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Political Radicalism in France

Perspectives on a Protean Concept

James Shields

This introductory article reflects on the new momentum that political radicalism has taken on in France. The ebb and flow of radical aspiration featured regularly in French politics under the Fourth and early Fifth Republics, before the failure of the "Socialist experiment" in the early 1980s brought about a paradigm shift. In the wake of this failure and with the "end of ideology" supposedly in sight, political leaders and parties tempered their appeals to radical solutions and conspired, not least through recurrent power-sharing, to vacate mainstream political discourse of much of its former radicalism. Since the presidential election of 2007, however, there has been a marked return to promises of radical change as the common currency of political discourse across the full left-right spectrum in France. This article introduces a special issue of French Politics, Culture & Society that brings together scholars from France, Britain, and Canada to discuss some of the meanings, expressions, and prospects of political radicalism in France today.

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Jocelyn Evans

Political parties use policy radicalism as a means of attaining electoral success. Differentiation from other parties and ideological renewal after a period of incumbency or prolonged opposition are valid reasons for policy innovation, but excessive radicalization has a number of detrimental effects, including mismanaging voter expectations. This article analyzes a number of examples of policy radicalization under the French Fifth Republic. It starts from concepts taken from policy mood and spatial competition models, and examines how French political parties of both Left and Right have overreached in their ideological stances, and thereby exacerbated political disenchantment among the French public. The article concludes by looking at the notion that mainstream politicians may not be acting in their own best interests when they radicalize the political agenda by misreading electoral competitive cues.

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In Search of Lost Radicalism

The Hot Autumn of 2010 and the Transformation of Labor Contention in France

Marcos Ancelovici

This article asks whether the wave of protest in the fall of 2010 in France can be interpreted as evidence of persisting radicalism. It argues that, in spite of appearances, the French labor movement is no longer radical. This claim does not imply that industrial conflict is disappearing. Strong legacies and institutional processes still feed conflict in the workplace and often push workers to use contentious, extra-institutional means; but industrial conflict is not what it used to be, with the total number of working days lost to strikes decreasing steadily over the past forty years, and with conflict itself being reconfigured and transformed. Labor contention is no longer driven by an offensive agenda and has become essentially defensive. If there is radicalism left in France, it might be best described as a "radicalism of tradition." The article concludes by discussing the relevance of "radicalism" as an analytical category to make sense of labor contention in contemporary France.

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Gérard Grunberg

The radical component is still alive in French socialism. It finds expression notably in the anti-liberal economic perspective that the international financial crisis has recently reawakened. It is also expressed in the critique of the institutions of the Fifth Republic that Nicolas Sarkozy's "hyper-presidency" has revived. The tendency toward radicalization, however, is also heavily constrained these days for several reasons. The Socialist Party, first of all, has become a party of government. The centrality of the presidential election in the French system and the presidentialist character that the Socialist Party has taken on make a presidential victory a top priority for the party. Too radical a discourse can become, for such a party, counter-productive. The economic environment, moreover, and the situation the country faces makes less and less credible as a political objective the large-scale, state-led redistribution that has traditionally been how French socialism has translated its radicalism into a program of government.

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Alex Lichtenstein

radicalism needed a philosophical foundation’, CI staffer Horst Kleinschmidt recently recalled (2013). This foundation was ‘participatory democracy,’ a concept that grounded Turner’s approach to the workplace and much else besides. It is impossible to know if

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Radical or Not So Radical?

Tactical Variation in Core Policy Formation by the Front National

James Shields

Starting from a number of general tenets about radical political parties, this article examines the Front National (FN) in relation to its core policy issue of immigration. To what extent has FN immigration policy been defined from the outset by its radicalism? Has that radicalism been constant or variable over time? And how far can a reciprocal influence be detected between the FN and the center Right in immigration policy formulation? Focusing on election campaigns, manifestos, and key moments in the FN's evolution, the article assesses how the party has tailored its radicalism to contextual factors and tactical considerations. It reveals an FN less bound to a fixed policy and more ready to seek accommodation (with circumstance, public opinion, or the center Right) than is generally acknowledged. Conversely, it also assesses how the FN's mobilization of strong support on the immigration issue has had radicalizing effects on the center Right. The article concludes by considering whether the change of leadership in January 2011 might confine the FN to the radical Right or see it adopt a more center-oriented course.

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Forms of Radicalism

Theoretical and Social Radicalism in Durkheim

Massimo Rosati

In the following discussion I am not going to examine point by point the arguments that shape this charge, basically because I believe that we are dealing with a wrongly addressed criticism. What I mean is that this charge draws its meaning from a conceptual framework too extrinsic to Durkheim's one, and in fact from the Marxian framework. It seems to me that the critics, but also the defenders, of Durkheim's work either explicitly or implicitly judged his theory's 'critical power'-its analytical capacity to read modernity, and its normative capacity to criticize its pathologies-with a single yardstick, namely the Marxian one. Pearce's The Radical Durkheim (1989) is perhaps the most explicit case in point. But it is still a judgement at work in the background-even when the 'critical power' of Durkheim thought is not directly at stake-as in the account of Durkheim's intellectual development in the certainly very instructive writings of Jeffrey Alexander (1982 and 1989). My point, on the contrary, is that Durkheim was not so obsessed with the confrontation with Marx. His theory was constructed with other material and was concerned at least in part with different problems, so that it cannot just be assessed with the same yardstick.

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S.N. Eisenstadt

Modernity, modern civilization, the cultural and political programmes of modernity, have been often seen as epitomizing a break from religion; as heralding the rise of the secular age in which religion and the sacred have been relegated to the private sphere, or to the margins of society.

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Alfred Betschart

Ronald Aronson praises Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential Marxism in an essay in the Boston Review. I argue that existential Marxism is a case of a contradictio in adiecto. Sartre was never recognized as a Marxist by his contemporaries. He not only failed to show any interest in the question of economic exploitation, but most of the answers he gave in the Critique even contradicted Marxist theory. His expression of Marxism as the philosophy of our time seems to have rather been more an act of courtesy than the expression of deep conviction. As Sartre himself later said, Marxism and existentialism are quite separate philosophies.

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Jakob Rigi

The protest movement that emerged in Iran in the wake of the presidential election of 2009 has seen a subsequent decline due to the combined effects of repression and the timidity of the reformist leadership. The growing conflict between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad around the upcoming parliamentary election of March 2012 has created a new political crisis. The radical section of the movement tries to use this split to launch a subversive strategy against the Islamic regime. Alternatively, Khamenei tries to rid himself of the last vestiges of the autonomy of any elected institution and establish a full theocratic dictatorship. Iranian society has two choices—either to subvert the Khamenei regime or to be subjugated by it.