LONDON—You have to fight the urge to feel overly enthusiastic about Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential election win in France Sunday. Any triumph over a socialist is something to celebrate. But it seems to me that commentators of all stripes in the last two days have fallen too easily into one of two camps: those who see a new, free-market, open border and pro-American France dawning under his leadership over the next 5 years, and those who warn of danger, divisiveness, and increased xenophobia under expected right-wing policies.
In the first instance, those who see “Sarko” as a French version of Maggie Thatcher by pointing to his rhetoric and his actions during the last 2 years are ignoring his pre-campaign persona. Among other things, in 2004 as finance minister, he orchestrated a huge government bail-out of Alstom, an engineering firm. He himself has admitted that he doesn’t look to Adam Smith or Hayek for inspiration.
In fact, Sarkozy is steeped in the ways of the ruling elites. He was a member of his town council at the age of 22 when Jacques Chirac first spotted him and brought him under his protective wing. He won over other Gaullist party grandees but then challenged one of them in 1983 for the position of mayor of Neuilly. He was elected at the age of 28 which did as much for the young Sarkozy’s ego as had Chirac’s fawning over the pimply-faced loud-mouth.
Instead of loyalty, however, Sarkozy repaid his mentor by backing Prime Minister Édouard Balladur’s doomed bid for president. Still, despite this betrayal, Chirac later selected Sarkozy as Minister of the Interior.
I have highlighted here Sarkozy’s only and principal formative political experiences. I think it is worth reflecting on for a moment as it helps explain to an extent what gives the ruling elites in France their particular character and flavor. These are people who fall under the spell of party elders, are coddled and spoiled, and then go on to national leadership.
It’s my belief that it’s not the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) or other elite French universities that are the cause of the insularity and moral bankruptcy of the French political class in France. Rather, the problem is the arrogance and elitism and the patronage of certain individuals – things that are not unique to France since they are found throughout Old Europe. Is this not the kind of stuff that our American founders were escaping when they founded our Republic?
Chosen by Chirac while still a youth, and with people buckling in the face of his abrasive, brash and raw, impatient style (which I recognize instantly as ethnic in flavor — Hungarian in his case), Sarkozy learned the wrong lessons. Instead of learning altruism, deference, patience, self-sacrifice (all Anglo-American values, by the way), Sarkozy pushed his way ahead with Machiavelli — not Christian virtue — in his mind. And the French, of course, being far too polite, simply deferred to the loud, brash, little immigrant boy.
Thus, while Sarkozy is not an ENA graduate, he has acquired the same sense of privilege and exceptionalism that mark all of France’s out-of-touch political class. He is part of the [French] Establishment; but his unbridled ambition, pushiness and sheer determination has allowed him to streamroll over friends and mentors alike. With the exception of marital bliss, Sarkozy has always gotten his way. He is used to doing exactly what he wants when he wants. Are these qualities anybody really wants in a leader?
For those who see a “morning-in-America” kind of period beginning in France under a Sarko government, I say: Let’s wait and see.
In the second instance mentioned above, those who protest Sarkozy’s win and who bleat about “Sarko fascism” and other nonsense, are also jumping the gun. He is not a radical right-winger. If they were only to reason a little — instead of trashing Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, Nantes, Paris, or Toulouse — then they might see clearly.
Sarko’s opponents are doing their country a great disservice by pegging him as a reactionary conservative. This only alarms the French Left and fans the flames of discontent among immigrants and urban youth. Dangerous stuff. I’ve spent hours looking at footage on YouTube of the post-election riots last Sunday. The graffitti left behind at the Place de la Bastille gives readers an idea of just how base is the political discourse: “Sarko, son of a whore,” “[Sarkozy’s wife] Cécilia doggystyle” and, of course, “F**k Sarko.” This is vile stuff. I think the most eloquent it got was: “Freedom is not given, it is taken!” This, by itself, is troubling enough.
I’ll confess that I don’t like public disorder or vandalism. I hate noisy riots, recoil from violent protests and find strikes inconvenient. Perhaps one of the legacies of 1968 in France (and around the world) is the ease with which the disgruntled or discontent take to the streets nowadays. They air their grievances now with molotovs, not pens. And we expect results now, not later. Ironically, the Left behaves like Sarkozy himself does: impatient, abrasive, vulgar and pushy. He himself is a product of the 1960s even though he rails against its legacy.
Looking at Sarkozy’s dramatic profile on the stack of magazines in front of me, I admit that I am somewhat pleased with his 53% triumph over Ségolène Royal’s 47%. But I am not about to participate in the outpouring of elation and enthusiasm that I have seen coming from Newt Gingrich and other pundits here and abroad. This particular Hungarian rhapsody is not for me.
Alvino-Mario Fantini is Europe correspondent for Brainwash. He is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar through the European Union.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire