Publisher's Note — June 8, 2016, 2:31 pm

The Leftist Line

The French left self-destructs

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on June 6, 2016. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

I rarely sign petitions or statements of solidarity. Readily offering one’s signature has a tendency to devalue it, whatever the declared urgency of the cause may be. And apart from that, in the heat of the moment, you run the risk of being fooled—I’m thinking about the unfortunate leftists who, without knowing it, followed the Stalinist line at the time of the Spanish Civil War.

That having been said, I didn’t hesitate on May 23, when I received an appeal to support Aude Lancelin, formerly second-in-command at the prominent French newsmagazine L’Obs. She was fired by the weekly after a political disagreement that, oddly enough, proved to be of benefit to the editor-in-chief, Matthieu Croissandeau. The petition deserves attention not only because Lancelin is a top-notch journalist of great integrity but also because her case underlines a growing crisis in the French left, as well as in the entire French press, no matter its political orientation.

To summarize what happened: According to the daily newspaper Libération, Aude Lancelin was “labeled as being on the left of the left” in her preferences for articles and interviews, which was not to the liking of Claude Perdriel, co-founder of the magazine and one of its four shareholders. Perdriel is said to have observed aloud that Lancelin was “out of compliance with the covenant she signed when she came to L’Obs” two years ago. In this “social-democratic” periodical, he declared, Lancelin “publishes anti-democratic articles.” Apparently, therefore, she deviated from a “line” that up until then had not been entirely obvious.

The authors of the petition offer an analysis: “We read…that there’s supposed to have been a conflict between Mr. Croissandeau’s so-called line, said to be the line followed by `all sectors of the left,’ and the one followed by Aude Lancelin…. Reading the said editor-in-chief’s editorials is all one need do to realize that `all sectors of the left’ are, in fact, just the sectors embodied in [President] Hollande, [Prime Minister] Valls, and [Economics Minister] Macron.”

As a matter of fact, Croissandeau’s columns generally appear favorable to the government and contemptuous toward the unions—unions that are currently engaged in mass protests against the draft legislation known as the El Khomri law—a reform that would allow, among other things, lower pay for overtime work.

That the French Socialist Party has moved more and more to the right is undeniable. That the left, such as it is, is in trouble, abandoned by now-unemployed workers and outstripped by the FN (the right-wing National Front), is likewise beyond discussion. That there’s a political crisis in France created by the split between “two irreconcilable left-wing camps,” to borrow Manuel Valls’s words, could not be more obvious. To see how far along “the left” in France is on the path to mutual slaughter, all you have to do is read the interview with left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the April 28 issue of L’Obs. Mélenchon calls Valls “a right-wing republican” and says that Macron is “a pin-up produced by the system to make the left explode from within.” As for Hollande, he has “made the word ‘left’ mean the poor lying thing that’s currently in power.”

As a journalist and the president and publisher of a magazine, I recognize in all this an important political confrontation conducted by proxy. At the same time, what troubles me even more about Aude Lancelin’s dismissal is the rise of a journalistic orthodoxy at L’Obs similar to what I see more or less everywhere in Western journalism. The caricature of Lancelin as a promoter of extreme left-wing positions has been justly ridiculed. But it’s Matthieu Croissandeau’s blandness, not his “political line,” that bothers me the most. In his writings, I hear the committee’s voice – smooth, mild, and dull. When he responded to his accusers, Croissandeau denied having a political agenda: “Mine is a managerial decision. The editorial staff wasn’t working well…”

I don’t doubt it. The managerial approach is precisely what’s killing journalism. “There’s a growing demand on the part of media outlets and news businesses for journalists trained in the realities of management,” wrote Nicolas Beytout, former director of the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro.

Aude Lancelin personifies intelligent heterodoxy in the press. For example, when she worked for the weekly newsmagazine Marianne, she encouraged the left to lift its taboo on the subject of the euro by presenting the dissenting opinions of Emmanuel Todd. Now, the euro is sacred to the Socialists. Even the arch-rebel Jean-Luc Mélenchon hesitates to advocate a French exit from Europe’s single currency for fear of insulting “the European dream” of the French elites, the same elites whom Mélenchon denounces as an oligarchy. I don’t even know whether Aude is pro- or anti-euro, but I do know that she defends freedom of expression. Yes, she’s a leftist, but she doesn’t hew to a leftist line.

If Hollande’s popularity and L’Obs’s circulation are both in decline, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note August 7, 2019, 3:14 pm

Censorship

“Nor would I leave to Emmanuel Macron and Mark Zuckerberg, both of them politicians first and foremost, the job of regulating anything that has to do with words or language.”

Publisher's Note July 12, 2019, 10:47 am

American Greatness

Publisher's Note June 10, 2019, 12:05 pm

My French Side

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2019

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Constitution in Crisis·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Article
Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Article
Power of Attorney·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Article
Carlitos in Charge·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I was in Midtown, sitting by a dry fountain, making a list of all the men I’d slept with since my last checkup—doctor’s orders. Afterward, I would head downtown and wait for Quimby at the bar, where there were only alcoholics and the graveyard shift this early. I’d just left the United Nations after a Friday morning session—likely my last. The agenda had included resolutions about a worldwide ban on plastic bags, condemnation of a Slobodan Miloševic statue, sanctions on Israel, and a truth and reconciliation commission in El Salvador. Except for the proclamation opposing the war criminal’s marble replica, everything was thwarted by the United States and a small contingent of its allies. None of this should have surprised me. Some version of these outcomes had been repeating weekly since World War II.

Article
Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A group of researchers studying the Loch Ness Monster did not rule out the possibility of its existence, but speculated that it is possibly a giant eel.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today