France's New Government and the Ecology of Cécile Duflot

04/08/2014 05:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2014

France's écolos (Greens) bug me.

First, there is in the environmentalism of the EELV (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) an ideological concentrate of puritanism, naturalism, and organicism that has always made me deeply suspicious.

Second, there is the Malthusian impulse that unfailingly surfaces whenever one begins, in the manner of the proponents of deep ecology, to flirt with the idea that every new person who comes into this world is a threat to our finite stock of resources.

And then there is the idea of the "reconciliation of man and his environment," which, beneath its surface of obviousness and good sense, can so easily come into conflict, if one isn't careful, with the most precious legacies of western humanism. As one of the greatest philosophers of the last century asked, is not man a serf in his roots but free through his flowers? Is he not enslaved by what chains him to his place of birth and emancipated to the precise extent that he says no to that which binds him?

And I am not even referring here to that infantile disorder (to paraphrase Lenin) that is garden-variety leftism, an example of which we witnessed just a few weeks ago when Cécile Duflot, as minister of housing in the since-replaced government of Jean-Marc Ayrault, had the audacity to say that she was "of one mind" -- and "even more so" -- with the demonstrators who had just protested in Nantes against the planned airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, protests that were taken over by rioters who trashed the center city.

With the municipal elections that ended on March 30, a new chapter has opened in the five-year term of François Hollande.

And with admirable speed, the president has responded to the rebuke that voters delivered.

He appointed a prime minister, Manuel Valls, who, though he may appear disguised as Matteo Renzi, could turn out to be one of the last disciples of Pierre Mendès-France.

Hollande charged Mr. Valls with carrying out the painful reforms that we all know are our last chance of avoiding the precipice. The majority has closed ranks.

The most responsible factions of the opposition will wait and see, but, as is appropriate in a republic, they are wishing Mr. Valls luck.

But here we have Mrs. Duflot who, having been offered the broad Ministry of Ecology, which includes the energy portfolio, and therefore finding herself, one would think, in an ideal position to implement the most reasonable parts of her agenda, hesitates, prevaricates, and, at the conclusion of a farce suggestive of the worst hours of France's Fourth Republic, ends up committing what even her comrade Daniel Cohn-Bendit calls a political mistake: launching an attack on the new prime minister; favoring petty calculations over the general interest; and, between France and her short- and medium term electoral interests, choosing the latter.

This admixture of doctrinal rigidity and facile maneuvering is not new in the history of left-wing politics.

The pose of erecting a façade of unwillingness to compromise on values and principles while at the same time thinking of little but petty deals to ensure the perpetuation of the party's and one's own power has a name in the history of what used to be called the workers' movement in France.

That name is Molletism (molletisme).

The two-faced willingness to display an exaggerated devotion to the articles of the true faith and then, when convenient, to engage in the most opaque compromises is the spitting image of the double game played for 20 years by the head of the SFIO (the French section of the Workers' International) as Guy Mollet swore never to yield on the principles of the class struggle or the dictatorship of the proletariat while also seeking special powers to pacify Algeria with flamethrowers.

It has been said that Mrs. Duflot, in choosing to leave the government and to lend her support case by case, is returning to the old communist practice known as support without participation. Wrong! What she is reinventing is Molletism -- the same cross of implacable ideological maximalism and detestable political opportunism. The same taste for double language and dual control: the cost-free rhetoric of an ideologue who doesn't make concessions, accompanied and always trumped without scruple or honor by squalid tactics in which the first people duped are, of course, the true believers.

Cécile Duflot is the Guy Mollet of the present day.

With her manner of swearing, one hand over her heart, never, but never, to sacrifice the higher interests of environmentalism, while, with the other hand, pulling the strings of a petty political policy that puts her in opposition to Manuel Valls and now Ségolène Royal, the new minister of ecology, Mrs. Duflot, is the reincarnation of the man who abides in memory as the symbol of the worst betrayals of the left.

Mrs. Duflot, who presents herself as the guardian of the loftiest questions facing the human race, who supposedly thinks only of the immense challenges that, because they affect us one and all, should occupy a heavenly space of pure ideas, has her feet planted in the same mud in which the most cynically political leftists of the past century waded.

For these reasons it may be time for sincere adherents of the environmental cause -- for those who truly believe (and they may not be in the majority) that we must not allow the planet to continue to come undone but must, instead, repair it -- to ask themselves a very serious question: "Isn't the environment too important to be left to Mrs. Duflot and her ilk?"

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy