Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Emmanuel Todd interview on the "French riots" (full translation)

by Jerome a Paris Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:43:46 PM EST

Emmanuel Todd, the man who predicted the end of the Soviet Empire before anyone else (and for the right reasons), whose ideas on the French "social fracture" 10 years ago were used by Chirac in his successful campaign to be elected president (and then ignored when he was in power), and whose book After the Empire : The Breakdown of the American Order is a must read to understand the Bush White House, has been interviewed in Le Monde about the current events in the French banlieues. It is a fascinating read, and I provide below a full translation.

First, as an appetiser, the summary of his "After the Empire" book on Amazon:

A bestseller in Europe, this provocative but erratic manifesto stands Euro-anxiety about American hegemony on its head. French demographer Todd (The Final Fall: An Essay on the Decomposition of the Soviet Sphere) cites Paul Kennedy's theory of imperial overstretch and Michael Lind's notion of the American overclass to paint America as a "predatory" but weakening empire, its unilateralism and militarism a sign of frailty, not strength. Misguided free trade policies, he contends, have hollowed out America's industrial base and decimated its working and middle classes, polarizing the country into a society of plutocrats and plebeians. Dependent on imports, America has degenerated into a parasitic, Keynesian consumer-of-last-resort, injecting demand into the world economy while producing nothing of value. To mask its decline, America pursues a foreign policy of "theatrical micromilitarism," picking fights with helpless Third World countries like Iraq to convince the world's real power centers-Europe, Japan and Russia-of its military prowess and validate its spurious image as global policeman.

And now the interview. Translation - and all associated errors mine.

Q - In 1995, you analyzed the "social fracture", an  expression which then presidential candidate Jacques Chirac used successfully for his presidential campaign.  Ten years afterwards, where are we?  

A- The expression "social fracture" is not mine.  It is from Marcel Gauchet, but it is invariably attributed to me.  I've given up fighting that.  In a note of the Saint-Simon Foundation, at the time, I had described the reappearance of the popular forces after the collapse of Communism, by noting that blue collar workers and employees still accounted for 50 % of the population.  From census information, it appeared that the idea from Giscard d'Estaing that "two French out of three" were in the middle class was not true.  Between two elections, the political community is regularly blinded by the opinion polls, which reflect the biases of the upper classes.  That gave us the polls which showed that Balladur would be elected, or that the referendums on Europe would pass easily...  It is only during the election campaigns that the popular classes weke up gradually.  Each one then believes to see a change of mood of the electorate, when it is only, in fact, the emergence of the popular classes:  the opinion of the people who do not have an opinion on everything constantly.  For ten years, poll after poll, the alienation of the working and popular classes with regard to the leading class in the broad sense has only grown:  the results of the last referendum of May 29 on Europe demonstrated it again.

Q - Are violences in the French suburbs a consequence of this alienation?

A - In recent years, the French political life has been a succession of catastrophes which have left the foreign observers increasingly amazed and agog.  The first catastrophe is the presidential vote in 2002, with a first round which brings the extreme right in the top two candidates and a second round where Jacques Chirac is elected with more than 80 % of the votes.  The second catastrophe, if one places oneself from the point of view of the leading classes,  is the referendum on Europe.  For months, all the commentators were convinced that yes was going to pass and, at the end, the "non" won easily.  Shock, surprise, despair.  The leading classes just start to fall asleep again, while trying to convince themselves that the situation is become again stable, when occurs the third catastrophe:  this crisis of the suburbs (which no one  knows yet if it is finished).  And, each time, the delegitimation of the leading classes becomes more obvious.

Q - Is the scenario of the catastrophes of which you speak always the same one?

Not, they do not involve the same groups.  The Le Pen vote in 2002 is the old French popular vote which forms the heart of vote FN.  With the referendum, you see the involvement of part of the middle class, that  linked to the public sector, which I would call the  petite bourgeoisie d'Etat (lower State bourgeoisie).  The third catastrophe, that of the suburbs, bring into play other actors:  young people from immigration.  Those are still separated from the French popular classes for historical and cultural reasons, although they belong to the same world in social and economic terms.  The three groups which I have just described have in common a deep antagonism with regard to the system and the upper classes.

On the other hand, one does not see any solidarity between them.  For example, I remain persuaded that the two groups which produced the "non" victory in the referendum (the popular classes and the petite bourgeoisie d'Etat) have deeply divergent interests.  The first are in rage against the statu quo, which means, for them, unemployment and falling wages in a world open to competition;  the second wishes the maintenance of the statu quo, which leaves it sheltered from free trade and with a guarantee of employment.

Q - Is there an antagonism between these two categories and the third, that of the young people from immigration who burn cars?

A - It is very worrying to see burning cars, buses and nursery schools.  And the things can still degenerate.  Despite everything, I lean for a rather optimistic interpretation of what happened.  I do not say this about the situation of the suburbs, which is by places disastrous, with rates of unemployment of 35 % amongst heads of family and of racial discriminations fro recruitment.  But I do not see anything in the events themselves which radically separates the children of immigrants from the remainder of French society.  I see the opposite exactly there.  I interpret the events like a refusal of marginalisation.  All of that could not have occurred if these children of immigrants had not interiorized some of the fundamental values of French society, of which, for example, the couple freedom-equality.  As regards other actors, the government-managed police, the local authorities, the nonimmigrant population, I saw exasperation perhaps, but not rejection in block.

Q - Do you want to say that the young people revolt because they integrated the republican model and feel that it does not function?  

A - Exactly.  I read their revolt like an aspiration for equality.  French society is facing a rise in inequality which touches the whole of the developed world.  Rather well tolerated in the United States, where its only political effect is the success of neoconservatism, this planetary rise of inequality is resisted more in France.  It comes down to some deep anthropological values which were in the heart of the country family structures of the Parisian agricultural basin.  This underlying backbone of equality, which goes back to the XVIIth century, or even earlier, is not found at all in the English farming community, where the transmission of land was much more unequal.

When one is in the upper classes, one can be made do with the rise of the inequality, even if one is against it in principle:  it is not too uncomfortable.  On the other hand, the popular classes or the middle class live it very badly.  That gives the Le Pen vote, which has a real component of equality, with a capacity to  saying "fuck you" to the elites, and a component of inequality, with the idea of finding a scapegoat lower than oneself (the immigrant).  As regards the kids of suburbs with African or North African origin, they are not at all in the same situation as the Pakistanis of England or the Turks of Germany.  For instance, the rates of mixed marriages at the beginning of the years 1990 was already around 25 % for Algerian girls in France, whereas it was 1 % for the girls of Turkish origin in Germany and lower for those of Pakistani origins.  The simple racial mix of the gangs of young people in France is impossible to conceive in Anglo-Saxon countries.  Note that I do not want either to give an idyllic vision of a France of 1789 which would be in play, with the postulate of the universal man, this dream of the républicains ( ed - i.e the French secular model)

Q -  What do you think of the reaction of the Republic vis-a-vis the riots?

A - I was not against the idea of a curfew in view of really worrying violences.  As a whole, I find that the reaction of the police force and the government was very moderate.  In May 1968, one shouted "CRS- SS ", but the police force showed exceptional control.  At the time, the media of left said that the police had not used force because the middle-class did not want to kill its own children.  Today, in the suburbs, one saw that the Republic did not shoot either at the children of immigrants.  Those were not the only ones concerned.  There was an effect of capillarity between all youths, even in the most remote French province.  The first death, only indirectly linked with the events, brought an immediate drop in the level of violence.  The foreign press which makes fun of France should contemplate this example.

I find of particular stupidity for Nicolas Sarkozy to insist on the foreign character of the young people involved in violences.  I am convinced on the contrary that the phenomenon is typically French.  The racially mixed young people of the Seine Saint-Denis fall under a tradition of social uprising which is frequent in French history.  Their violence represents also the disintegration of the African and North African  families in contact with the French values of equality.  In particular equality of the women.  Despite inevitable fits and starts, the second and the third generation of immigrants are integrated relatively well within the French popular classes, and some join the middle class or higher.

If I am not optimistic from the economic point of view as I think that the globalisation will weigh more and more on employment and wages, I am optimistic in the field of the political values.  In terms of result, after these two weeks of riots, which does one see?  These marginalized people, introduced like outsiders to society,  succeeded through a movement which became national to have an impact in the political debate, obtaining changes in the policies of a right wing government (by forcing it to restore the subsidies to associations in the banlieues).  And all that in reaction to a verbal provocation of the Minister of Interior which will undoubtedly realize that they have broken his career.  One can be more marginal!

