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For some time now, most of the mainstream media have been warning of the populist threat to our democracies. It must be said that all those who have the audacity to criticize the  » zealots « (1) neoliberals are thrown in the same infamous bag which translates above all the contempt towards the people of those who qualify their opponents in this way. We wish to develop here a more sociologically relevant approach to the attitude adopted by those who seek refuge in the apparently reassuring discourse of the extreme right.(2)

There are many people who can be described as  » losers of neoliberal globalization  » and, among them, there is a growing number who realize that the future is likely to accentuate this downgrading. They can see that the neoliberal right, under the guise of lying speeches, is accelerating this disastrous evolution. They also realize that the social-democratic left is only very weakly opposed to it… when it does not collaborate. Anxiety is therefore becoming widespread and our contemporaries, who are not among the few winners , are trying to find a political discourse that promises to protect them, especially from a threat to European civilization that some people are doing their best to amplify.


As for the fear of the disappearance of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe, the identitarians are perhaps not entirely wrong. Indeed, if we walk around any large European city, don’t we find clear signs of a growing acculturation, with the same developments everywhere? In their race to be the smart-city winner in the benchmarking that will attract the start-ups that will make their success story of tomorrow, aren’t cities flourishing with a host of markers attesting to the disappearance of national identities? Faced with McDonald’s and Burger King, our local businesses are not letting themselves be outdone and are also developing made-in-Canada fast food outlets, such as Quick and Buffalo Grill. Doesn’t that smell like local? You are right but do you really believe that this loss of identity comes from the Arab-Muslim civilization always denounced. Isn’t it extraordinary that our contemporaries are mistaken about the source of the danger and see in a few veiled women a threat to their way of life, which is already being denatured since the end of the Second World War? Not really, since the right wing is very cleverly manipulating their legitimate fears. Let’s see how the dominant ones manipulate the fear that comes from the loss of reassuring landmarks from the past.


When the USSR collapsed under the combined weight of its own contradictions and the help of the USA, which trapped it in an unbearable arms race, the triumphant West found itself without an enemy. This is very bad because, as Orwell described it well, you can only subdue people by making them fear perpetual war. In 1984, Oceania(3) confronted endlessly Eurasia and Eastasia but our modern bearers of the thought that  » the war is the peace  » found more clever. In 1996, Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations , which was immediately picked up by all the dominant media and became a bestseller. This time, around Oceania, it was about ten civilizations which threatened our « peaceful » Western democracies. Two of these were particularly singled out as aggressive: the Chinese and the Muslim. With the attacks of September 11, 2001, the new planetary enemy number one was confirmed and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya made this confrontation concrete (and, quite usefully, ensured the control of the largest sources of fossil fuels).


Huntington’s conception of the relationship between peoples is a political ideology of great simplicity with the aim of closing ranks in Western public opinion. In fact, the world is infinitely more complex and one must read Raphaël Liogier’s book, La guerre des civilisations n’aura pas lieu(4), to approach this complexity. This sociologist, a specialist in religions, first describes the historical evolution of theories of relations between peoples. First, Western universalism, from the height of its superiority, intended to bring THE civilization to retarded societies. Colonization was the peak of this arrogance but the excess (consumerist and technological) of modernity was soon a source of scientific questioning. It is impossible to detail here the sociological controversies that have led to the opposition between two conceptions of the relations between civilizations: differentialism à la Huntington (which sacralizes differences) and which rejects any interbreeding between different cultures that would be fixed and incapable of exchanging, or even coexisting. It is on this theory that the extreme right-wing identities rely to reject the other, no longer on a racial basis, but on a cultural basis. The cleverness of the discourse is to  » protect other cultures « , as long as they remain far away and a global apartheid is established. Differentialism is opposed to relativism, which does not deny differences but finds enough common anthropological values to accept mutual enrichment and thus multi- or inter-culturalism.

If Raphaël Liogier titles The war of civilizations will not take placeThis is because religions are at the heart of the rejection of others by the identitarians and because sociological studies of religions prove that all religions (Christian, Muslim, Judaic, even Buddhism…) are all divided between modes (spiritual, charismatic and fundamentalist) that bring them together and divide them from within. The wish to see them confront each other is opposed to reality and the logic of identity is an artificial construction in the hands of cynical politicians.

Liogier’s description of the hypermodern forms of religion and of the domination of individual-globalism is equally fascinating and warrants another article.

Alain Adriaens

Notes et références
  1. Les guillemets et le « z » parfois utilisés traduisent la distance que l’on peut prendre avec ce substantif et dénoncent le manque de modestie (et de lucidité) de ceux qui s’autoproclament ainsi. Parfois on aurait envie de nommer nomenklatura ceux qui se veulent « maîtres » du monde et apparatchiks les « petites mains » qui les servent.
  2. Nous avons distingué dans une précédente brève la différence profonde d’avec ceux qui se positionnent comme défenseurs du peuple (c‑à-d ceux sur lesquels le pouvoir s’exerce). Chantal Mouffe et Laclau sont les théoriciens défenseurs de ce positionnement de gauche qui ne dénie pas le terme de populisme.
  3. Tiens, Oceania cela ne fait-il pas penser à une alliance militaire dont le sigle est centré sur un océan, l’Atlantique Nord. Décidément, il n’y a pas que pour la surveillance connectée et la novlangue qu’Orwell est un prophète…
  4. Raphaël Liogier, La guerre des civilisations n’aura pas lieu, coexistence et violence au XXIe siècle, Paris, Biblis, CNRS Éditions, 2018, 10€.

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