The Populist Moment, Chapter 1:
Alain de Benoist
Crisis of Representation, Crisis of Democracy
Introduction here; Chapter 2 Part 1 here
Translated by F. Roger Devlin
Opinion democracy? Televisual democracy? Market democracy? Democracy is in crisis, and the pathologies which affect contemporary democracies increasingly occupy observers’ attention. The common opinion is that these pathologies, far from being inherent in democracy itself, result from a corruption of its principles. Some attribute this corruption to external factors or phenomena, which amounts to only questioning the evolution of mores and social transformations. Others emphasize intrinsic factors to explain the more or less pronounced gap between what democracy has become and what it ought to be according to its founding principles. Still others do not hesitate to speak of “post-democracy,” not in order to say that democracy is reaching its end but to suggest that it has itself adopted post-democratic forms which must, therefore, be defined and analyzed. A few observers suggest we are in a situation comparable to France a few years before the Revolution. The most common mood is disquiet and disillusionment.
The present crisis is not the first which European democracies have known. Marcel Gauchet has published a vast four-volume fresco on this subject: The Advent of Democracy. He summarized it in a lecture delivered at Angers in June 2006 which has itself been published in the form of a small book: Democracy from One Crisis to Another.
The first crisis of democracy took shape in France beginning in 1880, got stronger with the shock of 1900, but only really exploded after the First World War, culminating in the 1930s. At this time, writes Gauchet, “the parliamentary regime revealed itself both deceptive and impotent; society, riven by the division of labor and class antagonism, seems to be dislocated; historical change becomes broader, accelerates, is amplified, and escapes from all control.” We enter the era of the masses, and society is torn by class struggle. Moreover, organic solidarity begins to dissolve and the countryside empties out.
The direct consequence of this crisis will be, first of all, the rise of ideologies seeking to confer power on “experts” (planning, technocracy), and then, above all, the unleashing of totalitarian regimes that strive (as Louis Dumont — and to a lesser extent, Claude Lefort — have shown) to compensate for the solvent effects of individualism and a loss of cultural structure by means of a holism as artificial as it is brutal. This is connected with the mobilization of the masses and the institution of a barracks regime in society as a whole based upon an appeal to pre-political notions like the “racial community” or “primitive communism.” In reality, notes Gauchet, “they return or try to return, in a secular language, to religious society: its coherence and the convergence of its parts.” But the twentieth century forms of totalitarianism are also the (illegitimate) children of democratization.
The end of the Second World War marked the great return of liberal democracy. At first, however, to avoid falling again into the excesses which preceded that conflict, liberal democracy draped itself in the new garments of the welfare state. In the context of triumphant Fordism, a mixed regime was in fact established which joined the classic rule of law to more essentially democratic elements, but in which democracy was conceived above all as “social democracy.” Gauchet lists some of the traits of this “liberal-democratic synthesis”: the reevaluation of the executive power within the representative system; the adoption of a whole series of reforms aiming to protect individuals from sickness, unemployment, old age, or poverty; and finally, the establishment of a regulatory and providential apparatus intended to remedy the anarchy which the free development of market exchange involves. This system functioned more or less normally until the end of the “Thirty Glorious Years,” i.e. to the mid-1970s.
Beginning in the period between 1975 and 1980, new tendencies appeared which once again created the conditions for a crisis — but a different crisis. Social democracy, conceived as an insurance company or benevolent organization, started to get winded, and pure liberalism got the upper hand once again. Civil society, henceforth immeasurably privileged, became the engine driving a new phase of the autonomous organization of social life. Economic liberalism made a grand comeback, while capitalism gradually freed itself from all the obstacles which still inhibited it, a process which culminated in the globalization which followed the Soviet system’s collapse. The ideology of the Rights of Man, long restricted to the symbolic or decorative role reserved for venerable abstractions of another era, gradually established itself as the religion of a new age and as a culture of good intentions [bons sentiments].
At the same time, the nation-state proved itself increasingly unable to face up to challenges that had become planetary, and gradually lost all its “prestige value” [“valeurs de majesté”], while we beheld a massive relaunching of the process of individualization in all domains. This found expression in the de facto disappearance of all great collective projects which might have provided the basis for a “we.” Whereas in the past, “it was a question only of the masses and the classes, the individual being understood by means of his group, mass society has been subverted from within by a mass individualism detaching the individual from all forms of belonging.” This is also the era of the near-disappearance of rural society (in France, farmers today represent barely over 1% of households), a real silent revolution whose deep effects will be more or less unperceived. And it is the era of the spread of multi-ethnic societies resulting from mass immigration.
