Which crisis ?

Everyone knows that a crisis calls for an urgent decision. This is the meaning of the Greek word “krenein”, which is the origin of the word as found in various Western languages. Democracies in this part of the world are in crisis, because they are unable to decide. This is a direct challenge to the political, economic, cultural and social elites. The crisis of the democracies thus appears to be a crisis of the elites, so much so that the citizens consider themselves badly led by them and are no longer in a hurry to elect them, while the elites are at each other’s throats, playing on the fears of an electoral base that is playing for keeps.

Which elites?

In a broader sense, we can always consider ourselves to be someone’s elite, first and foremost our children’s, who, before a certain age, want nothing more than to resemble their parents, but also in the professional field [1], when employees take their manager as an example, as in the cultural field, where friends or relations envy the breadth of knowledge of one of their friends. This relationship of elitism extends right up to the highest levels of the social pyramid, focusing whole sections of the population on personas who have assumed the role of social role models. These personas are not confined to the incarnations of the present day, however: figures who have left their mark on history are a source not to be overlooked, and the classical era in particular is full of models befitting conservatives of all stripes.

This complex top-down dynamic determines visible phenomena that have a major impact on societies. Examples include the number of SUVs on the streets, the number of single-family housing estates, dress codes, expressions of language, attitudes to social situations and codes of conduct. This similarity could lead us to believe in a facade of uniqueness that in reality does not exist. René Girard [2] called this mimetic desire and explained that it is often the cause of serious societal conflicts.

Indeed, while everyone wants to move up the elitist ladder, they often don’t possess the levers to do so, and this is true in all social fields, be they political, economic, cultural, intellectual or artistic. He chooses and assumes the persona he feels best corresponds to what he wants to project of himself to the various members of the social fields to which he belongs.

What perspectives?

When elites are torn apart, as they are today, and fail to renew their personas, citizens are left with social models that are ill-suited to making choices about social behavior that are consistent with the situations they find themselves in. They are even subjected to contradictory injunctions from the various social fields in which they are embedded. This malaise is a major cause of citizens’ distrust of their elites, one expression of which in the political arena is their unwillingness to re-elect them, or their desire to regain control through direct democracy, which is not without its dangers. It also explains the seductive appeal of populism, which in its mantra of “of the people, by the people, for the people” masks a demand for a blank cheque that authorizes dictatorship.

t the end of the last century, the great ideological systems collapsed and took with them more things than you might think, including one of great importance: hope. The personas they left behind are outdated. It’s up to the elites to create new ones, more adapted to the social, economic, political and cultural contexts, so that citizens can emerge from the confusion that undermines them.

[1] Pierre Bourdieu, « Séminaires sur le concept de champ, 1972-1975. », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, n°200, 2013.

[2] La Violence et le Sacré, Paris, Grasset, 1972. (ISBN 2-01-278897-1)

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