Politics, the art of compromise

Politics, the art of compromise

On the evening of the second round of legislative electionsto a journalist asking him what compromise was possible to find a majority, a brand new elected representative of the Nudes snapped back: “No, no compromise! » This unconscious shift in vocabulary from “compromise” to “compromise” characterizes our French political culture. In this, moreover, with regard to the parliamentary regimes of our European neighbors and to what is experienced every day in Brussels, France is an exception.

We should recommend that our politicians read – or re-read – a little classic, a gem for anyone who wants to learn the art of compromise. Saint-Germain or Negotiation, by the Belgian Francis Walder, Prix Goncourt in 1958, where the author, himself a diplomat, describes in a captivating manner the negotiations between Huguenots and Catholics which led to the peace of Saint-Germain, in 1570. A meticulous historical reconstruction, this book stages Henri de Malassé for Catholics, Monsieur d’Ublé for Protestants. It depicts how both must abandon their certainties, enter into the logic of the adversary, sometimes accept losing.

“Truth is not the opposite of lying, betraying is not the opposite of serving, hating is not the opposite of loving, trust is not the opposite of distrust, nor righteousness of falsehood”, says Malassaise. In other words, the world is not black and white, and if Huguenots and Catholics wish to manage to live together and sign a peace, they must sacrifice a certain number of their principles. From these historical negotiations, the author thus draws a deeply ethical reflection on the limits and the choices to be made in order to achieve an objective in keeping with the good of the greatest number.

It may be objected that we are not on the brink of civil war, as was the case in 1570. Or even… Be that as it may, Monsieur d’Ublé like Henri de Malassé did not seek to find an agreement on the background between Protestants and Catholics. It is not a question here of resolving the conflict, but of making this conflict sustainable… The possibility of compromise thus passes through the recognition of the other, in his difference of culture, memory, religion. It involves formulating disagreements. The compromise can be lame, imperfect, incomplete. It allows “just” not to self-destruct.

Where some of our politicians see it as cowardice, Paul Ricoeur showed on the contrary how compromise was first and foremost an act of courage. Courage to give up, to sometimes go against one’s side, in the name of a greater common good. Courage also not to rely on a third party to resolve the conflict but to take one’s own responsibilities. Finally, courage to accept otherness, because it is always easier to claim to have the truth all by yourself by setting “non-negotiable principles” which exclude all those who do not think like us.

The aspiration to unity marks our French culture for better or for worse, a legacy of both the Catholicism of the Ancien Régime and the Jacobin ideal of the French Revolution. It disposes us neither to nuance nor to dialogue. In these times of crisis, we need more than ever places of ” translation “, as Ricœur called them, these intermediary bodies such as churches, associations, unions, to draw a horizon of shared expectation and facilitate peaceful debate. To prevent radicalism from winning. Because compromises are inherently fragile. A few years after the peace of Saint-Germain, the night of Saint-Barthélemy broke out in 1572.


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