To understand this development, we must fully understand what distinguishes ancient from modern democracy. The former, already based on the idea of a self-constitution of human communities, can be defined as the political formation of means of autonomy through citizens’ participation in public affairs. Modern democracy is intrinsically bound up with modernity, but only by way of a connection to liberalism that tends to denature democracy. The deep cause of this crisis is the unnatural alliance between democracy and liberalism, which Marcel Gauchet was able to present as “the very doctrine of the modern world.” The expression “liberal democracy” associates two terms as complementary when in fact they are contradictory. This contradiction, now plainly revealed, threatens the very basis of democracy. “Liberalism brings democracy into crisis,” as Gauchet says.
Chantal Mouffe has very correctly observed:
On the one hand, we have the liberal tradition constituted by the sovereignty of law, defense of the rights of man, and respect for individual freedom; on the other, the democratic tradition whose principal ideas are those of equality, identity between governors and governed, and popular sovereignty. There is no necessary relation between these two different traditions, but only a contingent historical connection.
Anyone who does not see this distinction cannot understand the present systemic crisis of this “contingent historical connection.” Democracy and liberalism are in no sense synonymous; on important points they are even opposed concepts. There can be illiberal democracies (democracies simpliciter [or tout court]) and liberal forms of government with absolutely nothing democratic about them. Carl Schmitt went so far as to say that the more liberal a democracy is, the less democratic it is.
In relation to ancient democracy, the great difference of modern democracy (as its principles were established beginning around 1750) is that it rests no so much on the participation of citizens in public affairs as on the universal right of individuals, and also that it is no longer alien, in its historical rise, to the ideology of progress. Liberalism favors a confusion of politics with morality and law. The ideology of progress confers upon the democratic dynamic an orientation that projects it constantly forward in the invention of the future. The transition to the future, a henceforth privileged historical dimension, involves a “complete reorganization of the social order.” In particular, it leads to an “inversion of the signs in the relations between power and society.” Society, and no longer power, is posited as the seat of collective movement. It follows from this that the political system must above all guarantee the freedom of the individuals who are the genuine actors of History. Thus it is no longer laws which determine mores, but mores which gradually modify the laws.
Within such a framework, power can no longer be regarded as the cause of society, as the ultimate authority charged with bringing it into existence and ordering it. . . . Power is to be considered the effect of society. It can only have been secreted by society and can only have the role of fulfilling the missions society gives it. In a word, it has no meaning except insofar as it represents society.
Of course, democracy remains classically defined as consecrating the “power of the people,” but in reality, having become liberal and purely representative, it is only a political regime consecrating the rise of modern individualism and the primacy of “civil society” over political authority.
Beginning at the end of the 1980s, a decade which also saw postmodernity’s emergence, the appearance of “rights-of-man democracy” is the expression of a renewed influence of liberalism on democracy. This phenomenon corresponds to what Marcel Gauchet calls the “turn of democracy against itself”:
The concept of rule of law acquires a salience in this connection which far surpasses the technical sense to which it was formerly confined. It tends to become confused with the very idea of democracy, assimilated to a guardian of private liberties and respect for the procedures which preside over their public expression. In a revealing way, the spontaneous understanding of the word democracy has changed. . . . It used to refer to collective power, the capacity for self-government. It no longer refers to anything except personal freedoms. Anything is judged harmonious with democracy if it expands the domain and role of individual prerogative. A liberal version of democracy has supplanted its classic concept. The touchstone is no longer the sovereignty of the people, but the sovereignty of the individual, defined as his power of thwarting collective power if necessary. Because of this, the promotion of democratic law involves democracy’s gradual political incapacitation.
