince his words: France war against ISIS, is briskly but make the Country over-exposed, without any clear design in mind about ending these multiple conflicts. Ignoring its worsening vulnerabilities as well as its sad vocation to be the « Western favorite target » of jihadism, it risks falling into the traps that the ISIS lays on its path.
– French response to the terrorist attacks does not lack panache but it has little strategic depth and shows its limits in coping, alone, with the many challenges. The military roadmap is designed for the short term: the search for immediate and symbolic gains, a superficial analysis of a complex combination of threats. Surfing on the present expression of unity prevailing in the population (which is not absolute, neither long-lasting), the French Government goes martial all the way. The introduction of a « state of emergency » for a period that we can guess will be lasting (three months plus successive extensions), the proposed amendments to the 1958 Constitution, the intensification of police powers (inside) and military engagements (outside) will definitely please those citizens and voters who, having failed to invest themselves in any deep analysis, just feel a strong need for hard stick policy and strong State authority.
Dominique de Villepin rightly perceives a « deviance towards authoritarianism, towards a pattern of all-out security and a dubious fever to express « national, truely French identity ». Here comes the danger for democracy. All this, in fact, creates a climate that strongly accentuates national vulnerabilities.
1 – France fights without strategic planning in Syria (as well as in Iraq, where a civil war is going on, not to mention the case of Libya tomorrow, nor the Middle East chaos in general, Palestine,…). Since the Sarkozy era, its armed forces play a active but limited part : that of a junior military partner of the US. The 2011 Libyan cataclysm, fully attributable to Nicolas Sarkozy, constitutes a typical example of the very limits of Paris foreign policy. Now, the military chiefs do not know exactly where to hit hard on ISIS territory and they request, case by case, support from the US ally, to a lesser extend, from the British or the Germans partners or the Gulf emirs. Meanwhile, French diplomacy is restrained, more or less, to hosting venues like the COP 21. Even the ongoing influx of refugees falls, now, within the backyard of the Ministry of Interior.
– So, Paris does not emit any idea as to the necessary reconstruction of Syria (and tomorrow, of Libya). Until the time of Jacques Chirac, the Hexagon was widely perceived as THE alternative country, being sufficiently independent and involved in the world affairs to bring into the international arena, innovative answers, meaningful concepts or a fresh vision that the protagonists were in need of. This time, it is not true any longer. Yet, terrorism was readily anticipable: it surged from the depths or the ruins of failed states at war and took advantage of all forms of vacuum (that of the State, of the state of law or the destruction wrought by war). We can find some excuses – or not – for these « lost » western children drifting to jihad. In any case, we live like a twist of fate that, in their nihilistic quest for violence and self-destruction, those few empty-minded kids, frustrated but « hormones-boiling » as they are, rush to calls for terrorist action. The highway to death being left wide open to them is a sheer madness of this world. Targeting such category of nationals because they have been active behind the Paris attacks of November 2015 probably makes some sense. At least, in terms of barring future planned attacks thus protecting innocent citizens. But bombing Raqqa will not harm ISIS very much. On the other hand, it will generate, in large numbers, vocations for Jihad among the « little brothers » of the Jihadists, i.e the next generation back home, in Paris, Brussels or in California. Instead, the heart and brain of ISIS should be aimed at – militarily, politically, socially – with a subsequent project for a tenuous reconstruction of the state of law, a democratically elected authority, some territorial control, legitimate institutions, real education, etc. What does Quai d’Orsay plans about that ? Nothing ? Hi, Quai, are you still here?
– For years, France has been building its foreign policy on military force, police force and intelligence. Mali already offers the disturbing picture of a brave but risky war operation far from home. Both the French troops limited strength (three thousand, to cover seven countries !) and weaponry are quite under-proportionate compared with the vastness of the war theater, its complexity, the ceaseless incursions of the international Jihad. How could the French government, in addition, generate and sustain forces for additional conflicts – of higher intensity – on the Syrian-Iraqi theater and, next time, in Libya, maybe the most militarized and violent war theaters in the world ? We remember that, in Syria alone, some 1200 katibas are active in the process of mutual destruction. This means great deployment of heavy – even prohibited – weapons, probably including cases of weapons of mass destruction. Who except for the local warriors will want to fight on the ground ? On top of the picture, the intervention of several coalitions of outside powers (western, Golfo-sunni, Irano-chiites, Russian) is not without evoking the sequence that led to the First World War, after the Sarajevo assassination of July 1914. History, indeed, has been completely forgotten and seems irrelevant in our debates.
