Point-of-view. The former Secretary of State for the Budget was astonished that men and women close to Macron would admire a book that, nevertheless, brocaded their president and his reforms.
By Christian Eckert
A press article in an evening newspaper describes the admiration of many macronists for Nicolas Mathieu’s book “Their children after them” (Goncourt 2018 prize). The journalist recounts the surprising admiration of Julien de Normandie, Gabriel Attal, Sibeth Ndiaye or Pierre Person for a book whose author never ceases to express his aversion to their President and his reforms. The subject is interesting, original and even surprising and deserves to be extended.
I feel, without pretension, somewhat legitimate to do so: I was born in the valley that serves as the setting for the novel, in a modest environment, surrounded by families of workers and miners. I spent my childhood and adolescence there a few years before the characters in the book. I did summer jobs in the steelworks of Florange, a town that became famous for its blast furnaces, which were then glowing red. I taught for 10 years at the Lycée public de Fameck (Lameck in the book…), a town that was then for Lorraine what Seine-Saint-Denis is today for France. I lived (and still live) in the neighbouring Pays-Haut and was Mayor for 27 years of a town where iron miners occupied the bottom of their mine in 1963 for 79 days (including Christmas Eve) to protest against redundancies. I was twice elected Member of Parliament for the riding of Longwy, where I was on first-name terms in the markets more often than in Bercy, where my political career took me.
I “came out” uncomfortable with Nicolas Mathieu’s book, whose literary qualities are nevertheless indisputable. A bit like a teacher who watches a recording of his own lesson and discovers all its flaws, even the trivial ones that he doesn’t perceive when he is caught in the heat of his lesson. I found little in it, probably because I was expecting a portrait embellished by the attachment I have for my territory. I found a description of the difficulties and disappointments, known and frequent, but unbearable to read when they are accumulated and concentrated on a few people.
This feeling was shared by part of my family and local entourage. Not all of them… The younger ones found it better. Elected representatives of the Fensch valley have publicly regretted the grey image – to say the least – that the book gives of the places and their inhabitants. And above all, the book could have its “counterpoint”: my friends from the Collège d’Algrange, the lycée in Thionville or the preparatory school in Metz are legion to have experienced the social lift: I have seen sons of workers, miners, small civil servants, who have become engineers, company directors, writers, senior civil servants, always involved in trade union, political, associative and social life, often even at the national level.
They have known the benefits of the Republic School, the miracles performed by the hussars of the Republic, the assets of the Republic that protects, the strength transmitted by the ambition of their parents, “little” immigrants or not, for “their children to live after them”. Aurélie Filippetti could, better than I could, turn it into a novel.
Today’s wealthy people, very numerous and influential in Macronesia, stigmatize all this all year round by talking about the necessary end of the Welfare State or, even worse, of the Assistancy. Step by step, step by step, little by little, they are dismantling the mechanisms of solidarity, encouraging individualism, pushing for inequality, closing the borders to the hungry “at the same time” as they open them to capital.
Suddenly, these people, many of whom attended school in Alsace, have hardly ever crossed the ring road, have never been slumming in a somewhat gloomy village festival, have seen every film in preview and have been bored in shiny libraries, and are amazed by a book. They discover this shockingly realistic novel, which describes lack of perspective as much as failure, recession more than immobility, intellectual poverty rather than hunger…
In the books
Yes, in the old world, which is said to be old-fashioned, many elected officials, a handful of whom made it to Paris, knew this real life, came from it and sometimes even “got out”! Today the new ones discover it in books. That’s something.
So let them learn from it: the priority is certainly not to reform in order to liberalize. It is to create a society by organising territorial, educational, generational and cultural solidarity. It is above all this that Nicolas Mathieu’s book teaches us.
Otherwise, the next book on the macronists’ menu could well be a black book. That would be our real failure for “the children according to us”.