T J Clark at Bristol Festival of Ideas This Weekend

Clark author photo

T J Clark’s Picasso and Truth offers a breathtaking and original new look at the most significant artist of the modern era. This Saturday evening, T J Clark will be speaking about this important painter and his new book at a Bristol Festival of Ideas event.

Please click here if you would like to find out more about this event.

T J Clark will also be speaking at:

The London Review Bookshop on 28th May (sold out)

Hay Festival on 30th May

Birkbeck, University of London on 7th June (free entry)

and the London Lit Weekend on 5th October (stay tuned for more information)

Discovering Descartes

Descartes famously wrote “I am, I exist” and “I think, therefore I am.” But who was he? Kevin Hart of The Australian explores who the man behind these words was and the legacy that he left as described in Steven Nadler’s new book The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes.

Capturing the ‘am’ of a great thinker

MANY people will be familiar with the most familiar image of French philosopher Rene Descartes. It depicts the head and shoulders of a middle-aged man with long dark hair, a moustache and a small beard under his lip.

He has a starched white collar that is folded over a black coat in the manner of 17th-century Dutch burghers. A strong aquiline nose and eyes with lids that seem about to cover them mark a face that gazes out at us a little quizzically.

Frans Hals, the great Dutch painter, once had Descartes sit for him. Was the portrait lost? Or did he simply do something small and quick, a portrait composed of short, broad strokes of paint applied roughly? We do not know for sure about a lost, full portrait, but we know the small one because it hangs in a museum in Copenhagen, and has been copied many times.

Steven Nadler’s charming introduction to Descartes begins with an evocation of Hals’s portrait of the philosopher, and the whole book is itself an intimate portrait of the man and his times. More exactly, it tells the story of how the portrait came to be painted.

[Read the complete article at The Australian]

Throwback Thursday with Isaiah Berlin: Against the Current

In celebration of the new printings of works by Isaiah Berlin, here is a “Throwback Thursday” image of the old jacket art from Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas. It was first published by Princeton in 2001 and the new edition will be available May 2013!

4-1 against the current BOTH

In this collection of essays, Berlin explains the importance of dissenters in the history of ideas. The history of ideas is a field of research that deals with the expression and change of human ideas over time. As a scholar in the history of ideas himself, Berlin’s essays in Against the Current have been heralded as luminous and rich.

In this particular volume of essays, Berlin examined figures who have had a significant influence on modern ideas, but were seen as relatively ridiculous in their own times. Among the essays in the collection, Berlin discusses ‘The Originality of Machiavelli’. Machiavelli’s most popular work The Prince was extremely controversial when it was published in the 1500s. While many at the time thought that his ideas concerning power and princedom were unconventional and even a bit ridiculous, The Prince had significant influence on later philosophical and political work.

For further reading while you are waiting for the new edition of Against the Current, PUP recently published an intellectual biography on Machiavelli:

Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography
by Corrado Vivanti, Translated by Simon MacMichael

 

 

 

 

Check out the Princeton Isaiah Berlin Facebook Page for more updates and information about all the new editions of Berlin’s works.

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The Inner Life of Empires Comprehensive Web Resource Now Available

Inner Life of EmpiresEmma Rothschild, author of The Inner Life of Empires:An Eighteenth-Century History, has created a website featuring resources and additional information that complement her 2011 book. The Inner Life of Empires, which is newly available in paperback, features a unique look at the political, economical, and social landscape of the 18th century world through the Johnstone family’s rich history. The family’s widespread reach across the globe and relationships to the people and institutions that structured the time period create a comprehensive look at both the microcosm that is their family history and the macrocosm of the history of the 18th century. The website delves further into the content covered in Rothschild’s book by including interactive maps of the Johnstone family’s social and geographical networks, profiles of members of the Johnstone family, and some of the resources that Rothschild used while writing the book.

Used in conjunction with The Inner Life of Empires, the website serves as a helpful guide to illustrate a tremendous time in history all through the lives of the people who lived through it.

Visit the website: http://www.innerlifeofempires.org/

The Inner Life of Empires is the winner of the 2011 Scottish History Book of the Year Award, Saltire Society, one of The New Yorker‘s “Reviewer’s Favorites” of 2011, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards (Non-Fiction category). It has been hailed by critics and consumers alike for its unique perspective on a pivotal time period in history.

