French Socialism, Take Two

Hollande, Moscovici, and European Utopianism

A long time coming: France's president, right, and his finance minister. (Regis Duvignau / Courtesy Reuters)

About 20 years ago, François Hollande and Pierre Moscovici co-taught an advanced economics course at Sciences Po, France's elite college for government study. Their stint in education was brief, but their association has endured: Hardly a week after being elected the new president of France, Hollande named Moscovici as his finance minister. 

I sat among the dozens of undergraduates in Hollande and Moscovici's class, held in a nineteenth-century auditorium overlooking a Renaissance garden in the heart of Paris. It was a unique, unguarded environment to discover two men who would later rule France. Moscovici was the sunny one: Charming, charismatic, and enthusiastic, he came to class well prepared, just as his mentor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a bona fide economics professor, was known to do.

Hollande was the dark one: unprepared and unorganized yet certain of his ability, even to the point of condescension. He occupied his time on the podium walking the class through hard economic data that did not always seem to have a point -- until, that is, he would suddenly light up, once he arrived at numbers showing how affluent classes had actually benefited economically during the 1980s, under the administration of France's first Socialist president, François Mitterrand. Inequality was already Hollande's cause: He never showed as much pugnacity as when he denounced the hypocrisy of a bourgeoisie always whining about the state's redistributive policies and scheming to retain its privileges.

Hollande knows his subject matter. He comes from a provincial, bourgeois Catholic family. His father was a well-off physician who unsuccessfully ran as a far-right candidate in municipal elections. Hollande would have none of the paternal politics and was inspired instead by his mother's leftist Catholicism. Moscovici's upbringing was equally bourgeois but more flamboyant. His father was a Jewish Romanian immigrant and renowned psychologist, active in the early environmental movement of the 1960s; his mother was a psychoanalyst close to the Communist

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