Violence Arc de Triomphe

Difficulty "thinking" about the transition that condemns us to violence?

Our French culture has in its DNA a propensity to let violence happen. Our relationship to authority is ambiguous; we are both very sensitive to it, frequently opposing it, in a chronic rebellious jouissance, while also seeking to exercise it. Power figures fascinate us at first, and then we have a mania for wanting to overthrow them afterwards. Our relationship to authority is not mature. And this leads us to have an ambivalent and divisive social behaviour with a predilection for violence, ultimately.
What if this societal dynamic is not adapted to the transition we are going through?
They say a river carrying everything away is violent.
But we never say anything about the violence
Banks that surround it
They say that the wind bending the birch trees is violent.
But what about the storm that bends men
Who's working the streets?
Bertold Brecht
  • An analysis of our cultural dynamics

Semantic shifts that explain our addiction to rebellion...
Semantic shifts in terms revolution, resistance and rebellion lead to changes in representations and therefore to changes in behaviour. The French are a priori "against", and in some cases, without knowing exactly what they are against. But this gives them legitimacy in the face of the void of meaning. For younger people, opposing is a new form of existentialism and it is also a way of reinventing living together. Moreover, Xavier Crettiez and Isabelle Sommier insist on this point.[1] According to them, there are in fact three current forms of rebellion: a figure of speech, an act of integration and a radical rupture. The figure of speech means that rebellion is stylized and individualized and "set as a behavioural norm. "Thus, "self-realization seems to have become the very ideal of any rebellious posture. The figure of style means that rebellion is stylized and individualized and "established as a behavioral norm." Thus, "self-actualization seems to have become the very ideal of any rebellious posture".
However, this idealizing marketing of May 68, which had become a lifestyle, totally saturated the very meaning of rebellion and no longer carried within it the impetus of protest but the sole claim to be different. There is then a drift by understanding only one thing: "we can do what we want. "Rebellion is used as a pretext for independence. We quote Alain Finkielkraut " There is now nothing more conventional than provocation, nothing more orthodox than heresy, nothing less outrageous than scandal. »[2]
Rebellion is also an act of integration. For the authors of a certain number of protest movements, it would be a tendency for them to actually seek to "penetrate a power deemed closed and deaf to claims. "Thus it is no longer a question of rebelling "against" but "for" in order to belong to the system and not to be rejected. An economic system that sets its law as master and to which it is preferable to belong, even if it means criticizing it, because to leave it is to bet on an exclusion that is as radical as it is definitive.
Finally, the radical rupture of some other movements perpetuates the dynamic of resistance against established powers perceived as authoritarian. Ideologically, what will animate these small groups is "intellectual mistrust of liberalism" and legitimize their struggle against a power that is increasingly omnipresent in the context of globalization.
Rebellion that has become a figure of speech loses its soul in the consumerism of the polymorphous individualistic genre. And we understand better why the notion of rebellion becomes confused because it is taken up by all social actors. Each one seeks to do something different with it according to his objectives.
Would there be, by the same token, a common national identity around the figure of rebellion? Could it be the mark of a vitality denied by an establishment mired in a moribund modernity? Our hypothesis would be that rebellion would constitute a kind of national identity that would prevail over the fragmentation of the social body into tribes, over majority individualism. For part of the population, it is a matter of contestation for the pleasure of the opposition, allowing them to regain the primordial enjoyment of their relationship with authority. And also the pride of belonging to a people who know how to make revolutions to change the world. A romantic nostalgia. Wouldn't rebellion become a new way of recreating the collective, of being together and thus a common identity?

