Sophie Wahnich's reflection on the first round of the French presidential election was first published in L’Obs on 27 April.
What I take from the campaign and the result on 23 April is French people’s increasingly powerful desire for a leader. The three figures who dominated the debates expressed this same aspiration: Marine Le Pen, of course, but also Emmanuel Macron, acting solo against the parties, and finally Jean-Luc Mélenchon, even if he claims not to be doing so.
This aspiration to be led by a powerful incarnating figure is a worrying one. For the people crying out for this are often the same ones who often refuse themselves to engage in the invention of the society of tomorrow. The desire for a leader often goes hand-in-hand with a refusal to take responsibility. Certainly, the presidential election encourages this. In my view, this desire is a symptom of the present day world, and is not specific to France.
Éric Aeschimann's interview with Sophie Wahnich was first published in L'obs on 23 March. Translated by David Broder.
From Danton (1983).
The last time that the French Revolution was the object of real public discussion was in 1989, with the bicentennial ceremonies staged by François Mitterrand, Jack Lang, and Jean-Paul Goude. Since then, there has been silence. Who today still refers to the Tennis Court Oath, the night of 4 August, the vote on the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" in 1793? At the Elysée [presidential place], 14 July has become the occasion for a presidential chatter where we speak more of political rehashes than of any revolutionary vision. And when leaders or intellectuals refer to the nation’s history, they cite the Resistance, the Popular Front, the Third Republic’s laws on laïcité and schooling, or even the Enlightenment. Rarely 1789. One exception was Manuel Valls’s allusion… to Marianne’s naked breasts. But things are starting to move. In autumn the philosopher Jean-Claude Milner published Rélire la Révolution, where he rehabilitates the project of universal justice asserted by the Revolution by way of the 1793 "Declaration of the Rights of Man." At the Amandiers theatre, Joël Pommerat has staged Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis, first part of a far-reaching depiction of the Constituent Assembly, which has encountered quite an echo around France. In June the film-maker Pierre Schoeller (L’Exercice de l’Etat) will shoot a film on this subject.
Most importantly, the Arab revolutions and the square occupations à la Indignados have shown that the time of popular movements may return. And together with this, crucial questions: how to avoid one-upmanship, chaos, violence? How to avoid returning to a worse state than before? The men of 1789 confronted these dilemmas already; it might be useful to see how they responded to them.
Sophie Wahnich argues we need to expand the notion of civil war to include the whole set of social and political practices that destroy the social bond. Since market relations destroy sociability, we must unfailingly turn our attention to those who are falling through the cracks. First published in Libération. Translated by David Broder.
Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (1965).
In Alphaville — imagined by Jean-Luc Godard in 1965 — the city’s all-powerful master Professor von Braun has abolished human feelings. A computer, Alpha 60, governs the whole city. The secret agent Lemmy Caution is charged with "destroying Alpha 60...and saving those who weep."
First published in French by Libération. Translated by David Broder.
The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen is part of our constitutional bloc. It sanctions a freedom limited by the principle of reciprocity set out in its fourth article: "Freedom consists of being able to do everything that does not harm others; thus the exercise of each man’s natural rights has no constraints other than those that assure other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These constraints can only be determined by law."
In fact, the Constituent Assembly would produce a law that immediately contravened this article, with the 29 August 1789 law on the unlimited freedom of the sale and circulation of grain. In sanctioning property rights as natural, this law flatly denied reciprocity, for it led some to become richer and others poorer, in a dissymmetry that would only be aggravated by the lack of any controls being introduced.