The answer to the “yellow vests”?

The principle of the same rule for all

by Chantal Delsol, France*

Concord  will only be restored if the same principles apply to all French people with regard to work, old-age provision and social benefits, the professor of political philosophy analyses.

Chantal Delsol (picture ma)

One has the impression that one does not really understand what the “yellowvests” [“Gilets jaunes”] want exactly and why the movement continues, although the government has already made various concessions and is making further efforts for cooperative dialogues. But such a large, sustainable and comprehensive movement (supported by a majority of the population) owes nothing to chance or to whim. The causes are deeper, and Emmanuel Macron is likely to inherit the failures of his predecessors. This is alarming because it is a social drama revealing longstanding fractures that are deeply rooted and destructive.
One might be surprised that the occupiers of the roundabouts [“ronds-points”] demand social justice, participation and more equality between the richest and the poorest. France is undoubtedly the country in the world where there is the most redistribution. More than half of the population (which is enormous) does not pay income taxes. All inhabitants, whether citizens or not, benefit from free education, free health care and all kinds of other services that cannot all be listed. Many citizens of the world would dream of being French. This brings to mind the “Tocqueville paradox “1: the more egalitarian a society is, the more members find the slightest inequality intolerable.
But we have to go further. The inequality engendering revolt is not only that of the purse, but also by the social position – advantages, securities, precedences – or simply: privileges. It seems that our social network society has revealed the extent of corporatism. This is where class contempt is incarnated and where discomfort and demands arise.
For France is not just a monarchist country, in which the president is giving himself ever greater power, to the detriment of the government and the chambers of parliament. The president has recently snatched from the local authorities the last autonomy they had: the possibility to raise taxes, in this case the housing tax [“taxe d’habitation”]. France is also a country in which a quarter of the population benefits from corporatist regimes obtained in the last 75 years separating us from the war, and in particular during the economic boom [“les Trente Glorieuses”]. The advantages of these regulations are sometimes outrageous, always profitable, absolutely inviolable and hidden. The most important advantage, and not the slightest one, is guaranteed employment.
The beneficiaries of corporations often work less, sometimes much less than others, they do not have to fear dismissal, and enjoy all-round protection. The top of this system is the class of “mandarins” [senior civil servants], who, after passing an examination at the age of about 25, receive a lifelong salary from the state with all the associated benefits, even outside periods of work. Since the beginning of the 21st century, this social group has become a “caste”. The figures show that today, unlike in the past, in order to become one, you must be the son or the daughter of such a “mandarin”. When the salary of Chantal Jouanno2 became known the outcry of the “Gilets jaunes” was only the tip of the iceberg.
The other characteristic of this corporatism is its secrecy: it is surrounded by silence and darkness. There is probably a kind of shame in the “Bercy”, the French finance ministry in Paris, when it comes to uncovering the enormous costs of these lifelong jobs and all the benefits associated therewith. It is clearly undemocratic and more like an oligarchic banana republic. Secrecy, of course, promotes a lot of misinformation: Every discovered advantage gives rise to the suspicion of a thousand others not known, and a thousand others just invented – which makes the “fake news” flourish. This is less a result of “people’s stupidity” than of the opacity of the privileges. In the face of an over-indebted and largely bankrupt state the “Gilets jaunes” now know, that at the same time a group of lucky people, whose exact number is unknown, lives comfortably and without fear of unemployment and of the future. They can obtain a loan from a bank at any time and go to the dentist without financial worries.
It was certainly correct that in the spring of 2018 Emmanuel Macron tackled the problems associated with the railway workers’ special status, which was an example of French corporatism. The idea was good, but one should have started from the top! The ruling forces cannot decide to deprive certain groups of unjustified advantages without depriving themselves of them at first. This is the ABC of every leadership. Otherwise one will fail. And in the concrete case the class war is still spreading.
Some measures have been taken which expressed the will of the new government. Personally, I was very pleased to note that in the first few months after the presidential election, the SNCF’s free, life-long (1st class, of course) general season ticket for former parliamentarians was abolished. This was an example of an unjustified and unfair advantage that was not painless for the nation. Mr. President, we expect further steps in this direction!
The revolution-like Saturdays we have witnessed for two months are an expression of the fury of a population that realises that enormous taxes are being raised to finance corporatism. As in all the surrounding countries, the raised taxes should be used to finance public services, which have become massively worse in France because of over-indebtedness. The demand for democracy means not only the “Référendum d’initiative citoyen” (RIC) [popular initiative and referendum], but also the abolition of these privileges.
This is probably partly for this reason that the French elite is so reserved in the face of this revolt – and in private, so contemptuous. She begins to understand that it is she who is challenged, not in her authority, but in her privileges. In the first days of the conflict, political leaders had begun to offer some additional allowances to nip the uprising in the bud: We recall the announcement that in some schools breakfast would be served to the children ... pathetic! The occupiers of the roundabouts (ronds-points) are people who work and do not want to beg. They only demand that taxpayers’ money be used in the right place.
Since our elite gave up Marxism, they have not cheered and hardly defended the people. She no longer sees in it a crowd of oppressed people carrying the future of the world, but a population of white trash, of vengeful and frustrated petty-bourgeois populists [“poujadistes,”] who are closer to the voters of Le Pen than to the glorious proletariat of former years. Hence her reserve.
Today it is delicate to see the left-wing media siding with law and order. The obsolete ideological cleavages have been replaced by class antagonisms. The misfortune is that if the former at least hold some convictions, the latter are downright disgusting. We would need a night of August 4 as soon as possible.3 That would be the real answer to the “Yellow vests”.    •

*    Chantal Delsol, born in Paris in 1947, is a French historian, philosopher, writer and professor of philosophy at the University of Marne-La-Vallée. She received her doctorate from the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1982. In 1993 she founded the Hannah Arendt Institute. In 2007 she became a member of the renowned Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, founded in 1795. Since the 1980s she has published a large number of essays and four novels, which have made her famous in German-speaking countries.

Footnotes 1-3: Translator’s notes
1    Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), a French philosopher, historian and politician elaborated and discussed various social paradoxes in his book of 1830 “De la démocratie en Amérique” [On Democracy in America].
2    Chantal Jouanno (born 1969) is a French politician. She studied politics and completed the elite university Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA), held management positions in various local authorities, was a consultant to President Nicolas Sarkozy, later Secretary of State and then Minister of Sport and Senator. In March 2018, Emmanuel Macron appointed her President of the Commission nationale du débats public (CNDP). In this position, she should have led the national civil dialogue with the yellow vest movement. A few days before it began on 15 January 2019, however, she withdrew from the mandate after criticism had been levelled at her salary of just under 15,000 euros per month.
3    “Night of 4 August 1789” means the meeting of the constituent National Assembly held in Versailles. As a result of the storm on the Bastille on 14 July 1789 and the pressure from the population, the Parliament decided to abolish the privileges of the clergy and the nobility, the corporations of the cities and the provinces by various decrees.

Source: © Chantal Delsol/Le Figaro from 15 January 2019

(Translation Current Concerns)

State generosity for the elites

jpv. Four French people cost the French state 10 million euros per year. One of them received an additional 85 million euros for his pension, according to the figures compiled by René Dosière, a former member of the National Assembly. And the following gentleman costs an additional 2.5 million euros per year: Yes, the former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who has been retired for 38 years, costs the state 6849 euros per day! The other three are also former presidents: Jacques Chirac with 1.5 million euros, Nicolas Sarkozy with 2.2 million euros and François Holland. He has been retired early since May 2017 and receives 5184 euros per month as a former resident of the Elysée Palace, 6208 euros as a former member of the National Assembly and 3473 euros as a former referent at the Court of Audit. But that is not all. The generosity of the French state seems immeasurable, as the treasurer of the Constitutional Council will give him a monthly check of 12,000 euros gross for the rest of his life. All in all, he will receive around 27,000 euros per month. Mr Hollande receives an annual pension of 324,000 euros. Much smaller benefits such as police protection, a secretariat with several employees, a car with a chauffeur, etc. are also provided by the state.
These numbers of the IFRAP Foundation (Fondation pour la recherche sur les administrations et les politiques publiques) cannot be refuted and show how much can be earned in politics.The dissatisfaction of large sections of the French population is understandable in view of of such massive privileges, which are not limited to the “highest civil servants” but are also granted to a “cast” of thousands of senior civil servants (some of whom earn more than 300,000 euros per year), deputies, senators and commission presidents, etc.

Source: Excerpts from the article: “Scandales des rémunérations: et si les anciens Présidents montraient l’exemple? [Scandal about compensation: And if the former presidents set a good example?] by Floris de Bonneville, published on
www.bvoltaire.fr, 13 January 2019