Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Manent Mercredi (2): Trump and Brexit

Pierre Manent on Brexit:

Once the result was known, very violent attacks have been launched on both sides of the English Channel against the voters of Brexit… This is the highest comedy, the comedy of repetition. We have known for about ten or fifteen years that the European peoples are perplexed, dissatisfied, very concerned. They have largely lost confidence in the governing class and in the so-called elites. This is reflected by the protest votes, either in referendums as in 2005 in the Netherlands and in France, or just recently in the United Kingdom, or in the usual elections, by the important gains of so called populists. And each time, it is the same comedy: the members of the Council of European family look incredulous as if the Arc de Triomphe and Buckingham Palace had exchanged their seats. They briefly fall silent, choked on a genuine indignation. Then they dump on the voters by all available channels the great waters of their contempt: According to them, the vote was decided by an unworthy plebs, lazy and ignorant, xenophobic and regressive. They rediscover the long discredited argument in favour of restricted suffrage. In short, the European Union should have introduced us to the ultimate stage of democracy, and it has instead  reconstituted a self-aware oligarchy, assured of their right, and quite content to impose their views on the recalcitrant majority.

Interviewer: How to explain that, according to you, our leaders no longer feel obliged to convince their fellow citizens?

Until a fairly recent date, the social divisions of our country were covered up and overcome by participation in the nation as a political community. This is no longer the case today. The right and left have renounced the role that had been theirs since these families of thought began to exist. The right has abandoned the 'people as nation', and stopped seeking justice and unity by a unifying reference to the nation: farewell to gaullism. The left has abandoned the working class, and stopped seeking justice and unity by a unifying reference to the people who are "exploited": farewell to socialism. Right and Left  no longer give themselves the task of representing the French in their concrete reality, to govern them in the best way possible, but instead aim to lead them toward a new society, a new world in which they would disappear as French to resurface, better and wiser, as Europeans.

...The more "European construction" progressed, the more the springs of democratic political life were distorted. That life is based on a moral exchange between people and rulers: the people puts its trust in rulers, who justify this confidence by governing in a fair, prudent and honourable manner. When the reference to Europe intervenes between the governed and rulers, the representative mandate gives way to an ideological mandate. The political class is no more accountable to the people of the electors, but to the idea and the "criteria" of Europe. Since nobody can define positively what is "Europe", it will instead be defined negatively: to build Europe, it is undo, and first delegitimize the nations. This is the politics of ideology, i.e. policy of the impossible, since the nations of which one wants to ruin the legitimacy remain the only really alive and strong constituents of European life. Political legitimacy and political reality are moving away from one another. The political class is more and more ideological.

(Interview from Le Figaro 1 August 2016. Non paywall version here. My translation (or, more exactly, tidied up machine translation for speed.) )


Thinking about the success of Trump today, I wonder how much is a result of progressive politics being based on this imposition of a goal to make voters better. If you go on telling people that they are xenophobes, patriarchal and just generally not good enough as they are, how long before they begin to get irritated? One of Manent's constant themes is the depolitisation of politics. Instead of appealing to voters with existing concrete lives and interests, liberal elites aim to impose moral ideals which existing voters invariably are failing to live up to. (And which, absent any substantive content to 'progressive', tend to be defined negatively by destroying the already existent.)

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