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18 % Ennemy

Text: Magali Mathis, Toulouse

Upheaval. The word that caught on like a litany. And indeed, how else to say it? Political upheaval. The left, already in power for five additional years, was swept away by divisions despite making some headway. Certain results were not enough yet were promising: the 35-hour work week, PACS, parity and youth employment, to name a few.  We wanted more; we wanted better. Social upheaval too. It seems to me that, on the face of it, nothing has changed, and yet the enemy is 18%-strong. Such a large number of people (like you and me?), made their choice despite the impressive May 1 demonstrations and the scrambling of journalists, who suddenly took care in explaining in great detail the dramatic consequences of extreme policies for France and Europe. These include, but are not limited to, nationalism, drastic cuts to income tax, women at home and anti-abortion stances. In demonstrating along with millions of others, I told myself that every French person has at least one good reason to vote against Le Pen’s death-to-freedom impoverishment. But now what? Who is part of this astonishing electorate that everyone is trying to understand, study, complain about and, at times, seduce?

In the worst reports, we were shown idyllic countrysides, bells perched high, clean geranium-adorned streets in sterile villages free of litter, immigrants and delinquents. And yet, record high extremist votes. Who sleeps among them? Who suffers? How to know and understand?

Blame television, which took on the role of scarecrow? But then, were we anything more than sparrows? A leftist politician tried to do so by nicknaming the popular and often populist TF1 channel TFN. What happened next?  He was banned from the channel.

Is attacking rising crime with policemen’s clubs the answer? If there’s a problem, let’s fix it, but what about Switzerland and Austria, which have the same symptoms (the rise of extremism) but haven’t contracted the disease (rising crime) ?

The debate has focussed on economic and social factors that mostly make up globalization. This is in part justified, but I think the answers lie in politics and culture. Politics, at the European level, since leperous extremism is taking hold of the entire continent. We elect men and women who are increasingly powerless because they have given up some of their priorities for the benefit of a Europe governed partly by non-elected technocrats—a serious lack of democracy. Europe is the answer, but what it is is barely revealed and transparent. Like pachyderms at birth, the weight of Europe, as yet unmastered, is the dessert by dint of clumsiness.

And then there’s the cultural answer. Much reflection on oneself and others is required to break away from what La Boétie termed voluntary servitude and De Tocqueville prophetically described in Democracy in America: He wrote, “I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest – his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind . . . Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratification, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood . . .”

Well I’ll stop now. I’m off to cast my vote in the parliamentary elections. Tonight, the first round results. I’m afraid of being afraid. But I also know we are many who want not only to resist, but mostly to come up with something else.