On Tuesday 17th May, 2016, Mardis de l'ESSEC met with Jack Lang, former Minister for National Education, former Minister for Cultural Affairs under François Mitterand, and current President of the Institut du monde arabe. Report by student Eugénie Bapst.
Calm and cheerful, Jack Lang looks much like an old sage who is above the trivial nature of pressing aspirations – in other words, he no longer needs to keep close tabs on his ministerial portfolio… And yet, he hasn’t retired, and will cry out a resounding “Never!” if one were to suggest it. Keeping a watchful eye on French politics, he willingly shares his own opinions, deploring the current lack of young blood and drive among today’s politicians, from both sides of the spectrum - which is unfortunate, considering that politics are meant to shape lives. He appears to have ambitions not only for himself but also for others, for France. General de Gaulle isn’t the only one to have a “certain idea of France”, inspired as much by heart as by reason.
Jack Lang is somewhat nostalgic for the bygone era of the massive public works carried out by François Mitterand, a man Lang speaks of with pride. Like Achilles and Patroclus, Balius and Xanthus, Castor and Polux, “nothing could have stopped us!”. Politicians often lambasted for their track record, Jack Lang however, has a string of accolades to his name: the Fête de la musique; increased importance of the arts in secondary education; the Journées du patrimoine. He was minister at a time of plenty, where more money was given to the arts with each passing year – a golden era. For Lang, it was so much about notching up successes as it was about carving out a place for the arts in French society; Art is not just “a mere trinket of fleeting importance”, as Nietzsche would scathingly say, it is the beating heart of a people. Today, the arts appear to be going through a rather tough patch, yet Jack Lang remains quite reserved when it comes to laying the blame on past or present culture Ministers. While he is no longer in charge of a ministerial portfolio, he remains cautiously protective of his own affairs.
When talking about education, Lang sees real verve and vigour to which he holds so closely. He freely uses the word “exigence” (demanding) tying it to the notion of excellence – though it may seem perfectly sound, many current politicians forget to draw parallels between the two when talking publicly about education. A staunch believer in selective boarding schools, in classes préparatoires, and in more fine arts in schools, he is against all those who would have education become a level playing field more than necessary.
In short, Jack Lang believes that lifting up French society – be it through education or culture – does not imply seeking out the lowest common denominator: “aim high if you want to go far”. Those were wise last words for a high-brow debate.