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Georges Pompidou
Georges Pompidou; drawing by David Levine


“An industrial society can only prosper if the workers understand the meaning of their task and are fully associated with the elaboration of all the decisions concerning them…for my own part I think, notably but not exclusively, of the Swedish example.”

Thus M. Chaban-Delmas, France’s new Prime Minister, addressing the National Assembly on June 26, a few days after Georges Pompidou had taken the oath as President of the Republic. The philosophic calm which greeted his declaration of principles testified to the conviction of the conservative majority that this kind of fine talk was unlikely to be translated into legislative action, let alone social reality. No doubt the skeptics had good reason to shrug it off. M. Chaban-Delmas, after all, belongs to the haute bourgeoisie of Bordeaux, where for the past two decades he has functioned as mayor and devoted his considerable talents to industrial development, but hardly to the furtherance of workers’ councils.

As for M. Pompidou, it is true that during the presidential election campaign last May and June he so far forgot himself as to promise the voters to transform their country into a “sunny Sweden.” But it is also true that since his election he has been notably silent on this topic, while exhorting his countrymen to rival their West German neighbors, notably in the domain of foreign trade (now helped along by a remarkably skillful currency operation). On his list of priorities the task of turning France into a “great industrial country” (as he put it during his first presidential press conference on July 10) ranks decidedly ahead of Swedish welfare-stateism, not to mention anarcho-syndicalism. The General may brood in silence at Colombey, and the left-wing Gaullists may pursue the aim of worker-management “participation,” but the France of M. Pompidou is unlikely to pioneer in this direction.

All the more reason, say the cynics, why Chaban-Delmas and his colleagues have to borrow the vocabulary of Defferre and Mendès-France; and of course the cynics are right. But those sociologists who smell a whiff of “technocracy” in the Parisian air are right too. The fact is that the French political elite currently feels the need to cover its ideological nakedness with a new suit of clothing. The original formula was invented by the Saint-Simonians a century and a half ago: production is more important than property, and where property rights get in the way of technical or social progress, they must be sacrificed. This is the “technocratic ideology” that free-enterprisers and Marxists alike have come to detest: the former because it threatens to interfere with the blessings of an uncontrolled free market in property values; the latter because it ignores the class conflict and tries to make people believe that political problems can be reduced to purely technical or administrative ones (cf. John McDermott in The New York Review of July 31).

The interesting thing is that whereas…

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