Daniel Stedman Jones on Masters of the Universe

Stedman-Jones-at-LSE-3[3]Princeton author Daniel Stedman Jones had a busy day on 16th January promoting his recently published ‘Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics’. In the afternoon he appeared on BBC Radio 4′s ‘Thinking Allowed’ and that evening he was the lead speaker at a public lecture based around the book at the London School of Economics where his respondents were Professor Lord Skidelsky and Professor Mark Pennington. Please follow the links to catch up with both events.

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “FDR’s effectiveness as president and as keystone of the Grand Alliance depended on his personal alliances with dedicated, live-in aides who entertained him, translated his notions into pragmatic policy, and got results. Harry L. Hopkins and Marguerite ‘Missy’ LeHand (and in earlier years, Louis M. Howe and Thomas G. Corcoran) wore themselves out in trying to cope not only with the extraordinary needs of the ‘Boss’ but also with his possessiveness regarding even their personal lives. By 1944, the very time when Roosevelt faced mounting challenges in managing the war and planning the peace, he had lost the crucial players of his inner circle. FDR became, partly owing to his demanding nature, dangerously isolated.

Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics
Helped Start the Cold War

by Frank Costigliola

In the spring of 1945, as the Allied victory in Europe was approaching, the shape of the postwar world hinged on the personal politics and flawed personalities of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances captures this moment and shows how FDR crafted a winning coalition by overcoming the different habits, upbringings, sympathies, and past experiences of the three leaders. In particular, Roosevelt trained his famous charm on Stalin, lavishing respect on him, salving his insecurities, and rendering him more amenable to compromise on some matters.

Yet, even as he pursued a lasting peace, FDR was alienating his own intimate circle of advisers and becoming dangerously isolated. After his death, postwar cooperation depended on Harry Truman, who, with very different sensibilities, heeded the embittered “Soviet experts” his predecessor had kept distant. A Grand Alliance was painstakingly built and carelessly lost. The Cold War was by no means inevitable.

This landmark study brings to light key overlooked documents, such as the Yalta diary of Roosevelt’s daughter Anna; the intimate letters of Roosevelt’s de facto chief of staff, Missy LeHand; and the wiretap transcripts of estranged adviser Harry Hopkins. With a gripping narrative and subtle analysis, Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances lays out a new approach to foreign relations history. Frank Costigliola highlights the interplay between national political interests and more contingent factors, such as the personalities of leaders and the culturally conditioned emotions forming their perceptions and driving their actions. Foreign relations flowed from personal politics—a lesson pertinent to historians, diplomats, and citizens alike.

We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9524.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

BOOK FACT FRIDAY

FACT: “Catholics were first allowed to enlist in the British army in large numbers in the 1790s, and for more than a century thereafter tens and even hundreds of thousands of Irishmen continued to follow the increasingly well-worn path into the armed forces of the Crown. Many joined Irish regiments such as the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and the King’s Liverpool Regiment (popularly known as the Liverpool Irish). In some cases, their uniform jackets were green, and the insignias on their jackets included harps, shamrocks, or other distinctively Irish symbols.”

Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race
by Bruce Nelson

This is a book about Irish nationalism and how Irish nationalists developed their own conception of the Irish race. Bruce Nelson begins with an exploration of the discourse of race—from the nineteenth—century belief that “race is everything” to the more recent argument that there are no races. He focuses on how English observers constructed the “native” and Catholic Irish as uncivilized and savage, and on the racialization of the Irish in the nineteenth century, especially in Britain and the United States, where Irish immigrants were often portrayed in terms that had been applied mainly to enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Most of the book focuses on how the Irish created their own identity—in the context of slavery and abolition, empire, and revolution. Since the Irish were a dispersed people, this process unfolded not only in Ireland, but in the United States, Britain, Australia, South Africa, and other countries. Many nationalists were determined to repudiate anything that could interfere with the goal of building a united movement aimed at achieving full independence for Ireland. But others, including men and women who are at the heart of this study, believed that the Irish struggle must create a more inclusive sense of Irish nationhood and stand for freedom everywhere. Nelson pays close attention to this argument within Irish nationalism, and to the ways it resonated with nationalists worldwide, from India to the Caribbean.

