As the first TV debate on the question of identity is approaching (October 13th), let us inaugurate this blog with Alain Juppé, currently the favourite of the seven republican candidates.
His concept of “identité heureuse” (literally “happy identity”) has become the keystone of his program on immigration issues. Originally however, it was intended as a mere pun on the essay of the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut: “L’identité malheureuse” (Stock, 2013).
Quoting official reports and philosophical sources ranging from Thomas Hobbes to Claude Lévi-Strauss and Régis Debray, Finkielkraut demonstrates that France has been going downhill for decades, most notably concerning the integration of its immigrants. Looking back on contradictory education policies and the evolution of French thought since May 1968, he examines the dominant ideology in present day France: the need to atone for a shameful history (harsh capitalism, colonialism, and collaboration) has come to the point where preserving French legacy is seen as a repression of the immigrants’ legacies. Among many others, Finkielkraut thus observes a uniformity of thought that has crystallized around the idea of political-correctness.
What Juppé aims at with his slogan, on the other hand, is an appeasement strategy. Indeed: “If we go on like this, we are going towards civil war. What I want is civil peace.” He is then standing between Nicolas Sarkozy who claimed that “there is no such thing as a happy French identity in a society that has become multicultural” and François Hollande saying “French identity is neither happy nor unhappy.”
While compromise is an enticing ideal, France indubitably needs reforms of every kind. Juppé’s past actions reveal him as a man who tends to give up on them. In 1994-95, as the republican majority was on his side, he tried to have both civil servants and private workers on the same pension policy. What ensued were huge demonstrations by public services employees, that paralyzed transportation and mail for weeks. Facing these domestic protests, Juppé backed down and asked for a national referendum which ended up replacing the majority and lost him his position. The pensions remain untouched. In October 1999, he strongly encouraged immigration, although he had previously evicted illegal workers from French soil and supported the loi Debré, which sought to make immigration more difficult. Today, Juppé speaks of his plans for “a strong state” tempered with “societal progressism”, and further asserts his motto: “reassuring, assembling, reforming”. Concretely speaking, the candidate promised a “charter for secularism” that he would negotiate with the “representative of the Muslim cult”, although he is not yet sure who that person shall be.
As a genuine centrist, Juppé’s slogan about identity is thus neither halo-wearing nor aggressive. Instead, it allows him to remain coy about any future commitments regarding immigration/integration/assimilation. In the name of “civil peace”, chances are that he will preserve the status quo or yield at the first sign of criticism, i.e. a very likely tendency in France. Whereas Finkielkraut’s essay is clear in its nuances, “l’identité heureuse” is a confusing publicity stunt that has as much significance as an emoji.