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‘The populist movement is irrepressible’

Christophe Guilluy on the crumbling of the French establishment.

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Topics Politics World

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France is being rocked by a political earthquake. Earlier this month, the right-wing populist National Rally (RN) surged in the European Parliament elections. Marine Le Pen’s party not only topped the polls – it also won double the vote share of President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal, centrist Renaissance. In the immediate aftermath, Macron dissolved the French parliament and announced snap legislative elections, the first round of which take place today. He had hoped to rally voters behind him against the spectre of the ‘far right’. But all the polling suggests his gamble is set to fail. RN is on course to come top, and may even win a historic parliamentary majority.

What lies behind the collapse of Macron and the centre? What is driving French voters towards the once toxic RN? To explore these questions and more, spiked caught up with Christophe Guilluy, author of No Society and The Twilight of the Elite: Prosperity, the Periphery and the Future of France. Guilluy has spent the past decade arguing that a sense of political, cultural and economic exclusion has made what he calls la France périphérique – the France of the periphery, the France beyond Paris – ripe for revolt.

spiked: Why are French voters revolting against Macron?

Christophe Guilluy: It’s difficult not to laugh at what is happening in France. Macronism represented nothing, beyond the narrow social interests of the bourgeoisie. His is an economic and cultural model that spoke only to a minority.

France, much like Britain and the United States, is divided almost into two planets. In one, you have the ordinary majority. In the other, you have the great metropolises, the citadels, that are in the process of becoming less powerful and less representative. The view from the metropolis is still dominant in the media, in universities and in the cultural realm. But the ordinary majority, who live in France’s peripheries, are now culturally independent. And there is nothing the elites can do about this.

Ordinary people have been pushing back against their metropolitan rulers for at least 20 years now. You see these revolts in the form of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests), who protested all over France for the best part of a year. Now you see it in support for National Rally. In Britain, you saw it in Brexit. Tomorrow, it may take another form. That part doesn’t matter. People are going to use whatever they can get their hands on to remind their rulers that they still exist.

Macron represents what they are fighting against. The world of globalisation, which used to look like the future, but it no longer is.

spiked: Who is voting for National Rally, and why?

Guilluy: Most of those flocking to the National Rally were once part of the middle class. This is not about ethnicity or race. These are ordinary people who may be white, black, Maghrebi or whatever. Above all, they are people who have understood that their lives no longer fit into the West’s economic and cultural model. There is no more industry for workers. There are no more farm smallholders. The kinds of job that could once provide for a middle-class existence are no longer there.

Instead, France and Great Britain have concentrated all their wealth in the great cities. But you cannot build a cohesive society on that basis. You cannot build everything around such a small minority of people who live in a cultural bubble. This is an elite class of people who are narcissistic and egotistical. The culture they produce reflects them entirely. Macron represents this perfectly. He is like Dorian Gray from the Oscar Wilde novel.

George Orwell used to talk about the common decency of the people. This is what will save our societies. Today, ordinary working people no longer believe in religion. They no longer believe in ideology. They no longer believe in the left-right divide. That is over. They only believe in one thing: defending their way of life. These are people who recognise that they have been materially and culturally dispossessed by the upper echelons, by a new bourgeoisie that is totally egocentric.

spiked: Why can the left no longer speak to these people?

Guilluy: I recently met Fabien Roussel, the leader of the French Communist Party, whom I admire. His problem is that he is surrounded by bourgeois intellectuals and academics. This is a microcosm of the metropolis.

Yes, the left is over. But it has been dead since the 1980s. In France, the left died symbolically when Bertrand Delanoë of the Socialist Party became the mayor of Paris in 2001. A left that wins in Paris is one that represents the new bourgeoisie, and that’s all. It certainly does not represent ordinary people, who it now sees as ‘deplorable’, as Hillary Clinton put it.

spiked: Do you think the people can ever win this battle with the elites?

Guilluy: I don’t just think so, I’m sure of it. I am not a nihilist. It’s the elites who tend to be nihilists, who think of everything in terms of the apocalypse. Everything is finished or over, they say. There is populism from below and nihilism from above.

I believe that common decency will win. In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, there’s a character called Prince Myshkin and he’s taken for a madman because he says beauty will save the world. But I do believe that common decency will save the world. Society is not finished.

When Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020, commentators thought that populism was over. That Trumpism would cease to exist. But now it looks like there will be another Trump wave. And after him, there will be something else. There is something in the populist backlash that makes it irrepressible. It never stops.

I recently visited Eure in Normandy, a place that voted heavily for the National Rally. The people I met there were very poor, but they were solid, strong and confident about the future. There is still power and strength in the people.

There is a big debate in France, Britain and the US about why the West is collapsing. Is it because of China, because of India or because of Islam? No, the real reason we’re living in such difficult times is because we have such terrible, idiotic elites. Ordinary working people are the lifeblood of society, but they have been completely excluded from politics, culture and the economy. There is a culture war to be waged, to bring the elites back into the service of the people. I’m confident we will win it.

Christophe Guilluy was talking to Fraser Myers.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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