CLAIRE BERLINSKI, PARIS
These aren’t mere protests. This is an insurrection. The police don’t have the manpower to maintain order—and they’re calling on Macron to bring in the military. But what would happen if he did?
I get it now. Peasant uprisings in France. I skimmed sentences like these in history classes: “The French Revolution had many causes, but the unfair taxes and financial burden imposed on the lower-classes and the peasants was a main facet of the population’s discontent?” I’ve fallen asleep in lectures about medieval peasant uprisings in France, scrawling “salt tax” in my notebook. But now I understand. It’s no big deal if Paris rises up. That’s just theater. But when the countryside wakes up and says, “Smell the pitchfork,” that’s serious. These peasants mean business.
Strikes and public demonstrations have, for years, crippled one after another government’s efforts to introduce market reforms and reduce the size France’s public sector. In late 2017, facing protests against planned reforms to the labor code and pensions systems, Macron’s government asked the police to explore new ways to crack down on what the French call casseurs—fringe groups from the far-right and far-left who show up at demonstrations determined to wreak havoc and fight the police. The police studied techniques for breaking up crowds, for tagging casseurs with paintball guns to identify them, and dispersing them with sound cannons and stroboscopes. The casseurs, the police noted then, had become growingly adept at networking on social media. In response, they proposed to ramp up their own social media strategy.
The Gilets Jaunes have no real, no fundamental, grievance beyond envy. Some have cause to believe their social contract with the state has been broken, but they have no reasonable idea for a remedy. Others, of course, are whingers, scélérats, gas bags, gredins, and spongers.
Macron succeeded in pushing through his reforms without so provoking the street it shut down normal life. Perhaps it was because of these police measures. Or more likely, the French were, at first, willing to give his reforms a chance. They did elect him, after all; and he did explicitly campaign on this platform.
By defeating the unions that had mobilized to fight his reforms, Macron was seen to have scored a victory. What he didn’t see coming was a spontaneous and leaderless movement of people who rejected both the government and the unions. Now he’s left with an even less accommodating negotiating partner: The unions, at least, had spokesmen and leaders with whom he could reach a settlement. The unions could convince their more radical members to stand down.
Macron has tried to cave in to the Yellow Jackets, but he can’t: There’s no one with whom he can negotiate a surrender.
On Saturday, December 1, the cops lost control of Charles de Gaulle Étoile. There is no place in France more solemn, meaningful, and symbolic.
At the base of the Arc de Triomphe is a torch. Since Armistice Day, 1923, it has been rekindled every evening in a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Veterans place wreaths decorated with the French tricolor by the flame, which lights the tomb of the unknown French soldier who gave his life for France in the First World War.
The casseurs covered the Arc in graffiti: “The Yellow Jackets will Triumph,” “Long live vandalism!” “Get lost Macron!” They hacked apart the statue of the Marianne, the symbol of the French republic. They used hammers to smash the display cases, the artifacts, and the sculptures, including a marble bust of Napoléon. They looted the commemorative medals. They snuffed out the eternal flame. The police so completely lost control that it could not be lit again that day, and the tomb of the unknown soldier lay in the dark that night for the first time since 1923. The Yellow Jackets filmed themselves. They were proud. This kind of violence, nihilism, and hatred of civilization calls to mind ISIS, but they were middle-aged, rural French men.
How could the police have allowed this?
The government and police were aware that the protests on December 1 would be violent. Violent protests had taken place on the past two Saturdays. They were prepared for it, or so they believed. They had to consider many risks as they made their plans. Chaotic demonstrations attract petty thieves, from pickpockets to gropers. Gangs can take advantage of the confusion to loot shops. Clashes between the far-left and the far-right are a nightmare scenario. Above all, such large crowds are a tempting target for terrorists.
