May 28, 2005

On the French saying "No"

Via Orrin Judd at Brothers Judd comes this quote from this article at the London Times.

YOU HAVE to hand it to the French. No one matches their panache when it comes to demolishing the ancien régime and proclaiming a glorious new dawn. For the guerrilla resistance that has ambushed the heavy cavalry of the establishment, the likely “non” in tomorrow’s referendum on the European constitution is another dash for a radiant future. May 2005, they hope, will join all those other revolutionary beacons which have illuminated modern French history, from July 1789 to May 1968. Most of those revolts ended in tears and it is worth examining why this one is heading the same way.

The Elysée Palace and much of the continent will certainly view a “no” as a self-destructive tantrum by the nation that fathered the European project and put a Gallic stamp on the constitutional treaty. Amid the likely glee in Britain on Monday, though, remember that French rejection is largely driven not by hostility to the idea of Union but by the desire for “another Europe”, a dream alternative with France in the driver’s seat.

For the mutineers of Right and Left, the looming “no” is a chance to give a bloody nose to a rotten political class. This arrogant nomenklatura is being punished for failing to listen in 1992 when President Mitterrand almost lost his Maastricht referendum and again in 2002 when Jacques Chirac pursued business as usual after his traumatic re-election against Jean-Marie Le Pen, the ultra-right bruiser. Beset with high unemployment, France clings to its protective state while blaming out-of-touch politicians for the malaise that has afflicted it for three decades. It has dumped its governments at every parliamentary election since 1978.

Voter whiplash. Entirely proper and the way a REAL Democracy REALLY WORKS.

As good French revolutionaries, the nonistes also see themselves blazing a trail not just for France but for humanity. They want to lead Europe on a hop back to the future. For the left-wing voters, this is the Utopia imagined by Karl Marx and last glimpsed elsewhere in the 1970s. For the Right, it is the sombre patrie of the paranoid and protectionist 1930s.

The people of Europe, say the nonistes, will cheer a “no” as the opening shot in the battle for a new, socially protective Union. “Ours is a ‘no’ of foundation,” says Philippe de Villiers, the rural aristocrat who has eclipsed Le Pen as champion of the nationalist Right. “Ours is a joyful ‘no’ of hope,” says Marie-George Buffet, the Communist leader, whose party is enjoying a new lease of life. Laurent Fabius, the socialist grandee who leads the middle class left-wing resistance, is talking about a salutory “no” of liberation.

Now, this makes some sort of sense: One MUST say "no" to one choice, if saying "Yes" to that choice blocks one's ability to say "Yes" to a better alternative at a later time.

This is astonishing: socialists are actually GRASPING the concept of causality.

However, the problem is that "better alternative at a later time." The current alternative is here NOW, while the better is later off. What IS the alternative of the nonistes?

Alone in Europe, France has no main party that openly favours the market. After 1981, the Socialists, under Mitterrand and Lionel Jospin, their recent Prime Minister, reformed by stealth while soothing their public with Marxism. M Chirac has most to answer for. Since his election in 1995 he has lulled the country with Socialist-sounding talk while his governments have stirred public wrath with modest reforms to the welfare state that clash with the President ’s promises. This has led to the surreal campaign this spring in which the dirtiest of words, for both the “yes” and “no” camps, has been “liberal”, meaning free-market thinking.

Thus, they are saying "non" now, because they think the proposed EU draft constitution is NOT SOCIALIST ENOUGH, since there are provisions in it that implement components of a free-market economy. Mind you, whatever free-market components are in the constitution, they won't be of help because they need the free-market components that are missing.

The argument of the nonists is that the mix of socialism and free-market components in the Constitution won't work. What a coincidence: I agree.

A rickshaw and a Jaguar automobile are perfectly fine means of transportation. Each will get you from point A to point B, and have their merits and demerits. But they work because the rickshaw is 100% rickshaw, and the Jaguar is 100% automobile. Thinking that you can merge a rickshaw with an automobile in a way to get all the merits and none of the demerits is the motivation of compromisers. What you'd get would be a rickwar (or a jagshaw), but I daresay the resulting mongrel would be impractical and nobody would buy it.

In the name of design purity, I'd toss the socialist components and go with a pure free-market system. They, ALSO in the name of design purity, would chuck the free-market components and use a pure socialist system.

We both agree that a mongrel system isn't going to work.

We just don't agree on which is the Jag and which is the rickshaw.

Posted by ptah at May 28, 2005 09:09 AM

I haven't been keeping tabs on the constitutional campaign in France. I intended to... but that and $11.65 will pay the tolls for a trip to Buffalo with the truck. ;-)

Naturally, the standard uber-progressives love the EU constitution, since it carves their laundry-list in stone.

I didn't realize, though, that the out-and-out communists oppose it. You must be correct: in a rare showing of thought by leftists, they see that the constitution would ossify the policies spelled out in minute detail, thus any change at all would be unbearably difficult.

What a coincidence: I agree.

Of course, those are just the positions of organized groups. I heard that a common rationale for voting 'no' is a fear of increased international market liberalization. In that case, it amuses me that a progressive elite wants to turn the EU into France writ large, yet the common Frenchmen likes France just the size it is.

I wonder-- which view is more nationalistic?

Posted by: Mitch at May 29, 2005 04:29 AM
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