The think tanks lodge themselves in the heart of the state

The think tanks lodge themselves in the heart of the state

Expert networks try to paralyse all and any resistance to neo-liberal dogma

by Dostena Anguelova* and Roland Gori**, France

“Technology is now our destiny in no other sense than what Napoleon claimed politics to be 150 years ago, and what Marx claimed the economy to be 100 years ago.”1

The establishment of a scientific advisory body for the national education ministry [“Education nationale”] by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has created a certain legitimate unrest, which has also been taken up by the press. We now have a minister who perfectly implements the prescriptive terms of the presidential expression “as well as” or “at the same time” [“en même temps”]2.
On the one hand, he sings the praises of humanism and refers to the Montessori method, which focuses on the “self-education” of the pupil, and at the same time – or precisely “as well” – Minister Blanquer sets up a team of scientific advisors, as the head of which he appoints Stanislas Dehaene, a well-known professor of cognitive and experimental psychology at the prestigious “Collège de France”, supported by a selection of self-confessed positivists.
These “experts” will use “randomised” protocols and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to supervise and control the pedagogical practice of the “million employees”3, as Stanislas Dehaene calls them, to the best of their ability. Nothing will be left to chance, to contingencies or the unforeseen. The rule of “measuring”4 and “efficiency” will guide the steps of the “student machine” and of the “employees” responsible for “learning”.
Educational occupations will thus be measured and efficient, their actions rationalised, dissected, organised and fixed, in short taylorised, by the policy-makers; like many other professions before them.5 The “experts” will provide the necessary practical manuals. Finally, the student will come to be crowned as a perfect cognitive and neural machine, created for spelling and arithmetic. International tests and other rankings will attest to this. All of this will not prevent propagandistic humanism rhetoric and mystical appeals to the nation as part of the policy.
A nation in the form of a start-up firm, here and elsewhere6 imposing horribly alienating social behaviours, wedged between the extremes of economisation and scientism [extreme scientific belief]. These new control mechanisms that affect our way of life are no isolated phenomena. They are already part of our European civilisation, which is becoming ever more normatised according to American standards.

The emergence of think tanks

In the ecological niche of this culture, think tanks are emerging: private competence centres employing top graduates and pretending to represent civil society vis-à-vis the state. In this symbolic revolution (Pierre Bourdieu), the “experts” inclined towards neoliberalism supply recipes for good “governance” said to be capable of enlightening the public opinion in liberal democracies or those on their way there.7
In the course of this “democratic transition”, these “independent” and “objective” think tanks have the task of driving any nostalgia for socialist or sovereignist ideas out of the mind of the populations of these liberal democracies – or of those on their way to “liberalisation”. Obviously, it must be said once and for all and repeated ad nauseam that there is no other alternative than neo-liberalism, with which even the “left-wing parties” of social democracy have fallen in line. It’s been put to the test!
The “clans” of the “extreme center”, trained in the networks of American “soft power”, can now realise their dream in President Macron’s party. Indeed, the “great coordinator” of the presidential programme was Jean Pisani-Ferry – the founder and former director of the very influential European think tank Bruegel [“Brussels European and Global Economic Laboratory”]. Claude Bébéar, the founder of a right-liberal think tank – the Institut Montaigne – [as well as the founder and longtime director of AXA insurance, TN] first publicly announced who he would vote for in the newspaper “Les Echos” (April 2017): Emmanuel Macron is the only and best solution for France!
Laurent Bigorgne, director of the Institut Montaigne, also worked on the future president’s programme, namely in the field of education, from where comes also the current Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, one of his longtime companions within the Montaigne Institute.

Control mechanisms and standardisation at the core of the state

Think tanks as new lobbies are draining the traditional institutional framework of republican democracy of its meaning. At the core of the state, they set up control and standardisation mechanisms that meet the demands of the economy and the ideas of neoliberalism.
This symbolic revolution, carried out in the name of humanism, human rights, modernisation, the democratic transition (in the countries of the East) or even the “new economy of knowledge”, is supposed to help the people to survive in the fierce competition of the world market.
Thus, the reform of schools and universities in Europe (Bologna process) was initiated behind the scenes by experts stemming from the think tanks and the French “Centres d’études avancées”. These were founded in Europe according to the model of the famous Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS). The CASBS was founded in 1954 by the industrial magnet Ford, and empitomises its sponsor’s idea that social sciences would have to contribute to the control of society. For this they should approach the “natural sciences, be more experimental in their empirical orientation and more formal in their theoretical orientation”.
Above all, the networks of these experts had to fight off the philosophically and historically oriented European tradition. They promote their depoliticisation and thus guarantee the unequivocal axiomatic neutrality of the scientific discourse in order to reduce it to a simple technique. This is a sort of neutrality that the great historian Johann Gustav Droysen called “eunuch neutrality”.
The big servants of the State leave their place to a reformist and “progessist” expert elite in the service of the dehumanising system of industrial and financial capitalism. This amalgamation of the public and the private obstructs the formation of the prerequisites for the liberation of politics. This even extends to the economic and social help for the poorest. Under the influence of the “social impact bonds”, they transform the spirit of national solidarity into a lucrative investment.8
It is unclear whether society is still capable of reacting or whether the “shadow elite” of the think tank experts has already succeeded in neutralising any kind of intellectual resistance. Presently the left-right opposition is engaged in a deaf-mute dialogue on two different views of the world: a kind of transhumanist metaphysics of a cyber-future (robot-man being ruled by experts) on the one hand, and on the other a politically still poorly articulated desire for freedom and brotherhood, for which “the plurality of men is the law of the earth”. (Hannah Arendt).     •