Democracy involves the existence of a democratic subject: the citizen. The atomized individual as conceived by liberal theory cannot originally be a citizen, for by nature he is alien to any form of belonging on which a will to live together is based. Doctrinaire liberals presume to defend individual freedom while unfamiliar with the demand for collective mastery inherent in democracy. Moreover, the logic of individual rights is limitless, for its vehicle is the “legal abstraction [abstraction du droit] which never stops” (Gauchet). The emphasis placed on individual freedom forbids the creation of conditions of collective freedom insofar as the first is exercised at the expense of the second, thus bringing about a social disconnect. Tocqueville thought that the passion for equality would constantly threaten freedom. His mistake lay in not seeing the converse: that the passion for freedom would also threaten democracy. Procedural democracy is based on the idea of a freedom without power, which is nothing but an oxymoron (power simply passes elsewhere).
In a similar vein, Chantal Mouffe emphasizes that
the inability of contemporary democratic theory to tackle the question of citizenship head on is the consequence of a concept of the subject that considers individuals anterior to society, the bearers of natural rights, who are either agents maximizing utility or rational subjects. In all cases, individuals are cut off from social relations and power, language, culture and the totality of practices which render their action possible.
The prerogatives of politics are threatened not only by law but also by the economy. In liberal society the political community, ceasing to govern itself,
becomes a market political society in the strict sense. By this we mean not a society in which economic markets dominate political choices, but a society whose political functioning itself borrows from economics the general model of the market: so its overall form appears as the result of the initiatives and demands of different actors, at the end of a process of self-regulated aggregation. A transformation in the function of the rulers follows. They are henceforth only there to see to it that the rules of the game are followed and to assure that the process functions.
The governing of men is thus reduced to administrative management. The negation of the public domain’s supremacy and the erasure of the idea of the common good, even in its degraded form as the “general interest,” gives way to a multiplication of categorial demands and particular interests, with the public power laboring as well as it can to assure the coexistence of these conflicting demands in a state of permanent inflation. “A politics based on the addition of private interests,” notes Chantal Delsol, “is more closely related to anarchy, i.e., a non-politics. Democracy on the contrary consists in allowing several versions of the general interest to be defined which popular sovereignty alternately raises to representation.”
Alain Caillé observes:
Modern democracies do not manage to conceive of themselves other than as an order based on the rational calculations of interested subjects, interested especially in their material advantage. Viewed in the light of such a conception, both gifts and politics are strictly incomprehensible, and even totally invisible.
This triumph of economics over politics is interpreted by liberals as a triumph of freedom while it consists of a dispossession of oneself, since it expresses itself in the inability of collectives to have any control over their own destiny henceforward. Thus, Marcel Gauchet describes the “ravages of powerlessness” and the “festive forsakenness [déréliction festive] of last men celebrating their inability to govern.”
This anti-political evolution occurs in the direction of neutralization (Neutralisierung) mentioned by Carl Schmitt. Gauchet recalls:
Historically, modern democracies based themselves on the appropriation of public power by members of the political body. . . . Their new idea was to neutralize power of whatever sort so as to safeguard the sovereignty of individuals from any attack. . . . Rights-of-man democracy is thus led by a powerful internal inclination to reject the practical instruments it needs to become effective. Hence comes the painful discovery of the public powerlessness into which it constantly runs. It is democracy itself which secretes this powerlessness. . . . Here is the deep reason for the tottering of States and of the principle of their authority in today’s democracy.
In short: Caught between economics and morality, the ideology of merchandise and that of the rights-of-man, present-day democracy is ever less democratic because it is ever less political.
By referring to purely abstract concepts, democracy finally relinquishes its territorial and historical dimension. Collective beliefs formerly mobilized men because they were anchored in territories. The concept of citizenship is also directly associated with a particular territory where the citizens’ lives are lived: It involves a frontier separating citizens from non-citizens. Marcel Gauchet writes:
The fundamental universalism which gnaws at democracy leads it to dissociate itself from the historical and political framework within which it was forged . . . a framework limited by definition. Ideally, it would like to be without either territory or a past. Legal logic motivates it to refuse to recognize its own inscription in space, an inscription whose limits are an insult to the universality of the principles to which it appeals. In the same way, it rejects its own insertion in a history which places it in a dependency it finds just as unbearable. In other words, democracy is led not to assume the conditions which gave birth to it.
Under the influence of rights-of-man ideology, the principle of democracy is no longer “one citizen, one vote,” but “one man, one vote.”
