Macron, the gilets jaunes and French politics (Charles Devellennes)

  • Macron represents a new era of French politics, for one thing the streets are reacting differently.
  • Hollande tried for normalcy but that era has passed.
  • “Macronades” are little sayings that Macron has become famous for (ex. telling an unemployed man “you only need to cross the street to find a job”).
  • Macron is very stubborn but the gilets jaunes forced his hand.
  • The gilets jaunes were the only political force to successfully get Macron to increase social welfare spending.
  • The center right and center left parties have completely collapsed. Macron has taken more upscale voters from both.
  • Macron is really despised by a lot of people. One reason is repressive police violence. He also pushes through reforms without consultation.
  • He is perceived as a right-wing president.
  • No political party has captured the gilets jaunes movement, they have intentionally evaded this in any event.
  • There was a gilets jaunes party in the 2019 european elections but it completely flopped.
  • In the first round of presidential voting younger voters went for Mélenchon, the middle aged favoured Le Pen and Macron won the old.
  • Macron’s base has changed, the wealthy and retired have flocked to him over time. He passed a tax break for the richest.
  • Le Pen has support in rural and peri-urban areas, places outside of big metros where you need a car to get to work (the gilets jaunes protest was sparked by a carbon tax policy).
  • There is a diagonal of these communities that crosses France (low pop. density).
  • Le Pen is first for working class voters. That said, the working class tends to abstain from voting.
  • Many working class non-voters are those who have distanced from the left but haven’t been taken in by Le Pen.
  • The France of roundabouts, edges of cities, big box supermarkets etc. is the key locus of gilet jaunes type French. They tend to live in still further outlying areas and are small property owners.
  • French villages have lost needed amenities like little shops so locals have to go to big box stores via the roundabouts.
  • Macron has framed French politics as “it’s me or the fascists”.
  • A Macron reform made the “state of exception” permanent in French law so his self-assertion as the candidate of democracy is disingenuous.
  • Le Pen’s platform was surprisingly boring.
  • There’s been a far-right candidate in 3/5 of last French presidential elections (final vote).
  • Macron claimed to be “at the same time” left and right.
  • Since 2002 the left end of the French political spectrum has coalesced around anti-fascism (against the National Front, now the National Rally).

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) – notes

  • Context for Auguste Comte’s life: France was in a social crisis in the first half of the 19th century—roughly Comte’s lifetime. There was class conflict in the context of industrialization. The country was divided between enlighteners/revolutionaries and conservatives. Throughout the 19th century France flip-flopped between governments.
  • Comte was dismayed at the restoration of the monarchy in 1814. He saw that the old France was dying and knew the nation had to progress but thought that the radicals did not have the answers and proposed more moderate reforms instead.
  • Comte’s positivism was based on the notion of a progressive development from theological and metaphysical views. Positivism = facts, but facts made coherent by a unifying analysis.
  • Comte thought that positivism would influence human sciences in order of difficulty with sociology—basically “human affairs” as opposed to hard sciences—coming last. For Comte, sociology was the sum of all sciences.
  • Comte approached society as a realm of social interaction, rules and institutions, not individuals. Comte asked: given the turn to individualism, how is social order and stability maintained?
  • If sociology could outline the underlying principles of social order it could be used to guide social reforms. This was Comte’s logic and the first premise of sociology.

Paris, 1968: “1968 and the Struggle Against Technocracy”

These are notes from a lecture by Andrew Feenberg. The lecture was found by searching “Technocracy” on YouTube.

  • A French student revolt provoked a general strike in May 1968.
  • We have a false image of the whole New Left, they were actually serious political movements challenging the notion that we have to live with a technocratic consumer society.
  • It was about an alternative social model, the inheritance from the New Left is anti-technocratic struggle.
  • Paris 1968 started out as a small student revolt, students were arrested and locked out of the university and gained a new target in the police as a result.
  • Students began to build barricades in part as a reference to history like the Paris commune. Barricades became more and more numerous.
  • At this point a huge police attack was organized but the violent attack mobilized many people against the government.
  • Students were let back into the university and had talks about revolution.
  • At the arts school the students seized the studios and made posters like the famous poster of a fascist policeman wielding a baton.
  • “We want to build a classless society.” (student statement)
  • Scenes: Workers and students seized a factory and were jubilant, saluting each other.
  • “We must destroy everything that isolates us from each other (habits, the newspapers, etc.)”
  • All this was as a trauma for business executives and civil servants who saw themselves as doing a social service.
  • A strike movement began to appear in the middle class.
  • Even civil servants from Finance were involved. Also the ministry of housing, white collar postal service workers etc.
  • The protests/movement contained the notion of self-management vs. the planned economy of the Soviet Union which was more so supported by the Communist Party. Workers “by and for themselves.”
  • De Gaulle consulted with generals and implied the possibility of civil war.
  • Sartre said “you have enlarged the field of the possible.”
  • “refuse profit, progress and luxury.”
  • “Do not confuse the TECHNICAL division of labor and the HIERARCHY of authority and power” (the first is necessary, the second is not)
  • “all power to the imagination”
  • “ni dieu, ni metre” (neither god, nor meters ie. measurement)

German nationalism vs. France in the 19th century

Quoted from Jugendstil and Racism: An Unexpected Alliance by Angelika Pagel

“…hostility grew strong as a result of Napoleons occupation of Germany. The hoped for unification of the many petty German states under the leadership of Prussia and with the help of the French Revolution had not been achieved. The Vienna Congress of 1814-15 failed to establish a sovereign German nation-state with unified national politics and France, though defeated, even managed (through Talleyrand’s diplomacy) to emerge from the talks with its hegemony in Europe re-affirmed. Germany’s struggle for national unity would continue throughout the 19th century while the other major European powers had long since achieved this status. Disappointed and envious, Germans turned inward and backward, to ideas of tribal nationalism, of common ancestry in a shared Germanic past. Gradually, this idea of an integral German nation and people (Deutsche Nation und Volkstum) degenerated into the myth of blood-and-soil; antisemitism emerged as a “logical” consequence of this tribalism and the Nazi battlecry “One People, one Empire, one Leader” (Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer) epitomized the desire for national unity spanning the entire 19th century. Even after the Vienna Congress, the “glorious power of French nationhood” was experienced by the Germans in painful contrast to their own lack of national unity.”

France vs. England in the 14th Century (the Estates vs. Parliament)

Quoted from The Age of Adversity by Robert E. Lerner

“There are many reasons why the history of the Estates is so strikingly different from that of Parliament. The fact that the Estates were normally called only in major crises made them appear more revolutionary than constitutional and thus alienated the large majority of their potential supporters. Furthermore, the French were more deeply divided than the English not only by class but also by local loyalties. Both the use of free farmers, or yeomen, in the army and the fact that the lesser nobles or knights sat as county representatives alongside the burgesses in the House of Commons are cited as examples of social integration in England that could not be matched in France. There the peasants were rigorously excluded from any but servile occupations and the townspeople were considered social inferiors and political rivals by the nobles. To this social prejudice must be added the fact that provincial loyalties were often stronger than those to the monarchy and that the interests of the northern and southern halves of the country were frequently quite disparate. As a result, the establishment of a unified constitutional opposition was extremely difficult; and the very failure of the Estates, at least by contrast, served to enhance the prestige of the crown.”