A lot of this is compatible, I think, with what I wrote last week (Paris 'riots': My aunt's building burned yesterday night) in that he focuses on economic and social factors and is not so pessimistic on the integration of these immigrants' kids into French society. It is also in line with my article from a few months back in the WSJ (Can Do France), which underlined the real strengths of the French economy while noting that it appeared to be failing because it was betraying some of the principles (i.e. equality provided by the State) that many citizens crave. The idea that the lower classes in France do not tolerate the growing unequality and feel betrayed by the elites which have stealthily encouraged such global trends inside France is a very important one. His description of the different subgroups that have been protesting is also essential and shows that tailoring a political message to reach all of them is not going to be easy, but one item stands out.

Globalisation reaps unequality.

Countries that appear the most successful today are either those that embrace and promote such inequality (in the name of efficiency - "a rising tide lifts all boats"), or those that fight it really (the Scandinavian model with its all-inclusive social net). Doing some half baked reforms does not work, or puts too much of the burden on parts of the underclass (those that have no access to any historical privilèges or that have to face insidious racism in addition), especially at a time when "refome" has become short hand for lower wages and fewer rights for workers. In France, only a few pay the "reforms", but all feel threatened, and this is not so well tolerated, as history shows. Thus the need to change the way the French elites have adapted (too well, as far as they were concerned, forgetting the rest of the country behind them), and the political party that will express this best could win in a landslide. Conversely, if it is ignored, it will feed the appeal of the destructive national-populists and could lead to more unrest

This is also relevant in the USA, I think. Inequality has not become yet a hot political topic, in part because it has not been identified as such, and because it has been historically tolerated as the counterparty to better opportunities. The political force that makes the case today that the "opportunity" side of the balance is no longer available to many could have a head start to work on the "inequality" concept, and bring in a political change favorable to the left.

Yes, why not?

But please, more importantly, do go to the crosspost on DailyKos to recommend. Visibility there is still our best adviertising for this site.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 02:52:58 PM EST

You should stress that the first publication of his book was September 11 2002, before the actual invasion of Iraq, and written even earlier than that. I've always been impressed by Todd and his mix of gumption and scholarship, even when I disagree. I was still living in the US when I first read "After the Empire" in French at the end of 2002 and I remembered thinking "Wow, le Manu is pulling a bit too hard on his case, a bit over the top, isn't he?". The following 3 years proved that he was, alas, right smack on the money.

Back to his interview, thanks a lot for the translation. I really appreciate 2 of his points, that bears repeating, in particular to Americans.
  • The rates of mixed marriages, very high in France, compared to other Western countries. France has a few ghettos in the US meaning. Integration does work. The real problem is that racism remains strong and given the lousy economy, the weakest always hurts the most, meaning immigrants and theirs children. So, yes, it sucks being Beur or Black in France but the real problem is that it more generally sucks being jobless. Race is somewhat peripheral.
  • On how spectacular those riots are: lots of USians I know were truly panicked by what they were seeing on CNN and I had a very hard time explaining that it was related to the type of crowd control we use in France. Simply put, in France, we don't shoot people to protect things. So rioters have quite a free hand until they get arrested. I finally got my break by asking them : What would happen in the US in similar circumstances? Answer : LA riots, at least 50 dead, 2000 injured in 6 days of riots or so. France: not a single rioter killed, barely a handful of serious injuries in 2 weeks. That's when they went "ping" light bulb. Todd does very well to stress the quality of the police's work on those riots.
by Francois in Paris on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 04:03:35 PM EST
Yes, important points both.

Not killing rioters is not "tough", but it kills fewer people. Strange, heh?!
But you make the point about the relative importance of the cars much better than I did.

btw - welcome on ET!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 05:51:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quick reaction as my brain has decided to go on strike today.

The phrase "Refusal of Marginalisation" struck like a thunderbolt.  As a heuristic for analysis, as a communicatory encapsulation (i.e., 'sound bite,') as a seed crystal for unifying diverse subjects it could hardly be bettered.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 06:17:20 PM EST
That was fast.. :-) :-) :-) (Inside joke)!

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 06:30:46 PM EST
I'm delighted to learn that Todd subscribes to exactly the same analyses that I posted during the last two weeks.