The day before, France’s interior minister predicted that two hundred black-blocs and a hundred members of the far right would join the protests. “Vandalism and violence are unfortunately predictable,” said Denis Jacob, the secretary-general of one of France’s police unions. He noted that this kind of violence usually occurs at the tail end of the rally.
The police were under firm orders to prevent any destruction or vandalism, and equally firm orders to ensure unimpeded and peaceful pedestrian access to the Champs-Élysées, the city’s biggest shopping arterial. The French economy simply couldn’t afford to lose another Saturday of pre-Christmas shopping revenues.
After giving these orders—which were later shown to be incompatible—Macron decamped for Argentina. As well he should have: That’s his job. Nonetheless, the country felt his absence. The emergency demanded an executive on the ground to make rapid, consequential decisions. To judge from the chaos and the nature of the mistakes made, it seems likely that no one was willing to take responsibility for changing the orders.
Groups convened on social media converged upon a plan to demonstrate on the Place de la Concorde, around the Eiffel Tower. A number requested official permission to rally there.
“The right to protest is a fundamental one,” the Interior Ministry responded in a communiqué, “and it is out of the question to ban the rally. However, it cannot take place on the Place de la Concorde, for obvious reasons of security.”
During the French Revolution, the revolutionary government erected a guillotine on the Place de la Concorde, which they used to execute King Louis XVI before cheering crowds. Later, when the revolution ate its own, it was used to execute the revolutionaries. But that wasn’t the “obvious reason of security” to which he was referring. The obvious reason was its proximity to significant government buildings, including the National Assembly and the American Embassy.
It was out of the question, politically, to ban the demonstrations outright. The right to assemble is as fundamental to France’s conception of itself as a free country as it is in the United States. What’s more, the opposition far-left and far-right parties, led respectively by the wildly irresponsible Jean-Luc Mélanchon and Marine Le Pen, have been egging the protesters on, hoping to transform a spontaneous and leaderless movement into one organized and led by one of them. Both have offered grotesque incitement to a growingly violent movement. Naturally, Russian propaganda organs have seized upon the social media signals and amplified them. All are prepared to pounce immediately upon any restriction of the protests—or any violent reaction to them—as a sign of the government’s fear of the people.
THE FAN ZONE STRATEGY
Thus the Interior Ministry confined itself to barring the protests only from areas such that a suicide bomber, taking advantage of the mêlée, could insert himself and instantly take out half the government. Police chief Michel Delpuech announced the establishment of a security perimeter around the Élysée Palace, Concorde, the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Hôtel de Ville. No protest was to take place within that zone.
But “elsewhere in the capital,” said Delpuech, the freedom to protest can be exercised.”
Some 5,000 police officers guarded perimeter of the enclosed area, which was most of the area south of the Seine depicted on the map below. The flames represent major fires set by the protesters. As the map suggests, the police did succeed in keeping protesters out of the protected zone.
To put the size of the area above in proportion, here’s a larger map. In red are the sectors they considered “at risk.”
They deployed a further force of 33 mobile police and gendarme units—3,000 men in total—throughout the city. These extra resources were drawn from the National Police’s anti-criminality brigade and the judicial police. (Note: These brigades are not specifically trained in riot control.) The Eiffel Tower was closed as a precaution, as were Métro stations in the vicinity of the sensitive areas.
Traffic would obviously be terrible, particularly because another protest—against “sexist and sexual violence”—was scheduled that morning between Opéra and the Place de la République, shown in the northeastern quadrant of the map above. Keenly aware that blocking off so many roads would cause serious disruption and inconvenience on a critical pre-Christmas shopping day, the police chief promised that normal traffic would be permitted after 1:00 pm, or “as soon as circumstances allowed.”
The plan sounded reasonable. The number of protesters had been declining since the first “National Day of Action,” on November 17. The first protest had drawn 282,000 yellow jackets to the streets throughout the country, according to the Interior Ministry. On the following Saturday, less than half—106,000—had taken to the streets. Of these, only 8,000 had come to Paris.
