The elite of “anti-elitism”, the French paradox

The results of the presidential election have led many observers to believe that France will be divided into three poles: the government center, the right, which regroups its conservative and extremist currents, and the left, largely united to its radical pole.

The variables of electoral sociology, abstinence, generational gap or lifestyles explain that this is not a simple repetition of the 2017 scenario. In fact, the crisis of the “yellow vests” and Covid-19 emphasized the feeling of “hatred”. ”Politicians representing government parties. Emmanuel Macron embodies this hatred particularly well.

To align discourses against “elites”?

However, some of these analysts highlighted the unprecedented victory of candidates who called themselves anti-elitist.

The term “elite” comes from the verb eliger (“Choose”), a Latin term used in France since the twelfth centuryand century. Nowadays, “elite” and “elitism” denote in a community of people a certain number of “elected” people appointed to lead non-“elected” people, linking the concepts of merit. Unlike aristocracy, elitism has a positive social and political connotation. Anti-elitism is a radical critique of this concept. Applied to political life today, it calls into question the “meritocratic” nature of the competence and, consequently, the legitimacy of the elites of representative democracy.

Thus, we qualify the candidates mobilized during the campaign as anti-elitist rhetoric. Extreme right, Eric ZemmourMarin Le Pen, the sovereign right, Nicolas Dupont-Enyan, Jean Lassalle, as well as candidates from the radical left, Jean-Luc Melanchon, Philippe Putou or Natalie Artaud, despised the power of “oligarchy”, “strong”, “finance”, “caste”, “caste”, those from above “, etc.

Candidates who mobilized this rhetoric in the first round of the 2012-2022 presidential election received a steadily growing number of votes: 33% in 2012; 49.8%: 2017; 61.1% in 2022. If we cannot really establish a causal link between this rhetoric and these scores, we can assume that this rhetoric did not shock voters enough to deny them the right to vote for these candidates.

Rhetoric against representative democracy

This anti-elite rhetoric, which populist leaders have been passing on for more than a decade, goes beyond the gap between the right and the left.

According to Jacques Joulier, the 1995 social movement was a historic moment that made anti-elite rhetoric “one of the obligatory topos of political discourse.” Since then, he has continued to occupy a central place in the most radical discursive styles on the right, but also increasingly on the left, in particular France is rebellious. Gerald Bronner reminds that even more moderate political professionals are reluctant to use this figure of “cognitive demagoguery”. Everyone remembers “my opponent is the world of finances! launched by Francois Hollande during the 2012 election campaign. In this context, rational arguments lose their right to citizenship because even those who have to wear them get rid of them in the name of the profitability of the election.

In this perspective, the oligarchy of the “rich, the caste of politicians” and the technocrats of the “deep state (French or Brussels)” must go. This call to get rid of the elite is unambiguous with the division of the world between (good) people and (evil) elite. Shouldn’t good naturally drive out evil? Such a reduction of political struggle to religious categories, as a rule, falls under the conceptual baggage of the far right, also theorized the so-called “radical” left.

Thus, the philosopher Chantal Muff calls for the rejection of reason, the basis of liberal democracy, in favor of “libido energy”. She proposes to “mobilize” this “pliable” energy against the oligarchy in order to “build” the “people”. In this perspective, emotions and emotions must turn into rejection, as MP Francois Ruffin suggests, of the “physical and visceral” elite.

In addition, anti-elitism is presented as a political discourse that makes it possible to “save” democracy. For its promoters, modern elitism hinders the egalitarian imagination and hides major emancipatory projects in favor of neoliberal globalization.

Mobilizing the decline of “grandiose narratives”

This anti-elitism derives its strength in the context of the decline of “grand narratives” (liberalism, socialism, etc.), and is now easily adopted by supporters of the critique of representative democracy. This ideological fuel of headless social movements, such as the “yellow vests”, makes it possible to mobilize a growing electorate around the alleged split between the “elite bloc” and the “people’s bloc”.

The reasoning of these killers of the “oligarchy” is based on a “terrible simplification”: the myth of the existence of a “conscious, coherent and conspiratorial” elite (model “3 Cs”) is criticized by James Meisel for deformation theory ruling class author Gaetano Mosca. In fact, this label makes it easier to associate any type of elitist mediation with conspiracy theories.

In populist discursive strategy, the idea of ​​a united elite that maximizes its interests competes strongly with the idea of ​​a plurality of elite groups vying for political, religious, social, and economic power, more in line with democratic pluralism.

In the United States, since the reign of George W. Bush, research has led to the role of the “shadow elite” (shadow elite), which would contribute to the Second Gulf War. However, the demonstration of the interpenetration of neoconservative networks and foreign affairs management is based on work whose scientific nature is debatable. More empirically sound research has shown that in the case of health insurance reform, interest groups (great pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, etc.) did not play such a role with the Obama administration. However, despite the lack of evidence, the myth of an all-powerful elite that influences all democratic decisions persists. In a crisis of confidence in those in power, it strengthens faith in anti-elitism.

The anti-elitist elite: another oligarchy?

Based on these sociological considerations, we might find that certain leaders who mobilize anti-elite rhetoric also form an elite. British diplomat and former Conservative Prime Minister George Walden is the birthplace of an “elite of anti-elitists of the highest caste”, made up of people with a very privileged social background in the image of Prime Ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Both are products of the elite Eaton-Oxford program.

In France, the anti-elite elite is characterized by its profile political professional. Marin Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melanchon are symbolic examples of this, as their careers and their guerrilla leadership show. The first is a “political heiress” who began her career at the age of 18 before rising to all levels. National Front before running in the 2012 presidential election. The second is a “product of meritocracy” in France, receiving CAPES in modern letters and joining the Socialist Party in 1976.

During his long political career, he held elected positions, including MP, Senator, MEP and Executive Minister of Vocational Education (2000-2002). He has also run in the presidential election three times since founding his own party (Le Parti de Gauche in 2008, which became La France Insoumise in 2016). Moreover, both imposed unquestionable leadership on their political party, as evidenced by their constant re-election to the leadership. This iron fist in relation to the organization illustrates the iron law of the oligarchy, dear Roberto Michels.

Criteria for the sociology of elites, namely social background, training, professional trajectory, political career duration, accumulation and type of mandate, show, not surprisingly, a small distance that separates them from those they condemn.