Infatuated with Sarkozy's infatuation, France is blind to his recklessness

So tell me, how is Nicolas Sarkozy's reform programme coming on; what progress to report? "Love, this is serious love. You must understand. She is a very beautiful woman. And Sarko, he has the aphrodisiac of power. They talk five, six times a day. It is a complete coup de foudre."

Sorry, I asked about your president's promised changes in French domestic policy. "You see, he was terribly bruised when Cecilia left him. He was quite dependent on her, boasting during the election, 'You liked Jackie Kennedy; you'll love Cecilia.' Then off she goes with her lover and accuses him of being a womaniser, cheap and not even loving his own children."

Yes, yes, I understand, but what about the future of the 35-hour week? "Carla is a 40-year-old woman in a hurry. She wants another baby and apparently even had sperm stored from a previous lover, for artificial insemination. After a while, a girl wants to settle down.

All right, let's try the Société Générale scandal. What is likely to happen to ... "You see, Cecilia insulted his manhood. He is hyperactive and not much liked, but this was not about a person, it was about love. He is badly wounded and along comes this gorgeous thing and, pouff, she offers love and revenge in one. He even buys her the same ring as he bought Cecilia, from the same shop, with the same cut. C'est magnifique, et c'est aussi la guerre."

Fine, perhaps we could turn to ... "Don't get me wrong. She's no fool. Her Italian stepfather is a 12-tonal composer and her mother a concert pianist. Yes, she chased Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Donald Trump. But she lived with a real philosopher, Jean-Paul Enthoven, and then went off with his son, Raphael, who is also a philosopher. I gather she got rather bored with Nietzsche. Her songs are good. She won the French grammy in 2004. He may seem a catch for her, but she is a catch for him. Phew, this is big."

Such conversations, at present ubiquitous in France, depict a modern democracy at the mercy of an infatuated ruler. The mind ponders Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Edward II and Gaveston, Antony and Cleopatra. What impact does love have on power? Will there be Reformations, faces launching a thousand ships, "a Roman by a Roman valiantly vanquished"?

Bruni is plainly a woman of substance. Italian born but French raised, she is a self-confessed flirt and seductress, free with her lifestyle maxims. "I was a huge product before," she said of her singing career, "I am a heart product now, and the product is my soul." Of her last lover, she sang that he "looks like an angel, but he's a devil at love". Their affair precipitated a spectacularly poisonous novel from Raphael's wife, including a threat to kill her. "Everyone has a weak point," said Bruni, "you have to have the guts to show it," and presumably see it in others.

When working as a model, she claimed to read Dostoevsky behind her copy of Vogue. Perhaps she learned from Raskolnikov that "man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!". Perhaps she forgot Karamazov, that "beauty for the mass of mankind is found in Sodom ... It is a terrible and an awful thing." Bruni may be enamoured of the architect of the edifice of France, but does she want, like Alyosha, "to found that edifice on its unavenged tears"?

There is already a wild recklessness to Sarkozy's rule. He came to power last summer like a boy suddenly finding himself king of the castle. He decided to launch a "Marshall plan" for the suburbs, to ban advertisements on state television, to found 10 universities, to reform the 35-hour week, to protect French banks from sovereign wealth funds, to build a military base in the Emirates and to tax mobile phones. He commissioned the economist Amartya Sen to rewrite French statistics so as to embrace the country's much-vaunted "quality of life". He invited the philosopher Edgar Morin to set out his vision of a renaissance in France's new "politics of civilisation".

Sarkozy's eagerness to give France a new world confidence, after the grim introversion of the Mitterrand and Chirac years, is attractive. He has visited 20 countries in his first year, including America, Russia, China, India and some in the Middle East. He summoned the socialist economist Jacques Attali and asked from him "300 decisions for changing France" and even promised: "What you propose, we shall do."

Attali sardonically repeated this quote in the introduction to his report, delivered last month, recalling that the similar Pebereau and Camdessus reports had both been shelved. Among his 300 decisions were to teach economics in primary schools and deregulate taxis, pharmacies and hypermarket prices, each one likely to wipe 10 points off Sarkozy's poll ratings. The shelving has already begun, not least on the 35 hour week. Like his friend Tony Blair, Sarkozy regards pledges as not promises but vague declarations of intent, mood music played out against the tapestry of power.

French commentators and gossips understandably ask whether their new president will behave in power as he does in love - given his infatuation with both. Can a man so inconstant in his pledges to the French electorate be constant in his love for Bruni? Can a woman so brazenly inconstant to her lovers be constant to the president of the republic? And what nuclear explosion might occur if the answer to any of these questions is no?

Hanging dark on the walls of the Cluny museum in Paris is the celebrated 15th-century tapestry sequence of the Lady and the Unicorn. After depicting the five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, the sequence culminates in the enigmatic last work, A Mon Seul Désir. Here the lady appears to renounce all other senses in front of a tent whose flaps are held seductively open by a lion and a unicorn.

The possible meaning of this scene has held historians and philosophers in thrall for centuries. What is this sixth sense? Is it the burning heart, the devout soul, a sexual liaison or the liberation of the Renaissance woman? I favour an answer offered in the commentary from Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. The tamed fox, the prince's tutor in love, declares: "Now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; for what is essential is invisible to the eye."

France just now appears led by invisible desires. Will its president be reduced to gazing on his Cleopatra and crying, "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall! Here is my space!" Shall Elysée be drowned in a thousand kisses? Or did the fox speak true? Will the opacity of the heart's desire lend a boldness, an inner wisdom, to Sarkozy's rule?

Either way, a new chapter in French history is being written, and, who knows, perhaps a new chapter in the art of government.

Simon Jenkins