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  • Liberty Belle

    Most French people devote their summers to quintessentially Gallic pursuits: celebrating Bastille Day, spending some of their mandatory eight-week vacation time, going on strike.

    But Sabine Herold, to put it mildly, is not your typical Frog. Herold, the 22-year-old leader of Libertť, Jíecris Ton Nom (Freedom, I Write Your Name), has in the last few months emerged as the massively popular and highly photogenic leader of -- zut! -- a burgeoning pro-market, pro-American counterculture in France. Earning comparisons to Joan of Arc, Brigitte Bardot (!), and Margaret Thatcher in the panting British press, she represents something French politics hasnít seen in years: a public figure eager to take on the countryís endlessly striking unions.

    It is startling to hear any Parisienne, let alone a college student, drop references to F. A. Hayek in casual conversation, describe Communists as "disgusting," or lead pro-war demonstrations in front of the American Embassy. Herold is fond of issuing heretical statements guaranteed to make any good fonctionnaireís skin crawl.

    "I think you have no legitimacy [as a politician] if youíve never worked," she tells me during a phone interview in July. "I donít want to be a kind of apparatchik. I think if youíre not able to do things for yourself, or show that you can help a company, how can you help the state?" She supports gay marriage and legalizing pot, reputedly whips up a mean five-course meal, and uses the word libertarian as the highest possible compliment.

    Still, no amount of contrarian spunk could have prepared Herold for the summer that has just passed. On June 15, in the midst of crippling transportation and education strikes against Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarinís plan to reform Franceís ailing pension system, Herold led an anti-union rally that shocked her and the rest of the country by drawing 80,000 angry people. In a realm whose coin is the demonstration, this was reportedly the largest right-of-center protest since 1984, giving some optimists reason to declare it a turning point in public attitudes toward the Never-Ending Strike.

    "We were so surprised to see all these people who just came to say that they were fed up with the unions and fed up with the strikes," Herold remembers, still amazed at the response.

    When the pension-reform strikes subsequently fizzled, Herold was immediately feted by Fleet Street. (To date, British newspapers have given her far more coverage than their French counterparts have.) Daily Telegraph Publisher Conrad Black brought the Young Right Hope across the Channel for a whirlwind tour of meet-and-greets with the U.K.ís top Tories. (Lady Thatcher, regrettably, canceled at the last minute to attend to her dying husband.)

    Some of the most prominent French politicians soon followed suit, eager to learn more about Heroldís dynamic young organization. She also found time last summer to graduate from the elite Institut de Science Politique, study for entrance exams to get into business school, and celebrate her 22nd birthday.

    "Itís been really, really weird," she says, laughing.

    Herold laughs easily and often. And, just maybe, the long-silent French minority that shares her views finally has a reason to crack a wary smile of its own: For the first time in memory, they have an influential ally in Prime Minister Raffarin. "Heís a libertarian," Herold insists, in excellent, accented English. "The problem is that in his government he has too many other people more conservative, so he canít have a real libertarian policy."

    Still, by most accounts, Heroldís anti-strike revolt has given Raffarin extra fiber. "The government has stood firm on pension reform," the International Herald-Tribune reported in July, citing Heroldís protests. "Now, analysts say, it may be emboldened to push for further economic changes, such as stepped-up privatization of state-owned companies, and efforts to improve the workings of the labor market. Under discussion are reductions in the social security charges levied on employers, which have already been cut back sharply in recent years for some workers."

    Despite these impressive early results, Heroldís long-term task is truly Sisyphean: Chip away at the ossified paternalism in French and European governance, convince a nation that treasures its generous safety net that it canít last, and confront an entrenched culture that views noisome public sector strikes as the preferred method for conflict resolution.

    "Itís annoying," Herold says, "because in France, we start striking, and then we go to negotiate. It would be so much more interesting to go negotiate first, and then if nothing happens, just go on strike. I donít know, maybe itís an old love of the Revolution, or that people missed World War II and they want to be in another kind of Resistance."

    So how did the elite, conformist French education system produce such a cheery iconoclast? Heroldís mom is a schoolteacher, and her dadís a professor, from a village near the northern Champagne-producing city of Reims. Their child says she was "almost apolitical" upon arriving at the "mostly left-wing" Science-Po in Paris.

    She attributes her political evolution to a professor here, a student there, and mostly a lot of reading: Raymond Aron, Alexis de Tocqueville, and her beloved Hayek. She joined Libertť, JíEcris Ton Nom two years ago, discovering some intellectual soul mates, but mostly her fellow students considered her "kind of a lost cause."

    "Most of the young people in France think that nice people should be left-wing," Herold says, "since weíve all been to the same kind of schools, which are state schools, and then in the media thereís only one way of thinking."

    Those who have been busy these last months calling her countrymen "weasels" are surely familiar with the notion that the top-down French society tends to produce monochromatic views at odds with the White House. Herold, who considers herself a strong patriot, bristles at the tension, but lays much of the blame on the French governmentís anti-war policies and the broad-based anti-Yankee sentiment behind it.

    "I think one of the big problems in France is that we are anti-American without knowing why," she says. "Itís just kind of a natural thing. I mean so many people I meet are anti-war, and theyíll just say that Bush is stupid and the Americans are awful imperialists. Itís just their typical answer, and they never think of why. Thatís crazy. I think itís because weíre all being brought up like that, especially at school. Itís incredible how weíre taught about America -- theyíre always explaining, for example in geography or history courses, how Americans are imperialistic."

    If Herold sometimes sounds rigid (example: "I think people should not talk about politics on stupid TV shows"), consider that sheís only 22, that sheís saying much of this with a chuckle, and that this is her first go-round with intense media coverage. (She describes one of Fleet Streetís profiles of her as "not very good reporting...because there are many things I didnít say, or didnít say in that way, or [that were] just out of context.")

    Rigidity is one thing, but being blasť about having the Communist Party as a major player in the ruling government coalition (as it was until last year), or having a cultural establishment dominated by unrepentant former Maoists, is quite another.

    Whatís next? Herold plans two years of business school, followed by a job in the private sector, maybe some more travel, and then who knows? In the meantime, there are rumors of more strikes in the fall, which is when we should find out whether Herold and the Libertť, JíEcris Ton Nom movement are the beginning of a lasting anti-strike revolt -- and the vanguard of a libertarian youth movement in France.


    http://www.reason.com/0310/co.mw.liberty.shtml

  • #2
    She's cute too. :)


    Picture from http://www.liberte-cherie.com/article.php?id=134
    No man is free until all men are free - John Hossack
    I agree completely with this Administrationís goal of a regime change in Iraq-John Kerry
    even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act-John Kerry
    He may even miscalculate and slide these weapons off to terrorist groups to invite them to be a surrogate to use them against the United States. Itís the miscalculation that poses the greatest threat-John Kerry

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    • #3
      And she shaves:D

      Comment


      • #4
        She must not be truly French....
        Your look more lost than a bastard child on fathers day.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Stinger
          She must not be truly French....
          :P:D
          No man is free until all men are free - John Hossack
          I agree completely with this Administrationís goal of a regime change in Iraq-John Kerry
          even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act-John Kerry
          He may even miscalculate and slide these weapons off to terrorist groups to invite them to be a surrogate to use them against the United States. Itís the miscalculation that poses the greatest threat-John Kerry

          Comment

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