Emmanuel Macron and Republican Elitism

April 20, 2022

Through his personal journey and his way of being, Emmanuel Macron embodies the French elite, that of the school locksmith. This should be seen as a strong point: indeed, which candidate for the presidency of the Republic could be blamed for having a high level of knowledge and for having received training in the exercise of power? However, it is also, and implicitly, a real weakness, an Achilles heel, for the anti-elitism that has intensified over the last decade to become the dizzying lever of populism. Academic meritocracy, which for a long time appeared as a principle of social emancipation (helping fellows), is now severely undermined: it is experienced as a de facto injustice by individuals with little or no degree and, for a amplitude effect, the summit elite crystallizes resentment and even, sometimes, feelings of hatred. Since no modern society can be indifferent to the dissemination of knowledge and the training of its directors and officers, the path is tortuous between academic competence and raising the level of education, on the one hand, and the democratization of talent and access to places of power, on the other. It is in this narrow area that the credibility of progressive governments and the challenge of a second five-year term for candidate Emmanuel Macron are at stake.

Childhood Policy: The Crossroads of Equal Opportunity.

Early childhood years are crucial in the acquisition of learning, differences between children appear from kindergarten and tend to increase throughout schooling. Being a parent has become a profession, a situation in which the availability and ability to immerse your offspring in a cultural humus conducive to their school integration counts even more than the economic means of the family. From this particular equation is born the success of the children of teachers. The school competition thus becomes an endless marathon in which students born in privileged environments adapt and manage to maintain their competitive advantages regardless of the rules established to organize the education system. This phenomenon affects all developed countries. Richard Reeves, author of a book on Yvy League universities, Dreamcatchers (dream breakers), points out the contradictions faced by affluent backgrounds: “Some of us (…) already feel a certain degree of cognitive dissonance about the benefits that accumulate for our own children, in compared to the diminished opportunities left for others, “he wrote. . This contradiction is excellently summed up by a journalist quoted by the essayist: “I spend my weeks denouncing the issue of inequalities and I spend my afternoons and weekends reinforcing them. The relaxation of the school obsession with privileged environments is, without a doubt, the price to pay for accessing more social diversity in schools and universities. This change in mindset would also benefit everyone: Attending children from different backgrounds and backgrounds is in itself a positive experience in a globalized world and rather guarantees having “open” and inequality-sensitive leaders. and tensions going through societies. It would intervene in a context where precisely young people from “bourgeois” backgrounds dream less of becoming “bosses” with overtime than of having a balanced life between work and personal life; a work, in which, moreover, they aspire to find meaning.

On the other hand, in the face of the Chinese wall of educational reproduction, measures in favor of children in priority education areas (especially the division of classes, new contract with teachers), support for single parents (a fourth part of the families are single parents) therefore remain more than always a political imperative. In the service of this goal, the field experience of the faculty is essential and all teaching methods are good to use, as candidate Macron said during his only campaign meeting before the first round, on 2 ‘April.

Can academic merit be the basis of social justice?

The focus of merit has been renewed by the work of the American philosopher John Rawls on the principle of justice, and on the moral elements on which it is based. One of his disciples, Michael Sandel, published a book in 2020[1] which delves into this abysmal question: can academic merit be the foundation of social justice? It is approached from the angle of the excessive reward given to senior graduates who combine social esteem, positions of power and high emoluments, and who essentially come from wealthy families. This concentration of privileges generates deep resentment among many young people and opens an open wound within the social body. This narcissistic wound that reaches the working classes has become the crucial issue of the 21st century.

After the Covid crisis and the succession of confinements, the notion of merit and the respective utility that the different professions bring to society has been put on the ground. The debates have dealt with the social benefits bestowed on managers, most of whom are highly educated, compared to those of workers who have kept the economy running during the pandemic, sometimes at the risk of their lives. The call for more modesty on the part of the elites has become a recurring discourse. This coincides with the words of Michael Sandel who devotes the last pages of his book to dictating what a good political program would be: better equipping vocational and technical education, transforming the hierarchy of esteem “which gives university students a elite greater honor and prestige than those awarded to students trained at local public universities or those pursuing technical or professional studies “; tempering the arrogance of academic merit: meritocratic faith can only fulfill its promise when one owns one’s destiny and it cannot provide a basis for solidarity, and ends its speech with a call for recognition of work, in particular that of workers with little or no qualifications.

These pathways have been timidly explored. In recent years, the proliferation of apprenticeships at all levels of schooling and youth employment contracts (ECJ) have helped to reduce youth unemployment. As for Republican elitism, however, almost everything remains to be done. After some hesitation, the Macron government took a direction that attacks the symbols: abolition of the ENA and creation of the Institute of Public Service; empowerment of continuous assessment for high school and elimination of streams, in particular the S stream, subject to greed and deep frustration. After experimenting with measures in favor of good students in the periphery, Sciences Po has once again put on the bench a new attempt at social openness by eliminating the written test in the selective tests and focusing on records and profiles. of the candidates. At the same time, a (very modest) remodeling of the school map of Paris took place, eliminating the hiring privileges of the Henri IV and Louis-le-Grand institutes. These measures are in line with the decisions taken over the years: creation of excellent boarding schools; modification of the selection criteria for the entrance exams for the Grans Ecoles, in particular giving more space to the motivations, personalities and non-academic skills of the candidates; building bridges between the Great Schools and the universities; multiplication of scholarship fees. And yet these efforts in favor of co-education have produced only marginal progress: social openness remains the crossroads of educational policies. If we want a pacification of the youth who in the first round of the presidential election voted more than half for extreme parties, we must go further.

In fact, it is a Copernican change to which the aspirations of the social body and the reflections of many specialists in education invite: more school and university co-education, reinvention of the idea of ​​merit, evolution of the style and way of thinking of leaders. It is at these points that candidate Emmanuel Macron should make his revolution.

[1] Michael J. Sandel, The tyranny of meritAlbin Michel, 2021.

Leave a Comment