Publisher's Note — November 17, 2016, 10:58 am

Mitterand’s Centenary

“Mitterand remains an emblematic figure for President François Hollande, who is trying to attach himself to his predecessor as he tanks in the polls.”

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on November 7, 2016. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

One can find much to deplore in the life of François Mitterand, whose centenary passed on October 26: his work for Marshal Pétain during World War II, his postwar loyalty to René Bousquet and other figures linked with Vichy France, and the famous attentat de l’Observatoire, the Observatory Avenue attack, in which Mitterand himself, for political profit, is believed to have orchestrated a fake attempt on his life. One could also look down on him for the way he conducted his private affairs—his countless mistresses, who he would unceremoniouslydrop without really breaking offwith them—and for his behavior toward his allies and his constituents, who he would keep waiting for hours without explanation. The great man’s arrogance and selfishness can be irritating.

A story that particularly aggravates me is recounted by Laure Adler in her book François Mitterand, journées particulières (Flammarion) and concerns Mitterand’s choice of campaign headquarters when he was running as theSocialist Party candidate in the 1974 presidential race. “To the great astonishment of certain militants, Mitterand’s team sets up shop in the Tour Montparnasse,” a symbolic insult not only to the gracious architecture of Paris but also to the traditional conception of socialism. According to Adler, “the oldest members stress that a big alteration of scale was taking place in those days, and that the technical sophistication of the young ENA (National School of Administration) graduates, along with the arrival of the ‘communications pros,’ changed the game: politics became a highly specialized profession and a world in which brilliant, ambitious young people wanted to make their careers.” And, indeed, the Socialist Party, following Mitterand’s inclinations, was beginning its transformation into a party of executives and intellectuals, a party largely divorced from the working class and the common people; i.e., those most in need of protection against economic liberalism. The party was starting to change, in short, into the Socialist Party of today, which is outdistanced by the right-wing National Fronta party that profits from the anger of the unemployed and the disillusioned, who feel abandoned by the official left.

Nevertheless, Mitterand remains an emblematic figure for President François Hollande, who is trying to attach himself to his predecessor as hetanks in the polls. In an intraparty primary that he’s probably going to lose, Hollande is focused on placing himself in the wake of a politician whose tactical aptitude was extraordinary. At a recent ceremony held inside the Louvre Pyramid in remembrance of Mitterand, Hollande praised the former president’s “fierce will” and paid particular homage to the ideological flexibility that got Mitterand reelected to the presidency for a second term: “He was attacked by the right for being a leftist, and by a part of the left for not being left enough.”

To be sure. But sailors know that a little boat can be submerged in the wake of a bigger one, and at the European level, Mitterand’s wake is precisely what has engulfed his socialist successor and threatens to drown him. Mitterand stood godfather to the Europe of the euro and of German austerity. With the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union and, eventually, the euro, he tied France to a single currency, beyond national and democratic control, and to a foolishly rigid policy that prohibits any fiscal deficit over 3percent of GDPin the name, naturally, of economic and social stability. According to the American economist Joseph Stiglitz (in his book The Euro), the reality is exactly the opposite: “The Maastricht restrictions on fiscal deficits can effectively be an automatic destabilizer. As tax revenues plummet [for example, in the period following the 2008 crisis], when the 3 percent deficit target is breached, there have to be cutbacks in expenditures, which lead to further declines in GDP.” So here’s France, in a state of permanent instability ever since the inauguration of the euro in 2000, with an unemployment rate near 10 percent. Here’s France, suffering from industrial relocation that has demoralized an entire generation of workers and stripped them of their confidence in the future. Here’s France, dominated by the European Central Bank—which is itself dominated by Berlin—and deprived of the fiscal tools it could use to improve the health of the country.

