By Anne-Sylvaine Chassany
You live in a large city. You have a university degree, a decent job, consider yourself a liberal on social issues and a humanist. You believe in a tolerant society and perhaps live in an ethnically diverse area. You are also a pushy parent because you want the best for your children. In short, you are what sociologists call a hipster and meet the definition of what the French call a “bohemian-bourgeois”.
If this describes you, beware. This book by French geographer Christophe Guilluy will make you fret and question your moral integrity. French “bo-bos” are largely responsible for the dislocation of the country’s social and economic fabric, Guilluy asserts in Le Crépuscule de la France d’en haut (“The twilight of upper France”). His analysis, he says, applies to all western societies.
Widening inequalities have favoured the emergence of a new bourgeoisie living in dynamic urban centres, at the expense of smaller towns, suburbs and the countryside. According to Guilluy, these economic disparities help explain the populist wave that has materialised in the election of Donald Trump as US president and the UK’s Brexit vote. In France, Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader, is predicted to qualify for the presidential runoff next year.
“The globalised system has erected its citadels” in the large cities, Mr Guilluy writes. “Protected by the wall of money and a desire to stay among themselves, the upper classes can enjoy the advantages of globalisation fully — all the more so that, far from peripheral France, they have forgotten about the existence of a French working class.”
In previous books, published in 2004 and 2010, Guilluy gathered data showing how large swaths of France have fallen behind. Outside the 15 or so thriving cities, these regions tend to have higher levels of poverty, unemployment, temporary jobs and poor infrastructure. This is where the losers from globalisation live — blue-collar workers in labour intensive industries — while the likes of Paris and Bordeaux attract graduates, high-earning service jobs and start-ups.
This has given way to a sense of industrial and cultural decline, according to the author. In these disenfranchised corners of France, an increasing number of residents abstain from voting or are tempted by Ms Le Pen’s protectionist, anti-immigration rhetoric.
Guilluy wonders why “peripheral France”, which he estimates is 60 per cent of the population, has not forced the elites to put the brakes on globalisation or limit its negative effects. His answer is that the elites have been supported by the “bo-bos”.
“The system does not rely on the elites only but also on an important part of the population, a new bourgeoisie, that resides in large cities and that supported all the economic choices of the elite for 30 years,” he writes. The novelty is that these new bourgeois have “seized power” by enunciating “morally superior” principles: they back globalisation in the name of tolerance, openness and multiculturalism, describing critics as “backward-looking” or “racists.” In effect, they have allowed a system to thrive that only works for them. Indirectly, Guilluy says, they have contributed to wrecking old industrial bastions.
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