France's "national psychiatrist" has issued an alarming report on the democratic and social health of the nation as it prepares to select a new president next year. Gérard Mermet, a sociologist who publishes a much respected bulletin on the country's state of mind every two years, suggests that France now suffers from a collective form of three mental illnesses: paranoia, schizophrenia and hypochondria.
In Francosopie 2007, M. Mermet says that France is "schizophrenic", because it finds it difficult to "recognise the realities" of the "great changes" happening in the world around it.
He says France is "paranoid" because it believes itself to be the victim of a "global plot" and to have been betrayed by its own "elites".
Finally, France is a "hypochondriac" because it downplays its achievements and advantages and wilfully exaggerates its economic and social ills.
Part of the problem, M. Mermet suggests, is that the French have lost confidence in their politicians and political institutions. M. Mermet told The Independent: "It is a deliberate exaggeration, of course, to say that France is a schizophrenic, paranoid and hypochondriac nation but it is an exaggeration which tries to make an important point. By not facing up to realities, we are in danger of turning France's many advantages into handicaps.
The mental state of a society will of course play out in the politics of any democratic country, and will likewise affect the upcoming presidential election. He ends though, with a word of warning to Socialist canidate Segolene Royal:
M. Mermet insists that his analysis is non-partisan, but his book contains words of caution about the Socialist front-runner for the presidency next year, Ségolène Royal. By turning over much of her campaign to "participative democracy" - or ideas from the grassroots - Mme Royal could help to bridge the gap between politicians and the electorate, he says.
On the other hand she could just have found a new way of avoiding the old, hard decisions.
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