Liberal democracy gets confused with parliamentarianism and representation. It is a constitutional regime founded exclusively on suffrage and the plurality of parties, where democracy is only the social space negotiated with a State under the rule of law. Now, as Carl Schmitt never stopped repeating, a people has less need of being represented insofar as it is politically present itself. Rousseau already said, “When the people has leaders who govern for it, whatever name these leaders have, it is always an aristocracy.” In liberal democracy the constitutional people is only sovereign insofar as it is able to consent to the power of those supposed to represent it. But representation is merely a pis-aller. “When made obligatory, the delegation of popular sovereignty to mandataries authorized in reality to appropriate such sovereignty is obviously very questionable in view of the democratic principle,” Guy Hermet reminds us.
This is why Althusius, according to whom society as a whole is defined as an association (consociatio) of mutually articulated bodies [corps articulés les uns aux autres], only allows an always-revocable delegation of power (similar to what we today call an “imperative mandate”). Disconnected from all control except the vote, the representative system betrays those it is supposed to represent, the distinction between representatives and represented inevitably driving the former to make themselves into an oligarchy. This betrayal is especially marked today, what with the recentering of [party] programs and the disappearance of alternatives symbolized by the Left’s conversion to the market society and the Right’s conversion to the abolition of nations, to which we may add the neutralization of universal suffrage by Brussels’ directives. Everyone today is in communion with the religion of the rights of man, the dialectic of possession [avoir], and the triumph of money on the basis of storytelling, i.e., a spectacular commercial void.
Another consistent trait of liberal democracy is that it tends to denounce as “anti-democratic” any democratic demand exceeding its own definition of democracy. Such denunciation is most often aimed at social demands, but also those which seek to give citizens any power going beyond simple suffrage. The people’s participation in public affairs is thus currently rejected in the name of their “incompetence” (power must be reserved for “those who know,” whether experts or governments that claim to know what is good for the people better than the people itself), as if there were a “competence” per se which can be abstracted from its ends — as Aristotle already remarked. These are the same people who in the past pleaded for property qualification [système censitaire], meant to protect them from the “dangerous classes.” Representative democracy can thus be seen as a sort of process allowing popular sovereignty to be “filtered” by restricting its scope. In any case, this is a matter of presenting an oligarchy as naturally justified where it exists, whereas it is merely the product of a [particular] social history.
How can the crisis of representation be remedied? Some think we must move toward a radical extension of social democracy. This is the thesis supported by Takis Fotopoulos in a book meant to be a sort of manifesto in favor of “inclusive democracy.” A partisan of localism and degrowth [décroissance], Fotopoulos makes economic equality the condition for political equality and wants the demos to become “the authentic unity of economic life.” Explicitly endorsing an economy without a State, without money, and without a market, he criticizes Jürgen Habermas and denounces the “reformism” of the anti-globalist movement. His work contains a good critique of representative democracy, which he fairly accurately describes as “democracy which poses no danger to the modern State.” But by definition it is not the extension of social democracy which can restore to politics its proper prerogatives.
“Social democracy,” which goes hand-in-hand with the welfare state, has its European origins in the reforms of Napoleon III and Bismarck. From the beginning, it involved an ambiguity. Responding to incontestably justified demands, it also made it possible to disarm the workers’ revolutionary challenge even as it convinced them that “democracy” consists essentially in the granting and apportionment of quantitative benefits. It thereby erased democracy’s political character and caused it to slip towards “expert” administration and pure management. Social democracy consists in “buying off the people” with increasing material advantages from one election to the other, making its practical legitimacy reside in its capacity to dispense advantages. It is an “insurance” regime, but also a suicidal one, for the public powers cannot indefinitely respond to constantly increasing demands. Moreover, this erodes the basis of legitimacy (the capacity to “realize happiness”) it has given itself and must constantly maintain by promises increasingly difficult to keep. In this light, social democracy illustrates well the confusion between extensive (superficial) democracy and deep (consistent) democracy. Extensive democracy risks ending in the dilution of democracy. Far from consolidating the desire for citizenship, it transforms the members of society into objects of assistance who dream of nothing but receiving even more assistance.
Now, one of the major contradictions of present-day rights-democracy is that, according to public opinion, it rests fundamentally on social democracy — a democracy from which one may expect everything and demand everything — while it no longer has either the will or the ability to be a social democracy. Guy Hermet observes on this point that “the obligation in which democracy as a system of government has let itself be trapped, viz. of in some sense buying support at the price of statutory and then material entitlements subject to constant renewal, affects the governments of developed societies as a whole.” “Pursuing this course with no defined goal,” he adds, “would have meant that toward 2025 or 2030, depending on the country, the total budget of the welfare state would absorb all the wealth produced in Europe without anything left over for the commercial economy or the private expenses of its inhabitants.”
