Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Où sont les intellectuels?" Bouvet vs. Fassin

After the victory of Mitterrand in 1981, as problems started to accumulate for the new socialist government, Le Monde published an article entitled "Où sont les intellectuels?" The import of this piece was that intellectuals of the left, who had been vociferous in their critiques of government when the right was in power, had fallen silent when the left arrived, as if it had nothing to say about governing.

What about now? Where are the intellectuals? Are they silent, or have they simply become "organic," to use Gramsci's term, parts of the apparatus of government itself, specialized in technical activities such as fiscal and monetary policy, environmental regulation, labor law, etc., and therefore not suitable for discussion in public forums? Marianne, for its part, believes that there is a vital intellectual debate raging on the left but that it hasn't attained the visibility it deserves, so it arranged a face-off between Laurent Bouvet, representing what it calls "une gauche d'inspriation conservatrice, parfois souverainiste, affichant un ton nouveau sur les questions de sécurité et d'immigration," and Éric Fassin, representing a left more open to the inclusion of minority communities but no longer calling itself "multiculturalist." And this Marianne sees fit to call "the war of the lefts."

Neither side in this war has many divisions, but the generals are intent on enlisting imaginary armies. For Bouvet, his troops consist of nothing less than les classes populaires, while Fassin counters that "visible minorities" such as female workers, shop clerks, and homosexuals are not all "bourgeois bohemians" and are in fact the heart of Bouvet's imaginary army. Has "la gauche populaire," the name sometimes applied to the vague school of thought associated with Bouvet and geographer Christophe Guilluy, really emulated la droite populaire of Thierry Mariani et cie. and the Dutch "new realists," as Fassin alleges? Or have the "neo-Tocquevilleans" and "anti-racists" of old morphed into the think tank Terra Nova, which according to Bouvet would transform the Socialist Party into a third-way mishmash designed to ensconce a well-to-do socially liberal elite in power at the head of a rainbow coalition of voiceless but symbolically visible minorities?

I'm afraid I fall into the squishy marais between these two would-be montagnes. There's too much rhetorical heightening of differences for my taste and too little in the way of strategic or policy implications. La gauche populaire is right to stress the importance of solidarity, while its opponents are right to insist that protection of minority rights is essential, and that differences can be discussed without being enshrined. Et après? Les chiens aboient, les caravanes passent. But others may find more to chew on in this debate, so I bring it your attention just in case.

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