Where Things Stand
Image by Olivier Ortelpa via Flickr (CC by 2.0 ; https://www.flickr.com/photos/copivolta/46724069591/)
I did an interview with France24 on Saturday, which I post here for those interested in an interim take while awaiting President Macron’s statement this evening. I’ve also written an article for Foreign Affairs, to which I will post a link when it appears.
I can’t say I have a firm grasp on anything about this movement or where it might be headed. French politics at this moment seems to me to be a molten magma. Whichever way it turns, there is likely to be a great deal of damage done before the magma cools. As Pierre Rosanvallon said in Le Monde the other day, social movements usually end in either compromise or fatigue, while rebellions, which feed on radicality as their raison d’être, admit only 3 possible “institutional” outcomes: resignation of the government, dissolution of the parliament, or removal of the head of state.
Whether what we are witnessing is a social movement or a rebellion remains to be seen. It lacks the organization of a movement, but maybe the movements of the social media age are by nature more individualized. There is something striking about the instant communities that are forming at traffic circles around France, as if people who previously nursed their grievances alone have suddenly found an unlikely place to gather and discover one another. But I am not a political romantic. I don’t believe in Jean-Paul Sartre’s theory of “groups-in-fusion” emerging from the “serio-practical inert” to sweep away ossified social structures. The weight of the past is too insistent; the future is not as malleable as one might like.
I thought that France, like me, had shed its revolutionary romanticism over the past half-century. But maybe not. Maybe my anti-romanticism will in fact prove to have been the last vestige of my romanticism, as the weight of France’s revolutionary past reasserts itself in yet another spasm of hope that history’s slate can be wiped clean and everything begun anew in a cleansed world in which the last shall be first.