John Lichfield: President Sarkozy's new philosophy for the world

Share
Related Topics

Whatever his ex-wife may say about him, you have to admire Nicolas Sarkozy's energy and cheek. Not only has he found himself, in record time, a glamorous new wife-to-be. He has also invented a new political ideology which will (he says) set France, and the world, on a rational course towards the salvation of the human race.

President Sarkozy promises that he will "create a politics of civilisation to establish France as the soul of the new renaissance which the world needs". After only seven months in office, the French president has not exactly abandoned everything that he has said and done until now. He has, however, turned much of his previous rhetoric on its head.

The President who was going to make France "work more to earn more" is now promising to "re-humanise society". The president who promised to make the French richer –"I will be the president of purchasing power" – has now embraced a new ideology of "solidarity... quality of life...."

The centre-right president has even commissioned two leftish-leaning, Nobel-winning economists to devise a way of supplanting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the true measure of human happiness and political success. Cynics might say that this idea, for a GDC or Gross Domestic Contentment register, is an attempt to change the rules of a game which M. Sarkozy was about to lose.

On the other hand, President Sarkozy – a brilliant, instinctive politician, despite his faults and oddities – may have a point.

The global zeitgeist has changed. The ideology of markets-always-know-best, and bankers-rule which has dominated the world since 1979-1980 is increasingly discredited. The idea that economic growth can be sustained indefinitely and must always be the measure of national achievement is under challenge from, if nothing else, the finite resources of the planet. So what does M.Sarkozy mean by the "politics of civilization"? Is it his own idea? Should we take it seriously? Is this new, somewhat leftish approach by a rightish politician the first sign, as some of his senior supporters fear – that M. Sarkozy is being re-programmed by his highly intelligent, left-leaning wife-to-be, Carla Bruni?

The "politics of civilisation" is borrowed from a brilliant, octogenarian French philosopher and sociologist, Edgar Morin. As a new way of looking at the world's problems, it deserves to be taken very seriously. As an instant new political ideology or route-map, it has its limitations.

M. Morin himself is somewhat bemused by the President's abrupt decision to steal his idea.

"The President is an elastic personality, always in movement. He hasn't grasped yet how radical an idea a "politics of civilisation" would be," M. Morin said. "What is going through the head of the President and his advisers is a complete mystery to me. Either this is just verbiage which means nothing or he has undergone some kind of profound conversion." Edgar Morin, 87, is one of France's most admired thinkers, a wartime resistance hero of Jewish origin, a former Communist, who has made his reputation with a series of books about the complexity of nature, the human mind and, er, everything. The phrase - the "politics of civilisation" – comes from an essay, Pour une politique de civilisation, which he wrote with Sami Nair in 1997.

The book has been largely ignored in France but has influenced politicians – mostly of the moderate, new Left – in Italy, Spain and Latin America. M. Morin argues for a new approach to politics, replacing an endless drive for economic growth, with a quest for well-being and contentment. The search for "quality" of life should replace the search for "quantity". The obsession with "growth" in the abstract, driven by markets, should give way to targeted growth and targeted shrinkage of the undesirable and the unsustainable, from cars to air travel. Crudely, Morin's "politics of civilisation" is a little green and a little pink. "Quantity has not brought the promised quality of life," he writes. "The appetite for accumulation... has not produced the happiness of which we dreamed."

As a new way of looking at the world, M. Morin's ideas are interesting, even compelling.

As a manual of practical politics, they might suit the British Liberal Democrats or the German greens. How do you sell such an approach to an electorate which has been taught to want more of everything? What on earth will be made of such ideas by the centre-right French president, a man hailed (quite wrongly) by the British right as a Gallic Thatcher?

President Sarkozy, newly green, newly pink, and maybe newly-married, will take over the presidency of the European Union in July. Watch this space.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?