S HO R T NO T I C E S 315 Les Peurs de l’argent dans la France d’après 1945. By André Gueslin. Paris: Classiques Garnier. 2017. 240 pp. €32.00. ISBN 978 2 4060 6573 9. ‘l’argent qui corrompt, l’argent qui achète, l’argent qui écrase, l’argent qui tue, l’argent qui ruine, et l’argent qui pourrit jusqu’à la conscience des hommes!’—François Mitterand’s famous invective against ‘big money’ at the Congrès d’Epinay in 1971 elo- quently sums up the purview of André Gueslin’s book: to survey the many stigma- tizing representations of money that the French seem to indulge in, revealing (and reinforcing) deep-seated fears ostensibly built into the national consciousness. Gueslin approaches money as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ mediated in literature, film and political discourse. He argues that despite continued ambivalence on the subject, the French have by and large gone from fascination and reverence for money to anxiety and revul- sion. The roots of this transformation hark back to Christian and socialist demonization, but Gueslin singles out the 1970s as the decisive watershed in a process of ‘desacrali- zation’ (in)famously exemplified by Serge Gainsbourg’s burning of a 500 Franc bill on live television in 1984. As the trente glorieuses gave way to a less rosy era of mass unemployment and economic insecurity, he notes, ‘l’argent’ became synonymous with pejorative slang and verlan terms ( fric, flouze, thune, genhar, etc…), ‘unleashing’ a wave of stigmatizing caricatures. In a series of richly documented chapters, Gueslin traces the mythologies of this ‘mauvais argent’ in political speeches and popular culture, focusing on targeted institutions (banks, trusts), groups (Jews, traders, ‘the two hundred families’) and individuals (from rich bosses and tax evaders to thieves, gamblers, prostitutes and benefit cheats). The upshot is a panoramic overview of money’s pivotal role in the contemporary French imaginary. Amidst a predictable cast of villains, we find origi- nal analyses of the anxiety generated by the introduction of the RMI (Revenu mini- mum d’insertion) in 1988, as well as useful historical contextualization for recent polemics about tax heavens and exiles. Less convincing is Gueslin’s attempt to group together these different representations as manifestations of an ill-defined ‘fear’ and an oft-blinding défoulement stigmatisant. It seems at best reductive to ascribe to the same, largely irrational impulse the antisemitic scapegoating of the Rothschild family, the widespread disgust at the dérives of high finance and wealth of the so- called 1%, and the criminalization of petty theft and assistanat (while ignoring the very calculated fearmongering over public debt). Surely the emotional repertoire of an object as abundant in ‘metaphysical subtleties’ as money is more diverse and encom- passes purposeful cognitive operations as well (not to mention a whole host of ‘posi- tive’ identifications, as the author acknowledges by nodding to the enduring appeal of Arsène Lupin, the archetypal gentleman cambrioleur). Instead of latching onto the emotional, Gueslin might have sought to ground his cultural analysis in deeper social contextualization in order to explore more systematically national comparisons (barely sketched here), or the troubling parallels between Barrès’ and Mélanchon’s demonization of economic ‘parasites’ at similar times of growing inequality. Pushed further, this historisization might even explain how it can seem both totally incongru- ous and quite plausible today for a president Macron to borrow a page from Guizot and exhort his fellow-citizens to enrichissez-vous! Columbia University THOMAS DODMAN doi:10.1093/fh/cry017 Advance Access publication 27 April 2018 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fh/article-abstract/32/2/315/4989149 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 20 June 2018
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 27, 2018
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