French polls show populist fever is here to stay as globalisation makes voters pick new sides

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[Interesting interpretation: the rift between global market's winners and losers has replaced the old left-right split. This fellow's books are unknown and untranslated in English. This is an older article, but if you enjoy it, consider it an appetizer for this much longer recent piece on Guilluy's work: The French fracture: A social thinker illuminates his country's populist divides. *RON*]
Christophe Guilluy, The Guardian, 23 April 2017

People wave the French national flag during a campaign meeting of presidential election candidate François Fillon, for the right-wing Les Republicains party, on 17 April, in Nice. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
All over Europe and the US, the populist dynamic is surfing on two basic trends: the demise of the traditional middle classes and the emergence of a multicultural society. The populist fever that has seized France, the UK and the US is consequently here to stay, reflecting a profound shift in western society and heralding political re-alignment along new social, territorial and cultural faultlines.

One of the forces driving the populist dynamic is the gradual sapping of the social categories which used to form the basis of the middle classes. In France, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and the US the same people – blue- and white-collar workers, intermediate occupations and farmers – are joining the populist revolt. Moreover, this movement started long ago. Support for Trump is rooted in the rise of financial capitalism which started during the Clinton era. Brexit goes back to the rollback of industry initiated by Thatcher. In France, the (far-right) Front National (FN) began gaining momentum when heavy industry went into decline in the 1980s.

So does this mean that the globalised model is not working? Not at all, but it is absurd to look at the global economy in binary terms, for or against. For or against neoliberalism. The truth is that this model, primarily based on an international division of labour, creates substantial wealth but does nothing to bond society as a whole. The job market has become deeply polarised and mainly concentrated in big cities, squeezing out the middle classes. For the first time in history, working people no longer live in the places where jobs and wealth are created.

Those groups, which have lost out due to globalisation, no longer identify with traditional political parties. The rift between the global market’s winners and losers has replaced the old right-left split. This social and political divide coincides with a visible faultline between global centres plugged into the world economy and deprived outlying areas.

All over the developed world the populist vote is gathering strength outside the big cities, in small and middling towns, and the countryside. In France these “peripheral” territories are driving the FN dynamic. In the US, the peripheral states put Trump in power, much as Brexit prevailed thanks to peripheral areas of the UK. In Austria support for Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate in the recent presidential contest, comes from similar places. They are home to the majority of the working classes, disconnected and increasingly sedentary. Such territorial dynamics gather momentum as more mobile groups – the higher social classes, immigrants and minorities – concentrate in the cities. In this way the new social geography renews the old divide between sedentary and nomadic.

But social issues are not the only determinant of the populist vote. Identity is essential too, linked as it is to the emergence of a multicultural society, which feeds anxiety in working-class environments. At a time of fluctuating majorities and minorities, amid demographic instability, the fear of tipping into a minority is creating considerable cultural insecurity in developed countries. Unlike the upper classes, who can afford to raise invisible barriers between themselves and the “other” (immigrants or minorities), the working classes want a powerful state apparatus to protect them, socially and culturally. So the populist surge is re-activating a real class vote.


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