“This is a brilliant history of British imperial white racism and Irish resistance to it—and cooperation with it—in Ireland and the United States. From Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell in the nineteenth century to Marcus Garvey and Liam Mellows in the twentieth, we are given here a pathbreaking account of a still unfinished struggle.”—Seamus Deane, Keough Emeritus Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9719.pdf

Dana Mackenzie – Four Way Interview

Dana Mackenzie – Four Way Interview

Dana Mackenzie is the author of The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be (Wiley), among other books. He is a frequent contributor to Science, Discover, and New Scientist. He has a PhD in mathematics from Princeton and was a mathematics professor for thirteen years before becoming a full time writer. His latest book is The Universe in Zero Words.

Why maths?

To me, mathematics is the most universal language. It is a subject with a continuous unbroken tradition from the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, and Egyptians to the present day – a longer tradition than any other science and virtually any other human endeavor. It is an enabling subject, in the sense that every other science depends on it to some extent, and generally speaking the more modern a science becomes, the more explicitly it incorporates mathematical reasoning and ideas.

Most importantly and most personally for me, I love mathematics because there is no other field I know of where truth and beauty are so closely intertwined. They are related in the other sciences as well, but I still feel feel that scientific truths are to some extent contingent and occasionally a result of happenstance. Our knowledge is based upon imperfect data and our imperfect interpretations thereof. In
mathematics, by contrast, nothing is ever true by accident. A mathematical theorem, once proven correctly, can never be falsified. (It can only become irrelevant, and even then it often returns to relevance when you least expect it.) The best theorems, and the best proofs, are almost always the ones with the greatest beauty and economy of ideas.

Why this book?

My purpose in writing this book is to demystify mathematics, and in particular to demystify equations.

For many people, an equation is a forbidding and scary thing. It looks like some kind of mystical incantation filled with secrets they are not privy to. And yet for scientists, and especially for mathematicians, it is exactly the opposite. Words are too imprecise and clumsy to express the fine details of a mathematical idea; an equation is often the only way to do it. This is why I called the book The Universe in Zero Words - because by opening yourself up to equations (which typically have zero words), you open yourself to seeing the universe more clearly.

To compare words to equations, imagine comparing a painting of Earth to a Google map. No matter how well executed, the painting is rough and inaccurate. When you zoom in on it, you don’t see any new geographic details. By contrast, the farther you zoom into a Google map, the more interesting details you see. It is the same way with an equation. This book is an attempt to help the reader through that process, to see the ”Google Maps” version of mathematics rather than the caricature version that popular culture presents us.

I also wrote this book because I wanted to write a mathematics book! My first book (The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be) was about a subject that I had no special training in when I began the project. It was a great way to exercise and develop my journalistic muscles. For my second book, I wanted to write about something that I already knew a lot about. This allowed me to write from a much more personal point of view, rather than the dispassionate view of the journalist or historian.

What’s next?

In the short term, I am continuing to write a series of booklets for the American Mathematical Society called What’s Happening in the Mathematical Sciences. The next one in the series, volume 9, should come out early next year, and I am very busy with that and hoping that I can meet my deadline.

In the long term, I expect that at some point I will get to work on another trade book. I love writing the “What’s Happening” series, but I have to admit that it reaches a rather narrow audience. At this point I can only describe the broadest features of what I am looking for in my next mass market book. Having written one book “far from home” (about planetary science) and one “close to home” (about mathematics) I will probably venture “farther from home” again. But I may change that plan if The Universe in Zero Words is a big success, and if there seems to be a big demand for another mathematical book from me. I would also be interested in writing a book that takes place over a shorter time frame, because both of my previous books covered nearly the whole period of recorded history. There is something to be said for the classical unities of time, space, and action (although I would not interpret themtoo literally).

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Mostly the things I have written about most recently and the things I am writing about right now. That would include an article I wrote for Science magazine about robotic flapping birds, and a chapter I wrote for What’s Happening in the Mathematical Sciences about mathematical algorithms to solve Rubik’s cube. An interesting thing that they had in common was that for the first time I found myself using YouTube as a research tool! There is an absolutely amazing video on YouTube of one of the new robotic birds, designed by a German company called Festo, flying over the audience at a TED conference in Edinburgh. You should look it up if you haven’t seen it. And there are many, many amazing videos on YouTube of “speedcubers” — people who solve Rubik’s cube as quickly as possible. Some use their hands, some use their feet, some do it blindfolded! The current world record for solving Rubik’s cube (by a human) is 5.66 seconds. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even unlock the door to my house in 5.66 seconds!

