Note to English speaking readers: the present letter is entirely focusing on the social situation in France, very different from what happens now in other European countries or in the US. You may however find parallels or similarities with your own country, or can use the same approach to better understand your own environment.
After several months of silence, this Letter looks back at the situation in France, where the Yellow Vests movement has not lost its strength, and has since December 2019 been further amplified with the support of traditional workers' Unions. This support is not really voluntary or planned by the Yellow Vests, whose objectives and mentality are very different from those of the Unions, but the visible result is nonetheless an increase in the intensity of the demonstrations and of the Movement itself.
While a negotiated outcome of the various conflicts underlying this already more than 14 months old revolt seems less and less likely, an increasing gap is widening between the elites on the one hand and a good part of the Population (a majority of French people still support the movement). This paper tries to explain the reasons for this divide, even if this divide has developed in an even more complex way between groups in the population of the country, each one having a clear-cut position on key subjects of life in society.
In this paper I will identify and discuss three relatively well identified groups in the French population. This division into three groups has already been discussed in third-party articles, and I am not at the origin of this model, but will try to describe it, in particular using my 3D modeling - see above my letter 'Politics in 3D '. As a reminder, this modeling uses three aspects and therefore dimensions of the perception of social and economic life.
The first dimension measures the rejection or acceptance of the principles of 'eco-liberalism', or in other words the priority given to private interests over the interests of populations and social protection structures. The second dimension measures the level of 'socio-liberalism', that is to say the degree of acceptance or rejection of traditional family values, and the position of groups with regard to themes such as gender theory. Finally, the third dimension is linked to the degree of attachment or rejection of 'internationalism', putting aside the notions of Nation, Fatherland or cultural roots.
Like any model, this analysis of socio-economico-patriotic opinions of groups of individuals is a simplification of the real landscape, but is however much more realistic than the traditional left-right division, which is far too simplistic to mean much in 2020.
The first group that we will discuss is the so-called political, cultural, journalistic and economic 'elites', as well as the people who support these elites and hope that the current regime and principles of governance will remain in place, or made even more liberal and internationalist.
Calling this group 'the elites' would be a mistake, because elites are only a fraction of the group, which includes for the most part what can be called an ultra liberal bourgeoisie, internationalized, fascinated by the omnipotence of the financial markets, living in the center of big cities, while feeling very 'green'. I will use a term that is abused a little and used across the board in France, but which, when you think about it, suits this group quite well: the Bourgeois Bohemians, the Bobo's. The Bobo world has developed a mixture of petty bourgeois mentality putting its financial interests above all other considerations (often with a very short-term perspective), showing deep disdain for the poorest groups, less cultivated or more provincial, and for all Popular French traditions. On contrary, Bobo's often show a clear admiration for foreign cultures and even a fascination for the Muslim world, an aggressive 'green' ecological discourse, even if they always were the very ones praising the benefits of globalization or to relax on highly polluting big cruisers. This group also has a clear position, denigrating all traditional family values, willing to replace them with a society based on 'gender theory'.
If we use the model mentioned above, this Bobo group will be positioned as follows, on a scale of 1 to 10:
- Socio-liberalism - 10 - Eco-liberalism - 8 or 9 - Internationalism - 10
Looking back to the origins of the Bobo group is also interesting. The main trends of the group have been defined roughly since the 60s. As they were young, many people in this group were very attracted by values foreign to the French or European traditions, with an attraction to Asian religions. We should remember the trips of the Hippies in Kathmandu or of the episode - Bobo style par excellence - of John Lennon and Yoko Onno, staying in bed to protest against "society", and photographed while a maid was making their bed!
This contempt for French traditions and culture appeared many years ago, finally leading to a French President - Macron - declaring that French Culture does not exist indeed! His taste for African-transsexual evenings at the Élysée, even if anecdotal, underline the characteristics of the Bobo group, shared with the country's ruling elites.
A large amount of the Bobo's live in Paris (majority of singles, more than 50% without a car), and in the big cities of the country. The Bobo phenomenon is essentially urban, and on these basis we can estimate that their number is only a few millions.
It is also important to understand that a large part of the Bobo group lives under the illusion of being truly part of the country's elite. But the vast majority of executives, senior managers, small entrepreneurs, liberal professions are in fact increasingly threatened by neo-liberal excesses. Even though their situation is still very comfortable today, the situation of their children is starting to deteriorate. The pension reform, no doubt a fundamental error of the Macronists, is triggering the reaction of some members of this Bobo bourgeoisie, and made them understand that their old age might be more difficult than expected. The sub-group of Bobo's who are the real elite of the country are mostly the 'very rich' - I will come back in a next letter on what to understand by 'very rich' - and also, a traditional French particularity, the politico-business elites, the Macron-type Enarques (alumni of the ENA, a University producing a large bunch of the French political elite), navigating between politics and the business community, earning a lot of money when in Business, and using of their influence when on public affairs, an influence that can be very useful to the ' very rich '.
The second group has also developed over the past thirty years, but has grown very rapidly over the past 10 or 15 years. It is the group of migrants who are poorly integrated or not at all integrated, living mainly in the suburbs of large cities. The recent development within that group, largely composed of Muslims, is the rise in fundamentalist Islam, which was completely absent from the French suburbs in the 60's and even 70's. The influence and funding of the Gulf countries largely contributed to this development, combined with an increasingly evident laisser-faire on the part of the political elites. The mass arrival of migrants in recent years has considerably accelerated this development, and has exacerbated the already complex problems of the relationship of migrants with the rest of the population.
Returning to our three-dimensional model, the Migrants group can be measured as follows:
- Socio-liberalism - 0 or 1 - Eco-liberalism - not quite measurable - Internationalism - 1 or 2
The above figures deserve an explanation. The very low level of socio-liberalism is easy to understand, given the very macho and anti-LGBT attitude of this group, many of them coming from countries where women's rights are very limited and where homosexuals are looked down upon and sometimes threatened with death. The level of eco-liberalism is almost impossible to estimate, most migrants being very far from this kind of question, even if their countries of origin are often very little integrated into international trade. Their level of Internationalism is very low when it comes to their country of origin, although this same internationalism suits them well when it comes to justifying their arrival in France.
The third and last group is basically the rest of the French population, mostly provincial and composed of very diverse social groups, farmers, employees, workers, small entrepreneurs, civil servants etc.
This group is of course the most numerous and from it came the Yellow Vests movement, as well as most of the leaders or "voices" of this movement. Due to its size and variety, the positioning of this group in our model is delicate, and the group is less consistent than the two previous groups. The level of internationalism of the group is relatively low, a large part of its members considering themselves victims of successive relocation of businesses in recent decades. This feeling of abandonment by a state closer to the financial spheres than the inhabitants of the country, is reinforced by a growing feeling in regions far from Paris, of being more and more abandoned by the state, following a regular decline in the level of public services for at least 30 years: closure of secondary railway lines, closing of schools, post offices, maternity, hospitals and etc. I will call this group the Majority, in reference to their large number.
The coefficient of Eco-liberalism is also low, and for these same reasons. As for the level of socio-liberalism, it is in my opinion fairly average, the populations of provinces being quite tolerant, while being very far from Gender theory discourse. They actually have other concerns than theorizing about the sex of angels ....
For this third group, I shall risk proposing the following estimates:
- Socio-liberalism - 5 - Eco-liberalism - 2-3 - Internationalism - 2-3
The most interesting is however to analyze the relationships between these three groups, which clearly are very different in their way of life, their behavior, their concerns or their daily problems.
The relationship between the group of Bobo's and that of Migrants is in my opinion the most interesting. These two groups indeed have very little in common, and although living a few kilometers from each other, seem to live on two different planets. But in fact I think the two are objective allies today. The basis of this may be surprising assessment is essentially economic.
Indeed, Migrants have always been attracted to France for economic reasons. In the 1960's we talked about a lack of labor, today we talk about a lack of cheap labor. Note by the way the rise of cynicism. This economic synergy is found on several levels:
- the Bobo's use cheaper labor in the form of 'servants', often from the Migrant group. From the cleaning lady to the security guard, Migrants who want to work often go to work in the richest districts of big cities
- for the mass of Migrants who do not work, the state subventions, in the form of various social programs and financial benefits, therefore decided and organized by the Bobo elites, is regular and generous. The "subsidized" people Macron talks about live more often in suburbs than in the countryside. A recent DGSI (State Information Services) report provides a list of 150 districts in France which have de facto escaped the law and the control of the Republic. These districts, however, receive very expensive financial assistance, not to mention free services. Indeed, these districts are almost closed to the Police, so it is hard to imagine agents of the Electricity or Water provider going there to claim their money and disconnect households. Everything is paid for by tax payers, with the tacit agreement of the Bobo elites.
- another economic synergy exists in the background of various drug trafficking, which has long been, with social benefits, the second source of income for the 'neighborhoods'. It is clear that the main users of 'chic', cocaine type, expensive drugs are not in the ranks of workers and employees, but rather among the Bobo's, who have the corresponding purchasing power.
The Bobo's - Migrants groups are therefore very dependent on each other. If social benefits are abolished or more seriously regulated, Migrant neighborhoods plunge into misery and into rebellion. The interest of the Bobo's is therefore to maintain the status quo, knowing that angry migrants would not loot the houses of the Majority, but rather the residences of the richest areas in Paris and big cities. This status quo is, however, getting more and more dangerous, with an accelerated extreme Islamisation of the 'districts', that look more and more like small suburban caliphates. Once again, the DGSI estimates that 150 neighborhoods are 'out of control' in France, around major cities and in certain areas with a long high emigration rate, for example in the Rhône-Alpes region. The Bobo-Migrant opposition is therefore doomed to become explosive sooner or later, given the completely opposite values supported by the two groups.
Finally, the relationship between Bobo's and Majority has been neutral for a long time, but has deteriorated considerably over the past decade. The Yellow Vests movement is the direct result of this deterioration, with an accelerated awareness of the reality of the situation on the part of the Majority, thanks in particular to social networks. Interestingly, the myth of the uncultivated and idiotic Yellow Vests movement was shattered during multiple televised exchanges between ministers or officials and representatives of the Yellow Vests. A beautiful illustration of the thesis developed by Emmanuel Todd - as everyone knows one of my favorite authors - according to which higher education has been generating for many years more and more graduated idiots. Listen to interviews with certain ministers if you still have doubts.
Finally, the relationship between Migrants and Majority is relatively neutral and they do not mix. The Majority, however, are aware that part of their taxes are used to provide benefits to Migrants, but the majority of them blame the Bobo's, rightly so if you do not dig too much. Some members of the Migrants group however recognize themselves in the Yellow Vests and fight with them, reminding us that models do not provide a universal truth valid everywhere and for all, but rather describe trends. Integrated migrants are indeed closer to the Majority group than to the Migrants group according to our model.
Now, what can we expect for France in the 2020s?
A small group of Bobo's, living in a comfort bubble threatening to explode, a group of Migrants cut off from French society, and becoming potential Jihadists, and a much larger group of 'Majority', of all origins and social levels, getting better informed and getting better organized: what are the chances for a peaceful outcome to this situation?
In my opinion these chances are very low. One can of course imagine a collapse of the Yellow Vests movement, and a new social peace, undoubtedly acquired by the use of severe repression. But the evolution of the Migrants group and its position in relation to Bobo's values will not improve, on the contrary. The potential conflict between Migrants and Majority is also likely to develop, and generate new tensions. This situation, which is the result of many years of neglect, and or betrayal of the national interest by the Elites, is unlikely to end peacefully. The current conflict, centered on the Bobo-Majority antagonism is already getting close to an insurrection, but the conflict to come, between Migrants and the other groups will be much more violent and deep.
The conflicts shall in my opinion develop in two waves. The first with a fight already started between Majority and Bobo's, with a victory of Majority after a defection by a part of the Bobo group. The second wave will however be much more dangerous, with a direct conflict between Majority and Migrants. If the first fight will be waged for quality of life, the second will be more radical, because it will be fought for the survival of spiritual values and of physical persons.