the very act of le jogging – or le running as it is now more fashionable to call it – is a cultural humiliation
the Sarkozy jog is in conformity with the principles of the French Revolution, and the equality and brotherhood of man.
Bravo, Sarkozy – from one jogger to another
There are some people I know who are not so keen on Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President of France. Some prudes have been dismayed by the way he turned up at a press conference in a state of apparent alcoholic intoxication. Some think it a bit off that he tried to grab the steering wheel at the recent European summit, and change the fundamental principles of the EU Treaty.
Some people find him altogether too Tiggerish and bumptious. I have, I confess, been so far in a state of glorious detachment on the Sarkozy issue – until yesterday morning, when I read that he was once again under attack from the French intellectuals, and I found my sword leaping from its scabbard in his defence.
In the cafés of the Left Bank, they have fastened on what they regard as the single most objectionable and Right-wing aspect of the Sarkozy agenda – and what do you think it is? Do they object to his views on immigration? Are they worried about his plans to make French universities more competitive?
Quite possibly; but their feelings on these questions are anaemic next to their central charge against the new regime. The most appalling thing about the Sarkozy presidency, says Professor Alain Finkelkraut, a leading French philosopher and veteran of the 1968 manifestations, is an event that takes place every morning. The President of France goes jogging! Choc horreur! He exposes the presidential knees to the entire world, says Finkelkraut, and it is extremely undignified.
Worst of all, say these heirs of Sartre and Saussure, the very act of le jogging – or le running as it is now more fashionable to call it – is a cultural humiliation. It is, in the first place, an offence to national honour, they say, that the President of the Republic should totter back into the Elysée Palace looking like a sweat-drenched miniature version of Sylvester Stallone.
But as you would expect of French philosophers, they make a deeper point. Jogging, they say, waving their Gitanes angrily at the camera, is a Right-wing activity. It is all about the management of the body; it is about performance, and individualism, and the triumph of the will.
It is no wonder, they say, that physical jerks have generally been associated with fascist regimes; and above all they believe that by staggering around in his NYPD T-shirt, the French President is making a tragic act of obeisance to America.
François Mitterrand did not jog, they say. Even when he played golf, he never allowed himself to be pictured on the course. Jacques Chirac is a man of hyperkinetic energy, but he would never have taken his trousers off in public, run up and down, and asked the French people to take him seriously.
As for Charles de Gaulle, he moved with the stately undulation of a giraffe, and never broke into so much as a trot.
The Sarkozy jog, say his critics, is a sad imitation of the habits of American presidents, and a capitulation to the défi Américain as bad as the influx of Hollywood movies, and if you doubt the seriousness of their attack, you should have a look at the Left-wing newspaper Libération, and the French political blogs; and that is why it is now time for all jogging politicians to come to Sarkozy’s aid.
I speak as one who rises every morning and makes the pavement echo to the slap of my tread, and I have no doubt that, on purely aesthetic grounds, I would face the strictures of Prof Finkelkraut. It was not long ago that one of my friends and colleagues told me that he was quite put off his breakfast by the sight of me going round the local park at the speed, he claimed, of an elderly hippopotamus.
But I am not deterred by such jibes, nor by the accusation that jogging is Right-wing. Of course it is Right-wing, in the sense that the facts of life are generally Right-wing. The very act of forcing yourself to go for a run, every morning, is a highly conservative business.
There is the mental effort needed to overcome your laziness. There is the pain in the calves and the ache in the lungs, and the keen sense that everyone is looking at you and sniggering.
And then slowly the endorphins start to flood into your brain, and the effort gives way to reward, and the deferred pleasure arrives, and you come back home feeling you could bite a tiger – and, above all, that nothing else you do that day can be quite as painful and exhausting.
And plenty of Left-liberals have realised this, and go jogging as well. One thinks of Jimmy Carter, who famously collapsed while out on a run, so eager was he to attain those endorphins; and then there was the late Roy Jenkins, who was once spotted sneaking out of his chauffeured limo in the Brussels twilight, and briefly puffing, in a tracksuit, through the Bois de la Cambre.
And is it not sad, in retrospect, that Roy should have been so furtive in his exercise? The whole point about President Sarkozy’s running is that he is actually putting himself publicly through the same hell as the rest of us. Far from being a surrender to American values, the Sarkozy jog is in conformity with the principles of the French Revolution, and the equality and brotherhood of man.
With every weary plod he is parading his mortality, exposing his vulnerability, and sharing with the rest of the human race the via dolorosa of the morning stagger. One day, as we all know, he will be able to run no more; one day he will cark it like Jim Fixx, the jogging pioneer.
But until such time we should salute his willingness to expose those knobbly knees to public derision, and we should challenge our Labour masters to get out of their Zil limousines and do likewise.