The weather on December 1 was as gloomy and dark as the police could have hoped. Nothing about the day was riotous. Even if the crowds had been as large as they had been the week before, it seemed reasonable to imagine that 8,000 cops with tear gas, water cannon, and a complement of non-lethal and lethal weapons could handle 8,000 protesters.
The police opted for a “fan-zone” strategy, which had worked successfully during the World Cup. The strategy for controlling football hooliganism works by encouraging potential miscreants to concentrate in a central area. Those who don’t have tickets to enter the stadium are lured into appealing “fan zones,” in the heart of the city, to watch the game on mega-screen televisions. The perimeter of the zone is strictly controlled.
The police expected the area on the Champs-Élysées to be such a zone. They assumed that like typical protests and demonstrations in Paris, the protest would have something of the festive atmosphere of a football game. They imagined the fanatical fringe of the movement as analogues to football hooligans: small in number, and not the day’s main attraction.
Throughout Europe, security forces consider the fan zone as the best way to mitigate to the most serious threat during such a gathering: terrorism. The zone is under video surveillance, fully enclosed, and reinforced; there are pat-downs at the entrance, and ID checks; bags are prohibited. During the World Cup, seven million people safely enjoyed French fan zones, including 80,000 in Marseille and 60,000 in Bordeaux. Police forces in most large cities agree that it’s easier to maintain security if you establish a fan zone than it is if you allow rallies spontaneously to self-organize all over the city. The police put barricades at the top and the bottom of the Champs-Elysées.
Usually, as soon as there’s a large police mobilization in Paris, the black blocs show up to prove that the state can’t control them. They generally enter east of the city near Bastille or République. That’s why the Interior Minister declared the fan zone would be on the Champs-Élysées, in the center of the city.
It was a reasonable plan. And in the most important sense, it worked: There was no terrorism. Both the fan zone and the government buildings were protected from rioters.
But in public security, you get no points for what you do right. The plan was inadequate because the demonstrators were nothing like football hooligans. They had come with the specific, organized intention of committing unprecedented violence on the city’s monuments and police. The police weren’t dealing with a bunch of over-adrenal Boulogne Boys who wanted a bit of aggro. These rioters were not there to have a good time, and they didn’t give a damn about the traditions and rules of French street protests.
THE VIEW FROM THE HÔTEL DE VILLE
I was with peaceful Gilet Jaunes near the Bastille and had no idea of the violence up by the Étoile. I did sense something had gone wrong when we reached the Hôtel de Ville. There, at about 1:00 p.m., the cops—who had been relaxed until then—suddenly freaked out, as if jolted with an electric current. A helicopter buzzed overhead. About 25 police vans came down the street in a caravan, headed toward the Champs Élysée.
Fifty-odd cops maneuvered themselves into an undisciplined phalanx in front of the Hôtel de Ville, facing the Rue de Rivoli and began lobbing tear gas in the general direction of the Arc de Triomphe. Clearly, the cops were suddenly terrified. But it wasn’t clear why. I’d been deep in conversation with the Gilets Jaunes—we were talking about our favorite books, and I was teaching them Sammy Hagar lyrics—so I had no idea the protesters had gone berserk at the Champs Elysée and the cops had lost control.
We were all baffled. Why would they fire tear gas at grey-haired pensioners? “They’re frightened,” said a Gilet Jaunes. “They’re from all around the country. They’re not used to Paris. Maybe they’ve never been here before.” He was correct to note the police are part of a national, not a municipal force, and they did look young and green by comparison with the elderly Gilet Jaunes.
The protest was authorized. The protesters were doing nothing illegal or threatening. “Why are the cops so hopped-up?” I asked them. They didn’t know, although one of them had the right intuition. “It’s the Hôtel de Ville,” he said. City Hall. “They’re protecting the politicians.” He shrugged as if to say, “Protecting them from us. You can see how ridiculous that is.”