After swearing, upon launching air force strikes in Iraq (September 2014), that he would maintain « absolute autonomy in terms of intelligence and choice of targets », Hollande ends up imploring Obama to give him access to intelligence sources of the so called « Five Ears » and to selected targets lists in Syria of the US military. Besides, Paris, like a recruiting sergeant, beats to rally British, Germans and other European partners. The French president also heralded a « single large coalition » against ISIS. This is impossible to achieve, as it is true that « everyone plays for itself », but that certainly builds-up the image of France as the « small excited sheriff », pushing and pulling by the pants the big US sherif (who is much more cautious) and his whole swarm to empty their six shot gun in the middle of the saloon.
– The image of the « Crusaders-Westerners » sticks to our soldiers and airmen everywhere across the Muslim world. It galvanizes resentment against the western nations, which we do not quite realize (as nothing manifests the phenomenon within our borders). France has been singled out as a « natural and historical enemy », well beyond the circles of jihad or political Islamism : in fact among the wide underprivileged strata of Muslim public opinions.
2 – France is moreover exposed to its own domestic vulnerabilities, which ISIS is banking on to fragment and divide French society. They are at least of five types :
– First : agitation. In proclaiming, before the French Congress, the « Country at war », introducing a modified version of the emergency law of 1955 (a law of exception that many fear may become the rule), handling the fate of asylum seekers under this stern rule), embarking on the adventure of changing the 1958 Constitution and, moreover, in suggesting that this war arsenal was here to stay, Hollande’s dramatization produced unexpected effects: the main political party to benefit from all this has been the xenophobic, anti-democrat and autarkic Front National, standing on the extreme-right. ISIS aims at civil war in European ranks. It hopes for narrow-minded communitarian slogans, Islamophobic behaviors, racist and hateful public language. It so has scored gains. In May 2017, the raise to power (through presidential elections) of Mrs. Marine Le Pen would surely be claimed, in Raqqa and Mosul to be a huge achievement.
– Villepin blames this « authoritarian, all-out securitarian and identitarian » deviances on the head of State. Hollande, he says, wants to hit hard in order to improve his domestic aura. The state of emergency divides the French and the « safety above all » concept might well set them against one another. In the end, the prospect is as such : losing both military legitimacy (colatteral damages, malaise within the armed forces, systematic recourse to extrajudicial executions with means such as drones); loss of judicial clout (submission of the institutions of justice and mistreatment of « suspects »); omnipotence of police generating abuses; populist attempts to restore the death penalty … All this would be a godsend for Caliph Abu-Bakr Al Baghdadi and his strategists methodically planning our Apocalypse!
– Dominique de Villepin fears that recourse to emergency rule will inhibit good sense reactions among common citizens: those who stay loyal to the values of the Republic, but also people « not so involved in politics », i.e more sensitive to the voices of fear and emotions. The emergency law is more likely to amplify the xenophobic and racist prejudices already at work : « to extraordinary circumstances, extreme feelings ». Lets’hope that exception rule will end soon and that it will affect the course of Justice as little as possible. Contrary to Villepin pessimism, we are quite many to think that most of the people of France, awakened by November 13., intend to think for themselves now on and that’s good as well.
– Focused on its offensive arsenal, the country does risk losing sight of vulnerabilities undermining its ability to overcome the huge crisis at its doorstep. Will it apply energetically all the long-known remedies to heal malfunctions in its education system, the ghettoisation of its « communitarian » neighborhoods, the discrimination distorting its labor market, the vertigo felt by some of its youth, fascinated by nihilism and violence, the indignity of its prison system … in short, will the French keep welded together, will the country policies ensure social cohesion better than in the past ? Without this « civilian effort » no « war effort » will crop lasting results. In the worst scenario, will ISIS conquer enclaves and fortresses within the European social body and territory ?
– Among all the traps, an implosion of Europe is not the slightest. This would occur in part by impotence, in part following a regression to the Old world perception of « sovereignty », the devils of division never being very far away. What is happening in Europe since the attacks in Madrid, London, Brussels and Paris (both waves) amply justifies the establishment of a EU anti-terrorist Prosecutor office, a « Euro FBI » of a kind, to conduct an integrated strategy against the threats. It would also be useful to integrate the management of immigration flows. But no one seems to want to take the plunge. The perfectible quality of information provided by the French intelligence services before and after the attacks in Paris, yet calls for a further sharing of information within the European integration pillar « Police-Justice » which stays unfinished to this day. If the Europe of Justice and borders, if Schengen free circulation scheme were to disintegrate altogether, the state of extreme weakness in which would fall the EU Member-States would make the bed for a fatal and chaotic climate of insecurity throughout the Old continent.
