Tuesday, April 10, 2007

At Home

[posted by Callimachus]

"I don't believe in what people call 'realpolitik', which rejects values and still doesn't win any deals. I don't accept what's going on in Chechnya, since 250,000 dead or persecuted Chechens are more than a detail of world history. Because General de Gaulle wanted freedom for everyone, the right to liberty is theirs, too. To be silent is to be an accomplice, and I don't want to be any dictator's accomplice."

Nicolas Sarkozy, Jan. 14, 2007, as quoted by André Glucksmann, here. Glucksmann I discovered late, on the eve of the Iraq war, as one of the brave stand of liberal European voices (the intellectual "300"?) who supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein on the grounds of humanitarian justification. They were closer to my position on that matter than most Americans I listened to about it.

In this article, Glucksmann takes the unusual (for him) step of backing a candidate to lead France. In this case, Sarkozy (against Ségolène Royal).

I'm a Francophile -- and yes, I've been there, and yes, they were rude to me, too. I think the reason America and France dislike each other so much is that they are so much alike, and deep down they know it. It's like they're trying to occupy the same moral high ground in the world, and there's not room for both.

Listen to Glucksmann plead for the "large-hearted France" that he feels is eclipsed by realpolitik and other fetishes, and see if it doesn't resonate with your sense of American ideals (if you have such a sense):

But a large-hearted France has never forgotten the oppressed. Vietnamese boatpeople fleeing communism, the embattled Trade Unionists of Solidarity, those who suffered under Argentinean fascism, Algerians confronted by terrorism, victims of torture in Chile, Russian dissidents, Bosnians, Kosovans, Chechens… In no other country were these barbarities and the resistance to them discussed so much. Our ability to open our hearts to our brothers worldwide is etched into our cultural heritage – witness Montaigne, Victor Hugo, the 'French doctors' and those who would emulate them.

Sarkozy, of course, is the politician vilified on the French left as an "American neoconservative with a French passport." A worse insult hardly can be imagined (but where are the cries of dismay from those who counter-snarked against the "John Kerry looks French" smear?). And, yes, it goes back long before the invasion of Iraq. As in all such cases, the slur reveals only the poverty of ideas of those who repeat it.

Exiling people, and stigmatising them as anti-French, was for a long time the prerogative of a right which could come up with few answers to the successes of Léon Blum or Roger Salengro. The left deserves better that that.

The tale is familiar on many levels, and the one that resonates for me is the notion of old, sound liberal ideas edged out of their ancestral political homes, finding a refuge in a revitalized, center-right. Just as the rootless and dissident of all lands have found homes over the decades in Manhattan or the Left Bank:

Wallowing in its narcissism, the left found itself badly wanting when Nicolas Sarkozy broke with every tradition of the right and claimed to stand for the rebels and the oppressed, as well as the young communist agitator Guy Môquet, martyred Muslim women, Simone Veil (who eradicated the suffering caused by clandestine abortions), Brother Christian à Tibhirine, and the Spanish Republicans. Instead of bemoaning the way he has appropriated the socialist legacy, allow me to rejoice. When I recognise Victor Hugo, Jean Jaurès, Georges Mandel, Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Albert Camus in this candidate's speeches, I feel somewhat at home.

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