Arthur Goldhammer

Arthur Goldhammer is a writer, translator, and Affiliate of the Center for European Studies at Harvard. He blogs at French Politics. Follow him on Twitter: @artgoldhammer.

Recent Articles

The Black Condition and the American Condition

Raoul Peck’s masterful film about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, reminds us that we are not free to choose the condition of our existence—a useful reminder at a time when the president insists that fear of the alien is the defining characteristic of the American condition.

AP Photo/Dave Pickoff
To watch Raoul Peck’s magisterial I Am Not Your Negro in these early weeks of the Trump presidency is a bracing experience. I confess I had not thought a great deal about James Baldwin’s work in the half century since I first read him at the height of the civil rights movement. His words were powerful, to be sure, but they seemed then to emanate from a generation earlier than mine. In the mid-1960s his was still a powerful and eloquent voice, but also a forlorn one. The people to whose anguish and alienation and anger he had given distinguished literary form had found a more immediate and visceral mode of expression. The “Negroes” of whom Baldwin spoke had become “blacks” and taken to the streets. Their collective clamor made it difficult to hear the deeper notes that Baldwin was attempting to strike. There would be progress, he granted. Rights would be extended. The “place” of the Negro in white society would change, because it was...

The French Disconnection

French voters have definitively “disconnected” themselves from the past but haven’t yet settled on a future.

Irina Kalashnikova/Sputnik via AP
It is nearly 50 years since I first set foot in France, and I have been returning to the country regularly ever since. The sights and sounds of Paris still exhilarate me: the purposeful clackety-clack of the low-heeled boots of long-legged women hastening toward the “mouth” of the Metro; the clatter of china and hiss of the espresso machine mingled with the laughter and chatter of a busy café; the fragrance of a truffade simmering in a parabola of cantal and crème fraîche on the rue Mouffetard; the joy of small children, cartables strapped to their backs, running down a cobblestone street as fast as their little legs will carry them to rejoin their classmates in the school courtyard before the raucous bell signals the start of the day. Just down the same street is a plaque indicating the place where Hemingway partook of the movable feast, a short walk from where, centuries earlier, Descartes pondered the cogito and around the corner from where Val...

France Chooses a New President

The 2017 presidential race in France has already produced one major upset and may yet see several others before a new president is chosen in May. Whatever happens, the Fifth Republic is no longer the regime Charles de Gaulle conceived in his own image nearly 60 years ago. Nor is the Socialist Party the force that François Mitterrand conceived in his own image a decade and a half later. The end of an era has arrived.

AP Photo/Francois Mori
France is in the throes of choosing a new president. The race, though short and cheap by American standards, has become more American in recent years. For the first time ever, both major parties will choose their candidates by primary. The mainstream center-right Republican Party has already had its primary, and the upset winner was François Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister who races cars for a hobby but could pass for an undertaker or a parson. He surprised everyone by handily defeating the favorite Alain Juppé, another former prime minister, as well as former President Nicolas Sarkozy, in November of last year. Now it’s the turn of the center-left Socialists. Unlike the Republicans, the Socialists have taken the primary route before, in 2007 and 2012. But this time their primary was conceived as an anointment: It was intended to launch the triumphant re-election campaign of a sitting president, François Hollande. Fate dictated otherwise...


Can Donald Trump govern the United States as he presided over The Apprentice? The president-elect brings his genius for cruelty and delight in humiliating competitors to the White House.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
American interregnums are often peculiar times, but none has ever been more peculiar than this one. As autumn subsides into winter, much of the country lies in the grip of a paralyzing chill. Democracy is under threat as never before. Each day brings a fresh report of a high-level nomination by the president-elect, and each new nomination strengthens the impression that Mr. Trump is determined to create a kakistocracy , a government of the worst. Trump has yet to be sworn in, yet a train of fawning nominees, CEOs, and financiers are vying for the boss’s ear and eye as though auditioning for The Apprentice . And the boss himself seems unable to tell the difference between the low-brow entertainment he used to peddle and the high-stakes arena in which he is now competing. Upon being elected president of the United States, an ordinary mortal might declare himself humbled by the magnitude of the job and eager to tap any source of wisdom available to him, but Mr. Trump, having...

Will Marine Le Pen Become France’s Next President?

Next spring’s French presidential contest is shaping up as a battle between the right and the far right. Will a majority coalesce around the right-wing candidate to keep the far right out of power as in 2002? Will a viable challenger emerge on the left? Don’t bet on it. The world has changed, and so has the Front National.

AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Yesterday, François Fillon won the primary of the French Republican Party (Les Républicains, known as LR). As I predicted last week, Fillon handily eliminated his lone remaining rival, Alain Juppé, by a margin of 2-1. How does this stunning victory affect the handicapping of next spring’s presidential election? The short—and perhaps surprising—answer is that it makes the election of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen more likely. I will explain why in a moment. But first a word about Fillon. He served as France’s prime minister throughout all five years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency. The two men could hardly be more different in style. Brash, flashy, and in-your-face, Sarkozy wears a watch worth tens of thousands of dollars, a gift from his supermodel wife (the third of a trio). He cusses out hecklers and threatens to cleanse neighborhoods by scouring away delinquent “scum” with a sandblaster. Fillon, by contrast,...