The social expression of rebellion

How does rebellion express itself today in our daily lives?
The traditional space of modernity compartmentalizes activities according to places and functions, ensuring a certain stability through sedentariness. The appearance of different forms of social networks seems to be linked to the phenomenon of social rebellion, as an expression of an elusive nomadism as opposed to sedentary life. Rebellion is expressed through the labile aspect of networks and the fact of surfing on different spaces.
The occupation of time and space is different. The aim is probably to give the illusion of not being grabbed, caught, to avoid being locked in a single box or standard. It is interesting to note that the first to seize these new modes of expression, encounter and access to information are children, young people and adolescents. A juvenile population that we have said is one of the characteristics of which is to manifest loud and clear rebellion to parental authority. The elusive nature of the virtual, the ephemeral, the nomadic would then be categories of cognitive as well as affective behaviours that give new ways of being together and that socially aim at breaking a dominant model, experienced as asphyxiating because it is self-centred. The contemporary revolution is taking the digital paths of social networks before manifesting itself in the streets. Rebellion could then be understood as a means of experimenting with some of the values of the new paradigm.

The slippage between the end and the means

Thus, there would have been a slippage between the end (the meaning of the ideologies) and the means (protesters). The notions of revolution, rebellion and resistance would have been diverted from their original historical meaning to illustrate a social dynamic and tell us something of the times.
Today, perhaps people are demonstrating for the simple pleasure of demonstrating, of opposing, of "bending" a government that has also lost its legitimacy. It is a matter of being against, which in itself contains the double meaning of being in contact with others in these outpourings that seek to recreate the vitality of the social body. Opposition has become a national identity, a legitimacy, a purpose for lack of another meaning, no doubt emerging in the same dynamic as that of the new paradigm.
The "Republic of teachers", an expression that came into the language after the publication of Thibaudet's essay in 1927, corresponds to a time when France was governed by erudite men who argued their social project.
Whether they started out as lawyers or professors, they were all literate, from Adolphe Thiers to François Mitterrand. Then, the Republic of the Enarchs was gradually established, giving priority to rhetoric over the content of projects. The French were not mistaken and over time gradually "disengaged" from a policy that had lost its soul. The only thing that remained of our history was a critical reflex and systematic observation.[3]
So much so that many candidates in all elections and on all sides gradually based their campaign arguments and speeches on criticism of their opponent to mask the emptiness of a project lacking substance and body.
However, the fold was given and the social dynamic was well anchored on the basis of a principled opposition between two camps, right and left for politics and management versus employees for organizations. The emotional values that citizens place on either the left or the right, or on employers or trade unions, are based on differences and are based on well-divided representations. Thus, over time, the origins of these dichotomies fade and the only thing left is contestation as an end in itself.
Thus revolution and resistance have slipped from their initial meaning to a derived meaning, and have gone from being a means to becoming an end, losing the sense of their own raison d'être. This can partially explain the manifestation of social violence to manifest the aberration and the absurd.
  • Update on the political situation in early 2019

Today, we have, notably with the Yellow VestsIt is a polymorphous expression of real dissatisfactions, an expression of multiple frustrations and based mainly on ever-increasing social inequalities and injustices. A phenomenon linked to deregulated liberal capitalism, which since the 1980s has significantly widened the gap between income from labour and capital.
However, on the basis of real claims and flagrant injustices, our DNA is nevertheless revived. Our romantic nostalgia for the French Revolution leads us to systematically reject all our Presidents, one after the other and regardless of their politics and affiliations. And we also have the desire to cut off heads, to see blood being shed and at the very least to relive the intensity of May 68. There is a morbid enjoyment and an addiction to violence of which we are aware so that it does not alter our behaviour at a time when essential elements are being discussed on the future of our democracy.
Our ambiguous and immature relationship to authority leads us to let the situation "rot" for a long time without reacting, without using democratic moments to start a responsible dialogue. Like a pressure cooker, we let the pressure build up to the point of unbearability, which then explodes the social body unleashing its violence, as the only energy for transformation.
And the risk is, on the one hand, cutting off heads that are not always the right ones, and on the other hand, throwing away the baby and the bath water. Because in moments of violence, energy is like a tidal wave that takes everything in its path, and history shows that not everything can be thrown away.
Thus, dialogue is desirable, but we do not have the culture of it. We need to go through the abyss of violence, of extreme confrontation, breaking first and then discussing.
However, these repeated behaviours are anachronistic with the major paradigm shift we are experiencing. If violence is consistent with this period of in-between when the benchmarks of the previous model are disintegrating - hence the success of the notion of collapse, totally contemporary with this moment of transition - it is not enough to cross the threshold. Except to mobilize it as the only spring of resilience.
And this is where we measure the limits of our DNA in the face of transition. Yes, violence is synonymous with intensity and considerable energy to make this quantum leap out of the rut and rethink ourselves and be reborn. However, there is also another, more subtle path that could allow us a more mature transition.
  • Thinking of transition as a silent transformation

