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From Lenin To Macron, The Limits Of Pedagogy In Politics

It's tempting to imagine that if our leaders were better teachers, consensus would ensue. But what works in the classroom doesn't necessarily apply to politics.

French President Macron in a classroom last September
French President Macron in a classroom last September
Roger-Pol Droit

-OpEd-

PARIS — It's a sentence that any observer of French politics has heard: We need "pedagogy." The same instruction is repeated president after president, from minister to minister. It seems obvious, at first glance. To clearly spell out policy goals, to explain why and how the measures are taken, and to insist on their benefits and relevance is really the least politicians can do.

That, after all, is the only way to ensure success. Or so we're told. Because after each failure, the fiasco is always attributed to a "lack of pedagogy." If it's not working, it's because we haven't been able to explain it well enough!

In reality, though, such statements are based on a profound misunderstanding about the nature of pedagogy, on the one hand, and of politics in a democracy, on the other. The pedagogue is an essential figure, but a necessarily modest one. His or her role is to steer people toward knowledge, not produce it. The pedagogue leads, provides access, facilitates the way to what already exists. The name itself doesn't mean anything else. The word pedagogue originally refers to the person who transports (agôgeïn, in ancient Greek) children (païdoï) to school. The pedagogue accompanies, nothing more.

After each failure, the fiasco is always attributed to a "lack of pedagogy."

It is a humble but crucial role for all those who are children (with respect to knowledge), meaning, at some point or other, all of us. It opens the door to scientific truths and established disciplines, introduces us to methods and gives us the first keys. The pedagogue makes us discover literary, aesthetic or conceptual heritage and knows how to make it loved. This is of the utmost importance.

But it has nothing to do with the "pedagogy" politicians keep harping on about. Because there are no children in the Republic, only citizens. A well-explained policy can always be refused. Measures that are perfectly explained and argued can lead to persistent disagreement. Everyone will agree that it's desirable to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretation. But in politics, no pedagogy, no matter how well-executed, can overcome opposition and tensions. Because these are inherent to the plurality of projects and their competition. Hoping to win by dint of pedagogy is, therefore, a mirage.​

French President Emmanuel Macron has launched a nationwide "grand dé​bat" in response to the ongoing yellow vests protests. But while advertised as an opportunity for the government to hear what, Libération daily reported last week that some see the risk that the public meetings will turn into another attempt at "governmental pedagogy.")

Lenin's mistake

At the root of this illusion, a very common but damaging one, is a confusion between political and mathematical truths. It's wrong to think of them as analogous. It's assumed that, just like scientific truths, political truths — well explained, well set out — simply cannot fail to convince universally. It's this confusion that made Lenin say: "The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true."

pedagogy_france_education_politics

Luxemburg speaking to a crowd in 1907 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Following in his footsteps, Communist activist Rosa Luxemburg boldly proclaimed: "If everyone knew, the capitalist regime would not last 24 hours." Perhaps the same could be said of Communism. But what matters most is the following bias: Once the only truth has been taught and revealed... everyone should inevitably agree with it.

Overall, this is true for scientific truths, but not for political decisions! The latter are plausible hypotheses, not universal statements. Political projects are proposals to be implemented, not theorems to be demonstrated. For each project, there are other possible choices that compete with each other.

The truths of knowledge can expect and reach a consensus. The political ones are, by definition, subject to deep discord and endless confrontations — in democracies more so than in any other system. Explaining well no longer necessarily means convincing. Justifying your choice is not the same as winning support. This is why pedagogy in politics is, to some extent, illusory.

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true."

Still, this is no reason to conclude that it is unnecessary. On the contrary. If it doesn't create agreement, it makes it possible to know, as precisely as possible, what we are in disagreement about and what people are opposing each other about. It would be wrong to underestimate the usefulness of such clarification.

Its virtue, in that sense, is greater than we think. Because the better we know what separates us, the clearer our conflicts are, and the more the debates on democracy can benefit — in lucidity, in sharpness, in clarity. Agreeing on our disagreements is the real merit of good pedagogy. Because democracy is not about eradicating differences. Its purpose is not to smooth out conflicts. Rather, it strives to make them coexist, to regulate clashes.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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