There’s been a huge debate in France as President Sarkozy wants to put Albert Camus in the Pantheon.
So first what’s the Pantheon? First & foremost a nationwide symbol, that aims to go far beyond political divides (at least on the paper):
“The absence of a verb in French emphasizes that the implicit notion of honour is given from the homeland to the great men. By burying its great men in the Panthéon, the Nation wants to acknowledge the honour it received from them. As such, interment here is severely restricted and is allowed only by a parliamentary act for “National Heroes”. Similar high honours exist in Les Invalides for historical military leaders such as Napoléon, Turenne and Vauban.”
So as it mustn’t be the decision of a single man but a kind of nation move.
Eric Ehrmann wrote a brilliant article in the Huffington post and asked my point of view. Here’s his conclusion:
Albert Camus is part of the French cultural patrimony and he belongs in the Pantheon. Sarkozy would be remiss if, as president, he does not redouble his efforts to put him there. As for the French left, they ought to realize it’s time to tone down the culture of complaint. The next time they gain power they can start a Twitter campaign to put Sartre in the Pantheon and see if it goes viral…
And guess what: to my mind, there are great & true statements…and some partially wrong.
First, Eric is damn right concerning our left-wing: there’s a total mess. At the moment, it’s easier to tell why you’re more right-wing than explaining why you’re socialist. There’s also a kind of proudness to be an UMP member than a socialist one. And that’s an incredible change in our political landscape. Eric is (again) right when he writes that socialists may appear living in another century: the only common views are most of the time some kinds of stereotypes against capitalism. But here’s the big thing: Sarkozy is living now, and already engaged his campaign for 2012. Albert Camus is not an event that is out of the blue with his strategy.
Sarkozy is not a man who’s trying to embody the whole nation. His strategy has always been to draw a line between what’s his camp and who the opponents are. And obviously manages to always get a majority de facto. We’ve hardly had so arrogant ministers. It’s not a coincidence: Sarkozy always claimed a break-down. He wants Camus to be in his camp.
President Sarkozy always tried to make left-wing figures his. During his 2005 campaign, he used Blum & Jaurès to tentatively demonstrate why French needed to work more to earn more (travailler plus pour gagner plus). Sarkozy poached Eric Besson (former socialist), and tries to multiply commissions in which socialists are engaged. This overture is also a mean to unsettle opponents: what to say to someone using your own resources?
France is also experiencing a stupid debate, engaged by Sarkozy & Besson around our national identity. French nation is based on a “vivre ensemble”, on a common desire to achieve things together, whatever your skin color is or your origins are. It’s an inclusive model, very demanding but very rich. Instead of defining our nationality as an opposition against something, it’s a will. It’s the “and…and” approach instead of “or…or” one. But now the debate is around symbols, values, rituals. All that things that exclude. And you don’t have to be paranoid to see that Camus is another tactics. It’s utterly dangerous to list French identity around 10 or 20 bullet points. Because our nationality is not about them.
Sarkozy made it right: everybody’s discussing why Camus would be a left-wing person or not; if Camus would fit with Sarkozy positions. And that’s great for Sarkozy, but it’s a non-sense in this case. You don’t make dead people vote. Of course Camus chef d’oeuvre belongs to French; the only question is: why putting him now in Panthéon?
Camus did not want to enter French nation institutions after his death. He was buried in Loumarin, where he was born. He wanted to be away from Paris, and from its elites. Moreover, Camus wanted to rest in peace away from spotlights: his books will survive, anyway.
The debates that are now systematically rising when Sarkozy suggests anything are not a proof of the deep nature of French people for fighting or groaning. It’s an illustration that the nation is now very doubtful with its leader. And that if there’s no structured opposition, there’s nonetheless a strong frustration. And here’s the big danger.