Sabine Herold: leader of a new French Revolution?
by Matt Welch at Reason Online
EFL Hat tip: Instapundit
Most French people devote their summers to quintessentially Gallic pursuits: celebrating Bastille Day, spending some of their mandatory eight-week vacation time, going on strike. But Sabine Herold, to put it mildly, is not your typical Frog. Herold, the 22-year-old leader of LibertÃ©, Jâecris Ton Nom (Freedom, I Write Your Name), has in the last few months emerged as the massively popular and highly photogenic leader of zut! a burgeoning pro-market, pro-American counterculture in France. Earning comparisons to Joan of Arc, Brigitte Bardot (!), and Margaret Thatcher in the panting British press, she represents something French politics hasnât seen in years: a public figure eager to take on the countryâs endlessly striking unions.
Plus, sheâs cute! Be still my beating heart!
It is startling to hear any Parisienne, let alone a college student, drop references to F. A. Hayek in casual conversation, describe Communists as "disgusting," or lead pro-war demonstrations in front of the American Embassy. Herold is fond of issuing heretical statements guaranteed to make any good fonctionnaireâs skin crawl. "I think you have no legitimacy [as a politician] if youâve never worked," she tells me during a phone interview in July. "I donât want to be a kind of apparatchik. I think if youâre not able to do things for yourself, or show that you can help a company, how can you help the state?" . . .
Thereâs one girl who wonât be dating any Kennedys anytime soon.
Still, no amount of contrarian spunk could have prepared Herold for the summer that has just passed. On June 15, in the midst of crippling transportation and education strikes against Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarinâs plan to reform Franceâs ailing pension system, Herold led an anti-union rally that shocked her and the rest of the country by drawing 80,000 angry people. In a realm whose coin is the demonstration, this was reportedly the largest right-of-center protest since 1984, giving some optimists reason to declare it a turning point in public attitudes toward the Never-Ending Strike. "We were so surprised to see all these people who just came to say that they were fed up with the unions and fed up with the strikes," Herold remembers, still amazed at the response. When the pension-reform strikes subsequently fizzled, Herold was immediately feted by Fleet Street.
Despite these impressive early results, Heroldâs long-term task is truly Sisyphean: Chip away at the ossified paternalism in French and European governance, convince a nation that treasures its generous safety net that it canât last, and confront an entrenched culture that views noisome public sector strikes as the preferred method for conflict resolution. "Itâs annoying," Herold says, "because in France, we start striking, and then we go to negotiate. It would be so much more interesting to go negotiate first, and then if nothing happens, just go on strike. I donât know, maybe itâs an old love of the Revolution, or that people
|Though I think that was more because she's cute and controversial, rather than because any reporters have suddenly taken an interest in Hayek... |sat out missed World War II and they want to be in another kind of Resistance."
So how did the elite, conformist French education system produce such a cheery iconoclast? Heroldâs mom is a schoolteacher, and her dadâs a professor, from a village near the northern Champagne-producing city of Reims. Their child says she was "almost apolitical" upon arriving at the "mostly left-wing" Science-Po in Paris. She attributes her political evolution to a professor here, a student there, and mostly a lot of reading: Raymond Aron, Alexis de Tocqueville, and her beloved Hayek. She joined LibertÃ©, JâEcris Ton Nom two years ago, discovering some intellectual soul mates, but mostly her fellow students considered her "kind of a lost cause." "Most of the young people in France think that nice people should be left-wing," Herold says, "since weâve all been to the same kind of schools, which are state schools, and then in the media thereâs only one way of thinking."
|And that being "a dissenter" is très fashionable... |
Sounds like certain parts of the US.
Those who have been busy these last months calling her countrymen "weasels" are surely familiar with the notion that the top-down French society tends to produce monochromatic views at odds with the White House. Herold, who considers herself a strong patriot, bristles at the tension, but lays much of the blame on the French governmentâs anti-war policies and the broad-based anti-Yankee sentiment behind it. "I think one of the big problems in France is that we are anti-American without knowing why," she says. "Itâs just kind of a natural thing. I mean so many people I meet are anti-war, and theyâll just say that Bush is stupid and the Americans are awful imperialists. Itâs just their typical answer, and they never think of why. Thatâs crazy. I think itâs because weâre all being brought up like that, especially at school. Itâs incredible how weâre taught about America theyâre always explaining, for example in geography or history courses, how Americans are imperialistic." If Herold sometimes sounds rigid (example: "I think people should not talk about politics on stupid TV shows"), consider that sheâs only 22, that sheâs saying much of this with a chuckle, and that this is her first go-round with intense media coverage. . . . Rigidity is one thing, but being blasÃ© about having the Communist Party as a major player in the ruling government coalition (as it was until last year), or having a cultural establishment dominated by unrepentant former Maoists, is quite another.
Les meilleurs voeux Ã vous, jeune dame vaillante.
Posted by: Mike 2003-10-13