"Le moment populiste", part 3. The price of “consensus”

Democracy is not soluble in procedural law, as it is an inevitably agonistic form. Photo: The Blue Diamond Gallery
Democracy is not soluble in procedural law, as it is an inevitably agonistic form. Photo: The Blue Diamond Gallery

Boulevard Voltaire introduces its readers to a recent book that the editorial team appreciated. Every day, a new extract is published. Le Moment populiste. Droite-gauche, c’est fini!, by Alain de Benoist.

Moreover, we have witnessed the near disappearance of sociological families, where people voted in the same fashion from generation to generation. Even in the middle of the 1960s, the more Catholic one was, the more one voted to right; and in the social scheme, the more one identified with the working class, the more one voted to the left.

That hasn't been the case for a long time. Electoral volatility hasn't stopped growing – and it's at the point where it's no longer rare to meet people who, in the course of their life, have voted for practically every party. In 1946, François Goguel calculated that between 1877 and 1936 the equilibrium of power between the entire right wing and the left wing groupings in France never varied more than 2%.

Today, we know that 17% of the extreme left voters in the legislative elections of 1986 voted for a right wing party in the first round of the presidential election of 1988, that 60% of François Mitterrand's voters in 1988 refused to vote socialist in 1993, and that nearly four million voters switched sides in the six months that preceded the presidential election of 2012. According to a study by Institut Elabe published in August 2016, the proportion of French people who declare themselves “without party preference” regularly advances, particularly among the youth (26%), laborers (37%), and the white collar workers (38%), while only 14.1% of people questioned felt close to the PS and 16.4% to Les Républicains, in total 30.5% for the governmental parties, in which two thirds of French people no longer recognize themselves […]

In the era of Giscard [Translator's note: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, President of France from 1974 to 1981], some people rejoiced over the major parties having increasingly similar programs, in the name of the blessings of “consensus” - consensus that Alain Minc didn't hesitate to consider as a “zone of reason.” They were wrong. Firstly because democracy is not the extinction of conflict, but the mastery of conflict. For a political society to function normally, a consensus must evidently be established about the framework and modes of debate.

But if this consensus causes debate itself to disappear, then democracy disappears at the same time, because it implies by definition, if not the plurality of parties, at least the diversity of opinions and choices, while recognizing the legitimacy of a confrontation between these opinions and choices. Which means that, contrary to what the advocates of a “non-partisan” or “governance” inspired democracy believe, democracy is not soluble in procedural law, as it is an inevitably agonistic form. If parties are only separated by insignificant programmatic differences, if competing factions implement fundamentally the same policies, if the objectives or even the means to attain them are no longer distinguishable between one or the others, in short if the citizens are no longer presented real alternatives and true possibilities of choice, then the debate no longer has a purpose and the institutional framework that allowed it to take place becomes an empty shell, from which one cannot be astonished to see a majority of votes turn away. The price of “consensus” is civic desertion.

Source: Boulevard Voltaire