"Le moment populiste", part 4. Why the political is struck by illegitimacy

The gap between the political class and the electorate constitutes a problem. Photo: Flickr
The gap between the political class and the electorate constitutes a problem. Photo: Flickr

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.

For a long time the people believed that things would get better if they changed the government. Noticing that nothing distinguishes the major parties, who pretended to oppose each other until recently, they no longer believe it. It's always the same result, therefore the same deception. If one tries to analyze it in market terms, political life is characterized by an increasingly reduced supply against an increasingly disgruntled, increasingly disoriented demand. Depression first favors abstention, then the protest vote, and then populism. Populist parties have actually been the first to perceive a change in the political and social demand that the traditional parties do not understand because they are mental prisoners of the habits and schemes of thought that prevent them from doing so, regardless of the goodwill of their elected representatives – always desirous of being “closer” to their voters. Thus the political class finds itself struck by illegitimacy because it resolves no problem and offers no means to surmount the generalized crisis of the system, but seems to contribute to it on the contrary.

The gap between the political class and the electorate constitutes a problem, especially for the left, which, in the past, had always claimed to represent popular aspirations better than the right. But the left has progressively cut itself off from the people. Left wing intellectuals have abandoned the messianic hopes they formerly placed in the working class, while the political elites have progressively cut themselves off from the popular milieus through class contempt. Just like the right, the left settled into the upper middle classes, when it was not in the machinery of the state. By rallying to the market economy, by privileging marginal claims to the detriment of the aspirations of those who are the most threatened by unemployment and insecurity, by giving the show to an elite installed in the media spotlight, it has deeply disappointed those who were supposed to be addressed first.

The people and the left have certainly never been equivalent notions, as one saw during the days of June 1848 and the Commune of 1871, when the republican and bourgeois left fired on the people. (In his famous Histoire de la Commune, published in 1876, Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray recalled that if the Versaillesian bourgeoisie could crush the Parisian proletariat, it was thanks to the “army, the administration, and the left.”) We also know that during the entire 19th century,  the left showed itself to be largely indifferent, if not hostile, to the cooperative and mutualist movement. But the fact remains that the evolution of the left for at least thirty years has been something shocking.

In 1979 at the congress of the Socialist Party in Metz, François Mitterrand and his friends presented a programmatic resolution affirming that “economic rigor in the sense meant by the masters of power constitutes a terrific lie.” But in 1992, the socialist project entitled “A new horizon” declared: “Yes, we think that the market economy constitutes the most effective means of production and exchange. No, we no longer believe in a break with capitalism.” One measures the change that occurred. It's what allowed Michel Rocard to redefine socialism as a “sort of tempered capitalism” (sic). In November 1999, Lionel Jospin himself [Translator's Note: Socialist Party politician and Prime Minister of France from 1997-2002] declared that socialism no longer existed, neither as a “doctrinal system” nor “as a system of production, the superiority of the market over planning has been shown to be incontestable.” Of course, it remains to be known if socialism reduces itself to “planning.”