Arthur Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer is a writer, translator, and Affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard. He blogs at French Politics. Follow him on Twitter: @artgoldhammer.

Recent Articles

France Avoids the Worst

In the first round of the French presidential election, voters shocked everyone by doing exactly what the polls predicted they would do. Round two will make 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron the youngest French president and the first not to be a member of one of the two major parties.

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Up to the final minute, the world watched in suspense. Would French voters stun everyone, as British and American voters did in 2016? In the final weeks the polls had tightened to the point where no one could say what the outcome would be. But in the end the pollsters proved to be spot on: Emmanuel Macron came in first, with 23.7 percent of the vote, and Marine Le Pen second with 21.9. This result makes a Macron victory in the second round almost certain: no poll has put Le Pen within 20 points of him in a head-to-head contest. The next president of France will therefore be, without a doubt, a 39-year-old centrist technocrat who staunchly supports the European Union. Yet this was supposed to be the year of populist revolt, rejection of globalization, and disdain for external constraints on national economic policymaking. What happened? Put simply, the French looked into the abyss and recoiled. They heard promises from both the far left and far right to lead them out of the European...

Rumbling on the Left in France

Given up for dead just a few weeks ago, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has come roaring back and threatens to turn the French presidential race upside down.

Samuel Boivin/Sipa USA via AP Images
Just as the French presidential race appeared to be settling into a comfortable two-person contest, with polls showing Marine Le Pen in a dead heat with Emmanuel Macron in the first round leading to a comfortable (and comforting) Macron victory in the second, the previously moribund left of the Left discovered that what Marx called “the old mole ”—popular discontent well-concealed in its underground lair—still has some life left in it. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had been languishing at around 12 or 13 percent in first-round estimates, well behind the front-runners at around 24 percent each, suddenly began rising. He is now at 18 or 19, even with or slightly ahead of the right-wing Republican candidate François Fillon and within striking distance of the front-runners, and thus with a slim but real chance of making it into the May 7 runoff. Who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon and what accounts for his sudden surge? Born in Morocco in 1951, he first became...

Some Versions of Utopia

Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. The art of politics is to illuminate the landscape while casting the smallest possible shadow. The five of 11 French presidential candidates standing highest in the polls will face off tonight in a televised debate.

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The literary critic William Empson wrote a book called Some Versions of Pastoral . The French presidential election this year might be called “some versions of utopia.” Each of the five principal candidates offers his own. “If you want to build superhighways for the French,” Charles de Gaulle said, “you’ve got to give them poetry.” Start with the most pastoral of the lot, Benoît Hamon. Hamon conjures up a future of diminished toil, mutual succor, and harmony with nature. Although he proposes a dose of Keynesian stimulus to put the unemployed back to work, he simultaneously adheres to an explanation of persistent French unemployment that has nothing to do with chronic underinvestment. Technology has made mankind too productive, Hamon’s program insinuates. We don’t need to work as much as we currently do to meet all our needs. Hence workers should be encouraged to negotiate with employers to reduce the number of hours they work...

Twisting Slowly in the French Wind

François Fillon, who at the end of last year looked like a sure bet to become the next president of France, has been repudiated by many in his own party in the wake of a scandal involving the misuse of government funds for his own benefit. His campaign manager and chief spokesperson have resigned. Where does this leave the increasingly surreal French presidential race?

Rex Features via AP Images
The gods apparently have no love for François Fillon, who for the moment remains the candidate of the center-right Republican Party for the French presidency. They poured rain on the impassioned speech he gave to supporters this Sunday at the Place du Trocadéro opposite the Eiffel Tower in Paris. As pressure mounted from within his own party to quit the race, Fillon sought to mobilize his troops in a final desperate effort to rescue his candidacy. For the conservative politician from rural west France, who has been in government since he turned 27 in 1981, the last few months have marked a vertiginous fall from near-certainty of becoming France’s next president to pending indictment for misappropriation of government funds. At the end of November he emerged as the surprise winner of the first-ever Republican primary, defeating both former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, the favorite in early polling, and former President Nicolas Sarkozy, under whom Fillon had...

Hidden in the Algorithms

A new book argues that data science may serve to reinforce inequality. 

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy By Cathy O'Neil Crown This article appears in the Winter 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . In her catchily titled book, Weapons of Math Destruction , Cathy O’Neil, a number theorist turned data scientist, delivers a simple but important message: Statistical models are everywhere, and they exert increasing power over many aspects of our daily lives. Data collected by occult means and analyzed by algorithms of often dubious validity help to determine who gets a mortgage, who goes to college, what you pay for insurance, who gets what job, what level of scrutiny you will be subjected to when you fly, how aggressively your neighborhood will be policed, and how you will be treated if arrested. No one will be surprised to learn that ever more powerful computers processing rapidly expanding volumes of data have become a ubiquitous tool of decision-makers in many areas. O...