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Bernard-Henri Lévy

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The Art of the Primary

Posted: 10/11/11 11:47 AM ET

It's more than a success. It's a tidal wave. It's even a revolution. And take heed, it's a revolution in the practice of our institutions. This primary we were all wary of, this primary of which, initially, no one understood much, in which no one believed, this open -- yes, open -- primary we outlined the principle of and the need for in an appeal in Libération in late August, 2009, after Terra Nova, has been won. It has become an imperative, and from now on it will be hard to imagine a presidential election without it. It's actually an institutional revolution. A democratic invention. A lovely, republican moment.

The Left americanizing itself? Yes, my friends. The Socialist Party was a party of militants -- it has become a party of the masses. It was suffocating with its two hundred thousand members -- now it breathes with its two and a half million voters. It was a dying apparatus, a great body, sick and suffering from the other "Stone Man Syndrome" August Bebel diagnosed in German social democracy a century ago. It was this "great cadaver that has fallen over backwards" that Sartre mocked in his preface to "Aden, Arabie". In surpassing itself, in breaking through its own boundaries, by making the sparks fly at its moth-eaten and scheme-ridden headquarters, by opening up, it has transformed itself into a forum of sensibilities and ideas, a great stage that resembles the democratic entity that produced an Obama more than the inner sanctum of elephants in the throes of birth at Rheims or Epinay. A revolution, again. An entrance into the 21st century. At last.

The good news is Martine Aubry. Upright. Courageous. On the offense without being aggressive. Pugnacious, but no demagogue. And making liars of all those -- and they were legion -- who saw her as already wiped off the slate, buried beneath the poll results, Merkelized. A woman as President of the Republic? The end, at last, of Salic law? Let's dream.

The bad news is Ségolène Royal. The other woman. The previous woman. The one who would be queen and that, not long ago, I so ardently supported. Political passion can be the most beautiful of passions. But because it is expressed in public and calls upon the public to arbitrate, it can also be the cruelest, the most fateful. Ségolène's tears. This unction that is withdrawn, much as the blood draining from a face. A death, broadcast live? Vanished grace? Or a future icon?

The other subject of sadness is, of course, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This strange beard he sports, entering the voting polls at Sarcelles. This half-pay version of himself, he who, for those who believed him and still believe, was by far the best of them, was a shadow upon the brilliance of the day. But how many of us remembered that? How many remain inconsolable, thinking of this unequalled, record Freudian slip? And isn't one of the paradoxes of the moment the lightning speed with which the Moloch of popular opinion swallowed, digested, and promptly forgot the "DKS affair" which, in the final analysis, would have no effect? Democracy comes out on top. But not the spirit of justice.

The crown of dignity goes to Manuel Valls, who immediately, without prevarication or self-interest, gave his recommendations for the second round. The real taste of the primary. The air of a revolution in the making.

The worrying subject is Montebourg. I know him. I like his honesty, his looks, and also, his indefatigable energy. But what will he do with his victory? Where will he go? And what will his political destiny be? He can still be one of the renovators of the Left. But he can also become another Chevènement. An urbane José Bové. The man of made-over, recycled sovereignism, none the less tragically populist and regressive as the old one. I can imagine him in 2017. He is, in the midst of the euro crisis or what's left of it, confronted with a new Angela Merkel. How would he say "deglobalization" in German?

Hollande, always his old self, with his Andy Garcia-like physique and his Mitterrandesque gestures (at rallies, in the midst of applause, this way of pushing away the mike with the back of his hand with the feigned impatience so typical of the late Mitterrand). Carried along by the event, Hollande. Worthy. Good form. Nothing to say about him.

The problem now is that of the hand-to-hand combat of the second round and the scars it might leave. I have a suggestion. It's a very simple suggestion, but one that would allow our primary à la française to really enrich the process with a heretofore unheard-of dimension. Today, before the fraternal but possibly fratricidal debate begins, why don't the two finalists, with one voice, make the following joint declaration. Next Sunday, one of us will win. He or she will perhaps move into the Elysee Palace in seven months. Well, in the event of a victory in May 2012, the winner commits himself or herself today to proposing that today's loser become his or her Prime Minister, first collaborator, electoral lieutenant -- the name matters little, all that counts is the gesture that would jam the machine of discord. The art of murderous skirmishes would suffer. But the Left and France would be all the better for it.