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Monday, April 06, 2009

Christopher Bickerton, "The real meaning of Sarkozy," Le Monde Diplomatique, March 25, 2009.

[Weakness masquerading as authoritarian leadership has been a common theme in recent years. The bizarre stagnation in the Middle East after Sharon's second stroke left three weak leaders--Bush, Olmert, and Abbas--completely paralyzed. Stephen Harper appears to be cut from the same cloth. He lacks the integrity to be the dogmatic ideologue I originally thought he was.

In Olmert's case, the result was two spectacular shows of military force with disastrous political consequences--that by a man with minimal military credentials. Netanyahu is another. When Bickerton refers to Sarkozy's "reliance on popular disengagement as the basis for his more audacious public gestures," he could be describing Rick Mercer's man in Ottawa. -jlt]

It may seem paradoxical to claim that a leader often labelled Bonapartist and authoritarian is in fact marked by political weakness rather than strength. But that’s exactly the present situation in France. Since he became president in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy has gained a reputation for activism and determination. If Barack Obama’s slogan has been “yes, we can”, Sarkozy’s is simply “yes, I can”.

His “can-do” attitude is a fa├žade. Behind it lurks an underlying political immobilism which belongs to the whole political class, left and right. This is more than the expected gap between the rhetoric of politicians and the reality of what they can achieve. It’s a point about the necessarily collective nature of social and political change. Individuals can incarnate political projects but these projects are never reducible to these same individuals. The very fact that the political debate is concentrated around the persona of Sarkozy suggests that there’s little by way of a wider process of social transformation of which Sarkozy is merely the representative.

  What is striking is the vacuity of his political philosophy.

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