Two Cheers for the Revolting French Students

William Pfaff analyzes analyzes the French riots in the New York Review of Books without a hint of frog-scolding. To Pfaff (a man of the left), the demonstrations, for all their silly excesses, are a harbinger of increasingly sharp debates to come, as globalization begins to threaten more and more Western workers who once thought their jobs secure:

I would suggest a larger explanation for the prevailing anxiety: that, as throughout modern history, France functions as the coal miner’s canary of modern society, reacting to political and social forces before anyone else. France’s refusal to approve the European Union constitutional treaty two years ago caused an international shock because the voters rejected the view, all but universally held among European elites, that continuing expansion and market liberalization are essential to the EU, indeed inevitable. The reaction of the European public elsewhere to the French vote seems, on the whole, to have been one of relief.


[From the perspective of globalizaion skeptics], what in France seems a sterile popular defense of an obsolete social and economic order might instead be understood as a premonitory appeal for a humane successor to an economic model that considers labor a commodity and extends price competition for that commodity to the entire world. The apparently reactionary or even Luddite position inspired by French reactions might prove prophetic.

As for French politicians:

Neither political party, as a party, has made other than an equivocal or reactionary challenge to the social and economic model of market liberalism that much of France rejects. As elsewhere in Europe—notably in the European Commission under its current president—French elites seem unaware of the degree to which the global model they are being pressed to adopt is already under attack from within. Instead, the French, who consider pessimism evidence of intelligence, are telling themselves that the nation suffers some profound crisis.

2 thoughts on “Two Cheers for the Revolting French Students

  1. To quote the reigning German Kaiser: “Is it Christmas time already?”

    Sure, if we all sit together, we may start to dream of a world without constraints, a world full of endless resources. Is that enough to qualify for being a left and globalization skeptic? I hope not. It seems that the left, which always has been proud of its international scope, now tries to explain us that fighting poverty in poorer countries is a wonderful idea, but please only under certain conditions. The fine thing about development aid is that the donating country determines the amount. But “uncontrolled” competition, meaning longing for wealth they didn’t apply for, that’s so unfair. We don’t like that, so let’s talk some wish-wash about “humane successors”. Terrifying.


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