It is by implementing courageous, consensual, costly long-term solutions, not with martial parades for voters that the European countries will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
– 15. November attacks in Paris: vain sidewalk gossips, a quest for Fraternity
On that Saturday, early in the morning, I was heading to Montmartre and to my ‘’vintage’’ human rights group regional gathering. The planned debate was featuring ‘Brotherhood and problems of freedom of expression’. Nice topic, raising expectations of reminiscences from the ‘’I am Charlie’’ of January in Paris, as well as from the blasphemous caricatures of Mohammad and other smashing cultural clashes of these last years.
Except that the day was November 14, and I had completely missed news from bloody attacks having taken place during the night, in Paris. Normally, I never omit dipping a fair amount of media in my black morning coffee.
Getting off my bike, I discovered a picture of horror, bit by bit. Ludicrous and insignificant seemed any discussion about ‘’Fraternity’’ (i.e Brotherhood), when so many innocent people had been murdered for just being at the wrong time in the wrong place, capturing a bit of enjoyment, a moment of friendship. For a moment, I thought I was terribly off-focus, having proposed such a naïve topic for the sake of activating the group neurons about the current state of French society. It looked totally irrelevant, in contrast to immediate emergencies: first aid to the victims, identifying the deads and caring for the wounded.
1 – But, thinking in prospect, I am now convinced that it will indeed make an awful lot of sense, after such a shock, to discuss the meaning of Fraternity
– Rebuilding and strengthening the brotherhood that cement a nation (including all foreigners living among it or those who will join it in the future) is not a matter of sentimentality but a decisive factor in this nation’s response to terrorism and ability to overcome its present ordeal. In the long term, this is salvation;
– Safeguarding freedoms, guarding citizens from any inhibition of their thoughts, their expression and their wish for ‘business as usual’ : this will be an imperative for a lasting period of time, under the state of emergency proclaimed in France. Police, security and intelligence apparatus (including anti-terrorist units of the Judiciary) will fill the whole public scene and act without limits of authority or law.
When under shock, it is a bit hard to find something smart to say. Of course, I am thus challenging my present effusion. On the other hand, putting words on horrifying facts and feelings will discharge internal traumas and relieve destructive introversions. But, it does not always and immediately deliver a wide breath of inspiration. Mr. & Mrs. Anyone will express in tears and in length their sad fate of not being one of the victims: they were not at the Bataclan, at the climax of History and, anyway, live far from Paris. What they saw on TV was so painful that they complain profusely, full of pity for themselves;
– The French national leaders are now putting on their armors and shields: France will be ‘ruthless against attackers,’ … ‘a tit for a tat’ (‘an eye for an eye’, in French). Thus is projected the image of the martial Knight, as hard as rock. It will probably not harm politically, in view of the forthcoming regional elections. Military response is a self-evidence, but it requires the green light from the international community and great caution with civilian populations affected. Even claimed in sincerity, round effects will not produce much impact;
– On the background of the ‘post-attacks half-Sacred Union’ imposed on the political class (deep cracks are already perceived among the ‘republican’ politicians), partisan accounts will go on being settled. The present demands for ‘deep inflections’ carries such polemical fragrances;
– Outside the ‘republican’ sphere, the extreme-right feasts on the misfortunes of the French: the borders should be closed, suburban neighborhoods targeted for police sweeps – pogroms or manhunts? – ‘eradication’ of Islamism (what is the definition?) and search for weapons should be carried on, coldly. To amalgamate it all, the French citizen is invited to caricature the Muslim ‘migrant’ or asylum seeker as an ‘absolute terrorist’. The poor guy is consequently doomed to be expelled and sent back to death to where he belongs and comes from ! Not particularly sharp and focused…
It makes much more sense to relay the motto ‘not even afraid at all !‘ uttered by the young Parisians, peacefully defying the state of emergency, in the aftermath of the massacre. We should keep alive the spirit of January 11. when four million normal people were scrolling the streets of Paris, while shouting ‘I am Charlie!’.
But toughening our minds with resilience and vigilance will also be the lesson to learn for the day after, which will be substantially darker than Charlie’ s fraternal January.
2 – Prospectively, let me relay a few thoughts of wisdom and lucidity that I hold from a French philosopher – let’s call him Guy. On November 14. he gifted the ACAT group with his lights on the future of Brotherhood/Fraternity and incidentally the double-edge nature of an unfettered Freedom of Expression:
– First, we have to reconnect with the word » we », i.e. the awareness of living together with a common future as a community. Our common civic space, the very notion of » Republic », has been for long deteriorating. Such slogans as » I’m Charlie! », resulted partly from the current drift, in which the solitary individual personally and directly judges of the affairs of Mankind, without any reference to the collective or general interest.
