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Category Archives: Democracy & Citizenship

Weakened leadership, but undiminished potential

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One year after the disastrous TV debate, where does the Front National stand in spring 2018? One year ago, on 3 May 2017, I watched the final debate between the two remaining candidates for French presidency. It turned out to be the most curious ‘Surreality TV show’ ever on French television. It was almost as […]

The railwayman’s dignity shall be inviolable.

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French society under Macron’s reform steamroller. „I do think that we can build efficient politics; politics that escape ordinary cynicism and engrave in reality what must be the foremost duty of political action, I mean human dignity.” Who would want to contradict Emmanuel Macron on this point? Certainly not the venerable ‘Episcopal Conference of France’, […]

Nation-building. Participant observation, June 2015.

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A text I published elsewhere over two years ago. Read it again against the backdrop of this week’s news, found it still valid.   It is not every day that a researcher has the opportunity to be the eye-witness of a nation in the making. Sunday evening 7 June 2015, at the intersection between Avinguda […]

Brexit and the German Elections: a Tale of Two Countries

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1. In early August, FT columnist Simon Kuper dedicated his weekly piece to the three ‘enduring flaws’ of British politics as revealed by Brexit. His (rather devastating) diagnosis – ‘substance-free, hot air’ rhetoric instead of political debate, ‘the ruling class’s insularity’, and ‘delusions of grandeur’ – was accompanied by a delicious illustration by Harry Haysom. […]

France 2017: La grande coalition

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Ever since I started to talk to the French about their political system and listened to their perceptions of what was going wrong in the Fifth Republic – a little more than three decades now – I had this impression, unbacked by any robust statistical evidence, of a quite large majority at the centre of […]

France 2017: The Charisma Bonus

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It’s time to take your good old Max Weber out of the shelf again. His definitions of sources of authority are as pertinent as they have ever been. What did he write about ‘charisma’ again? ‘The exemplary character of an individual person’, ‘endowed with specifically exceptional qualities’, and by whom ‘new normative patterns are revealed’ […]

France 2017: It’s the semantics, stupid!

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Emmanuel Macron’s entry on the diplomatic scene – from the NATO and G7 summits last week to the meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday – may already be regarded as a positive and very encouraging achievement, but everybody, in France and elsewhere, agrees that the new President’s real and primordial challenge is the capacity to […]

France 2017: The end of ridicule?

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For over forty years, since Maurice Duverger coined the expression in 1974, ‘The Republican monarchy’ has no doubt been the most frequently used metaphor for the Fifth Republic. In countless books, essays and articles, the presidential system and all its corollaries –power, pomp and protocol – have been portrayed as a legacy of pre-Revolutionary, absolute […]

France 2017: Disruptive

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Emmanuel Macron had no chance of winning the presidential election. Every textbook on French politics or contemporary history will tell you so. He had no chance, and he seized it. After his first large-scale rallies, in Strasbourg in October 2016 or in Paris in December, all serious commentators indulged in gentle mockery. Partly because his […]

France 2017: Old fault lines, new salience

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‘France has voted like it never did before’, was the headline of Spiegel Online on Monday morning, and many other foreign observers expressed similar views on the manner in which the traditional parties of the Left and Right were kicked out of the competition by an overwhelming desire of renewal of the political class. But […]

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