The Sarkozy Phenomenon by Nick Hewlett

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The Sarkozy Phenomenon by Nick Hewlett

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A scholarly look at Nicholas Sarkozy which is interesting and thought-provoking but perhaps not for the general reader.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Imprint Academic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1845402396

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The old saying is that 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' and whether or not it's the electorate's ability to pick the man or whether he was only seen as the right man in retrospect is a moot point. There are, though, some surprising people at the head of European countries at the moment – with Silvio Berlusconi and Nicholas Sarkozy at the head of my personal list. My last attempt to find out more about Sarkozy proved to be too light-weight for my tastes, but this time I've gone to the opposite end of the scale with a book from Nick Hewlett, Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick and published by Imprint Academic. I mention those points because there is no attempt to present this as populist writing: it's scholarly from beginning to end.

Hewlett's argument is that Sarkozy is Bonapartist in nature and he traces a line through Napoleon I, Napoleon III, Petain and de Gaulle, with the common factors being the promise of a complete change with what has gone before from a man who is to a great extent an outsider who takes centre stage for a limited period of time to bring about the changes which are necessary. Hewlett's arguments in favour of the premise are compelling. Despite the fact that this is an academic text the arguments are clearly stated and it will be possible to appreciate the reasoning even if you have only a limited grasp of French history or current-day politics. I found his explanations of the different political factions and their interactions particularly clear and was comfortable about where to place Sarkozy on the political spectrum for probably the first time.

I was less convinced by the way in which the points against his argument were dealt with. He accepts that there is no perfect Bonapartist. I'm more than happy to accept that Sarkozy was prepared to say the unsayable prior to the 2007 Presidential elections but the implementation of his proposals has had something of a scatter-gun approach without much evidence of an overall plan. It's also difficult to accept that Sarkozy was an outsider. His name and pedigree –and rather colourful private life – might lend weight to the argument but Hewlett himself details Sarkozy's extensive political experience. As there's no perfect Bonapartist I found myself tempted to look for examples outside France and it wasn't long before I had quite a long list of western leaders who exhibited at least some of the characteristics of Bonapartism.

I'm aware that I'm quibbling. I found everything Hewlett had to say interesting and thought-provoking and remarkably readable considering that it's an academic text. I suspect that it would have carried more weight had it been written post-Sarkozy's presidency but I count the time I spent reading the book as time well-spent. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a look at a similar period in the UK, albeit written by a journalist rather than an academic, we think that you might enjoy The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley.

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