*    Dostena Anguelova is a lecturer in political anthropology at the University of Strasbourg. Recently published works: “Les Experts de la tradition”, 2010, Iztok Zapad; “Think tanks: imposteurs de la démocratie”, CS editions Paris, coll. Exote, 2018 (in press).
**    Roland Gori is a psychoanalyst, honorary professor of clinical psychopathology at the University of Aix-Marseille and president of the association “L’Appel des Appels”.
    Recently published works: “La Dignité de penser”, Paris, LLL, 2011; “La Fabrique des imposteurs”, Paris, LLL, 2013, “Faut-il renoncer à la liberte pour être heureux?” Paris, LLL, 2014; “L’Individu ingouvernable”, Paris, LLL, 2015; “Un monde sans esprit. La Fabrique des terrorismes”, Paris, LLL, 2017.

1    Anders, Günter. Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. Bd.1, Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution. (The antiquity of man. Vol. 1, On the Soul in the Age of the Second Industrial Revolution.) Munich 1987, p. 7
2    Gori, Roland. “’En même temps’, ou le grand écart du nouveau président”, (At the same time, or the difficult choice of the new president) Libération, 23 July 2017; «De quoi ‘En même temps’ est-le le symptôme» (Of which ‘en même temps’ is it the symptom), Le Media, 30 janvier 2018
3    Dehaene, Stanislas. L’invité-actu par Caroline Broué, France Culture, le 13 janvier 2018
4    Dehaene, Stanislas. France Culture, ibid.
5    Gori, Roland. “Dans le monde du travail, le spectre de Taylor rôde encore” (Taylor’s spectre is still prowling in the working world), Libération, 10 May 2016
6    We shall refer for instance to the transformation of social and education-oriented work as a result of the social impact bonds.
7    Anguelova, Dostena. Les Experts de la tradition (The experts of tradition), 2010, Iztok Zapad, Sofia; Dostena Anguelova, Think tanks: imposteurs de la démocratie (Think tanks: impostors of democracy), CS éditions Paris, coll. Exote, 2018
8    The “contrats à impact social” are an English invention called “social impact bonds”, they go back to the “obligation Peterborough”, by which a group of 2,000 prisoners were to be integrated into working life and their recidivism rate was to be reduced by 7.5%. The experiment was to be privately funded, and if successful, the costs were to be reimbursed by the state.
    Alix, Jean-Sébastien; Coutinet, Michel Nathalie et Garrigue, Gabrielle. “Les contrats à impact social: une menace pour la solidarité?” (“Social impact bonds, a threat to solidarity?”), la vie des idé, 16 January 2018

Source: <link https: articles les-think-tanks-sinstallent-au-coeur-de-letat-38308> from 4 February 18

(Translation Current Concerns)

Strengthening human education and community
 or consolidating power strategies and neoliberal economy?

jpv/rmh. Since taking office, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of Education of Emmanuel Macron’s French Government, has already announced some changes to the French school system which run counter to the “reforms” of his socialist predecessor Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (2014–2017). According to Blanquer, French schoolchildren will increasingly learn the basic cultural techniques of reading, writing and arithmetic. The elementary school reintroduces dictation, grammar, fables of La Fontaine, singing, Latin lessons and bilingual classes. Furthermore, the introduction of school uniforms and mobile phone ban are under discussion. Names such as Montaigne and Montessori, terms such as humanism and nation are constants in the minister’s statements. In the Paris Ministry, he even named a room after Albert Camus‘ primary school teacher: Louis Germain. Some of the educationally devoted teaching staff, who are very critical towards the previous government‘s school reforms, expect a lot of positive things for the teaching of their pupils from these plans of their new Minister of Education.

However, Jean-Michel Blanquer, like President Macron, is close to France‘s largest listed companies (CAC 40). His aim is to bring schools closer to the companies. Among other things, he is committed to ensure that representatives of the large companies have a seat in the administrative bodies of vocational secondary schools and that to a large extend schools are led autonomously, like companies by a boss who can choose his own employees and thus determine the school profile.

Blanquer’s book “L‘école de demain” (The School of Tomorrow)*, published in 2016, reads like a government program prepared for (future) President Macron, drafted by the neoliberal think tank “Institut Montaigne” The school system should be based on three pillars: that of experience, international comparison and science.

The field of science plays a major role: Digital revolution and cognitive sciences were crucial for maximum efficiency of teaching and with its enormous potential they could help the human brain to achieve optimal performance. Nowhere mentioned is the importance of the teacher/student relationship for the learning success.

OECD guidelines, PISA evaluations, Bologna system are further important reference points. Neurosciences, skills, autonomy, innovation, experimentation and evaluation are central keywords.

The structure of the book “L‘école de demain” (The School of Tomorrow) is systematic and treats the individual school types according to three criteria: What does the experience teach? What does the international comparison say? What does science say? – What follows is: What to do? Key measures follow for each school type. The school system and the teacher‘s career are then analysed according to the same criteria.
In the “Ecole Maternelle”, the basic level for 3- to 6-year-old children, tests should be used as early as possible in order to find out the weaknesses and strengths of the children in order to provide an “outstanding” career to the especially talented with future prospects.

Critical contemporaries and dedicated educators working in the teaching profession are now wondering how much the educational and scholarly positions of Macron’s new Minister of Education are worth. What are the goals pursued by the “as well as“ strategy?

*Jean-Michel Blanquer, “L‘école de demain. Propositions pour une éducation nationale rénovée.” (The School of Tomorrow. Propositions for a renewed national education) Paris 2016

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