This interview was first published on 25th May 2012 on Popular Science. For more interviews like this as well as book reviews on popular science and maths titles, please visit www.popularscience.co.uk.

 

Could the EU learn a thing or two from Blackbeard?

“The idea that pirates were better at governing themselves than the European Union might seem a little surreal, unless you’re a very sceptical person when it comes to the EU. So prepare for your timbers to be shivered and your preconceptions of pirates to be swashbuckled. According to Peter Leeson, author of the Invisible Hook, a wordplay on Adam Smith’s invisible hand, pirates were quite a civilised bunch. When it came to governing themselves, that is.”

Ahoy Mateys! The Daily Reckoning posts a long article about the EU, drawing on ideas from The Invisible Hook by Peter Leeson. And since there’s nothing like a pirate economics book to bring out some wonderful imagery and piratical puns, this article is a must read. If your appetite is whetted, we’re happy to offer two ways to dip further into the material:

The Secrets of Pirate Management is a new Princeton Shorts that distills important lessons that can apply to any enterprise, nautical or otherwise. This short e-book is available on internet retailers at a bonny low price and is an economical way to sample the book.

The Invisible Hook is the whole kit and kaboodle and is now available in paperback. You can further sample the book via a PDF excerpt on our web site.

“In Praise of Moderation,” an original op-ed by Aurelian Craiutu

 In Praise of Moderation

By Aurelian Craiutu

Moderates have not fared well lately in American politics. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has recently announced that she will not seek a fourth term because of the growing political partisanship in the Senate. An iconic figure of moderation in American politics, she will be remembered for having played a key role in the passing of the $787bn stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration in 2009 that was opposed by the majority of her republican colleagues on ideological grounds. In the current republican primaries, Mitt Romney has been working very hard to defend himself against accusations of being a “moderate.” This label has made him unappealing in the eyes of many Republican voters whom he has tried to sway by calling himself “a severely conservative governor.” Politicians who are running for office in the upcoming elections are strongly advised to distinguish themselves from those who practice moderation and pursue their agendas while looking to—and even drawing from—both the left and the right.

For all the strategic considerations surrounding all political campaigns, this should surprise us since political moderation is the touchstone of democracy which cannot function without compromise and bargaining. Yet moderation remains a concept that challenges our imagination and appears as a fuzzy virtue which defies universal claims and moral absolutes. Not surprisingly, we often tend to misrepresent or distort the true meanings of moderation. The latter has often been regarded as the virtue of tepid, middling, shy, timorous, indecisive, and lukewarm individuals, incapable of generating heroic acts or great stories. A few decades ago, Barry Goldwater famously proclaimed (before losing in the presidential elections of 1964): “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Our current political culture seems to have embraced again his skepticism toward moderation and, perhaps, has taken it a notch further. Among other things, the impending retirement from the Senate of six moderates (two Republicans, four Democrats) underscores the little stock many voters seem to place in this virtue. Not surprisingly, many of us find it difficult to be enthusiastic about something that seemingly lacks charisma and carries the connotation of small-mindedness, opportunism, or dullness. Instead, they are often fascinated by firm and stubborn politicians who stand uncompromisingly on principle and whose universe is a one-dimensional, black-and-white one.

As I argued in a recent book on this topic*, moderation is a difficult virtue for courageous minds, and one that cannot be studied in abstract, but only as instantiated in various historical and political contexts and discourses. In other words, there is no objective theory of moderation outside of particular situations. There is something about the nature of moderation that can only be captured through embodiment in the specific political and historical context and actors. The principles chosen by moderates have been—and will always be— inseparable from their concrete choices and decisions regarding certain actions performed in specific political, social, and historical contexts. What is moderate in one context and period may significantly differ from another. More importantly, moderation has many faces connected to each other. It is much more than a simple trait of character, a certain state of mind, or a disposition. In addition to its ethical meaning, moderation also has a distinctively political and institutional dimension, being linked to balance (and separation) of powers, social and political pluralism, and mixed government. As Montesquieu and the authors of The Federalist Papers demonstrated, political moderation rests on a bold constitutional vision based on a complex institutional architecture. As such, moderation requires great skills, strong determination, a great deal of courage, and (often) a good dose of non-conformism. That is why the majority of moderate politicians are not moral chameleons who seek personal advancement. They are “trimmers” who try to adjust the cargo and sails of the ship of state to keep it on an even keel. These adjustments may be small and unheroic, and they may not always fit the “party” line (as in the case of Senator Snowe, for example), but they often save the state from anarchy or ruin.

