How Europe’s Left Lost Its Popular Touch
Op-Ed: Conservatism is on the rise in Europe as once popular social democratic parties fail again and again to energize voters. The left has only itself to blame, having jumped blindly on the free-market bandwagon and abandoned its traditional working-cla
PARIS - Populism is not the only thing sweeping over Europe these days. Conservatism is also making a major comeback.
The "sweet monster," as Italian linguist and philosopher Raffaele Simone called conservatism last year, is making its presence felt everywhere, and gaining real strength in some countries. The rightward shift is bringing with it social hardship and ushering in police states. As a result, social-democratic ideas are further undermined, and the political parties that espouse them aren't benefitting – at least not yet – from people's indignation.
European societies are facing job insecurity, exclusion, mass unemployment and inequality. People have become financial "variables." All of this should theoretically make left-wing parties more popular. But that clearly hasn't happened. Repeating ad nauseam that the left has "lost the trust of the working class' doesn't get us anywhere. It might describe the situation, but it certainly doesn't explain it. What's needed now is a concerted effort to figure out why and how the left fell out of favor.
The answer cannot not be purely political. German sociologist Ulrich Beck's concept of "sub-politics' would be better fitting. Sub-politics refer to the cultural climate, fashionable ideas and prevailing media thinking. In short, the current times. Therein lies the gap between social-democrats and their traditional voters.
In France, like in the rest of Europe, socialists haven't properly taken into account a phenomenon that, in a just a few years, has caused a major shift in its relationship to the poor. This shift began with the collapse of communism, which made the concept of egalitarianism quickly outdated. After 1989, it was no longer "fashionable" to talk about equality. Blue-collar workers, once celebrated as the heart and soul of a society, are now dismissed as hopeless hicks.
Leftist intellectuals were quick to turn their backs on social issues. There have been a few exceptions, such as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, but they now tend to be intellectually ostracized. Europe's Socialist parties gave in to free market ideology without predicting its ills. They thought they could make morality their new distinctive marker. Social Democrats tout themselves as leftists because they are "tolerant," even if they support liberal economic ideas.
Break with far left
Left-leaning media made a habit of admiring the new hotshots of the finance world, in some cases treating them like rock stars. It began denouncing both populism and republicanism. The mainstream left, in turn, was pressured to break off with the far left in order to enter the famous "circle of reason," meaning the circle of group think.
As a result, the rift deepened between the left and its voters. We tend to forget that in France, nearly 6 million people are blue-collar workers, more than the number of civil servants, and they feel abandoned, just like parts of the middle class and a growing number of people holding insecure jobs. That's a lot of voters.
The final touch of this desertion came with a staggering report from a progressive think tank, which openly recommended that Socialist parties turn away from the working classes in favor of urban youth, women and immigrants. That's where we stand in Europe. In France, it is certainly important that Social Democrats take a moral stand against maneuvers by the far right. But it won't be enough. Comrades, you need to try harder.
Read the original article in French
Photo - lucas deve