Political books: why writing in the 2.0 era?
Writing a book is a tradition firmly established in the French political life as illustrated by the Memoires written by the General de Gaulle, the Noeud gordien written by Georges Pompidou or the Coup d’Etat permanent written by François Mitterrand, followed by numerous other books. One might believe that in an era of social networks, in the age of lack of concern for politics and political leaders, this tradition would disappear. Today, the 140 characters messages convey in real time to thousands of followers, messages, moods, position statements of politicians from all political sides.
However, the tradition carries on. Indeed, here is the (non exhaustive) enumeration of the last publications from both right wing and left: Le moment est venu de dire ce que j’ai vu (Albin Michel) written by Philippe de Villiers, Alain Juppé with Mes chemins pour l’école and Pour un Etat fort, (JC Lattès). François Fillon with Faire, (Albin Michel). Nicolas Sarkozy with La France pour la vie (Plon), Jean-François Copé with Le sursaut français (Stock), Bruno Le Maire with Ne vous résignez pas ! (Albin Michel)… From the other side of the political chessboard, Christiane Taubira with Murmures à la jeunesse (Philippe Rey), Michel Sapin with L’écume et l’océan : chronique d’un ministre du travail par gros temps (Flammarion), Cécile Duflot with De l’intérieur: Voyage au pays de la désillusion (Fayard) …And others are expected soon.
These books have had varying levels of success. However, the stake of publishing that type of book is not to make a best-seller or to get into the Academy. The goal is not even to be read: talking about it is sufficient. The book becomes a tool for a self-communication strategy.
This strategy is based on the perception we have, particularly in France, regarding writers and writings. “I write, therefore I am”. Or rather, I am writing because I have something to say, something important that I have to tell you about. A book is also a means for a politician to demonstrate its public credibility in relation to its colleagues and rivals as well as the media and general public. In an era of zapping, books help to develop its thinking and bring coherence while the media leap from one extreme to the other depending on the news. Therefore, a book is a must, whether to present a programme, make its voice heard or analyze how our society and institutions are working. It is a proof of credibility and seriousness. It helps consolidating a status.
It’s also a means for the author to tell his side of the story and to convey an image of transparency and authenticity. A book allows to communicate differently with general public, playing the game of introspection or even assumed mea culpa like Rousseau in his Confessions: “Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked”. Nicolas Sarkozy therefore declared in La France pour la vie: “Perhaps people might see in this exercise of writing a requirement for authenticity in order to restore confidence. Impossible mission? Perhaps. But at least I will have exposed myself personally and I will have tried… I want to talk to you”.
As a proof of honesty, a book allows to reveal one’s personality, to show a truth far away from what we see in the media: “At first, when I was reading articles about my antipathy, it used to make me sad. Now, it makes me smile because I know what I feel, what I get, what I give”. (A. Juppé, Pour un Etat fort)
Publishing a book necessarily takes place in a specific tempo, both political and mediatic. For instance, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet chose to announce her candidature for the party primary election on International Women’s Day, the same day her book was released. Behind every reader is a potential elector who has to be convinced and seduced. Hence the importance of timing, and even playing with the element of surprise like La France pour la vie, the publication of which had been orchestrated in order to prevent any leak until its publication.
Editors banners, best citations on Twitter, good critics in the media that matches the author positioning (Le Figaro for François Fillon for example), then an appearance on selected TV shows – JF. Copé in Le Divan with Fogiel, N. Sarkozy in Des paroles et des actes-, these are, for the author, all means of promoting the book and communicating his main messages.
A means to exist or being invited to Ruquier TV Show and posting content on Twitter, a book also allows, above all, to set the terms of the debate and, therefore, to lead it. It is the reader’s responsibility, especially if it’s a journalist, to look beyond what is written in the book to focus – and that is the most important -, on what it does NOT say!