Although radical or extreme gestures create bold and colorful narratives which are often much more attractive than moderation, searching for the middle and the mean (as attributes of moderation) is always more difficult than making one’s journey along the margins. Moderate political action requires balancing and weighing various principles in each situation rather than merely resorting to a single set of universal principles or values. Moderation presupposes reasoning and deliberation, but it also demands intuition, foresight, and flexibility for which there is no single or simple formula. That is why moderation is a difficult and eclectic virtue which is not for all seasons and all people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would not have been successful in challenging the Soviet communist system had he adopted a more moderate approach. Sometimes, only immoderate voices like his can successfully oppose tyranny.

The recent growing partisanship in the Congress has silenced moderates on both aisles and weakened their appeal and base. Moderates’ willingness to compromise and work with the other side has put them out of step with their own parties and decreased their chances of being (re)elected in the upcoming elections. The moderate middle has become a very lonely place in American politics—and a very insecure one. Therefore, we must take a new look at this elusive and difficult virtue, one that, in Montesquieu’s words, represents the supreme virtue of the legislator. Moderation is neither a fixed ideology (party platform), nor a merely positional virtue depending on the vitality and agenda of the extremes. Defined as the antonym of fanaticism and single-mindedness, moderation is particularly relevant today. Through their actions, moderates remind us that in politics we do not have to choose between good and evil, but between what is preferable and what is detestable.

Moderates perform a vital balancing role in our society. Without moderation, John Adams once wrote, “every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” Defined as that virtue which allows us to see things in the right proportions and prevents us from resorting to hyperbole and violence, moderation blends measure, spirit, and reasonableness and makes one’s mind at once firm and flexible, full of common sense and vivacity. Moderation can be a fighting and combative virtue, and it should not be equated with indecision, shyness, and submissiveness. Moderates may sometimes benefit from partisanship and polarization insofar as the exposure to the crossfire of radicals can stimulate their imagination by encouraging them to develop original political and institutional responses to their problems. Paradoxically, like poisons taken in small dosages, various forms of extremism that act in the framework of legality can have healing effects if they trigger much-needed course corrections. By adopting the soundest attitudes and principles of all parties, moderates seek to facilitate agreements for the common good, and prevent the country from slipping into atomism, anarchy, or civil war. As members of a “party without banners,” they help preserve the fragile balance between various social forces and political interests on which pluralism, order, and freedom depend in our society.

*Aurelian Craiutu is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His most recent book is A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830 (Princeton University Press, 2012) on which this short essay is based.

Princeton in Europe Lecture

Paul Seabright gave a fascinating and typically wide ranging talk “On Lying, Risk Taking and the Euro” for our second annual Princeton University Press
in Europe lecture on 18th April.  The talk, which is open to the public, honours our European Advisory Board.  In the lecture, Seabright argued that many of the factors which led to the Euro crisis were in plain sight from its launch.  The challenge is that in many different ways we are hard wired not to notice.  We tend for example to like to tell a morality tale with good guys and bad guys; we tend not to notice slow creeping crises; and we succumb to the very human desire not to rock the boat. Drawing on a wealth of economic data and the insights of neuroscience and behavioural economics, Seabright’s analysis is both compelling – and chilling.

Please click here to watch the lecture in full. You can also read more about this topic in an article in The Guardian, prompted by the Princeton in Europe Lecture.

France and America: Richard Kuisel compares elections

As voters went to the polls for the French presidential elections, Richard Kuisel, author of The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power shared his thoughts with Election 101 on the distinct differences between election season in the US and the one in France. Read on for an interesting study in contrasts between two political cultures including treatments of key issues like the market and capitalism, immigration, as well as a marked difference in the amount of interest in candidates’ private lives and religious faith.

 


 

France and America: Comparing Elections

Richard Kuisel

 

Mitt Romney speaks French! For some voters, this French connection is a handicap.  A look at the concurrent presidential elections in the U.S. and France reveals some striking parallels, telling differences, and intriguing connections.

