La Croix: How can we qualify the political moment in which we find ourselves?
Olivier Mongin : It’s a paradoxical moment. On a global scale, it is obvious, democracy is not doing well. But at the same time, global movements, on gender equality or on ecological issues, bring new democratic demands.
The weakening of our democracy also comes from these tenfold democratic demands that are expressed in society.
Under what conditions can they nurture a new democratic impetus?
O. M. : The problem, today, is to manage to rearticulate society and the state. The question of the legitimacy of power from above has become central, like that of its credibility. I do not agree with the idea of a “poorly elected” president – because when would one be elected, with 60, 90% of the votes? But its legitimacy cannot be solely legal.
A power is legitimate if it is recognized as trustworthy, if one can believe in it. Emmanuel Macron, with his vertical practice of power, did not understand the historical moment in which we find ourselves.
What resources should be mobilized to rethink this legitimacy?
O. M. : The thought of Paul Ricœur seems very topical to me. He writes after Stalinism and Nazism and, like Hannah Arendt, he is very vigilant to the possible excesses of the State. His obsession is to avoid, on the one hand, the dispersion of society and, on the other, an excessive desire for unification which can lead to totalitarianism. Here is the paradox he underlines: from the social contract, this fiction according to which the general will is born from the gift of particular wills, can also be born the greatest evil, that is to say the excesses of power. Indeed, this political community must be implemented, instituted, that is “the desire to live together”.
How does he resolve this paradox?
O. M. : By seeking a balance between the power of the top and that of the bottom. The power from below is the power to act together, in disagreement, sometimes conflict. Without this capacity, society disperses, it becomes an aggregate of individuals. His genius, on the contrary, is to achieve a common history, to be able to project himself into the future without despising the past.
This will to live together does not have to be subordinated to the State. The whole question for Ricœur is to rethink a vertical scheme that is not of subordination, but of recognition. Moving from domination to a democracy capable of recognizing forms of authority. Whoever is superior must be able to be credible.
Under what conditions can we reconnect with this authority?
O. M. : The demand for recognition of power from above by the bottom is today reversed by an increased demand for recognition from the bottom by the top. If the latter is legitimate, its expression poses a problem when it takes the form of a direct confrontation. On the contrary, it is necessary to recreate mediations, inevitably “imperfect”, wrote Ricœur, between the power from below and the power from above.
Concretely, this means strengthening the institutions essential to maintaining a society that is in such bad shape today. First of all, national education. There is no democracy without opinion-forming. Otherwise, it’s Hanouna-style democracy of opinion, where everyone says the latest stupidity heard. This also means getting down to rebuilding common spaces that are not limited to ZADs.
What do you think of the legitimate violence claimed by certain activists?
O. M. : This discourse on civil disobedience and legitimate violence worries me. Ricœur pursues the idea of peaceful coexistence. In this, he remembers the Greeks: democracy is above all the ability to appease violence. Ricœur writes: democracy is conflictual consensus, the possibility of setting rules so as not to go to war.
What rules to set today?
O. M. : The president must calm things down. Show himself capable, in a way, of becoming a more German or Italian president, a moral authority who appeases and makes people want to live together. The head of state can also remember that a citizen must feel respected in order to respect those above him.
The unions have to educate on all the issues that have arisen with this pension reform and not be deluded about the vivacity of their troops. It is not them but Marine Le Pen who benefits from this crisis.
As for parliamentarians, they obviously have to learn the rules to talk to each other without killing each other. Here again, Ricœur can be useful in defining them: describe – start from reality; interpret – identify what can be changed; decide – act as a political collective.