I agreed. Only later, when I checked the news, did I understand the cops weren’t terrified of the protesters, but their boss, who was surely going to return from Argentina and hand them their balls in a sling for having lost control of the Arc de Triomphe.
The scene was curiously inverted. The cops were a young and racially diverse lot drawn from the urban working class. Many were obviously of Maghrebi or African origin. The Gilets Jaunes were white, in late middle age, and baffled by the cops’ antagonism: They thought the cops were on their side—as they had seemed to be only moments before. Neither side was native to Paris.
The older white guys, wearing yellow vests that looked like official uniforms, were staring in puzzlement at the young, agitated, dark-skinned forces of order. There was no racial animosity that I could discern. Just perplexity.
AT THE ÉTOILE
At the Étoile, the police were physically overwhelmed by about 5,000 Gilet Jaunes who had come explicitly prepared to do violence. According to the Ministry of the Interior, only 10,000 Gilet Jaunes demonstrated in Paris that day. Half of them came to fight.
This wasn’t a typical protest, which is why John Lichfield of The Local described it as an insurrection. By his account, 200 demonstrators consented to show their ID at the police checkpoints and allow themselves to be searched.
The rest refused to play by the rules. From about 9:00 a.m. (some reports say earlier), hostile crowds of Gilet Jaunes emerged, in large numbers, from all the Avenues around the Arc de Triomphe, trying to push their way onto the Champs Elysées. They overwhelmed the police because so many had been deployed to protect not just the Champs Elysées, but the perimeter around the government buildings. Thus there were no police behind the rioters to stop them from burning cars on Kléber and Foch Avenues.
Police and witnesses were unanimous that this was a premeditated and coordinated attack. This was clear because the rioters brought so many homemade weapons with them. They came with crowbars, hammers, axes; they wore gas masks and helmets. Protesters attacked the police with slingshots, using steel balls as projectiles; they attacked them with hammers and paint, and threw firecrackers at them. They even brought baseball bats—a particularly strange piece of gear, given that no one in France plays baseball.
About 5,000 protesters were at the Étoile at any one time, Lichfield said to me on Twitter, “though difficult to be sure. Of these most were involved in the violence. Don’t care what videos ‘show,’ I saw with my own eyes.” (e was the first to tell me that it was the Gilet Jaunes themselves, not radical far-left and right-wing groupuscules, who were burning cars.
The riot police pushed the casseurs back on to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile. There were running battles all morning long on the avenues around the Étoile. The rioters threw stones and other projectiles at the police. Lichfield estimated that 70 percent of the casseurs were radicalized Gilet Jaunes, not urban guerillas; and this has been confirmed by other reporters and subsequent police estimates.
The rest of the police couldn’t redeploy to the Arc de Triomphe, where they were needed, because they were guarding the National Assembly, the Senate, City Hall, and other buildings packed with politicians. I assume the chief of police or the interior minister calculated that property could be replaced, but Senators couldn’t. The police are furious, however, that they were not given the orders to redeploy. The eternal flame is of no small significance here.
It didn’t help that Macron was absent and no one else had the obvious authority to say, “Forget about the politicians, protect the eternal flame.” It’s not clear this would have been the right call, anyway. The headlines would have looked even worse the day afterward had the demonstrators stormed the Senate or killed the mayor.
LIKE THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO
The police recaptured the Étoile without any backup, but then began to flag. They were undermanned. The Étoile has twelve avenues radiating from the center; it is a nightmare to protect: The target can be attacked from every direction. The police succeeded only in pushing the worst of the rioters down the avenues, where they broke windows and set cars on fire.
At midday, the police appeared to have things under control. They had pushed the violent rioters off the Étoile (along with many peaceful demonstrators who just wanted to reach the Champs Elyseés). Lichfield likened what happened next to the Battle of Waterloo.