So a chasm continues to be dug between the people and an autistic, incestuous, and narcissistic New Class. Contrary to what gets repeated in reactionary milieus, modern democracy did not issue in ochlocracy, the power of the populace or multitude denounced by Plato, but in a new form of political, media, and financial oligarchy. To criticize liberal democracy is thus not to denounce the people, but to denounce the elites. Gauchet mentions “the generalized sense of dispossession which haunts the democracy of rights. Its mechanism . . . inexorably erodes the people’s confidence in the oligarchies to which it encourages them to entrust themselves.” Populism is a classic reaction to this divorce.
In liberal democracy, as we have seen, democracy does not, properly speaking, define itself by popular sovereignty, by the attribution of sovereignty to the people, but rather by a kind of state of mind that celebrates both equality of condition and the independence of individuals who perceive themselves as socially separate from one another. Under the influence of liberalism, democracy seeks to organize the freedom of individuals, not to let the people decide. But what about the people?
Grotius, Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Locke all tried to explain how it was possible for individuals to constitute themselves as a people. None of them succeeded, for one cannot arrive at a people starting from individuals. Their procedure consisted in imagining a voluntary rational act whose implementation resulted in an association of men and the formation of a society. Now, as Bruno Gnassounou remarks, “no one has ever succeeded in explaining how private individuals could contract with a collective body that is supposed to be engendered by that very contract. The whole is presupposed here. This is because it is quite simply impossible to engender a whole starting from individuals,” which amounts to saying that there can be no political people if man is not both a social and a political being by nature — since the concept of contract refers to an already constituted legal order.
It is all very well for Pierre Rosanvallon to speak of a “change in the nature of citizenship” — in fact, it is a disappearance of citizenship we are witnessing today, so greatly does contemporary democracy dilute the very meaning of the word “people” by referring to a “universal people,” and “citizens of the world” called upon to replace the “national people.” A people is not a mere sum of individuals, but neither is it interchangeable with the concept of “multitude,” which also merely covers abstract singularities. A return to democracy’s original spirit would be a return to the idea of a political people acquiring collective freedom by its participation in public affairs. Aristotle, who preferred a mixed regime, defined the democratic citizen by his capacity for “participating in deliberative and judicial power.” The people’s power certainly can never be fully realized. It resides first of all in an aspiration, a tension. But participation, even if it can never be complete, is what allows us to approach most closely to the power of the people by reducing the gap between power and the people.
By participation, the people does not merely display its power and will to emancipation; it continually reinforces itself in its existence as a people. This is what Marx implies in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) when he locates the essence of “true” democracy in the “self-constitution of the people as subject.”
Today they want to replace the people with “civil society.” “The State,” writes Marcel Gauchet, “tends to transform itself into a space where civil society represents itself, without preserving any hierarchical superiority in relation to civil society, nor any role of historical training for it.” Now, civil society is merely a sum of group interests. By nature, it only defends general categories of interest, which forbids it from assuming the role of the State and formulating a genuine collective project or exercising an overall regulation of society.
The importance given to civil society is in fact a way of consecrating the action of interest groups and lobbies, all equally representative of this “civil society,” all inclined to defend general forms of interest or privilege. The consequence is no longer a tyranny of the majority over minorities, but a tyranny of minorities over the majority. The rise of “civil society” amounts, from this point of view, to the increasing pressure of opinion. “Opinion democracy” is one where polls have greater importance than real elections, and the images carried by television more importance than ideas or even acts. Régis Debray believes that
[t]his media-and-polling dictatorship transforms the government into a day-to-day manager, directed toward the supposed desires of public opinion, whether to anticipate or prevent them. We are witnessing, for example, the birth of a form of diplomacy where one reacts to everything instantly, the better to do nothing in the long run, where one jumps from one image to another without memory and without plan.
Debray recalls in passing that “in the philosophic hierarchy, opinion is the lowest level of knowledge,” and that it “is the very opposite of conviction, which is not a question of assent but of existence. No one dies for an opinion; one can die for a conviction.”
