France: an End to Politics

France: an End to Politics

Let me go directly to the heart of the matter: at present, there is no more politics in France.

No more politics, that is, if we mean by politics a reasonable calculation of the balance of those forces able to maintain some pressure on the state power. We have in France today a strange kind of regime relying upon one man who does not represent politics in the classical democratic sense. And this, for two reasons.

First, because he tries to create a role quite without precedent in modern democracy, the role of the supreme arbiter, the chef d’etat who presents himself as above all forces within his country, as a body without weight or gravity. That is De Gaulle’s claim: he represents himself, De Gaulle, and in representing himself he represents France as an undefined and undetermined political force.

Second, not only is De Gaulle a man alone, outside of the political game, but more important, he is also trying to create the kind of power that Max Weber called charismatic power: the politics of inspiration. But this is no longer really politics as we know it in democratic states; it is a kind of psychology or a politics relying on the magical effects of personal prestige and language. De Gaulle today does not speak for certain historical forces aligned against other forces; nothing could be more inaccurate than to compare him with the American president.

It is the triumph of this “non-partisan” charismatic leadership that explains the curious events of the past six months in France. The first major consequence of this kind of leadership was the referendum De Gaulle organized on the new constitution, a referendum calculated to make certain an almost unanimous response. For this charismatic leader must have behind him an undefined nation which no longer relies upon majority rule but instead conforms to the rituals of unanimity. The law of democracy, however, is ultimately the law of the majority, and as soon as we substitute unanimity for majorities we have abandoned democracy. That is why a “no” vote in the referendum had finally no meaning: it was not a genuine referendum but a plebiscite.