The complexity of our world has difficulty accommodating binary responses. We need the detour through Taoist thought, to succeed in thinking the movements of change, to learn to emerge from the fascination of the event to grasp the weak signals of the natural aggregations of silent transformations.
Taoism is the thought of ET, of the third, of the interstices between things, of the movement from one extreme to the other, of the seeds of the next stage contained in the present phase. The contribution of Taoist thought is to emphasize the continuous dynamics of life.
Our western society favours Aristotelian thinking, which segments things and privileges the event, the spectacular over the imperceptible signs, over the shivers of the world to come.
We postulate that in order to grasp the transition we are in to co-create the emerging paradigm, we need the strength of the combination of opposites that sees both what is disintegrating and what is emerging, concomitantly. "Silent transformation, on the other hand, does not force, does not thwart, does not fight: but it does make its way, one would say, infiltrates, extends, branches out, globalizes - it is a stain of oil.[4]
Thus, the social tensions that we are experiencing today tend to set us against each other. Many actors encourage this fracture and of course this dichotomy awakens passions and unleashes emotions. However, it is not at all emotional and labile reactions that we need to get through this crisis, but rather mature, calm dialogue, wisdom to embrace contradictions and openness to welcome the hatred that is the result of fears. So let us hope that, clear-sighted in our cultural DNA, we can make a deliberate and ethical choice of another path leading to a participatory democracy. This is based on dialogue, and therefore on respect for otherness and acceptance of the fruitful fertilization of seemingly contradictory points of view.

 Analysis extracted and reworked from C. Marsan, Making Change Happen, DeBoeck, 2008.–9782804156282-page-75.htm

[1]CRETTIEZ X., SOMMIER I., La France rebelle, Éditions Michalon, Paris, 2002.

[2] Alain Finkielkraut, interview with Le Magazine Littéraire, Éloge de la Révolte, N° 365, 1998, quoted by Xavier Crettiez and isabelle Sommier, opus cited.

[3] We can note a new drift in our historical and cultural heritage. The Enlightenment brought the light of Cartesian critical thinking to the world and today there remains a national capacity to formulate systematic critical judgements. Morality has taken precedence over intelligence. And then we see this other semantic shift from criticism of pure reason to criticism as a means of self-expression and no longer as an expression of doubt in thought. It is still a form of opposition, of being against, having lost the reasons for what sometimes leads to opposition.

[4] François Jullien, Les transformations silencieuses, Biblio essais, Le livre de Poche, 2009.

Why not enjoy unlimited reading of UP'? Subscribe from €1.90 per week.

Anything to add? Say it as a comment.


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
participative democracy
Previous article

Does the Great Debate usher in a new era of open political innovation?

Next article

The crime of ecocide must be recognized by the International Criminal Court

Latest articles from Analyses



Already registered? I'm connecting

In order to contribute to the information effort on the current coronavirus crisis, UP' proposes to its readers a free entry to the latest published articles related to this theme.

→ Register for free to continue reading.



You have received 3 free articles to discover UP'.

Enjoy unlimited access to our content!

From $1.99 per week only.