The French used to be proud of the Enarques, their ruling elite embodying an enlightened but monarchical vision of France. Dominique Moisi wonders if they are fit to take the country into the 21st centuryby Dominique Moisi / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
All is quiet in Paris again. The strikes which paralysed France in the autumn of 1995 have left little visible impact on political life. Prime Minister Alain Jupp?s still in power-only slightly less unpopular than before.
Much ado about nothing? Not exactly. The strikes have solved none of the structural problems facing France. The country still provides a vivid illustration of Europe’s democratic challenge. Can we combine growth and social security with low inflation and low unemployment? Can solutions be found which are acceptable to a still rigid corporatist society, while remaining compatible with the constraints of Maastricht and its aim of achieving monetary union before the year 2000?
If France is more affected by the present socio-economic crisis than most of its European neighbours, it is because the role of its state is more central than anywhere else. The French nurture contradictory feelings towards their state. They criticise its heaviness, its rigidity. But they also want the reassuring presence of its protection. Frenchmen behave vis-?vis their state as adolescents vis-?vis their parents, switching from submission to rebellion. Only a minority really want a minimalist “business friendly” state.
Beyond the crisis of the state there is a crisis of the political elite, most of whose members are graduates of the prestigious but stifling Ecole Nationale d’Administration (Ena)-the famous Enarques.
One of the main weaknesses of the French system-once considered a strength-is its recruitment process. This incestuous system is close to the Chinese mandarin tradition and completely inappropriate to the end of the 20th century. Drawing its talents from three or four grandes ?les, the system guarantees a perfect homogeneity. Students who enter these schools through very exacting exams are “les bons ??ves”; that is, those who work hard and who have a clear rather than an original or creative mind. Personal reflection and independence are not encouraged. How can France change with such a conservative and conformist elite?
The relationship between Enarques and the broader French intelligentsia is mostly distant. Between those who have the political, administrative and economic power, and those who have intellectual power, there is little interaction-even if occasionally some Enarques write books and see their prestige reinforced among their peers by their demonstration of intellectual and stylistic abilities.
The experiment of the first socialist presidency (1981-88) was proof of the rigidity of the French system. The political revolution of the left, coming to power after…