Jeunes radicaux? Au contraire

I have been solicited for my impressions of students at the Sorbonne, since I was one of them for a year and they are currently in the news. As for the specific issues they are protesting about, this article gives a decent voice to my general reaction. The thing is though, students at the Sorbonne are always demonstrating about something. Pretty much on a weekly basis people would be handing out really amazingly overly detailed flyers about every single proposed governmental change in the university system. Several times I couldn’t get on or off of metro trains because of student protests on the metro platforms themselves. One time when I was waiting for a friend at Place Montparnasse I got between a bunch of protesters and the cops, and I was somewhat concerned that the police were going to think I was a demonstrator as well and detain me.

So basically this is part of everyday life, which seems very strange because this whole element doesn’t even exist for the most part on campuses in the States. It’s not that there aren’t activists or that everyone is apathetic, but I think the difference is that in France absolutely everything is under the purvew of the national government, so there aren’t really any intermediate levels or methods of recourse short of getting on TV or signing a petition (not that I’m saying that those are). And of course conscientious recruitment and organization of students by political parties has always been more prevalent in France.

To be honest, I am sympathetic to basic anxiety about lack of job security, since I don’t have much of a taste for the entrepreneurial way of life myself. But I’m not convinced that that is the most important underlying motivation in all of this. It seems that especially in France any form of economic liberalization has become so identified with “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony that making any concessions in that direction has come to be seen as almost tantamount to admitting the inferiority of the French system to the American or the British. Of course you might argue that those cocerns are both ridiculously inflated and beside the point. But there is something to the endless claims for the merits of French-style group cohesiveness and communal spirit, as anyone would surely agree after comparing the efficiency of the Paris Métro with, say, the London Tube. And I would venture to extend that superiority to most areas of communal endeavor, like public transportation and healthcare. But it’s more a Darwinian question: will French society have enough money to keep subsidizing the educational system and maintaining labor restrictions with no reforms? That is the question that few people seem to be asking among the all the talk about “justice” and “égalité.” I mean, Russians might like the précarité of capitalism even less than life in the late Soviet era, but it’s not like they have much of a choice. They didn’t have the means to keep financing the old system whether they liked it or not.

2 Responses to “Jeunes radicaux? Au contraire”

  1. Tom Says:

    Looks like they are going to get some concessions out of Chirac though!

  2. Curt Says:

    They usually do. This issue in particular is a no-brainer for the politicians, because the people that would benefit from it don’t vote and probably wouldn’t understand the ramifications even if they did.

Leave a Reply

If your comment doesn't appear right away, it was probably eaten by our spam-killing bot. If your comment was not, in fact, spam (and if you're actually reading this, it probably wasn't), please send me an email and I'll try to extricate your comment from our electronic spam purgatory.