No politics please!

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No politics please!

On 21 November 1620, a few days before stepping on American soil for the first time, the 102 passengers of the Mayflower, fleeing the persecution of James I, King of England and Ireland, gathered together to sign a document while still at sea that would lay foundations for a new world. The Mayflower Compact, a precursor to the United States Constitution, inaugurated the birth of a new democratic society based on the liberty and respect for the beliefs of all.

Two centuries later, the perspicacious observer of this young America where he was a visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville would raise questions about the potential pitfalls of democracy*. Two dangers in his view seem particularly acute: on the one hand elimination of individual spirit where: the mind “will swing backwards and forwards forever, without begetting fresh ideas” and on the other hand, the emergence of a “provident and mild” despotism in which the citizens abandon their liberty and which interferes in all aspects of their life.

During this period of rising populism which raises questions about the condition of our own democracy, the French presidential election, warrants observing with the same perspicacity as de Tocqueville. Apparently, the essential method used by presidential candidates to get elected is by piling on new promises in every possible area. This national firesale is continuing to give a lot of credence to the notion of a government that can do everything…and right away. A tendency that is not at all new and explains why every French child born today carries a burden of public debt of €30,000.

The French are however less and less moved by these sirens’ songs: a few days from the first round of elections, the largest political party in France is the one that votes blank. Three years ago, 25% of all French people admitted that they were ready to put a blank vote in the ballot box; today more than 40% are very seriously considering this option. A reflection of the dismay of electors with their choice of candidates.

De Tocqueville’s prophecies would appear to be coming true at the heart of our European democracies. It is urgent and vital to lighten the burden of this “Provident State”. “The greatest duty of good government” he ultimately considered “would be to gradually get people accustomed to doing without it“*. Adding new bureaucratic layers will only weigh things down further. Everything calls in contrast for streamlined structures and reconquest by the French people of the free exercise of their rights and duties of their citizenship. In this area, let us recognize that the United States have never lost sight of their founding myth and that the question of the just role of Government in the life of each citizen is constantly raised.

Just 60 years ago, in the Old World, six countries signed the Treaty of Rome establishing the EEC, and with it the common market. A simple, visionary and noble idea based on a notion of liberty and destined to reinforce cooperation and peace among nations: an idea around which little by little Europeans would rally around… and the principle of which has genuinely changed our lives! How to encourage support for this idea today when Europe is drifting away from the spirit of its original compact by focusing on drafting standards on the dimensions of cucumbers or the size of chicken eggs? Enough of standards. Never before have we had such need to rediscover the spirit of the Treaty of Rome or the Mayflower Compact.

* Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.


Didier Le Menestrel

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