Participatory democracy has little in common with civil society insofar as what it needs first of all is a public space, a common place allowing the people to exist politically and exercise its power. The public space is the locus where demos and polis are joined, the place — which binds insofar as it is a place — where the crowd becomes a people. It is tied to a territorial or geographic representation. The original sense of demos is “land inhabited by a people,” which means that the people has first of all a telluric significance. Joëlle Zask writes:
In democracy, how can union and unanimity be produced between different individual wills, interests, and needs? The sensible response is contact. But the fact is that contact is often conceived in terms of physical proximity. Individuals must have some contiguous side. Hence the usefulness of reasoning in terms of space. . . . In general, we can state that it is only when individuals are in contact with one another that they have a chance of forging common ideas.
As Gabriel Tarde has seen (opposing Gustave Le Bon on this point), the despacialization of political life ends by replacing the people with the “public,” which Tarde considered the “social group of the future.” Tarde is not mistaken. Modern “publics” are characterized by dispersion and the absence of any face-to-face relationship, and their vitality owes nothing to common conviction or shared values. “Public” in this sense refers to nothing substantial or constant.
Another mistake is to picture the public space as purely deliberative or procedural, in the fashion of Jürgen Habermas for example, who significantly speaks of the public sphere rather than the public space: for respect for formal and communicational rules determines nothing regarding the manner of deciding, nor regarding the value of decisions with respect to what they are meant to determine. Rules by themselves are always empty. As Bruno Gnassounou perceptively notes,
it is obviously because they refuse, in the name of individual autonomy, to let substantive ends intervene that the adepts of “communicational spaces” appeal to procedures. But appealing to procedures . . . is above all a refusal to let the community govern itself. This is because governing oneself does not consist in imposing on oneself a law which is valid because it is in conformity with a higher law, but rather in determining based on an end.
Now, determining based on an end already presupposes agreement on the common good.
The foregoing allows us to understand what “post-democracy” will probably consist in. The two great new political phenomena are the emergence of “governance” and the rise of various forms of populism.
Originally derived from “corporate governance,” the whole theme of governance, in which Marc Hufty sees the triumph of “accountancy thought,” aims to transform governments into organs of management inspired by economic methods, and to reduce them to the rank of instruments subordinate to economic and especially financial imperatives. Corresponding to the “great disruption” described by Francis Fukuyama, it is based both on civil society as a substitute for the political people and on the “convergence of choices at the international level silently secreted by the connivance of governing milieus” (Marcel Gauchet).
Governance breaks the classical hierarchy in the direction of public affairs. The State loses its symbolic power and finds itself restricted to a role as a regulatory agency, decisions increasingly being made by coopted actors without democratic legitimacy on the basis of interests negotiated at higher levels — and, as regards local affairs, in a simple consultatory relation with self-proclaimed representatives of civil society. Governance ends in the primacy of interest over value, the negotiated norm over the law voted upon, and thus of the judge over the legislator. The model is that of aligning the conduct of public affairs with the management of private affairs based on the belief that “in all domains, societies and relations between countries can be directed by automated balancing mechanisms related to those of the economic market,” and on the conviction “that the great questions of collective significance should be free of the whims of any majority will, so as to obey either rational choices or bargaining at the top conditioned by changing equilibria independent of the will of States.” Finally, of course, “governance is foreign to the accomplishment of any relatively long-term project designed to satisfy a common good now become unintelligible, or to satisfy a majority will considered potentially oppressive.”
Governance aims at the privatization of global society on the model of the market. But the market does not get along well with democracy. It demands the suppression of borders, whereas democracy can only be conducted within a given polity. It implies that economic mechanisms should free themselves of all political oversight directed toward the common good. Moreover, the development of markets is, historically speaking, the direct consequence of the separation between the worker and his means of production — i.e., the automation of the economy — which has ended with two factors previously considered non-negotiable: man and the Earth, which is beginning to be considered as “economic goods” produced with a view toward selling them on the market. Historical experience shows, moreover, that capitalism can very well coexist not only with a purely oligarchic regime, but even with an authoritarian one (yesterday in Chile, today in China), which refutes the idea according to which the market economy automatically creates the conditions for democracy.
The increasingly repetitive use of the term “governance,” Guy Hermet concludes, attests to “a will to repress the concept of government, with its political connotation of the prioritization of public authority and the general interest over what comes from private interest and private actors. Governance is the end of politics, and with it of civic democracy.” Obeying “an anti-political principle which commands that the people, considered ignorant and fickle, not be convened . . . the concept of governance corresponds to a system of command that would no longer be a truly political regime.”
The present-day crisis of democracy is above all a crisis of politics.
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 “It cannot be ruled out that, politically, a new era is opening before us: that of post-democracy,” writes Christian Savés (Sépulture de la démocratie. Thanatos et politique, L’Harmattan, Paris 2008, 10). The thesis presented here is that democracy is “a victim of its own death instinct”: “Its Freudian thanatos inexorably pulls it down, . . . inexorably drives it to work toward its own ruin” (12). But it remains to be demonstrated that democracy is inherently nihilistic. The same expression is found in the title of the little book published by Karlheinz Weißmann, Post-Demokratie (Schnellroda: Antaios, 2009). The author is preoccupied above all with the future of the State rather than that of democracy, however. In passing, he notes that “the weakness of all discourse on post-democracy is due to fear of the consequences” (67).
 This is the thesis brilliantly set out by Guy Hermet: “Like our ancestors of 1775 or 1785, we are reaching the end of a ‘future ancient régime,’ a regime coming to its conclusion, destined to give way to another political universe yet unnamed but already largely sketched out in practice. Like them, we are at the gates of the Next Regime” (L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime [Paris: Armand Colin, 2007,] 13). Cf. also his interview published in Catholica under the title “Crépuscule démocratique”: “Our present winter, our winter of democracy is already harboring a new regime” (Summer 2008, 27).
 Marcel Gauchet, L’Avènement de la démocratie ; vol. I: La Révolution moderne (Paris : Gallimard, 2007); vol. II: La Crise du libéralisme (1880-1914) (Paris : Gallimard, 2007); vol. III: A l’épreuve des totalitarismes (1914-1974) (Paris: Gallimard, 2010); vol. IV: Le Nouveau Monde (Paris: Gallimard, 2017). Cf. also La démocratie contre elle-même (Paris: Gallimard, 2002).
 Marcel Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre (Nantes: éditions Cécile Defaut, 2007).
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 27.
 It is under the influence of democracy’s liberal conception that the classic opposition between democratic and totalitarian regimes — in which totalitarianism is considered the perfect opposite of democracy, or that which represents the farthest removed political form — was posited as final and unsurpassable. However, the most totalitarian regimes also have incontrovertibly democratic aspects. Emmanuel Todd, citing the American historian David Schoenbaum (Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939 [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966]), recalls that Nazism, despite its nostalgic discourse on the return to blood and soil, represented for Germany a crucial stage in democratization. “In a very special social sense, the National Socialist experience was the equivalent of the French Revolution, with its own version of August 4 and the abolition of privileges” (Après la démocratie, Gallimard, Paris 2008, 121-122).
 Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre, 35.
 Gauchet, La Crise du libéralisme, 18.
 Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2000), 2-3.
 Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre, 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 38-39. Christian Savès also speaks of a “veritable deconstruction of democracy by law [droit], law in general and the rights of man in particular” (Sépulture de la démocratie, 71).
 Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox, 95-96.
 Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre, 42-43.
 Chantal Delsol, “La Démocratie asphyxiée,” in Valeurs actuelles, July 10, 2008, 22.
 Alain Caillé, Théorie anti-utilitariste de l’action. Fragments d’une sociologie générale (Paris: La Découverte, 2009), 143.
 Marcel Gauchet, La Révolution moderne (Paris: Gallimard, 2007), 19, 25.
 Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre, 47-48.
 Ibid., 46.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat social, III, 15.
 Guy Hermet, L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime, 185.
 All political polling demonstrates that Left-wing parties now get their best results in the largest cities inhabited by the new upper-middle class and no longer in the working-class neighborhoods. Christophe Guilluy, author of the Atlas des Nouvelles fractures sociales en France, summarizes this in the formula: “The Left is strong where the people are weak” (20 minutes, March 18, 2008).
 The previous word is in English in the original.
 “Storytelling is the politics of distraction, of the replacement of discourse by entertainment, funny or off-color stories, political action by means of evasion, the substitution of human-interest items [faits divers] for political programs, the twilight of political man forced out by the entertainer, or if necessary by the subject of scandal” (Guy Hermet, “Crépuscule démocratique,” 34).
 In 1791, 44,000 privileged electors chosen from among the biggest taxpayers, i.e. the richest, were already pre-eminent. By 1794 there would only be 25,000. Guy Hermet notes in this connection that “medieval proto-democracy was suppressed for three reasons: the hostility of absolutist monarchs as well as enlightened despots with regard to their subjects’ traditional manifestations of autonomy, the fear of the bourgeois and proprietors of any government by the little people, and the prejudices of philosophers and lawyers of the Enlightenment, already imagining themselves in power as mandataries obligated to the ignorant multitude” (L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime, 26). Jacques Julliard also declares: “At least in France, representative democracy has been conceived from the beginning as a rampart against universal suffrage: Once the citizens have designated their representatives, their duty is to be quiet. This is what they no longer accept” (Le Monde, June 1-2, 2008, 15).
 Takis Fotopoulos, Vers une démocratie générale. Une démocratie directe, économique, écologique et sociale, translated by Paul Chemla (Paris: Seuil, 2001), 205.
 Guy Hermet, L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime, 63.
 Ibid., 64. On this point cf. also Danilo Zolo, Democracy and Complexity: A Realist Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
 Cf. Emmanuel Todd, Après la démocratie, ch. 3, “De la démocratie à l’oligarchie,” 67-93. “The real drama, for democracy,” writes Todd, “does not so much reside in the opposition between the elites and the masses as in the lucidity of the masses and the blindness of elites” (223).
 Marcel Gauchet, La Démocratie d’une crise à l’autre, 45.
 Bruno Gnassounou, “Se gouverner soi-même?” in Isabelle Koch & Norbert Lenoir (eds.), Démocratie et espace publique : quel pouvoir pour le peuple? (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2008), 119.
 Pierre Rosanvallon, La Contre-démocratie (Paris: , Seuil, Paris 2006).
 On the dialectic between demos and ethnos, cf. the fine pages Régis Debray devotes to the subject in Le Moment fraternité (Paris: Gallimard, 2009, 340-349).
 Aristotle, Politics, III, 1, 1275b 18-19.
 On this point, Norbert Lenoir is not mistaken to say that “democracy is at once the impossible power of the people and the attempt to create a citizens’ power of political intervention” (“Démocratie: le people excédentaire et les voix du people,” Koch & Lenoir, Démocratie et espace publique, 92). The rest of the author’s views appear questionable to us).
 Aristotle also notes: “Everyone finds it more agreeable to till his own soil than to busy himself with politics and be a magistrate” (Politics, IV, 13, 1297b 5).
 On participation, cf. also Benjamin R. Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); and Volker Gerhardt, Partizipation. Das Prinzip der Politik (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2007).
 Marcel Gauchet, La Religion dans la démocratie. Parcours de la laïcité (Paris: Gallimard, 1998), 113.
 Régis Debray, Le Monde, June 1-2, 2008, 15.
 Joëlle Zask, “Le public est-il un espace ? Réflexion sur les fonctions des publics en démocratie,” in Koch & Lenoir, Démocratie et espace publique, 81.
 Gabriel Tarde, L’Opinion et la foule [1898-1899] (Paris: PUF, 1989), 38.
 Gnassounou, “Se gouverner soi-même?”, 124.
 On governance, cf. Alain de Benoist, Le Traité transatlantique et autres menaces (Paris: Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2015), 105-148.
 Cf. Marc Hufty (ed.), La Pensée comptable. Etat, libéralisme, nouvelle gestion publique (Paris: PUF, 1998).
 Guy Hermet, L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime, 202, 212.
 Ibid., 204.
 Economist Robert Reich, author of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), reminds us that “no company can sacrifice its profit to the common good” (“La démocratie est malade du supercapitalisme,” in Sciences humaines, March 2008, 31).
 Cf. Karl Polanyi, La Grande Transformation. Aux origines politiques et économiques de notre temps , translated by Catherine Malamoud and Maurice Angeno (Paris: Gallimard, 1983). Cf. also Jérôme Maucourant, “Marché, démocratie et totalitarisme,” in Peut-on critiquer le capitalisme? (Paris: La Dispute, 2008), 107-122.
 Hermet, “Crépuscule démocratique,” 34.
 Hermet, L’Hiver de la démocratie ou le nouveau régime.
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