Just one little correction:

In Germany the percentage of bi-national marriages was 26.2% in 2004. In Switzerland it is even higher, it stands at 34%.

What is Todd's background? Perhaps one should invite him to Brussels sometime and arrange a joint event with LocustWatch.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 06:39:31 PM EST
Ah, good you have those figures - this stuff bugged me too. (Tough Todd is just not up to date: he refers to 1990 figures.)

I believe Todd is a sociologist. (BTW, "After the Empire" having been mentioned, note: he partly descends from the USA!) Inviting experts along with LocustWatch has been debated but finally rejected (I proposed Swiss economist Fredmund Malik, big opponent of US voodoo economics and the use of HPI in GDP calculations).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 07:54:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 For instance, the rates of mixed marriages at the beginning of the years 1990 was already around 25 % for Algerian girls in France  

How does he know that?  The relevant question is interracial marriage and there are no stats based on race in France.  FWIW interracial marriage rates are relatively low (though rising) among African Americans -IIRC on the order of 10%-15% of new marriages among Blacks are with whites and another good sized bunch are black-Latino. The rates are very high among US born Latinos and Asians.

BTW. gotta love the idea that the riots are a sign of integration rather than the reverse. That approach would certainly make for an interesting take on the Rodney King riots or the 1960's ones.

In general I find Todd to be interesting on how America interacts with the rest of the world and rather clueless on domestic matters, regardless of whether I happen to agree or disagree with his specific arguments.

Now for a different take try an interesting WaPo article on the situation in Toulouse. Here are some quotes from the assistant mayor for the local 'banlieue'
People at city hall reject discrimination as a cause of the problems, instead blaming recently arrived immigrants. "They come here, know nothing of Toulouse, make demands and create problems," Lloret said.

Lloret said the recent events were only a fever that would pass. "This is not the first time there," he said, referring to a week of riots in 1998 in Mirail after police killed a 17-year-old suspected of car theft.

"If there is another pretext, some mistake, it will happen all over again," Lloret said.

Municipal police do not patrol Reynerie, even during the day, when markets and stores are open. "It is not their duty to restore order," Lloret explained. "Our police handle traffic and thefts, you know, things like that."

The national gendarmerie and riot police are the only forces of order, and they come only at night. City employees are refusing to work at their offices in the district because of the danger. Bus drivers have begged off routes in Mirail, and the subway closes before sundown.

Lloret said sorting things out with the community is the role of nongovernmental social welfare associations. But scenes in Reynerie this past week showed that such groups have a fight on their hands.

On Wednesday, groups of social workers called for an outdoor meeting to appeal for peace. A couple of young men began to harangue the workers. "Go home. You're white. You don't belong here. You have nice jobs. Go back to France," one said. The young men cheered as a stolen car buzzed by, its passengers on their way to torch the kindergarten.

"This confrontation was a shock," said Silviane Becker, a member of the Mirail Social Education Association. "They insult us because the ones they really want to insult are absent."

A French City and Its Underclass Drift Apart
Riots in Toulouse Reveal Gulf Between Officials, Minorities

And maybe a somewhat older article from Le Monde dealing with the racially charged violence that accompanied the spring student demonstrations.
Nouveau lumpenprolétariat et jeunes casseurs

by MarekNYC on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 06:56:23 PM EST
Marek writes: "For instance, the rates of mixed marriages at the beginning of the years 1990 was already around 25 % for Algerian girls in France  
How does he know that?  The relevant question is interracial marriage and there are no stats based on race in France."

Todd probaly refers to bi-national marriages, whose data can be easily found at the local town halls.  

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 07:07:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Toulouse is actually, with Marseille, one of two exceptions in the surbub model and the chain of recent events.

Marseille, a large city with at least 1 million inhabitants, is the first exception: because it has a large (non-white) immigrant population present at various levels of society (there has only been one night -7 Nov- on which Marseille saw more cars burnt than it's daily all-year round regular day average, but even then it was only 30 cars ... yes, cars actually burn every regular day in France, and Strasbourg and Marseille have made it a sport, competing with each other for top spot on a daily basis.). Basically no riots in Marseille ...

