Foreign Policy Blogs

Tyranny of the Minority or the Romanticism of a never-past

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The West is currently fighting a new type of political disease: the tyranny of the minority. This tyranny is a direct threat to the democratic system of the US, France and other European countries. In the US, the Tea Party is hurting an entire country; while in Europe, the extreme right in France, Italy, Britain, Greece among others are affecting the entire stability of the political system, and ultimately democracy.

In the case of the US, the US government has been shutdown after the Congress – Senate and House – have failed to come up with an agreement on the new budget. The rational for such decision is a minority of politicians do not like green eggs, meaning the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The extreme portion of the Republican party led by Ted Cruz among others, falling under the Tea Party, have expressed since the election of President Obama in 2008 their fear of the US government. Their vision,

Michael McAuliff

Michael McAuliff

embedded in libertarianism, consists in fighting any type of federal laws and reducing the power of the federal government to its basic roles: defense. In other words, power to the States.

Even some moderate Republicans agree with the fact that President Obama cannot break under this pressure as it would set up a precedent too damaging for future presidents and ultimately to American democracy. If a minority can block a country, an entire political system, because they dislike a law – in the case of the Obamacare found constitutional by the Supreme Court – then governing would simply become impossible. Unfortunately, almost a week later the shutdown is still reel. This minority is ready to take the US down with them. Even the syndicated journalist Thomas Friedman wrote a very powerful article, Our Democracy is at Stake, wherein he concludes President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy.

In the case of Europe, the tyranny of the minority does not take into hostage an entire political system, but pollute the national narratives like in France, Britain, Greece, among others. In France, the extreme right wing party, le Front National, has seriously affected the decency of politics and narratives towards minority ethnic groups. Certainly the French model of immigration, known as the assimilation model, may be in some way rigid towards multiculturalism, but it is part of French way of life. In any case, this extreme right wing party has created a sense of fear domestically towards the ‘other;’ such narrative has become mainstream and nonalislamismprogressively adopted by the traditional right wing parties. Additionally the Front National has reinvented itself and changed its image into an acceptable party. Recently Marine LePen, leader of the Front National, has announced that she would take anyone calling her party of extreme right in justice – I may need a lawyer at some point -. This decision demonstrates their commitment to freedom, liberty and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, xenophobism and ultra-nationalism are far from being constructive and acceptable values in a democracy. Nevertheless, the mainstream right has since the election of Nicolas Sarkozy seriously been flirting with the extreme right. Since this juncture, the right wing has lost some of its credibility and decency. The lost of identity of the French right – as it is the case for the Republican party – is hurting democracy as political debates are becoming vicious and partisans at the expense of compromise and constructive debate.

The similitude between all these extremes is the romanticism of a constructed past. In the case of the US, the Tea Party believes than a return to an early post-Constitution era of the early 19th century is the future for America. Unfortunately, the 19th century America was far from being a great power and was certainly a tumultuous period of its history. In France, the Front National wants to bring back France is a period of the pre-WW1 era when France truly radiated all over Europe and the world. But this period led to the World War 1, one of the worst war in human history with ramping nationalism, racism and weak political system.

All these political minorities can only strive through the construction of an enemy. In the French and American cases, there are two enemies: the other, and the future. Both enemies strongly resonate in any national psyche. The other is always the immigrant. These immigrants are always the cause leading to the decline of security, safety and of course national unison. The second enemy, the future, is a place – only imagined –

Crédit: Reuters

Crédit: Reuters

where nationals may lose all their current attachments and their place in a world they may not recognize or approve. The utilization of fear by these minority political group – one of the three emotions identified by Dominique Moisi – resonates deeply in the mind of any world individual. The one weapon against this fear is knowledge and understanding, which can be fostered only through education. Unfortunately, since the 2008 financial crisis, public education – or the republican school in France – has been one of the main victims. In France, public schools are not the neighborhood school anymore wherein all social classes, ethnic group sit altogether. Schools are now solidifying the process of ghettoization happening in the French suburbs. In the US, the state of American public school is a shame to the world rank of the country. The standardization of education through constant standard testing and decline of critical thinking is not leading to better-informed citizens, but to test takers citizens.

In term of the second enemy, combating the future is a very Don Quixote endeavor. However, incorporating the other is a very accessible goal. This goes with education and the creation of an ever-changing social contract. As per Rousseau, the earliest example of a society is the family. Once the natural bound of the family dissolves, the unity of the family is only grounded on voluntary consent. The consent and unity certainly go through education, understanding and inclusion – through either multiculturalism or assimilation –. This inclusion is in fact a win-win scenario for receiving countries as it would translate into soft power domestically and internationally. With all this talk in the IR literature about the use of soft power as a foreign policy tool, one should reflect on its origins. Soft power starts at home and with the behavior of domestic politicians and narrative. At the end of the day all foreign policy decisions are glocal.

When looking at the state of the democracies of the Euro-Atlantic community the real question is: where is the middle? Parties have shifted towards the extremes. It seems, at least in the mind of political strategists, that reaching out to the extremes is a better strategy than getting the middle. In the US, an entire middle – what has been described as the undecided voters – is left wandering. Ultimately, with a shift to radical vision compromise – a key variable for a stable and functioning democratic system – does not exist. Governing demands skilled politicians, patience, but principally compromise. In the case of the US, a two party system may need to be rethought. In the case of Europe, leaving the extremes to extremes is the only option. President Chirac back in 2002 refused to participate at the presidential debate with the former leader of the Front National, Jean-Marie LePen. President Chirac was right then, and today.

 

Author

Maxime H.A. Larivé
Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.

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