Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Resistance Metaphor

Another thing struck me in the reports from Mélenchon's Marseille rally: at several points the large crowd changed "Résistance! Résistance! Résistance!" What the chanters proposed to resist, of course, was the forces of globalization, even more than the Sarkozy government. The metaphor of "resistance" is a very powerful one in French political culture, for obvious reasons. Resistance was not only the raison d'être of Gaullist politics, it was also the chief claim to legitimacy of the Communist Party, "le parti de 75 000 fusillés" (it would be bad form to quibble about the precise number).

I have no wish to quarrel with the legacy of the Resistance. But "resistance" is not a political program, as even the actual Comité National de la Résistance discovered in 1945, when the unity imposed by the existence of a common enemy disintegrated in the face of the problems of postwar government. This is the essence of my quarrel with the Mélenchonistes. Resistance may stem from good instincts, but those instincts must be educated by sound analysis. And legitimate pride in standing in solidarity with the victims of wrongheaded policy must not be allowed to veer toward overweening arrogance toward those who cannot march in lockstep with the resisters. A genuine political program must recognize the existence of choices, not between good and evil, which is the stark choice to which resisters want to reduce every conflict, but between better and worse: "Gouverner, c'est chosir," said Mendès France, and that dictum still holds true.

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