Just as the police chief imagined they were done for the day and the city could go back to its shopping, another army of Gilet Jaunes turned up, overwhelming the exhausted cops. It must have caused the police to fear even more would arrive and breach the security perimeter around the government buildings. (This might account for the sudden panic I saw.
The Paris prosecutor, Remy Heitz, later explained that the first wave was made up of radicalized Yellow Vests from the countryside armed with makeshift weapons. The second wave, he said, in the afternoon, saw the arrival of younger rioters “from the Paris region,” motivated by “delinquency, opportunity, and the chance to loot.” The police hadn’t even seen the first wave coming, so of course they didn’t anticipate that the first wave would touch off a second. But the news spread in real time on social media, attracting all the JDs from the banlieue.
Michel Delpuech, the chief of police, admitted they were caught unprepared. In a press conference at the end of the next day, he said that law enforcement had never before seen anything like it. “The testimonies of law enforcement offices all say that never these officials had never before seen such violent events.” (That’s an important phrasing. Note that he didn’t say these were events of unprecedented violence in France, just that the officials had never seen it before. This is because France has too few cops with training and experience in riot control.) “This was no spontaneous riot,” he stressed, “but a planned attack” on law enforcement.
In Paris, 412 people were arrested, he said, “in numbers we haven’t seen in decades.” Rioters had torn down the gates to the Tuileries, leaving a protester in a coma. Among them, he said, were members of far-right and far-left groupuscules. But he confirmed that a large number of protesters, to the police’s surprise, fell in neither camp. They were, he said, willing to “engage in unjustifiable violence” for reasons yet unclear: “Disinhibition, training—what do I know?”
The reports of the violence didn’t sober up the Gilets Jaunes rank and file. Immediately, they began organizing more demonstrations on social media, mostly on Facebook, with thousands avowing that violence was the only way to get the government’s attention, and decrying the bourgeois elites who would whine about “a statue” when “we’re dying here” (Life expectancy has actually been rising in France. So, for that matter, has purchasing power. The economy had been growing—albeit very slowly and disappointingly—until these protests. It is still expected to grow, but only half as much.) One Facebook event was called, “Acte IV: Aux Armes Citoyens.” One commenter planned “to bring Molotov cocktails to force the barricades!”
Last Saturday—December 8—the cops arrested hundreds of people on arrival. The police used tear gas, water cannon, and horses to charge protesters on the Avenues; they kept control of the Arc de Triomphe. No one was killed. But the level of violence was undiminished, if not greater; the violence was just dispersed more widely around the city.
Many were seriously injured. There was no diminution in the rate of looting, vandalizing, breaking store windows, setting cars on fire. Throughout the city, stores were forced to closed and board up their windows at the height of the shopping season. The rioters ripped up pavement stones and threw them at the cops. They made bonfires of the plywood that protected storefront windows. Scenes emerged of the police abusing protesters who appeared peaceful. Many were injured: not fatally, but some very seriously. A rioter lost his hand when he tried to pick up a police flash grenade to throw back at them. This was filmed. It is horrifying.
THE POLICE CALL FOR A STATE OF EMERGENCY
To judge from their social media accounts, many Gilet Jaunes have been encouraged, rather than appeased, by Macron’s capitulation to their demands. They see this as confirmation that their violence is justified. They are planning what they call “Act V” for next Saturday. Their goals are unclear, but they are united in demanding Macron resign.
Police unions are calling upon the prime minister to declare a State of Emergency, a juridical regime that may be applied to specific territories or across the whole country, and doing so in growingly hysterical terms.
Created in 1955 following a wave of attacks by the Algerian National Liberation Front, a State of Emergency is martial-law light. Certain liberties, such as freedom of assembly, may be suspended; the police may carry out searches and place suspects under house arrest without prior judicial approval.