And Toulouse is the second exception: because its "banlieues" are actually districts of Toulouse, they touch the town center, are accessible after a couple of subway stops, and the Mirail even has a large and reputable university opposite appartment blocks. (an interesting residential website, but in French, can be found here: http://www.tomirail.net/)

Why has Toulouse known more permanent and persisting violence than other cities? I believe it's indeed, paradoxically, like Todd says, because Toulouse's banlieues are actually quite integrated to the urban tissue and life (anyone in Mirail or Bellefontaine can hop into the subway and be in town in a couple of minutes, unlike youths in Parisian suburbs who have to go through an exodus-like operation, passing police controls etc on their way to Paris), which means that banlieue youths in Toulouse are more aware of what they're missing out on, not only because they can see the university in their district, but also because they are aware that this town is one of the youngest in France (110,000 students for 300,000 inhabitants in the center, which makes it the largest student town in France after Paris) -other youths being generally youths who do not miss out on everything as much, i.e. because they are generally students (but students can still be quite poor!). As proof ot the potency of Todd's argument, the Toulouse "banlieue" is the only one that has seen an "anti-discrimination" demonstration, that started in the banlieue and ended in the center of Toulouse ... shops etc in the center stayed open, no one was worried ... while other banlieues in France only had "anti-violence" demonstrations, confined to the banlieues that they were representing.

Hopefully, the "Grand projet de Ville" planned for Toulouse's future will be successful in breaking down the "banlieue" tag on these districts. It seems like an interesting project, that will see 25 building blocks destroyed, and smaller lodgings (2-3 storeys high) built instead, but more importantly direct avenues will be built straight from the center of Toulouse to these districts. These districts will thus no longer be isolated. At least virtually (i.e. when on one avenue, you'll know that a pair of kilometers down the same avenue, it'll be that district). This will help, I'm sure (for example some people in the center don't even know how to get to the Mirail, probably because they've never even tried, which strengthens the construct of isolation and difference, in people's minds). It's the most costly current urban project in France, and will cost 6 342 euros per Toulouse inhabitant (http://www.mairie-toulouse.fr/Grands_Projets/gpv/GPV_2.htm , or seen by the eyes of the residents whose website I quoted earlier: http://www.tomirail.net/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=3)

But as long as our mayor is a right-wing prick who tries to close down kebab shops and to get rid of homeless "squatters", Toulouse will suffer. How can it be that Toulouse always has right-wing mayors? Because it is a major student town, and students only being around for 1 year, 2-3 years, rarely longer, often don't bother to enlist to vote ... and thus often don't vote. Which is a pity because even without their vote Toulouse still managed to be, at the last elections (Regional, 2004), the ONLY large major French town in which Le Pen's FN party got less votes than the Green party (other large towns often chose to combine socialists and greens, so this statistic in itself may be manipulative, but looking at other elections this is the general trend in Toulouse. The only other large town in which the FN is traditionnaly under-represented, is Paris). There is thus a great potential for left-wing renewal here, and partly because of all the descendants of Spanish republicans ...

A pic of the type of building planned for destruction:

by Alex in Toulouse on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 06:29:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be interested in seeing some statistics that support the idea that Scandanavian countries have more success in integrating immigrants that can be attributed to their social model. Norway is a bad example because of her oil wealth that distorts analysis. But here's an article that suggests that Sweden is not really doing so well in the area of discrimination against immigrants.

"Swedish studies on income-convergence patterns of various immigrant groups and natives indicate that the income-gap between immigrants tends to decrease in the first few years in Sweden but thereafter remains at high levels. For the immigrant groups from countries outside Europe, this income-gap settles at around 30 percent. Considering the small wage inequality in Sweden in general and the observed wage differentials between natives and immigrants, the huge income gaps must then reflect differences in unemployment-risk."

I don't know whether the source of this article is credible, but it sounds as if there are problems even with Sweden's all-inclusive social model.

by asdf on Sun Nov 13th, 2005 at 10:07:20 PM EST
I wasn't writing about integration of immigrants, only about overall economic inequality.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 01:39:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I find of particular stupidity for Nicolas Sarkozy to insist on the foreign character of the young people involved in violences.  I am convinced on the contrary that the phenomenon is typically French.  The racially mixed young people of the Seine Saint-Denis fall under a tradition of social uprising which is frequent in French history.

Absolutely. Today's foreign media would have laughed at the Paris Commune as a band of crazy terrorists and enjoyed ridiculing Thiers at the same time.

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Mon Nov 14th, 2005 at 01:58:58 AM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries