The “French Notebooks” go back to the sources of populism

The Revue des reviews. A wind of distrust is blowing over democracy in France, but also all over the world. This development concerns both the countries which pride themselves on being the cradle of this unsurpassable model, the United Kingdom or the United States, as well as countries which have joined it more recently, from India to Poland, from Hungary to the Philippines…

The French notebooks (La Documentation Française) have decided to devote a double issue to this great democratic malaise, with, among others, contributions by historian Jacques Rupnik on the conservative revolution in Central Europe, political scientist Thierry Chopin on the effects of crises within from the European Union or even from the lecturer in information sciences Stéphanie Wojcik on the illusions of a digital democracy.

A request for the incarnation of the sovereign people

At the heart of the current dispute is the critique of so-called representative democracy, a model born in the 18th century.e century, which has inevitably aged and for which it would therefore be urgent to reactivate the software. “Representative democracy is seen as the product of a social regime deemed too inegalitarian or only benefiting the elites produced by modern capitalism”, summarizes the political scientist Luc Rouban.

Faced with the flaws in national representation, a demand for the incarnation of the sovereign people is emerging. From this stem both a left-wing populism, based on social demands and struggles, and a right-wing populism, more sensitive to rooting in a national and / or racial identity.

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This neopopulism aimed at going beyond representative democracy includes a reformist version, which seeks to instill more participation in the workings of democracy, for example with procedures for consulting citizens at the local level, the establishment of participatory budgets, the systematic use of proportional voting, or even the choice of drawing lots to circumvent social biases.

Boulangism, a nationalist movement

Political scientist Philippe Raynaud, for his part, recalls that the origins of the term populism are by no means dishonorable, and returns to its three original currents. The first is Russian and gave birth to the Revolutionary Socialists (SR), who actively participated in the Revolution of 1917, before being eliminated by Lenin. The second current is American: the People’s Party, born in 1892 in Saint Louis (Missouri) out of a revolt of southern farmers against falling agricultural prices.

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