Meet the FFDs, as they are called, the sons and daughters in republican France in which prominent roles in politics, business and culture are passed from members of the ruling elite to their children.
The term fils et filles de has now passed into the French language as shorthand for pampered children, who are catapulted into civil service posts or star cinema roles as a result of their parentage.
The journalists Aurore Gorius and Anne-Noémie Dorion investigating the new aristocracy argue in their book, Sons and Daughters, the extent to which the practice has undermined social mobility and fuelled public discontent with an evermore entrenched ruling caste based in Paris.
The result is the creation of the equivalent of a royal court in which ‘the sons and daughters are the future princes and princesses’, the authors write. ‘How can new talents emerge if the places are already in large part occupied by the descendants of these new aristocrats?’
The book has incited debate, not only about the FFDs but more broadly the extent to which the underprivileged are being marginalised in the land that claims égalité.
‘Géneration VIP’ was how L’Express magazine described the rise of the FFDs. ‘Children of artists, politicians, bosses and sportsmen benefit fully from the notoriety and success of their parents,’ it said.
Marie de Villepin, the daughter of Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, went from films to modelling before discovering her latest vocation as a singer and guitarist. She has raised Gallic eyebrows by complaining about the burden of being a filles de…
‘The main way that France perpetuates privilege is through the grandes école, said Robert Tombs, the Cambridge professor of history and an expert in Franco-British relations. he was referring to France’s elite schools, set up as nurseries for future leaders. ‘The schools,’ he said, ‘had made France the only country in the Western world with a ruling class and, unlike Britain’s top universities, guarantee their alumni a job for life.’
One of the most striking recent examples, according to the Sunday Times, was Thomas Le Drian, the son of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defence minister, who at twenty-nine has landed one of the top jobs in the civil service.
Nowhere are the FFDs more visible than in the cinema. French actors without a relative in the business are rare, and FFDs such as Julie Depardieu and Charlotte Gainsbourg are the toast of the César Awards, the French BAFTAs, and the Cannes Festival.
‘Some are talented, others less so,’ said Florence Darel, an actress who starred with Gérard Depardieu in The Count of Monte Cristo television series. ‘The son or daughter of somebody with a famous name has the right to a second, third, fourth or even tenth chance, whereas if it doesn’t work out first time for an unknown person then you are out.’
In politics more so than any other profession the same names have dominated for decades in provincial parliamentary seats.
In the case of Marie Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, the party leadership post has passed from generation to generation.
What also seems to distinguish France from its neighbours is the intermingling of the political, business and cultural elites. This was clearly exemplified in President François Hollande’s relationship with actress Julie Gayet and the marriage of Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor, to Carla Bruni, the model and singer.
‘The children of actors, politicians and titans of business go to the same private schools,’ write Gorius. ‘They join the same clubs, go skiing in the same resorts, go to the same parties, and end up marrying each other.’ The elites, through their longevity, are becoming increasingly entrenched and inaccessible to outsiders.
Promises by the prestigious ENA or National Administration School, a nursery for future rulers, to diversify its intake beyond the children of the elite have amounted to little.
The French Revolution with all its brutality seems to have failed to eradicate the French aristocracy’s divine powers, which have mushroomed since then in a different attire.
Many talented young French people barred from the gilded court have, I understand, migrated to the more socially mobile Britain.
The jeunesse dorée, by contrast, have seldom seemed happier. Not only do they land jobs in their parents’ offices, they also have the right credentials to blossom in other domains, jumping from one elite to another.
One of Sarkozy’s sons Jean has followed him into politics but Pierre, the elder, is a rapper known as Mosey.
The authors write, in their book, ‘The name has become like an entry ticket allowing people to jump queues, start a career – regardless of whether or not there is talent.’
That’s what I call socialism par excellence. Vive la France for its double standards, which all told even surpasses the genetic hypocrisy of the British elite.