Guilluy concludes with a denunciation of the “soft totalitarianism” of politicians who deplore Brexit: “The fairweather democrats of the higher France are ready to rewrite the rules of political participation on the pretext that the poorly educated working classes do not understand what is really at stake and that they are naturally carried away by their ignoble instincts.”
As social science, it’s sloppy. But as an insight into the mindset of the gilets jaunes, it doesn’t get much better.
...reading this insightful book, which first appeared in French in 2016, the surprise is not that the people rose up, but that it took them so long to do so... Unfortunately, that is as far as this slim volume takes us. Guilluy does not go beyond academic studies, of which he quotes many, to drill down into the situation in the périphérie, which he treats as monolithic...
Guilluy’s real sympathy is for what he calls “sovereignism”, which he describes as “a rational response to a neoliberal global model that destroys all sense of community”. This means “reverence for the ancestral home”, localism, renewed nationalism and, no doubt, protectionism. So this is where Left and Right meet, in fantasy exceptionalism. Nonetheless, essential reading.
The great merit of this book is that it puts discussion about the role of elites into a French context. France is very different from the English-speaking world, and is if anything far more bitterly divided. Guilluy is a geographer by trade; in this book he has simply drawn a map of 21st-century France and directed our attention to the front lines of contemporary conflicts across the country. He is not a theorist but has based his research on his own experiences as a housing consultant who has spent decades studying shifting social patterns in northern Paris and, in particular, the rise and significance of gentrification.
Despite the hectoring tone, unfounded generalizations and conspiratorial allusions, the book still manages to provide an indispensable guide to understanding the fears and frustrations of an increasingly permanent underclass — not just in France, but throughout the world.
Mr. Guilluy presents contemporary France as divided between a thriving minority holed up in its 15 largest cities and everybody else. “Everybody else” includes not just the restless immigrant communities living on the outskirts of the “globalized metropolises,” but residents of the hollowed-out second-tier cities and impoverished rural communities. “The medieval citadels,” Mr. Guilluy asserts, “are back.”
It’s angry, compelling stuff, if all perhaps a bit too seamless. In France, Guilluy is often accused of being selective with his data and simplistic in his science, of delivering, as Libération put it, “a big dose of ideology and some attention-grabbing one-liners, dressed up in a thin veneer of theory”. Yet the paradigms are, quite plainly, shifting. The “peripherals” of the western world “have no choice but to take back control of their own lives”, Guilluy concludes.