Tocqueville and the Yellow Vests

Gaspard Koenig, president of the think tank Génération Libre

Tocqueville described long ago what we’re now going through with the Yellow Vests

Paradoxically, many of the complaints made by the Gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest protesters) sound like the political prescription of La République en marche! supporters in 2016. So says Gaspard Koenig, liberal philosopher and president of the think-tank, Génération Libre. That revolutions break out in countries that reform themselves, was already observed by Alexis de Tocqueville in his L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Former Regime and the Revolution].

[Three lessons that throw light on the Gilets jaunes] can be drawn from Tocqueville’s reflections on the the Revolution of 1789. The first is to mistrust the intellectuals, those bigots of the abstract, blinded by their “general ideas, systems, and lofty diction”. Since the beginning of the present crisis, each pundit floats his own ideas on what is still a protean movement, choosing slogans to suit. [Éric] Zemmour sees a patriotic uprising; [Daniel] Cohn-Bendit an inchoate authoritarianism; [Thomas] Piketty a call for just taxation; [Frédéric] Lordon the beginning of the final struggle; [Luc] Ferry the rejection of absurd taxes; M. Todd the condemnation of the euro; and M. Alexandre a rebellion against artificial intelligence (Note 1). “The people” are invoked at every turn […].

The first [lesson] is to mistrust the intellectuals, those bigots of the abstract, blinded by their general ideas, systems, and lofty diction. — Gaspard Koenig

[Tocqueville’s second lesson is that] “the most dangerous moment for a bad government is usually when it begins to reform”. Paradoxically, revolutions are not provoked by tyrants but by reformers, because “it happens most often that people who had borne without complaint […] the most damning laws, reject them violently as soon as the weight is lightened”. From this point of view, Macron is the first “yellow vest”. The title of his book, The Revolution, has simply gone from metaphor to reality. […]

[The third lesson is that] our national drama stems from the centralization of power. […] Macron’s natural arrogance, endless preaching, and hurtful remarks have ended up alienating his support-base of 2017. Initially a performer of miracles, he has placed his own head on the block. The “yellow vests” build gallows in his honour and make calls for his dismissal their main rallying cry. For the first time in many decades, the crowd wants to “take the Élysée”. […]

Note 1 : It is perhaps not so remarkable, given the tense political stand-off over immigration policy, that none of these “bigots of the abstract” (delicious phrase) has dared to suggest that the Yellow Vests might be in a nebulous rage over Le Grand Remplacement as well as everything else.