– Fraternity is altogether a natural complement and a catalyst of Liberty and Equality, the two other mottos of the French Republic. Simply because these two last values would remain in a virtual and theoretical state in the absence of the decisive human impulse, which mobilizes the people, cement their unity, produces empathy and encourages building together. It is essential to overcome cultural conflicts and social inequalities;
– Fraternity falls within the civil vocabulary but equally within the religious language. Let’s assume this duality and not restrict Brotherhood of believers to a sad and defensive circle of parish members. As well, civic Fraternity should have nothing to do with feelings of contempt for religious faith including its public expression. Let’s not forget that the true Islam, too, cherishes Fraternity and Humanism. The French Revolution had assumed the duality of this term, thus foreshadowing French ‘’laïcity’’ (coexistence of beliefs). The French cannot do less today;
– The climax in the raising of the Fraternity concept in French history lies not in 1789 but in 1848, with the awakening of nationalities throughout the Old Continent. Brotherhood is solidified by a good knowledge of History. The French Republic underlines political (and social) fraternity as a cement of cohesion. Today, ‘’Laïcity’’ no longer describes a state of French society, but it opens a path for its overhaul. It produces its benefits, at the crossroads of politics, idealism, morality and belief;
– As a factor of humanity, Fraternity is initially stirred by the awareness of the suffering inflicted on the Other. It feeds mainly on realizing the unique essence of each person, the very non-substitutability of this person. Its rationality is “this is because I am me, this is because he/she is him/her. » … that simple!
– Fraternity calls for structuring society, giving it a framework to accomplish its ideal of solidarity. To vivify this wish, rehabilitating or restoring necessary intermediate bodies, ombudsmen and representatives is needed as well as a farsighted and comprehensive governance. Society needs plans for the long term (one will thinks of urban development and affirmative action in support of young suburban dwellers, a policy always proclaimed but too little implemented). In a fraternal system, ‘’laïcity” (secularism as conceived by the 1905 French Act separating Church and State) is not a goal but a useful user manual of Democracy;
– Fraternity is not at all immune from abuse. It can even be perverted. During the 1789-1793 years of the French revolution, it was characterized as »national », »civil » and then, based on terror. When it calls for the destruction of the enemies of democracy, such ‘’Brotherhood’’ is misguided and leads to tyranny, purge and oppression. Extreme nationalism and even the systematic practice of torture need a wide (popular) scope of complicity among a vast array of like-minded civil actors. Fascist regimes always stress a closed and exclusive (often, racial) conception of Fraternity;
‘Cosmopolitanism’ means obliterating everything that is national, local, rooted in a language or in a particular culture. It does not help the emergence of any fraternal set of mind and is devoid of social efficiency. By contrast, when multilateralism endeavors to strike consensuses among various typed national stakeholders, it can build-up common lines of action. It is, in fact, an extension of Fraternity, at the international scale. Unfortunately, its influence is shrinking when we need it more than ever. It is usually rooted in law and justice and concerned with the fate of the Weak (i.e. the asylum seeker), the Victim, the Abused minority, even if all this involves going through a strenuous dialogue of cultures. I have in mind the case of wearing the burka in public or the problems of grasping the meaning of French secularism/ laïcity.
Dear friends of everywhere, let’s keep the flame of Fraternité high and shinning !
the blog summary follow the Bear cub …
– Who’s the blogger ?
Bertrand is an atypical diplomat and a dedicated humanist. These two features, added one to the other, are not self evident. He is an offshoot of the 1950 generation. He has lived more than half his professional life here and there, around the wide world. His – highly eclectic – career includes a chapter in almost each of the major continents (with the exception of the Pacific). Political analysis, strategic studies, development projects, teaching (in Asia), launching new schools, promoting French high-tec, devising projects against the drug economy, involving himself in human development strategies or decentralized cooperation, coaching junior talents … the guy gives you the impression of having touched it all.
But, is it really an excuse to pretend having a say on everything ?
If you are of the same stuff, let’s powwow for good !
My political paper at Harvard /WCFIA (1999-2000) http://programs.wcfia.harvard.edu/files/fellows/files/lavezzari.pdf
This link will take you to my English paper, written at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard. Although it is some year old, I assume that it is still topical. « Children, grow up ! », says (big) Mama America to the unruly, spoiled kids (the European countries), crying and yelling around her. Is the EU really willing to take its security stakes into its own hands ? Mrs America keeps her doubts. Who is fooling whom in this strategic game : NATO, America, the EU, its Member-Sates ? As the »Russian question » and Putin’s geostrategic intrusion into Ukraine’s integrity raises new concerns on European security, »Children, grow-up ! » keeps its full signification.
The European fortress