I noted with interest the lively polemic that followed the publication of a collection of “conversations” with Hollande, Un président ne devrait pas dire ça, (A President Shouldn’t Say That) (Wipf andStock). Eithernarcissistic or downright stupid, this collection goes hand-in-hand with the recent publication of love letters from François Mitterand to Anne Pingeot, his clandestine mistress for more than thirty years. These books are two literary titbits that gloss over the contemporary collapse of the French left. Laure Adler convincingly describes Mitterand’s determination, his eagerness to conclude the Maastricht Treaty with the then German chancellorHelmut Kohl. He’d given his all, in December 1991, to realize “his greatest ambition… Ever since 1984, Mitterand had been walking at Kohl’s side, lavishing friendship on him unreservedly, calling him up for no good reason, introducing him to some of his favorite Parisian restaurants…” Sounds like a pair of lovers. The “Franco-German” couple and their child, the euro, are François Mitterand’s odd legacy, a legacy more important even than Mazarine, the long-hidden daughter he had with Anne Pingeot. François Hollande’s lot is to suffer that legacy’s consequences.

Share
Single Page

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note February 6, 2019, 1:05 pm

The Wall War

“I can see nothing but a missed opportunity to inform the broader public about economic realities in our increasingly stratified country.”

Publisher's Note December 20, 2018, 5:05 pm

The Yellow Fault Line

The crisis in France is gnawing away at what’s left of the lower classes’ pride and possessions

Publisher's Note December 10, 2018, 3:23 pm

A New Day?

“The Democratic Party is best understood as an assemblage of baronies, the three most important of which—California, New York, and Illinois—dole out the most patronage and political favors in return for filling the party’s coffers and guaranteeing the reelection of its most cherished adherents.”

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2019

The Story of Storytelling

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Myth of White Genocide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
No Joe!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.

Article
The Myth of White Genocide·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The squatter camp outside Lawley township, in the southwest of Johannesburg, stretches for miles against a bare hillside, without electricity, water, or toilets. I visited on a blustery morning in October with a local journalist named Mophethe Thebe, who spent much of his childhood in the area. As we drove toward the settlement he pointed out land that had been abandoned by white Afrikaner farmers after the end of apartheid in 1994, and had since been taken over by impoverished black settlers who built over the former farms with half-paved roadways and tiny brick houses. You could still see stands of headstones inscribed in Afrikaans, all that remained visible of the former inhabitants.

Article
The Story of Storytelling·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The story begins, as so many do, with a journey. In this case, it’s a seemingly simple one: a young girl, cloaked in red, must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother. Along the way, she meets a duplicitous wolf who persuades her to dawdle: Notice the robins, he says; Laze in the sun, breathe in the hyacinth and bluebells; Wouldn’t your grandmother like a fresh bouquet? Meanwhile, he hastens to her grandmother’s cottage, where he swallows the old woman whole, slips into her bed, and waits for his final course.

Article
Run Me to Earth·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They were released.

For the first time in seven years, they stood outside in the courtyard of the reeducation center. They looked across at the gate. They remembered none of this. The flagpole and the towers. The cameras. Prany counted the sentries in the towers. He heard the rattle of keys as the guard behind him, wearing a green uniform, undid his handcuffs. Then the guard undid Vang’s. They rubbed their free wrists. Vang made fists with his hands.

Prany dug the soles of his new shoes into the dirt. He watched Vang’s hands and then turned to see the building they had exited. It resembled a schoolhouse or a gymnasium. The flag flapped in the wind. The sun on him. The immense sky. His neck was stiff. He knew that if they were forced to run right now his legs might buckle. Not because he was weak, but because in this moment, in the new environment, out in the open, his entire body felt uncertain.

Article
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ten years ago, a week after his sixtieth birthday, and six months after his first appointment with an oncologist, my father died. That afternoon, I went to my parents’ bedroom to clear up the remains of the lunch my mother had brought him not long before he collapsed. A copy of Yiyun Li’s novel The Vagrants, which he’d asked me for after I reviewed it in a newspaper, was open on his bedside table. He had gotten about halfway through it. The Vagrants isn’t what you’d call a consoling book—it centers on a young woman’s unjust execution in a provincial Chinese town in 1979—and I had mixed feelings about it being the last thing he’d read. Perhaps an adolescent part of me had been happy to let him have it out of a need to see him as a more fearless reader than he might have wanted to be just then. Still, my father had read Proust and Robert Musil while working as a real estate agent. There was comfort, of a sort, for me, and maybe him, in his refusal of comfort reading.

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.

Classes at a Catholic school in Durham, North Carolina, were canceled in anticipation of protests against a lesbian alumna, who had been invited to speak at a Black History Month event.

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

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“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