A State of Emergency has been invoked five times since 1955: twice during unrest and uprisings in Algeria; again after the 1961 Algiers putsch; overseas, in response to what are called “the events” in the territory sui generis of New Caledonia; again during the massive ghetto riots in 1995; and most recently, after the 2015 terrorist attacks. Operation Sentinelle—the deployment of 10,000 French soldiers to guard vulnerable sites throughout France—was authorized as part of the State of Emergency declared in 2015. Macron lifted it more than a year ago, replacing it with permanent anti-terrorism legislation.
The Secretary of the National Police Alliance, Stanislas Gaudon, said, “We have to help our forces to do their job without getting smacked in the face for ten hours straight.” A State of Emergency, he says, is the only solution because it can be imposed quickly, by the council of ministers: There is no time to recruit and train new police forces.
A State of Emergency would give police authority to search protesters’ homes, which the law doesn’t otherwise permit, save as a counter-terror measure. (The protesters are not considered, legally, to be terrorists, but sources of “public disorder.”) It would allow police to establish control over security perimeters and requisition administrative resources. The police don’t want the army to do counter-riot work, Gaudon stressed: They want the army to assume responsibility for guarding static targets so that the whole police force can be deployed as mobile units, “the heart of our profession, the classic maintenance of order.”
The police were exhausted, he said, and while they will “always defend the Republic,” they’d been taking beatings from the protesters. They’d been overworked for years. They were being hit by projectiles. They were sick of arresting people, seeing them released, then confronting the same people again—“people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill a cop.”
The Union of National Police Commissioners agreed. “In the face of insurrectionary movements, to protect citizens and to ensure public order, there are some exceptional measures to consider. The state of emergency is one of them,” it said on Twitter.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner allowed that the executive “badly handled a number of sequences of communication and training.” On December 9, he said the government couldn’t rule out any measure, including the restoration of the State of Emergency.
But last week, his Secretary of State, Laurent Nuñez, told the press that a State of Emergency was “not on the agenda.” Instead, the government redeployed tens of thousands of gendarmes throughout the country. They knew what to expect this time, which helped a bit. But it still wasn’t enough to keep order.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Pity the police intelligence services who are trying to make sense of this in real time. They don’t have to hunt for intelligence sources or infiltrate the Yellow Jackets or meet their leaders in clandestine locations: The Yellow Jackets are, as they profess to be, transparent. Even the Russian propaganda bots are right out in the open for all to see.
But the signal-to-noise ratio is far more than 1:1. The sea of online data does not necessarily tell them what’s going to happen. And which are the key trends—can they count on public opinion turning against the Yellow Jackets if this keeps up? Should they count on the rioters being too old to hold out, physically, against a younger police cohort?
The Police Intelligence Brigade doesn’t have enough manpower to infiltrate and report on all of these self-organizing groups. They operate in a slow-moving bureaucracy, which like all bureaucracies is utterly unable to keep pace with social media. They have get permission for everything they do, then submit reports about it to the Interior Ministry, or up the military chain of command.
Can the cops can’t be trusted to stay on the side of the state? I’ve heard rumors in Paris that they can’t be. I’ve also heard rumors that cops are among the Yellow Vests—as sympathists or infiltrators. I’ve seen interviews with Yellow Vests who say they’re off-duty cops. But I’ve also heard rumors about Chemtrails.
A certain mood overtakes cities at crisis moments like this. Intimacy and bonhomie arise among perfect strangers, all of us aware that this is absolutely awful and serious, yet despite ourselves relieved to be free of the boredom of everyday life. Everyone regales everyone with gossip, inside stories, conspiracy theories; everyone knows someone who knows someone who said something. Life takes on the quality of an inside joke, a game to see who has the wildest, most weirdly perfect theory of what’s really going.
Parisians will remember this and we will be bound by our memories. The rumors usually prove false in the end. But Macron must be asking himself, in some seriousness—given all the punishment the police have taken in the past eight years, what will happen if he forces those cops out there over and over again without serious backup? Rumors that the police are on the verge of mutiny have no more credibility than any other street rumor, but there’s also a logic to it: How much can you push them before they say, “To hell with this?”
