The Neoliberal Republic
Interview with Pierre France
What question can the reader of your book answer after reading it?
There are two questions. One could be framed as a response to a classic debate in comparative political science and history, “is France that “Statist”? France has long been classified as a country with a strong public sector, later experiencing a series of privatizations in the mid-80s. We displaced this debate: France is not a strong public state which later became more akin to the private sector or, to put it another way, got partly dismembered and “captured” by private interests. This view of a frontier moving from public to private, national to international, statism to neoliberalism, and finally leading to a retreat of the state turned out to be simplistic. It is more acute to thing this interplay between private and public sector as a new world per se – that we can think of as a “public private weak field” following Pierre Bourdieu’s intellectual tools. Rather than a retreat of the state, we describe its reshaping along with new institutions (regulatory institutions, agencies), projects (PPP, public private partnership), ideas (the “regulatory state”). We also point to the new careers it implies, such as those of our former top civil servants becoming lawyers.
The other question is more incidental: while working on this book, we dug into some of the structural reasons for the rise of Emmanuel Macron as future President. He and Edouard Philippe – the PM until 2020 – embody some new type of political careers, in which there is a reversal of the burden of legitimacy: now a passage into the private sector can grant a young civil servant or politician some kind of legitimacy for pursuing a brilliant career, even accelerating it, while giving these individuals the major illusion of “knowing the private sector”.
What was the most surprising insight or finding in the process of writing the book?
The fact that we unfolded a phenomenon that even the state itself hadn’t documented was half fascinating half terrifying. First, the phenomenon was mostly considered as the problem of some corrupt individuals, not as a systemic one. Then, the political and democratic aspects of it are obscured by its technical, ultra-specialized and fractionned (along different economic sectors) nature. It calls for more monitoring, control, transparency and ethics, beyond individual cases and periodic scandals, which means also, to quote Durkheim, that the “hours of trouble” we had piecing these elements together and analyzing them are not “only of speculative interest” and raise some philosophical and political questions.
Which author would you like to receive a foreword from?
Camille Noûs, the head of the Cogitamus laboratory, which is multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in essence, is a major source of inspiration for me. https://www.cogitamus.fr/camilleen.html
Which three hashtags sum up your book?
frenchelites, blurredfrontiers, privatesectorisnomagic
First publication of this interview in: [gab_log] – Geisteswissenschaft als Beruf, 24.02.2021, https://gab.hypotheses.org/8995.