By the Seat of His Pants
Emmanuel Macron is firmly at the controls of the aircraft, but its destination remains unclear. After three weeks of flying in circles, the pilot-in-chief settled on a new government but filed two or perhaps three quite different flight plans.
The first indicated no change of destination whatsoever: Bruno Le Maire remains at Bercy and Gerald Darmanin at Beauvau. Hence no change of direction in regard to the economy or police. The right is satisfied, the left incensed (but at the same time disarmed by the very audacity of the president’s inaction–“he can’t even be bothered to signal the least modicum of concern on these issues, nothing will ever change”).
The second flight plan indicated an altogether different, not to say contradictory, routing. Macron had promised that ecology would be at the top of the agenda for his second quinquennat, and there it was: no fewer than two ministries devoted to the issue, in addition to a prime minister herself charged with overseeing the effort, whose precise terms remained totally ambiguous. Amélie de Montchalin was put in charge of “ecological planning,” an appellation borrowed from Mélenchon, while Agnès Pannier-Runacher was assigned to monitor the “energy transition.” Ecopoliticians were not much impressed with any of these nominations, given the past experience and commitments of the three women involved. Still, every maroquin creates incentives to fill it with something, and with three highly ambitious women eager to make their mark, one can look forward to a good many announcements in the ecological domain in the months ahead. Whether these will amount to more than greenwashing for policies dictated by the priorities of Le Maire et al. remains to be seen.
Finally, the third flight plan filed by Macron began with a spectacular aerobatic stunt, what is referred to in the aviation community by the French word chandelle: an abrupt course reversal with simultaneous gain in altitude. I refer to the already much-remarked nomination of the historian Pap Ndiaye as minister of education. Ndiaye is not only an historian, he is an historian of the black minority in the United States and a defender of minorities in France. Franco-Senegalais, he did his graduate work at the University of Virginia under the supervision of Olivier Zunz (with whom I collaborated on the translation of several works of Tocqueville). I can personally testify that he is an impressive scholar and thoughtful human being. He is the diametric opposite of his predecessor, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who has been an outspoken critic of what he calls “le wokisme” and “Islamo-gauchisme” in French universities. Ndiaye rightly denounces these ideological categories as chimeras.
The selection of Ndiaye is thus a strong signal, but will it amount to anything more than that? Is Macron counting on the effet d’annonce, which has already been considerable–the Ndiaye nomination has drawn more commentary than any other aspect of the new government–or will real changes in the structure of the educational system and the content of the curriculum follow? Predictably, Ndiaye has quickly become the focal point of far-right attacks: both Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour accuse him (wrongly) of being an indigéniste who will sap the glories of French culture from within.
By contrast, the new minister introduced himself as un pur produit of French meritocracy. Of course, this can be taken two ways: as proof that structural racism does not exist in France, because a black man with talent and determination can successfully complete the long march through existing institutions to the top of the heap, or as the exception that proves the rule that French meritocracy suffers from any number of biases in need of correction that can best be applied by someone who has studied their causes and effects.
In either case, Ndiaye will have his work cut out for him. The ministry of education is notoriously difficult to reform in the best of circumstances, but the difficulties will only be compounded if every move sets off a barrage of charges from the usual suspects that the Great Replacement has come to les hussards de la République themselves, threatening the very pillars of the Republic if not of civilization itself (and much other nonsense of similar ilk). Despite Ndiaye’s moderation, it is easy to foresee him becoming the bête noire, as it were, of every racist in France, much as Christiane Taubira was in her time. I wish him a happier fate, but I fear the worst.