TCS Daily


Has France Bottomed Out? Probably Not

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - May 15, 2007 12:00 AM

The problem is not Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president-elect. The problem is the country that elected him. Sarkozy knows what needs to be done to rescue France from the socialist illusion in which it has been living for far too long under governments both of the left and the right. But the question is: Are the French prepared to do what it takes to reverse their country's decline or will they turn a Sarkozy presidency into another lost opportunity?

Matthew Parris, one of Britain's finest commentators, thinks France is simply not ready for Sarkozy. In a recent article in the Times of London, Parris wrote that for all their impatience with economic stagnation, unemployment, social ghettos burning in the suburbs and the proliferation of violent youth groups, the French are not ready to make the "emotional leap'' necessary to reform a system under which people are used to relying on the government rather than on their own efforts for their welfare.

"I don't sniff in the wind in la France profonde (though I begin to in urban Paris) that palpable sense of having reached the end of a road," Parris wrote. "The changes France needs to embrace will be convulsive. The pain will be intense. ... We British found that when Thatcherism arrived. But even at the low point of Thatcher's first term ... you almost never heard anyone suggest a return to what had gone before. There was a sense, in 1979, that we had burnt a bridge behind us, and had wanted to.''

Why should it matter to the rest of the world whether France is ready to change course? Because the European Union will not achieve political maturity until France reverses its decline. In one generation, that country has gone from being one of the eight wealthiest in the world to 17th; its public debt has quintupled since 1980. Sure, many European countries have modernized their institutions without waiting for France, but France, together with Germany, has kept the European Union from playing the international role it was destined to play. The result has been a disproportionate role -- politically and economically -- of the United States among the free nations of the West, something that is beginning to show now that America seems to be slowing down.

In today's France, Sarkozy is a more promising leader than anyone else on the right or on the left. His flaws notwithstanding -- he betrays populist temptations from time to time -- this son of a Hungarian immigrant is young enough and cosmopolitan enough to understand that France needs to put an end to the mentality that has governed it in recent decades. That mentality is essentially made up of two things: Gaullist nationalism of the kind that Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy's predecessors on the center right, felt too comfortable with, and the kind of socialism that turned the student revolt of May 1968 from an explosion of libertarian sentiment into a conformist dependency on big government as the solution to most social ills.

Has his election come too early, as Parris thinks? I don't know, but the odds favor his pessimism.

It is difficult to anticipate a country's readiness for change because so much depends on the leader's capacity to transform the prevailing mentality and on whether the initial results generate a critical mass of support for additional reform. In 1970, Ted Heath, then Britain's new conservative prime minister, tried reform but failed. Nine years later, Thatcher tried more forcefully and succeeded. In 1995, France's Chirac promised to shake France out of its complacency with a few timid reforms.

But he quickly reversed course because his country was not ready. He tried again 11 years later through his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and failed again.

It is hard to tell how many of Sarkozy's voters -- 53 percent of the electorate in the second round -- cast ballots for structural reform and how many simply favored law and order, or opposed the kind of permissiveness that they tend to associate with socialism. I suspect that the second group far exceeds the first.

What that second group doesn't yet know is that in today's France, structural change is the condition for law and order. What has caused the moral decline conservative voters so fear is precisely the suffocating system that, with the exception of a few corporate success stories at the top, keeps most French working too little and complaining too much.


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13 Comments

Socialism fails 100% of the time
Alas, the left are like spoiled children who are about to have the sucker taken away. I see the same trend here in the US as more and more people demand benefit for nothing. Health care is the latest target and the left intends to destroy the private system. Ted Kennedy has tried for decades to nationalize health care. He know that by controlling this aspect of our lives it empowers lard a_ses like himself ad infinitum.

Mabye I am wrong? Maybe it just needs the right people to impliment socialism. Just because it has failed 100% of the time is no reason to think it is a failed system is it?

After all, at least under socialism we are all equally miserable right?

Is Britain in any position to criticize France?
A recent poll found that 22% of Brits feel that the highest priority of govt should be raising taxes so that public pensions could be increased.

systems
socialism is a perfect system, the problem is that it requires perfect people to run it.

This next time we will find these perfect people, and everything will be, uhm, ... perfect.

justification
Since people are born perfect, only to be corrupted by an imperfect system, once our perfect system is in place, the supply of perfect people will become continuous.

A self perpetuating perfect system.

Since our goal is nothing less than the perfection of everything, we on the left are justified in doing whatever it takes to bring this perfect system into being.

Perfection of the universe is worth whatever pain we have to inflict on other people, in order to bring about.

obligations
Which is why the perfect people are entitle, nee, obligated to run the lives of the non-perfect people, until such time as the non-perfect people can acheive perfection for themselves.

And how do we recognize when non-perfect people have become perfect people?

That should be obvious, they acheive perfection when they recognize that the perfect people have been right all along, and when they learn to agree with the already perfect people at all times and in all places.

State of Grace
At which point we enter the Kingdom of God?

It is amazing how many times this failed crap gets perpetuated. Over and over it is tried with the same miserable results and yet if we just try harder.

In the US I dread the nationalized health care that I see as inevitable for it is the largest step on the path to ruin.





Welcome
to a system run by Platonic philosophy. It appears that Alfred North Whitehead's famous quote is still applicable. "History is a series of footnotes to Plato and Aristotle."

Remember that
the British Chancellor Gordon Brown has been busily pillaging pensioners' fixed incomes through taxes for the last 10 years or so. No surprise that an increase in pensions to compensate is now demanded.

bottomed out?
Given the other article for today. That's an amusing juxtaposition.

Kingdom of God
The perfected do not recognize any power higher than that of govt.

The perfected world is the Kingdom of God.

Similar...
We really are talking about the willingness of a nation combined with the leadership of a government to overcome fundamental problems. Dr. Kling's approach today did not seem to provoke a whole lot of useful conversation.

So what is socialism
We in Australia have national health, Housing, Education, Unemployment benifits higher then the US min wage? A 38 hour week four weeks yearly leave long service pay. Are we Socialist? If so, it's working working here. We've got low interest rates and low unemployment?

Preconditions for law and order
"What that second group doesn't yet know is that in today's France, structural change is the condition for law and order."

This is exactly correct -- if "structural change" is interpreted to mean the embrace of individual responsibility. For French "dirigiste" soft-socialism is not a primary entity, but a result: the result of the abdication of individual responsibility by an enormous fraction of the French people, particularly its young adults.

Most of Western Europe suffers from the same malady, which raises the question: If President Sarkozy begins to succeed at changing the French attitude toward work, risk, and responsibility, will the rest of the continent somehow contrive to "reinfect" France with the socialist disease?

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