The views of the police unions are not a rumor. They’re begging the government call in the army to protect static targets, allowing the police to do what they’re trained to do—operate as a mobile strike force. But bringing in the army would require declaring a State of Emergency.
Declaring a State of Emergency would be a disaster for Macron, an unparalleled admission of political defeat. So it probably won’t happen unless a lot of people get killed. The thought can’t be helping police morale.
STATES OF EMERGENCY
The government was able to declare a State of Emergency after the 2015 terrorist attacks because the French people viewed the terrorists, overwhelmingly, as the scum of the earth, and (no matter what their passports said) foreign invaders. The French are more sentimental about the Gilets Jaunes, whom many see as the salt of the earth. Public support for them is waning, but at first some polls put it as high as 90 percent.
Symbolically, the Gilets Jaunes represent “real France.” And most of them are. I’ve spent hours speaking to them. The overwhelming majority are sympathetic, worn-out, middle-class, middle-aged, and hardworking French men and women. They probably represent forty or fifty percent of the French population. Macron can’t afford to make of them all the Enemy.
Still, unless he declares a State of Emergency, I don’t see how the violent contingent can be managed. The police, on their own, are demonstrably unable to quell an insurrection of this scale. There’s no way to exceed the numbers of cops they’ve already put on the street. Last weekend was all they had. Macron can’t assume that Act V will be less violent than Acts III and IV. And obviously, yes, this is taking resources away from critical counter-terror missions.
Last week, even though 73 percent of France said they support the Gilets Jaunes, 53 percent favored the imposition of a State of Emergency. I’d be curious to know what those polls numbers look like now, particularly after the terrorist attack in Strasbourg. That did focus minds on the risks of allowing so much police manpower to be consumed with this uprising. (Some prominent Gilets Jaunes believe the secret services did it for just that reason.)
FUELED BY ENVY
No one is willing to put the facts of the situation plainly to the French people in a clear and principled way. The Gilets Jaunes are members of the lower middle-class who have determined—much like the voters who brought Donald Trump to power—that elite people look down on them. They want a larger share of the national pie. They have no real, no fundamental, grievance beyond envy. Some people are getting rich in France; it isn’t them. Some of them have good cause to believe the social contract with the state has been broken, but no reasonable idea for a remedy. And others, of course, are whingers, scélérats, gas bags, gredins, and spongers.
A different kind of politician could offer an unequivocal response: You voted for us, and we told you what we were going to do. We favor Europe over France, the global environment over Europe, and the future over the present. You knew that, so why are you complaining now that we are executing your policy preferences?
What’s more: Why are you addressing your local problems to the national government? We have bigger things to think about than your gasoline bill. You’re living in some of the most fertile farmland on the planet, where for a thousand years, local farming supported regional villages and vice versa. Food prices too high? Maybe. Reacquire older and perfectly viable patterns of local, village-based agriculture. That’s right. Get out in the fields with a hoe. Gasoline taxes getting you down? You live in commune with ten thousand people. Each one of you drives alone in some gas-guzzling monster. Sit down with the mayor and organize a jitney service, or invite Uber to come in and do it for you. The railway stations are closed and there is no local service? So what? The railways are not an act of God. Figure out how to amortize the purchase of rolling stock and engines and start a few local lines chugging all over again. No money for that? Create a joint stock company and offer shares. How do you think these things got there in the first place? Stop waiting for the government to do everything for you.
But Macron lacks the gravitas to deliver this message. From him, it would sound like ridicule. He has no authority to offer what would genuinely be revolutionary ideas in France.
France is, au fond, a conservative country that treasures its old traditions: peasant uprisings, regicide, and economic self-sabotage. It doesn’t want to change.
Claire Berlinski is the co-founder and editor of the Cosmopolitan Globalist.
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