Economics/Class Relations

France, Farmers, and the Failing ‘Extreme Center’

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A Guest Essay by Renaud Beauchard.

“Pour le peuple, il y a toujours la misère!” (“For the people, there is always misery!”), by anonymous, c. 2018.

Recently I had a very thought-provoking back-and-forth email conversation with an Upheaval reader, Renaud Beauchard, on the recent trucker and farmer protests, the French elections, European politics, populism, technocracy, and more. His answers to my questions were so detailed that I asked him if he’d like to expand and put them together into a guest essay. The result, below, is I think an especially interesting perspective, in part because I have become convinced that France is at the leading edge of a new, emerging kind of politics, one that largely transcends, or at least badly scrambles, traditional left-right distinctions. That unorthodox view is reflected in this essay – which should not be a surprise given that Renaud, a professor and lawyer, is one of France’s leading scholars on the work of that prophetic political binary-breaker, the late Christopher Lasch.

I also find Renaud’s characterization here of French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling-class ideology as being that of the “extreme center” particularly interesting. I was only really familiar with the term from historian Stanley Payne’s work on the Spanish Civil War, where in Payne’s view the pre-war center-left government saw itself as the protector of moderate liberal-democracy, but became so paranoid about the perceived threat from the right that it began to take increasingly extreme extra-constitutional, anti-democratic actions in the name of defending democracy and “the center.” In the end these actions only helped delegitimize the state and hasten Spain’s collapse into factional hatred and violence. Now it strikes me that Renaud’s application of the term “extreme center” may also be a better way to describe the politics of technocratic regimes elsewhere (including in the United States) that have today draped themselves in the progressive identity politics of the New Left but have zero interest in the class struggles of the old working-class left, let alone any intention of challenging global neoliberalism. The dominant political divide is now nearly everywhere becoming that between a technocratic-global-elite vs. rebellious democratic-national-populists.

Anyway, I hope you find Renaud’s guest essay below interesting, as I did. Just to be clear, however: the below represents Renaud’s views alone, not mine, and publication of this or any future guest essays should not be taken as agreement with or endorsement of those views. But if you enjoy Renaud’s essay, do check out his new Substack Limits and Hope, where he’ll be doing more writing in English on cultural and political issues from a French perspective. – N.S. Lyons


If there is one hot spot where upheaval is happening fast, it would be Europe. Facing the consequences of their exit from History after WWII, European nations appear to be facing a moment of reckoning with a rather extraordinary convergence of crises: the ecological crisis, the end of the American century (the crisis caused by the transition eastward of the center of the world economy), the terminal crisis of liberalism, and a looming energy crisis caused by a completely avoidable conflict in Ukraine. In less than a week, we have seen new hunger-related revolts and the intensification of a backlash against rootless laptop elites, with farmer protests spreading all over Europe, along with the stunning resignations of the prime ministers of the UK, Italy, and Estonia. All the while, the conniving prestige media do all they can to dissimulate any causal link between the erupting anger and the resignations.

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