The Populist Moment, Chapter 5, Part 1:
Alain de Benoist
The Theses of Jean-Claude Michéa
Introduction here, Chapter 4 Part 2 here, Chapter 5 Part 2 here
Translated by F. Roger Devlin
In January 1905, the regulations of the French Section of the Workers’ International, the Socialist Party of the time, still indicated that it was a “class party whose goal was to socialize the means of production and exchange, i.e. to transform capitalist society into a collectivist or Communist society, and that its means to this end was the economic and political organization of the proletariat.” Of course, no “socialist” party would dare say this today. Socialists have mutated into social-democrats and, increasingly, into social-liberals.
That the Left has today become almost entirely reformist, that it has rallied to the market economy, and that it has gradually cut itself off from the workers and the popular classes is certainly no great revelation. The spectacle of political life demonstrates this all the time. It is why, for example, the Left is heard so weakly in the great global financial crisis of the moment: It is no more disposed than the Right to take the measures necessary for launching a real war against Form-Capital’s planetary grasp. As Serge Halimi observes, “The reformist Left distinguishes itself from the conservatives for the duration of a political campaign by a kind of optical illusion. Then, when it gets the chance, it governs like its adversaries so as not to upset the economic order, to protect the silverware of the nobility in their castles.”[i]
The question arises as to why? What are the causes of this development? Can they be fully explained in terms of individual opportunism on the part of former revolutionaries who have become distinguished citizens? Must we see in it a distant consequence of the Fordist system? Or an effect of particular historical circumstances, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc having destroyed the idea of any credible alternative to the market system?
In Orpheus’s Complex, Jean-Claude Michéa gives a more original and also deeper answer: the Left has cut itself off from the people because it adhered very early to the ideology of progress, which diametrically contradicts all popular values.[ii]
Aiming at the unification of the human race, as well as the advent of a “liquid” (Zygmunt Bauman) universe, the theory of progress implies the repudiation of all “archaic” (i.e., previous) forms of belonging, the systematic destruction of the basis of traditional solidarity (as in the famous enclosure reform which forced the exodus of thousands of peasants deprived of their customary rights, converting them into deracinated workers easily exploitable by factories).[iii] In the “progressive” view, any positive evaluation of the world as it was before necessarily comes from a “nostalgic” cult of the past:
All who — ontologically incapable of admitting that times change — display any attachment (or any nostalgia), in any domain whatsoever, for what formerly existed thus betrays a disturbing “conservatism” or, for the most impious among them, an irremediably “reactionary” nature.[iv] The new world must necessarily be raised on the ruins of the previous world. The liquidation of roots forms the basis of the program; from this it follows that “only the deracinated can attain intellectual and political freedom” (Christopher Lasch).
Such is the image of the world which, in the eighteenth century, accompanied the bourgeoisie’s social rise, and with it the spread of mercantile values. It is a modern attitude ordered toward an abstract universalism in which Friedrich Engels rightly saw “the idealized rule of the bourgeoisie” (Sorel, in his own time, also emphasized the profoundly bourgeois character of the ideology of progress). It is also an old monotheistic procedure that hurls anathemas at particular realities in the name of a conceptual iconoclasm — an ancient Platonic attitude discrediting the sensible world in the name of pure ideas.
The theory of progress is directly associated with liberal ideology. The liberal project was born in the seventeenth century from a desire to break with civil and religious wars while rejecting absolutism, which was judged incompatible with individual liberty. After the wars of religion, liberals thought civil war could only be avoided by ceasing to appeal to shared moral values. They advocated a State neutral on the issue of the “good life.” Since society could no longer be founded on virtue, common sense, or the common good, morality had to remain a private affair (the principle of axiological neutrality). The general idea was that one could only found civil society on the principled exclusion of all reference to common values — which amounted, in turn, to positing the legitimacy of any desire or whim that was the object of a “private” choice.
The liberal project, as Jean-Claude Michéa explains, resulted in two things:
On the one hand, the rule of law, officially neutral on the level of moral and “ideological” values, and whose only function is to make sure the freedom of one group not infringe that of any other (a liberal constitution has the same metaphysical structure as a roadmap). On the other, the self-regulating market, supposed to allow each person to reach agreement with his fellows on the exclusive basis of the self-interest properly understood of the parties concerned.[vi]
The Left/Right dichotomy is often traced back to the French Revolution. This is to forget that it only truly entered public discourse at the very end of the nineteenth century. On the eve of the Revolution, the principal division did not oppose the “Left” to the “Right,” but a landed aristocracy endowed with political power to a mercantile bourgeoisie won over to liberal ideas. No one at that time truly defended the people. Retrospectively, Michéa’s book explains the French Revolution’s ambiguity: a bourgeois revolution, but carried out in the name of the “third estate” (and above all the “nation”), inspired at once by Rousseau’s ideas and the liberalism of the Enlightenment, and “progressive” with Condorcet, but fascinated by Antiquity with Robespierre or Saint-Just.
In the nineteenth century, liberals would once again take up this fundamentally modern idea that consists in seeing in “the uprooting from nature and tradition the emancipatory act par excellence and the only means of access to a ‘universal’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ society.”[vii] Benjamin Constant, to cite only one, was the first to celebrate this disposition of human nature that leads one to “sacrifice the present to the future.”
While the Third Republic sees the bourgeoisie gradually, and not without difficulties, assume the heritage of the Revolution of 1789, the socialist movement organized itself in associations and parties. Let us recall that the word “socialism” only appeared around 1830, especially in the writings of Pierre Leroux and Robert Owen, just as capitalism was affirming itself as the dominant force. The right to strike was recognized in 1864, the same year the First International was founded. Now, the first socialists, whose social base was found especially among trade workers, did not at all present themselves as men “of the Left.” Michéa recalls, moreover, that “socialism was originally neither of the Left nor Right,”[viii] and that it would never have occurred to Sorel or Proudhon, Marx or Bakunin to define themselves as men “of the Left.” The “Left” at that time meant nothing beyond “radicals.”
In fact, the socialist movement presented itself at the beginning as an independent force, in regard to both the conservative bourgeoisie and “ultras,” as well as to the “republicans” and other forces of the “Left.” It was of course opposed to the caste privileges attached to the Ancien Régime — privileges preserved in another form by the liberal bourgeoisie — but it was equally opposed to the individualism of the Enlightenment inherited from British political economy with its defense of mercantile values, which had already been so well criticized by Rousseau. So it did not embrace the “progressive” Left’s ideas, and saw that the values of progress exalted by the Left were also those of the liberal bourgeoisie that was oppressing the workers. In reality, it was struggling against the monarchist and clerical Right; against bourgeois capitalism, the exploiter of living labor; and against the progressive “Left” who were heirs of the Enlightenment. So we have a contest between three parties, very different from the Left/Right divide that would win out following the First World War.
Moreover, it was by way of opposition to the Left’s reformism and parliamentarianism that Proudhonian socialism and Sorelian revolutionary syndicalism developed the ideal of mutualism, or the autonomy of trade unions and the revolutionary will at work in “direct action” — an ideal that would crystalize in 1906 in the celebrated Charter of Amiens of the General Confederation of Labor.
The first socialists were not enemies of the past, either. More exactly, they quite easily distinguished those aspects of the Ancien Régime that embodied the principal of hierarchical dominion which they rejected from those that embodied the communitarian principle (Marx’s Gemeinwesen) and the traditional moral and cultural values which underlay it. “For the first socialists, it was clear that a society in which individuals would have nothing in common apart from their rational aptitude for concluding exchanges based on self-interest could not constitute a community worthy of the name.”[ix] This is why Pierre Leroux, one of the very first socialist theoreticians, affirmed not only that “society is not the result of a contract,” but that “far from being independent of all society and all tradition, man has his life within tradition and society.”
For the people, the past is not merely what enables them to place themselves in a particular historic lineage and continuity, but also what helps them judge the value of proposed innovations. “Tradition,” from this point of view, is less a constraint than a protection. In the past, a good number of popular revolts have originated in a clearly advertised will to defend popular customs and tradition against the Church, the bourgeoisie, or princes. The reason is that it is the customs, traditions, and particular forms of local life which allow the emergence of a common world and constitute the framework within which “the elementary structures of reciprocity can be established, and thus also the anthropological conditions of different ethical and political processes which may allow the extension of their fundamental principal to other human groups, or even to humanity as a whole.”[x]
This view of the past in no way contradicts internationalism or the sense of the universal. The first socialists were perfectly aware that it is “always from a particular cultural tradition that it appears possible to attain truly universal values,”[xi] and that “in practice, the universal can never be constructed on the ruins of particular rootedness.”[xii] To borrow the words of the Portuguese writer Miguel Torga, they thought that “the universal was the local without walls.” “Since only he who is emotionally attached to his community of origin — its geography, history, culture, ways of living — is really able to understand those who feel a similar sentiment toward their own community,” writes Michéa again, “we can conclude that the true national sentiment (of which love of the language is an essential component) not only does not contradict, but on the contrary tends generally to favor the development of the internationalist spirit which has always been one of the socialist project’s principal drivers.”[xiii]
Just as patriotism must not be confused with (“Right-wing”) nationalism, internationalism must not be confused with (“Left-wing”) cosmopolitanism. The abandonment or forgetfulness of one’s own culture makes one unable to understand the attachment of others to theirs. The final result of abstract universalism is not the reign of the universal good, but the establishment of a “hypnotic, glacial, and uniform universe” whose subject is that narcissistic, pre-Oedipean, immature, and capricious being: the contemporary consumer.
In France, it was at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894) that the historic alliance was formed between socialism (influenced first by German Social Democracy, then by Marxism) and the progressive “Left.” Born of a concern for “republican defense” against the monarchic, clerical, or nationalist Right, a compromise emerged which would first give birth to those called “progressive republicans.” Then a confusion occurred between what is liberating and what is modern, the two wrongly being treated as synonymous.
It was at this moment, writes Michéa, that the socialist movement was “gradually led to substitute for its initial struggle of the workers against bourgeois capitalist domination a different struggle that would soon oppose — in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘modernity’ — a people ‘of the Left’ to a people ‘of the Right’ (and from this new point of view it would be self-evident that a worker of the ‘Left’ was always much closer to a banker or International Monetary Fund (IMF) director of the Left than to a worker, peasant, or employee who gave his vote to the Right).”[xiv] This initial compromise had two aspects:
One the one hand, it led to anchoring liberalism — the principal engine of the Enlightenment’s philosophy — in the camp of the “forces of progress.” . . . On the other, it contributed to make the original socialist critique illegible in advance, since that critique was born precisely of a revolt against the inhumanity of liberal industrialization and the injustice of its abstract law.[xv]
It was then — and then alone — that the cause of the people began to be synonymous with that of progress, under the banner of a Left which wanted above all to be the “party of the future” (as against the past) and the herald of “sunny tomorrows,” i.e. of modernity on the march. It was only then that it became necessary, when one wished to place himself “on the Left,” to proclaim a “principled contempt for everything which still wore the disgraceful mark of ‘yesterday’ (the dark world of the fields, traditions, ‘prejudices’, ‘withdrawal into oneself,’ or ‘irrational’ attachment to beings and places).”[xvi] It was only then that the socialist (followed by the Communist) movement made the “progressive” ideal of endless productivity its own — this industrial and hyper-urban project which completed the uprooting of the popular classes, rendering them even more vulnerable to the grip of Form-Capital (which also explains why this ideal was better received by already rootless workers than by peasants).
Henceforth, to defend socialism one had to believe in the promise of humanity’s forward march toward a radically new world governed only by the universal laws of reason. To be “on the Left,” one had to class oneself among those who on principle refused to look back, as Orpheus was commanded (whence the title of Michéa’s book: descended to the realm of the dead in the hope of finding Eurydice and bringing her back to the world of the living, Orpheus was forbidden by Hades to look back on pain of losing his beloved forever; of course, he violated this prohibition at the last moment). Michéa opposes this wrong turn, in which he rightly sees a deception, with as much firmness as talent.
Cut off from its roots, the workers’ movement was at the same time deprived of the conditions and means of its autonomy. As George Orwell saw, in effect the religion of progress deprives man of his autonomy at the very moment it claims to guarantee his liberation from the past. By way of historical necessity, heteronomy with regard to the future replaces heteronomy with regard to the past. “As soon as an individual (or a collective) has lost the means of his autonomy,” emphasizes Michéa, “he can only continue his existence by having recourse to artificial prostheses. And it is precisely this artificial (or ‘alienated’) life which consumption, fashion, and spectacle are supposed to offer by way of illusory compensation to all those whose lives have thus been mutilated.”[xvii]
With the Left considering itself “innovative,” capitalism is at once denounced as “conservative.” This was another fateful wrong turn, for Form-Capital is anything rather than conservative! Marx had already clearly shown capitalism’s intrinsically progressive character, which he credited with having suppressed feudalism and drowned all the old values in the “icy water of egoistical calculation.” To this fundamental trait we may add another, proper to the modern forms of this same capitalism. Michéa explains:
An integral market economy can only function in the long run if most people have internalized a culture of fashion, consumption, and unlimited growth, a culture necessarily founded on the perpetual celebration of youth, individual caprice, and immediate gratification. . . . So it is indeed cultural liberalism (and not moral rigorism or religious austerity) that constitutes consumer capitalism’s most effective psychological and moral complement.[xviii]
By becoming “Left-wing,” socialism made the principles of cultural liberalism its own. The “permissive” Left thus became the natural breeding ground for capitalism to expand.
For decades, two totally different things would find themselves associated in a permanent state of ambiguity under the label “Left-wing”: the just protest of the working class against the capitalist bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois liberal belief in a theory of progress for which it was a principle that “before” could only be worse and “tomorrow” can only be better. In fact, the socialist movement most certainly lost its initial inspiration the moment it became “progressive,” i.e. the moment it adhered to the theory (or religion) of progress — i.e., to the metaphysics of limitlessness — which is the heart of Enlightenment philosophy, and thus of liberal philosophy. Since the theory of progress is intrinsically tied to liberalism, the “Left,” by becoming “progressive,” condemned itself to rejoining the liberal camp one way or another. The worm was in the apple. Cultural liberalism had already announced the shift to economic liberalism.
The final rampart to give way was the Communist Party, which gradually ceased playing the role which had made for its success in the past: providing “the working class and other popular categories with a political language that allowed them to live their lives with a certain pride and to give meaning to the world before their eyes.”[xix]
We note that what Michéa said of the Left could also of course be said of the Right by means of a converse proof: the Left rallied to economic liberalism because it was already devoted to the idea of progress and “social” liberalism, while the Right rallied to a liberalism of mores because it had first adopted economic liberalism. In fact, it is just as illusory to believe one can be continually liberal at the political or “societal” level without ending up becoming an economic liberal as well (as a majority of men of the Left used to believe) as to believe that one can be continually liberal at the economic level without ending up liberal on the political or “societal” level (as most men of the Right believe). In other words, there is a deep unity to liberalism. Liberalism forms a whole.
To the Left’s stupidity, which thinks it possible to fight capitalism in the name of progress, corresponds the Right’s imbecility, which thinks it possible to defend both “traditional values” and a market economy which never stops destroying such values: “Integral economic liberalism (officially defended by the Right) carries within itself a permanent revolution in mores (officially defended by the Left), just as the latter demands in its turn the total liberation of the market.”[xx] This is what explains the fact that Left and Right are converging today in the ideology of the rights of man, the cult of infinite growth, the veneration of mercantile exchange, and the unrestrained desire for profits. This at least has the merit of clarifying things.
The Left quickly persuaded itself that the globalization of capital represented an inevitable development and an unavoidable future, politics becoming ipso facto nothing more than a means of adapting oneself to economic and financial globalization. The great divorce of the people and the Left has been the most resounding consequence of this.
The Club Jean-Moulin opened the way in the 1960s. The Rocardian “second Left” of the 1970s and the Saint-Simon Foundation in the 1980s widened the breach through which the Left began to bet on “civil society” and rally to the market economy. At the same time cultural liberalism triumphed, a triumph that found expression in a shift in the political debate toward social issues and new social groups in the process of becoming autonomous (women, immigrants, homosexuals, etc.). Finally, money became completely hegemonic in the domain of values. “The winner was Alain Minc,” remarked Jacques Julliard. “He understood that by taking up the second Left’s ideas, one could cut a very nice deal with the neocapitalism then being established.”[xxi]
Thus, there emerged a Left “whose dogmata were anti-racism, hatred of limits, contempt for the people, and obligatory praise for uprootedness.”[xxii] This is how the imagination of the “modern Left” — symbolized in France by Le Monde, Libération, Les Inrockuptibles, and other publications of the ideologically dominant “circle of reason” — came to be confused with that of the masters of the Central European Bank and the IMF. And this is also why, “behind the once-liberating conviction that progress cannot be stopped, it has become increasingly difficult to understand anything but the idea, now dominant, that capitalism and globalization cannot be stopped.”[xxiii] Henceforth the Left celebrated growth, i.e. the production of merchandise ad infinitum, in the same terms as liberals. Where some speak of “deterritorialization” (in the style of Deleuze-Guatteri or Antonio Negri), others speak of “delocalization.” Concerning immigration, the reserve army of capitalism, the “modern” Left uses the same language as Laurence Parisot (“mixture” and “nomadism” set up as norms). Under the influence of those who “destroyed socialism by converting it into the individualism of universal rights and integral liberalism” (Hervé Juvin), the enemy is no longer the capitalist who exploits men’s living labor, but the “reactionary” with his mistaken regret over the loss of past eras.
“Thus it is normal,” continues Michéa, “that the ‘citizen’ Left (that which has broken with any popular and socialist feeling) appears today as the privileged political place where all civilizational and legal transformations required by the global market are carried out. It is no longer anything but the pilot fish of a capitalism without borders or, if you prefer, the militant cultural avant-garde of the liberal Right.”[xxiv]
The Left’s “values” are no longer socialist but “progressive”: support for illegal immigrants [“sans-papiérisme”], the opening or abolition of borders, the defense of homosexual marriage, the celebration of “contemporary art,” the decriminalization of certain drugs, etc. — all options with which the working class is in total disagreement, or in which it is completely uninterested. For the “modern” Left, which has achieved an alliance between government employees, the upper bourgeoisie, immigrants, and “bobos,” it is
a single thing to reject the dark heritage of the past (which can only, as a matter of principal, call forth an attitude of “repentance”), to fight all symptoms of the “identitarian” sickness (i.e., in other words, all signs of a collective life rooted in a particular culture) and to celebrate endlessly the transgression of all moral and cultural limits inherited from past generations (the final reign of the liberal-Paulist universal coinciding by definition with absolute indifferentiation and unlimitedness).[xxv]
What one does not speak of anymore is capitalism or the class struggle, to say nothing of revolution, that obsolete notion[vieillerie]. Even the Communist Party has practically suppressed the word “socialism” from its vocabulary. Having lost its ideological identity, it is no longer able to influence the social-democratic current on which it electorally depends.[xxvi]
The aim is no longer the struggle against capitalism, but the fight against all forms of identitarian concern, regularly described as the resurgence of a reactionary and backward mentality. Jean-Claude Michéa observes:
This explains why the “migrant” has gradually become the central redemptive figure in all ideological constructions of the new liberal Left in place of the archaic proletarian, constantly suspected of not being sufficiently indifferent to his community of origin, or, a fortiori, the peasant whose defining bond with the earth destines him to become the most despised and most mocked figure of capitalist culture.[xxvii]
The Left is therefore looking for a “substitute people.” The Terra Nova foundation, established in 2008 by friends of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, became famous by publishing a report in May 2011 suggesting that the Socialist Party reestablish its electoral base on an alliance between the affluent classes and suburban “minorities,” abandoning the workers and low-level employees to their “Right-wing values” (criticism of immigration, economic and social protectionism, the promotion of strong norms and moral values, the struggle against welfare, etc.). The report’s language is very clear:
Contrary to the Left’s historical electorate, brought together by socioeconomic issues, this France of the future is united above all by its progressive cultural values. . . . Between the two losers of globalization – the ghettoized immigrants and the threatened low-level employees — the Terra Nova-style Left is banking on the first group to the detriment of the second.[xxviii]
Thus, it is not surprising that the people is turning away from a Left more interested in celebrities and riffraff than in working people, which supports globalization even when it is mainly the globalization of capital, which is more interested in citizens’ initiatives than in structural transformations, in a maternal society that “cares” more than in social justice, in associative life more than political life, in media spectacle more than the people’s sovereignty, in social consensus more than class struggle — and which, aligned with the liberal model, no longer conceives a general interest distinct from a mere aggregate of individual interests. The people no longer recognize themselves in a Left which has replaced anti-capitalism with a simulated “anti-fascism,” socialism with “bobo” individualism, and internationalism with cosmopolitanism or enthusiasm for illegal immigration. This Left has nothing but contempt for authentically popular values, indulges in the absurdity of celebrating both “mixture” and “diversity,”[xxix] and exhausts itself in citizens’ campaigns and the struggle against all forms of discrimination (with the notable exception of class discrimination) for the exclusive benefit of the banks, the Lumpenproletariat, and a whole series of marginal groups.
Nor is it surprising that the people, disappointed as they are, often turns to movements described contemptuously as “populist.” To quote Michéa again:
The gap between the accusatory representation of society now imposed by official sociology (a minority of excluded persons relegated to “ethnic ghettos,” suffering all imaginable persecution, and surrounded by a “residential” France supposedly belonging to the middle class) and the dark reality experienced by the popular classes, in the majority and yet forgotten, has become absolutely surreal. The result is that those suffering all the harm of globalization do not find in the politically correct language of the modern Left any means of expressing their lived experience.[xxx]
By undermining any possibility of legitimating any moral judgment (and consequently refusing to understand the popular use of concepts of merit and individual responsibility), the progressive Left inexorably condemns itself to handing over to its enemies on the Right whole segments of these popular classes which are only demanding in their way to live honestly in a decent society. . . . In reality, it was indeed the Left itself which chose, toward the end of the 1970s, to abandon the most modest and exploited social classes to their fate by wanting to be “realistic” and “modern,” i.e. by renouncing in advance any radical critique of historic development which for 30 years now has been burying humanity beneath an “immense accumulation of merchandise” (Marx) and transforming nature into a desert of concrete and steel.[xxxi]
Georges Sorel said that “the sublime is dead within the bourgeoisie, and so it is condemned to no longer have any morality.” Michéa also speaks of morality. In his case, however, it is not a question of the “sublime,” but merely of the common decency so often celebrated by Orwell.
“Everything is moral which is a source of solidarity,” said Émile Durkheim, “everything that forces man to reckon with others, to regulate his movements according to something besides the impulses of his own egoism.” “This explains,” adds Michéa, “why the revolt of the first socialists against a world based on mere egoistical calculation was so often brought about by a moral experience.”[xxxii] One thinks of the “virtue” celebrated by Jaurès, and of the “social morality” of which Benoît Malon spoke. “Common decency,” which is far removed from any form of moral order or puritanism, is in fact one of the main traits of “ordinary people.” It is among the people that one finds it most widespread. It involves generosity, the sense of honor, and solidarity. It is at work in the triple obligation to give, to receive, and to give back which Marcel Mauss made the basis of the logic of the gift and counter-gift. It was on the basis of common decency that the protest against social injustice was expressed in the past, for it is common decency that allows one to perceive the immorality of a world exclusively founded on rational self-interest and the permanent transgression of all limits. But it is common decency as well that, today, is protesting with all its strength against that “modern” Left in which it no longer recognizes itself. “From this point of view,” writes Michéa, “the socialist project (or, if one prefers another term used by Orwell, that of a decent society) appears to be a continuation of popular morality by other means.”[xxxiii]
Thus we see that Michéa is not criticizing the Left from a Right-wing point of view, but in the name of the founding values of socialism and the workers’ movement. All his work is an effort to rediscover the spirit of that original socialism, and lay the foundations for its renewal in the world of today. By taking up the defense of “ordinary people,” what he is rejecting above all is the discrediting of the values of rootedness and organic structures which in the past were often the only protection the poorest and most exploited had.
This is not an isolated point of view. Jean-Claude Michéa’s reasoning fits rather well into a vast galaxy where one finds first of all the great Orwell, to whom Michéa has devoted a book (Orwell, Tory Anarchist, Climats, 1995), as well as Christopher Lasch, theoretician of a socialist and communitarian “populism,” another great adversary of the ideology of progress.[xxxiv] We also find, to cite only a few names, the young Marx who criticized the “rights of man”; the first French socialists; William Morris, Charles Péguy, and Chesterton; Antonio Gramsci and his emphasis on popular cultures; the Pasolini of the Écrits corsairs (the one who said, “That which motivates us to go back is as human and necessary as that which drives us to go forward”); Clouscard and his critique of libertarian-liberals, Jean Baudrillard and his denunciation of the “divine Left”; the movies of Ken Loach and Robert Guédiguian; the songs of Brassens; and the novels of René Fallet and Léo Malet, not forgetting Jacques Ellul and Bernard Charbonneau, Walter Benjamin and Günther Anders, Cornelius Castoriadis, André Gorz, Guy Debord, Jaime Semprun, Serge Latouche,[xxxv] and many others.
Michéa compares liberalism to a Möbius strip, which presents a “Left” and “Right” side, but without any break of continuity. This means that between the “Right-wing” bourgeois and the “Left-wing” bourgeois, both heirs of the Enlightenment’s liberal philosophy, there will always be more objective affinities than between both the bourgeois and the anti-bourgeois. Conversely, there is an equally natural complementarity between those who defend the people from the exploitative bourgeois, whether they still place themselves on the Left or come from the Right. This is what the author of The Orpheus Complex means when he writes, “It does not much matter, really, from what historical tradition one has drawn his particular reasons for respecting the principles of common decency and indignation at their permanent violation by the capitalist system.”[xxxvi] In an age when the Left means more than ever to rally the “forces of progress,” Michéa does not hesitate to add that it is “the pathetic inability to assume the anti-capitalist critique’s conservative dimension which explains, to a large degree, the profound ideological disarray (not to say intellectual coma) into which the whole of the modern Left has been plunged today.[xxxvii]
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[i] Serge Halimi, “Où est la gauche a l’heure de la tourmente économique ?”, in Le Monde diplomatique, November 2011, 14.
[ii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée. La gauche, les gens ordinaires et la religion du progrès (Paris: Climats-Flammarion, 2011).
[iii] Michéa notes here that contemporary “migratory movements are simply the transposition to a planetary scale of that permanent rural exodus without which capitalism would soon cease to function” (Le Complexe d’Orphée, 112).
[iv] Ibid., 14.
[v] Michéa emphasizes in passing that when one speaks of the Left’s universalism, one must not forget “its Christian roots and especially its Pauline origin.” St. Paul, in fact, is the first to posit a disincarnate conception of the universal, where “every particular determination must be thought of as a major obstacle to the arrival of a just order and, consequently, as a politically incorrect configuration that must be eradicated as quickly as possible” (Le Complexe d’Orphée, 27).
[vi] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Il y a une unité du libéralisme,” interview in Le Spectacle du monde, October 2011, 22-24.
[vii] Jean-Claude Michéa, “ocialisme ou barbarie, il faut choisir. Maintenant !”, interview in Causeur, October 2011, 17-18.
[viii] Ibid., 22.
[ix] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Orwell, la gauche, l’anti-totalitarisme et la common decency,” interview with Élisabeth Lévy, in Le Magazine littéraire, December 2009.
[x] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Socialisme ou barbarie,” 18.
[xi] Jean-Claude Michéa, interview with Élisabeth Lévy.
[xii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 134.
[xiii] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Socialisme ou barbarie,” 18.
[xiv] Ibid., 22-23.
[xv] Jean-Claude Michéa, interview with Élisabeth Lévy.
[xvi] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 12-13.
[xvii] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Socialisme ou barbarie,” 21.
[xviii] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Il y a une unité du libéralisme,” 24.
[xix] Ibid., 25.
[xx] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 216.
[xxi] Jacques Julliard, “A gauche, le retard des idées sur les faits,” interview in Esprit, March-April 2011, 56.
[xxii] Olivier François, “Michéa et les bons esprits,” in Causeur, October 2011, 24.
[xxiii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 22.
[xxiv] Jean-Claude Michéa, « Il y a une unité du libéralisme », 25.
[xxv] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 28-29.
[xxvi] Cf. Anicet Le Pors, “Communisme : mais ou est donc passé le socialisme ? — PCF — Tours, February 17, 2011,” website LeMonde.fr, blog d’Anicet Le Pors, 1.
[xxvii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 142.
[xxviii] Guillaume Desanges, “Terra Nova ou la nouvelle idéologie socialiste,” in Valeurs actuelles, October 13, 2011. In his essay La Gauche et la préférence immigrée (Paris: Plon, 2011), Hervé Algarrondo, journalist at the Nouvel Observateur, writes: “The legalization of all the undocumented is not merely an anti-republican slogan insofar as it flouts the state’s prerogatives. It is also, and even more, an anti-worker slogan insofar as this is naturally the social category most affected by the arrival of new immigrants.” Cf. also the book by Gaël Brustier & Jean-Philippe Huelin, Recherche le peuple désespérément (Paris: François Bourin, 2009).
[xxix] Cf. Pierre-André Taguieff, “Diversité et métissage : un mariage forcé,” in Le Débat, March-April 2010, 38-44.
[xxx] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Il y a une unité du libéralisme,” 25.
[xxxi] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 245, 252.
[xxxii] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Il y a une unité du libéralisme,” 25.
[xxxiii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 87-88.
[xxxiv] Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics.
[xxxv] Jean-Claude Michéa, who is one of MAUSS’ interlocutors, has also expressed sympathy for the theory of degrowth (Serge Latouche), denouncing the logic of “always more” which is at the heart of the process of unlimited accumulation that is global capitalism. On Jaime Semprun and the publishing house Éditions de l’Encyclopédie des Nuisances, cf. Olivier François and Aurélie Mouillard, “Jaime Semprun avait indiqué la voie,” in Eléments, January-March 2011, 61.
[xxxvi] Jean-Claude Michéa, “Socialisme ou barbarie,” 23.
[xxxvii] Jean-Claude Michéa, Le Complexe d’Orphée, 76-77.
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