PARIS — In the northern German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) defeated Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in local elections. In the United States, the Republicans chose Donald Trump as their candidate for the White House. The British voted for Brexit. Italians elected as mayors of Rome and Turin two representatives of the Five Star Movement, headed by comedian-turned-political-insurgent Beppe Grillo. And next year the French will, in all likelihood, send Marine Le Pen through to the second round of the presidential election. In short, every Western power represented in the G8 (with the notable exception of Canada) is just that close to sending their traditional elites away for good. Thank you and goodbye!
Naturally, the aforementioned elite aren't short of interpretations. It's their job, after all. The most erudite quote Polybius, the Greek historian who in his Histories described the tragic moment when, "as rust is the inbred bane of iron," democracy, the government by the people, degenerates into ochlocracy, the government by the populace.
Believers in the all-abiding power of monetary policy see the electoral situation as the regrettable result of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank's quantitative easing which, by creating asset bubbles, has favored capital to the detriment of labor, thus increasing private wealth and inequalities. For technophiles, digitalization and robotization are responsible for the anxiety of a middle class that sees itself being deprived little by little of its raison d'être and, incidentally, of its income along with it.
Suffering in silence
Declinists lament the deteriorating education system, which creates half-illiterates hunting Pokémon between inane Facebook posts. Homogeneous nation-state nostalgics blame the ill effects of openness and cultural diversity that disrupt our fragile little identities. Global village enthusiasts, meanwhile, suffer in silence as they listen to this swan song of the white male (and more precisely non-qualified white-male), soon to be overwhelmed by demographic realities and migration.
Sociologists hungry for studies on "generational groups" ask themselves whether Millennials aren't having their revenge on the baby boomers who dispossessed them. Futurists, with whom I happily identify, analyze the rejection of the political and intellectual class as the reflection of a more general movement of disintermediation, which calls for a new form of governance, one closer to the individual and his choices.
History will prove which one was the smartest. But in any case, the elite seem to agree with grace to their coming immolation. They're distressed by the fact that they turned their back on the people and they offer their necks to their executioner. They acknowledge their defeat with a mixture of cynical calculation and belated guilt, and either follow the populist wave or retreat into their ivory tower.
Dinners in Washington, London and Paris are a competition of self-flagellation. Flute of champagne in hand, they lash out at the ruling class. They apologize for living in too chic a neighborhood, for traveling too far on vacation, for choosing too good a school for their children, for drinking wine that is too old, and enjoying art that is too abstract. To make up for it, they send tweets with lots of smileys, give TED Talks wearing T-shirts and write op-ed columns to lambast ... well, the elite. Are we secretly hoping that the new masters will spare the repentants?
Big mistake! Now, more than ever, we need a true elite, one that is faithful to its historic mission, that is comfortable with its principles without giving in to the emotion of the day, that doesn't use hashtags to summarize its analyses, that debates with the public without "media training."
Jean Tirole, the French winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics, whom everyone should read more of, apologizes in his latest book, Économie du bien commun ("Common Good Economy"), for his absence from the public debate, explaining that Adam Smith wasn't asked to write blogs. And yet, given his inexhaustible writing, I'm certain he would have...
The status quo is no longer satisfactory. Very well! But have we forgotten who gives revolutions a compass? Enlightened aristocrats such as the count of Clermont-Tonnerre, a provincial lawyer such as Robespierre, famous writers such as Victor Hugo. To arms, the elite!