In both campaigns the principal issue is the incumbent president.  For many renewing mandates is the question that outweighs all other considerations.  In France large majorities say they oppose reelection.  Presidents Obama and Sarkozy have provoked determined opponents, some of whom would go to great length to limit them to one term. The far right of the Republican Party, despite reservations about Mitt Romney, would hold their nose and vote for him in order to oust Barack Obama.  Similarly, in France, the far Left, who are not enamored of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, seem willing to endorse him if need be to block Nicolas Sarkozy.  For many voters in both countries these elections are referenda on the inhabitants of the White House and the Elysée Palace and much of the energy originates in oppositional politics.  In both countries legislative elections (which in France follow in June) may not ratify the presidential vote and may thus bring divided governments.

Critics in both electorates are also motivated by a perception of national decline and blame this downward momentum on their presidents. Voters worry about a loss of international status, domestic cohesion, a sense of common purpose, and even national identity.  They ask “Are our best days behind us?”  This is an old Gallic anxiety that dates back to the Fall of France in 1940, if not earlier. For Americans this is a newer concern. The way to return the U.S to greatness according to the Tea Party movement is to remove President Obama and revive the spirit of our Founding Fathers. Sarkozy speaks of restoring traditional values like work and responsibility and his slogan is “The Strong France.”  For the Left in France the solution is to send Sarkozy into retirement and revive social democracy and civic solidarity.

Both presidential campaigns have focused on domestic rather than foreign affairs.  Candidates debate unemployment, budget deficits, and strategies for economic revival rather than  international affairs.  In the U.S. even though we are engaged in a seemingly endless war, Afghanistan is not a major issue. The war is less and less popular but the end game is depressing rather than controversial.  The principal international problem is how far the U.S. should go to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Otherwise the question is how to create jobs, reduce government debt, and remedy health care.  Among the French attention is on unemployment, the cost of living, job security, and law and order. And worry about immigration is keener in France than in the U.S. Foreign affairs are peripheral except for Europe and there debate centers on the EU’s new fiscal compact and the union’s openness to immigration.   None of these concerns, however, compete with the agenda set by the current economic and financial crises.

What is perhaps more illuminating than similarities are transatlantic differences starting with religion.  In France’s secular political culture the religious convictions of presidential candidates are irrelevant and the French are dismayed at how American politicians parade their religiosity or question the beliefs of their rivals, for example, the Mormon faith of Romney. Claiming “I am a better Christian than you” seems to enhance a candidate’s political profile here but not in France.   If one’s faith is not an issue in France, however, treatment of the Muslim community is controversial.

Private lives, like religious faith, occupy the American electorate but not the French. In the U.S. presidential candidates parade their wives and children, their records as parents, and their marital fidelity as certificates of electability.  And they undermine rivals by raising questions about such matters, e.g. Gingrich’s divorces.  Not so in France where politics do not intrude on privacy.  That François Hollande sired four children outside of marriage is not a handicap.  Sarkozy, however, has crossed this boundary with his high-profile divorce and remarriage to a former model while occupying the Elysée.  And he has made his temperament and life style a minor issue, but this is atypical of Gallic politics and a faint echo of how Americans conduct elections.

Money also distinguishes the American electoral process. Some ask whether or not the spending of Super PACS and the media have fundamentally distorted this election.  No such problem exists in the current French campaign.

All candidates in the American campaign praise the market and capitalism. Not so in France where both Sarkozy and Hollande  denounce market fundamentalism and the far Left presents an openly anti-capitalist stance.  Unlike the U.S. virtually all French candidates also agree on raising taxes, especially on the wealthy, avoid discussing spending cuts, and indict the financial sector for the crisis.

Are there any connections between the two elections?  A perceived “French connection” is a handicap in the U.S. Thus the Super Pac of Gingrich (who himself knows French) has belittled Romney for speaking French and Santorum has claimed (falsely) that France has not sided with America for the last 20 years. And labeling any Democratic initiative as the “European (French) way” is now a familiar Republican indictment. In France Obama remains popular and anti-Americanism is out of bounds except for latent reservations about Sarkozy.  In 2007 the latter had campaigned openly as a friend of the American way, the first presidential candidate in French history to do so, but he has retreated from this stance and America, including France’s reintegration into NATO in 2009, is not a serious issue.

Mercifully all this will be over by May 6 in France while Americans will have to struggle on until November.

Richard F. Kuisel holds a joint appointment at the BMW Center for German and European Studies and in the History Department at Georgetown University. His books include Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization