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Henri Astier
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Mon article explique pourquoi Emmanuel Macron et la diaspora française au Royaume Uni sont fait l'un pour l'autre (à l'exception de mon ami Christian) 

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In the hills above Pafos in western Cyprus lies the monastery of Agios Neophytos. The guidebooks spoke highly of it, and we were looking forward to a visit.

It was low season: our rented Corsa had the car park to itself.

Looking for the office, I spotted a low building. A half-dozen tourists in walking boots were resting next to it. I peered inside and said to Lesley and Catherine: "I think it's closed."

"Shut until March," one of the walkers confirmed in a disconsolate, unmistakably English voice. "Bad luck old boy."
"What! The monastery is closed until March?"
"Oh no, the monastery is open," he said gesturing towards the top of the car park. "This is the tea shop."

We thanked the man, walked up a yellow stone-paved road and discovered a place of blessed serenity, as well as the extraordinary story of Saint Neophytos.

Neophytos was born to illiterate peasants in the central village of Lefkrara. When he turned 18, in the year 1144, his parents found a bride for him. He said: "No thanks."

"But she is nice girl from a good family," his mother cried. "They have a huge olive grove and ten goats."
"No thanks," Neophytos repeated.
"Don't be an idiot," his father said.
"If you don't like her, I'm sure we can find another one," the mother pleaded. "They'll be queuing up to marry you!"
"Nobody will want him if he acts like an idiot!"
"Don't speak about my beautiful boy like this!"
"Shut up old woman. Since when do children have a say? My parents made the decision for me and now I'm stuck with you."

The mother cried some more; the father shouted some more. Neophytos slipped out the back.

The young man yearned for a life of seclusion, study and quiet contemplation – a yearning home life clearly could not satisfy. He had heard of a monastery in Koutsovendi and went there.

"I want to be a monk," he told the abbot. "Will you teach me to read the Scriptures?"
"You do not know how to read and write, my son?"
"No."
"Then I am afraid we cannot teach you."

Neophytos was both saddened and puzzled by the abbot's reply, the implication being that he was willing to teach people how to read and write, but only those who already knew how to.

But the abbot was not totally unhelpful. He agreed to allow the young man to tend the vineyards, and in due course Neophytos became an expert winemaker. As an aspiring ascetic, of course, he left the monks to enjoy the fruits of his labours.

Having thus made himself useful, Neophytos felt entitled to go back to the abbot.

"Will you now teach me to read the Scriptures?" he said.
"You are still an illiterate peasant boy, my son. We give you room and board. Isn't that enough?"
"No, I want to become a holy man."
"Pffff!" the abbot snorted.
"What was that?"
"Sorry, just sneezing. A bit cold for this time of year. You were saying, my son?"
"I want to become a hermit. And if you refuse to teach me to read the Scriptures I will go elsewhere."
"But who will be making our wine?"
"Only the Lord, not a 'illiterate peasant boy', can answer that question."
"Okay, I'll see what I can do," the abbot said.

So Neophytos learned to read. After work he immersed himself in the Bible. He revelled in every book from Genesis to the Revelations, and back again.

But in due course, he wanted to study full time, and went back to the abbot.

"I've been here for over five years and want to become a proper monk. I can read and write. I probably know the psalter better than anyone around here."

But again, the abbot stalled. He only allowed Neophytos to become a part-time sacristan, as long as he would continue to supervise winemaking. Neophytos reluctantly agreed, but he kept on dreaming.

One day - away from the world of wine presses and cellars, away from the world of vestries and thuribles, away from the world - he would be leading a life of holy study and quiet contemplation.

Years passed and he felt he was wasting away at Koutsovendi monastery. In a desperate bid for recognition, he applied for leave of absence to go to the Holy Land. This was granted by the abbot, on condition that he return in time for harvest.

So Neophytos sailed to Sidon. From there he made his way to the Jerusalem, only to find that Muslims ran the place.

The middle of the Second Crusade was a dangerous time to be a Christian in Palestine. Neophytos found a piece of the True Cross at the peril of his life, and somehow made it back to the monastery in time.

But still the abbot would not allow him to become a monk. After five more years there, Neophytos decided he had had enough. He slipped out the back.

He had heard of a community of coenobites in the Latros mountains of Asia Minor. He travelled to the port of Paphos to get a passage. Instead he got arrested.

"Why are you arresting me?" he asked the Paphos commander.
"You are a fugitive," the commander said.

Neophytos, thought: either news travels incredibly fast on this island or this man is bluffing.

He spent the night in jail. In the morning the commander asked him if he had any money. Neophytos said he only had two silver coins to pay for his passage to Asia Minor. The commander said that the fine for being caught as a fugitive was two silver coins. Neophytos paid up and was allowed to slip out the back.

Without any money to travel, Neophytos had no choice but to look inland for a hermitage. He went up the mountain above Paphos and reached a natural cave in the rock.

This was the year 1159 – he was the same age Jesus was on the day of Crucifixion. And what had he, Neophytos, achieved? Raging against the rock, he enlarged the cave.

On 12 September 1160, the Day of the Exultation of the True Cross, he decided that his work was done. He created his own church in the cave and called it Enkleistra, the place of seclusion. And there he read and he read. And he wrote prayers and he write sermons, and said them to himself.

At last he was leading the life of contemplation of a hermit. After a while word got around Paphos that a hermit was living in the hills. A few curious people came to see for themselves.

"What is your name, hermit?" they asked.
"Neophytos," Neophytos said as uninvitingly as he could without being rude.
"What are you doing here?"
"I am living a life of SECLUSION, study and QUIET contemplation," he said, emphasising the important words.

The peasants noticed there was very little in the way of food in the cave.

"Aren't you hungry?"
"I'm fine thanks – I've got very a good metabolism. Now if you excuse me it's time for my afternoon meditation."
"What is that piece of wood hanging there?"
"That's just a piece of the True Cross I picked up on my travels..."

The audience gasped and bowed.

"And what are those papers?"
"Oh nothing... Just a few homilies I wrote this week. But you must have important business to attend. Don't let me detain you."
"Can you read one to us?"

Neophytos chose the shortest one. His listeners were entranced. They returned to Paphos and told everyone about the hermit in the cave.

As his reputation grew, people came from far and wide to honour him. Many brought offerings. Neophytos told his visitors that he had no need for fine food or lace, but no-one listened.

It was generally agreed that a cave was inadequate for the congregation, and masons came to erect a proper place of worship.

When Neophytos said he didn't need one, they promised to retain the original spirit of the place by building the new church against the rock face.

Neophytos chose to regard his growing following as a test from God. It was another cross he had to bear.

He found that a good way to keep the crowds at bay was to hand out sermons and other writings. People would go away and organise an impromptu readings. Some would take the commentaries away and bring them back as bound illuminated manuscripts.

Copies were soon flying off the shelves, and began to circulate as far away as Constantinople and Antioch.

Presently the bishop of Paphos invited Neophytos to become a priest at his basilica. When the Patriarch of Cyprus heard about this, he was very angry and wrote a letter to the bishop: "This offer of priesthood is an insult. No wonder such a holy man wants nothing to do with you. He should be made was a Saint!"

Within days he was beatified. He became known as Saint Neophytos the Recluse. People came all over Christendom to worship at the Enkleistra.

The abbot of Koutsovendi monastery told pilgrims that he had been the first to spot the spiritual potential of the young peasant and had taught him all he knew about the Scriptures. The abbot also organised "Neophytos wine tours" that proved very popular.

The Paphos commander said he had given Neophytos shelter when he was hanging out in the port, and talked him out of going abroad. "Without me he'd be a homeless dervish whirling around Asia Minor," the commander said.

As people came from farther and wider, Neophytos' cross got harder and harder to bear. One day, a man from Arsinoe came to offer him his daughter.

"Go away," Neophytos said.
"Let me clear up any misunderstanding. I am a man of considerable repute from the best family in Arsinoe. I am not pimping my daughter to you. I am offering her – with her full consent – to be united to you in holy matrimony."

Neophytos rose and spoke at the top of his voice, to make sure all the worshippers could hear.

"What is wrong with you all? Your families are starving and you bring me food. Your children are naked and you bring me embroidered coats. You give me your sheep, your cows, and now your daughters! I am an ascetic, for fuck's sake. I don't need any of this – nay: I need NOT to have any of this. WHAT I WANT IS TO BE FUCKING LEFT ALONE SO I CAN READ THE FUCKING SCRIPTURES!"

People stood in awed silence. It was the first time that the saint's word had been delivered in person.

The faithful allowed time to let their hearts absorb the message. Once it had sunk in, they said: "He is tired. Let's leave him in peace and come back tomorrow."

When they returned they could not find Neophytos. Someone suggested he might have slipped out the back, but it was pointed out that this was impossible as the church had been built against the rock face.

A search party eventually found him in another cave he had dug overnight, a good distance from the old one.

The Recluse had blocked the entrance with a plank, with a small rectangular hole cut in it. He used the hole to receive bread and also – occasionally - to communicate with the monks (for a new monastery had by now been added to the Enkleistra.)

One day, in the mid 1190s, the chief monk suggested extending the monastery by acquiring new land.

"Why?" Neophytos asked.
"These are very hard times for Cyprus," the chief monk said. "Richard the Lionheart looted the land and sold it to French knights. Now the peasantry has been turned into serfs. Monasteries are the only source of food, shelter and solace for our suffering people."
"And what are we supposed to do about it?"
"We could start by buying vineyards and a few animals... maybe build an extension. That way we could provide for all the paupers who are coming to us."

Neophytos didn't really like the idea, but the monks pestered him until he approved the expansion plan. In 1196 he wrote a letter entitled "About the misfortune of Cyprus". He lived for another 20 years, and died in his mid-80s.

Eight centuries on, the monastery still attracts people from all over Christendom. The vineyard has been turned into a car park, with a tea shop that is closed until March.

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La ville de Paphos, sur la côte ouest de Chypre, mérite son titre actuel de capitale européenne de la culture, et son statut patrimonial à l'UNESCO.

Son parc archéologique compte parmi les mosaïques romaines les mieux préservées d'Europe, voire du monde. J'en présente ici quelques échantillons, assortis d'explications.

A la fin de l'ère hellénique, Paphos fut le centre administratif d'une Chypre sous domination ptolémaïque (ce sont des Grecs d'Égypte qui, vers l'an 300 avant JC, assumèrent dans cette partie du monde la succession de l'empire d'Alexandre – d’où le nom de leur capitale, Alexandrie.)

Les Romains prirent Chypre en 58 avant JC, et ce pour environ quatre siècles. Les mosaïques datent du milieu de cette occupation, avant que le monde romain se christianise.

D'invasion en invasion, ces sont des Croisés Français qui héritèrent de Chypre sans que nul ne demandât aux autochtones grecs leur avis (c'est vrai ces derniers ne furent jamais consultés avant 1960.)

Pendant trois siècles, jusqu'à la fin du XVe, ces "Lusignan" originaires du Poitou, régnèrent en absolus potentats féodaux. Ils laissèrent maints châteaux: on peut voir les vestiges de l'un d'eux dans le site de Paphos.

La citadelle de Paphos est en ruine, mais des forteresses françaises hérissent encore Chypre de leurs créneaux inutiles. Elles ne dissuadèrent en rien les Turcs, qui prirent l'île à la fin du XVIe siècle.

Mais, entretemps, nos preux poitevins s'étaient prudemment retirés, ayant revendu la place en 1489 à des pigeons Vénitiens qui découvrirent trop tard qu'ils ne pouvaient pas la tenir contre les Ottomans.

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La colonisation grecque de Chypre remonte à la préhistoire. Durant l'âge de bronze, les Mycéniens, précurseurs de la civilisation hellénique, s'établirent dans l'île.

Selon Hérodote, qui savait de quoi il parlait malgré un manque total de sources primaires ou secondaires fiables, le royaume antique de Kourion fut fondé par des Argives, originaires d'Argos dans le Péloponnèse, c'est-à-dire des Mycéniens.

Ce royaume, situé sur la côte sud-ouest de Chypre, se maintient pendant pas moins de huit siècles, tout au long de ce qu'on appelle les "siècles obscurs", avant d'être avalé dans l'empire d'Alexandre.

Le site actuel de Kourion témoigne des propriétaires successifs de cette extraordinaire acropole. On y trouve un théâtre datant de la période hellénique (IIe siècle avant JC), les restes d'un forum et de bains romains, et les ruines d'une basilique paléochrétienne. Le tout domine un littoral sublime.

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Voici mon article sur Jean-François Revel pamphlétaire (publié par Contrepoints)

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Here is my article on the intellectual wing of the populist wave - which I call "neo-illiberalism" - published by the Times Literary Supplement a month ago.

"Why are the French so miserable? " TLS 23 December 2016

- Marcel Gauchet (with François Azouvia and Eric Conan), Comprendre le malheur français, Paris: Stock, 378 pages, €20, ISBN 978-2234075412
- Malika Sorel-Sutter, Décomposition française: Comment en est-on arrivé là?, Paris: Fayard, 312 pages,€18, ISBN 978-2213678535.
- Jean-Pierre Le Goff, Malaise dans la démocratie, Paris: Stock, 272 pages, €19, ISBN 978-2234080829
- Christophe Guilluy, Le Crépuscule de la France d'en haut, Paris: Flammarion, 272 pages, €16, ISBN 978-2081375345

For those who had thought the notion of class conflict dead and buried, these are unsettling times. Champions of struggling workers have won stunning victories at the polls in the US and the UK, the traditional bastions of capitalism. Fellow populists are hoping to repeat the feat in Germany, France and the Netherlands next year. Under pressure everywhere, mainstream parties are moving to curb trade and migration flows that are said to benefit the well-off at the expense of ordinary folk.

As they reel from political defeat, the liberals may draw comfort from the fact that they remain dominant on the intellectual front. Unlike Marxists of old, the new class warriors are not strong on doctrine. The smart set used to look on them with scorn. Since the US election, that scorn has turned to fear and loathing, not submission. Can we conclude that there is no battle of ideas, that the challenge to the liberal world order is all political brawn and no brain? Not quite.

Some academics, notably Paul Collier in Britain and David Autor in the US, have stated that open borders can hurt the poor, although they have done so in moderate, scholarly terms. It is in France - the country where Marxism in its heyday was successfully repackaged for export as a theory of everything - that the new revolt of the masses against the "liberal elite" comes closest to being an intellectual movement.

The man who started the trend was Éric Zemmour, an outspoken journalist. His 2014 essay Le Suicide français maintained that in recent decades an unholy alliance of scruffy left-wingers and sharp-suited free-marketeers had grabbed all the levers of power, destroying a once-proud nation in the process. Although the book was a best-seller, it failed to establish Zemmour as a major guru. He was too right-wing to be mentioned in polite society. Injudicious comments lost him his major media platforms.

But Zemmour was influential by shifting the debate beyond the left-right divide, and showing that there was a huge audience for an attack on modern capitalism from a nationalist perspective. The challenge was to tap this audience without veering too far into controversial territory. The books under review do just that. They are representative of an emergent school of through that may be called "neo-illiberalism" - as opposed to the old, internationalist critique of capitalism - and is in tune with these border-reclaiming times.

Marcel Gauchet provides a striking illustration of the influence of neo-illiberal ideas. In the 1970s he was an exponent of the "deuxième gauche", a centrist movement that urged France's left to drop its state-driven dogma, which he felt had much in common with top-down conservatism. That battle was belatedly won: French socialists, having embraced markets and civil society, are now broadly in line with Europe's social-democratic mainstream. Gauchet now thinks it was all in vain. He mourns the passing of a dirigiste model he once dismissed as obsolete. In Comprendre le malheur français (which could be rough translated as "Why the French are so miserable"), he argues that the US-led, open-border world is particularly inimical to France, a nation with a proud "tradition of projection in the world". Hence the "deep sense of marginalisation and provincialization" felt by its citizens. The French are not individualists after all: their mood is directly affected by their country's standing in the world.

Gauchet's account of how this sorry state of affairs came about is not entirely consistent. On the one hand, he blames the elites of the past forty years - big business and government – for having "chosen globalisation over their own people". But on the other hand, he sees France's diminished status as the result of deep historical forces. The country, he argues, has in the past been shaped by great leaders – a daring challenge to historiographical orthodoxy, which has long stressed social trends, but in line with a neo-illiberal penchant for decisive strongmen. France's apogee, Gauchet explains, was reached under Louis XIV. Since then, the country "has not ceased to decline, but also to revolt against this decline by fits and starts." One final effort to restore the patrie's greatness - and thus the happiness of its people - was made by General de Gaulle, before his pale successors officially surrendered sovereignty.

Gauchet is no Zemmour. He still identifies with the left, and his professorial tone contrasts sharply with the taut, fervid style of the rabble-rousing journalist. Yet the two share key leitmotivs: life was better fifty years ago, when a benevolent state protected jobs and shared the fruits of growth equitably. Today faceless technocrats, foreign judges, crusading journalists, corporate spivs and unelected activists have hijacked the democratic process. The endorsement of such views by a former champion of individual autonomy like Gauchet is a testament to their broadening appeal.

Malika Sorel-Sutter takes aim at the same targets from a more familiar, conservative perspective. In Décomposition française, she highlights the failure of the state "to guarantee the unity of the French people". By promoting mass migration and EU integration, governments of both the right and the left have "worked tirelessly to break up the nation". The result: "The whole edifice, which took more than one-thousand years to build, is threatened with collapse."

The book bemoans the "final liquidation of the sweet country of my childhood" and the "transformation of a native people into a minority in its own land". Although these could sound like the rantings of a nativist, Sorel-Sutter is anything but. The daughter of Algerian parents and a former member of an official body promoting integration, she is certainly no racist. Once an aide to the centre-right Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, she is no extremist either. She is, instead, a standard neo-illiberal. (rather was ambiguous)

This makes Décomposition française a handy repository for tropes of the genre. Like many others, she characterises elites as hors-sol – literally, off the ground. Unmoored from their birthplace, the upper classes live high above the common people they have abandoned, in a floating world where nationhood counts for nothing. Oddly perhaps for thinkers obsessed with cultural heritage, neo-illiberals regard it as fragile and skin-deep: a year at Harvard or a job at Unilever will reformat a native of Montpellier into a rootless identikit expat.

Sorel-Sutter takes 1950s nostalgia to new levels: France then was "a free country and a pacified society", whose citizens "lived life to the full" in blessed "insouciance". Their descendants are stuck in "a fragmented society in the grip of distrust", where young people are "locked in a direct competition with the rest of the world." This is a classic example of the nirvana fallacy. As the real world is imperfect, all its critic has to do is (my mistake) to describe its flaws as fatal and set it against an alternative that is unencumbered by actuality, and thus far superior. The conceit has been used by Utopians of all time, including Marxists, to condemn what exists in the name of what does not. Neo-illiberals belong to a venerable strand of nirvana thinking: the pre-lapsarian school.

Jean-Pierre Le Goff's contribution to the new class struggle is a critique of "cultural leftism". His target is less the urban elite as an oppressive force than its passing fads and deep-seated values. In Malaise dans la démocratie, he denounces hedonistic narcissism, moral relativism, post-modernism, environmental fundamentalism, business jargon, New Age spirituality, alternative therapies, and the abuse of adjectives such as "sustainable", "diverse", and "disruptive".

Many on the right will relish the diatribes against the "bobos" (the term, coined by the American conservative writer David Brooks in 2000 to poke fun at "bourgeois-bohème" urbanites, is still widely used in French as a damning epithet.) But Le Goff is no right-winger. His book is an elegiac and eloquent tribute to old working-class values, such as devotion to family and community, much in the spirit of George Orwell's praise of common decency.

An ardent centrist, he would probably reject any suggestion of affinity with populists. But he shares their dim view of globalisation. The threat of moving production abroad, he writes, has allowed bosses to "blackmail" staff into submission and "led to an erosion of the values and tradition of fellowship within the working class itself." And his main contention - that unfettered capitalism is a symptom of the deeper social malady of rampant individualism - puts him in the neo-illiberal camp.

Le Goff describes the ravages of cultural leftism in alarming terms. The bobos' humanitarian concern for faraway victims exhausts their capacity for sympathy with the working class at home. They have torn up the social contract. Most worryingly, their naïve, fun-loving materialism leaves society dangerously exposed to fanatical foes who, unlike them, understand the virtue of self-sacrifice. Like a good populist orator, Le Goff knows how to raise the ante: what is at stake is nothing less than the survival of democratic civilization.

Christophe Guilluy sticks to the theme of class oppression without veering into doom-mongering. A social geographer, he is the author of influential essays highlighting the plight of "peripheral France", as he calls the 60% of the population living in small towns and villages. His new book, Le Crépuscule de la France d'en haut, builds on this research to describe what he regards as a new social struggle being waged across the industrial world. Writing with unusual passion for a social scientist, he paints a dark picture. The new bourgeoisie is portrayed as even more brutal than the old. Nineteenth-century workers were exploited, but they were allowed to pour into wealth-creating cities. Those of today have been driven out by bobos who have taken over their neighbourhoods.

Guilluy compares modern metropolises to medieval citadels reserved for the affluent. The only poor people living anywhere near are migrants brought in as cheap labour to build offices for the winners from globalization and cook their food. In France this imported lumpenproletariat has been parked in old working-class suburbs, inflaming ethnic strife. "We have switched in a very short time from an egalitarian model to a socially inegalitarian society riven by communitarian tensions," Guilluy writes. The dispossessed are now out of sight, out of mind, and out of work: the modern economy embraced by the lucky and the skilled amounts to a "giant redundancy programme" for others.

Adding insult to injury, mass expulsion been carried out with a smiling face. "The new dominant classes have understood that economic and cultural domination will be much more effective if it is done in the name of benevolence and openness," Guilluy writes. He is scathing about hipsters who lecture hoi polloi about cultural and social mixing while practising the opposite. Denunciations of inequality and corporate malfeasance, the bread-and-butter of progressive magazines and Hollywood studios, are also a smokescreen: the anger directed at the "1%" is designed to deflect attention from the wider urban class that benefits from the system, and has no serious intention of challenging it.

Like ritual anti-capitalism, Guilluy contends, antifascism has become a "class weapon". Politicians backed by the working class are routinely accused of being bigoted or racist. These slurs, he says, are intended to silence complaints from the periphery, but they will not wash. The appeal of far-right parties is not rooted in ideology. Deserted by gentrified Socialists, small people are turning to the only truly anti-establishment parties on offer. Moreover, Guilluy defends the politically incorrect theme of "national identity". In multiethnic societies, where groups are thrown together, individuals naturally seek "cultural security" among those who share their values. This is as true for internally displaced natives as it is for uprooted migrants. The populist surge, Guilluy concludes, marks the emancipation of a downtrodden majority: "The slaves have fled the plantation and will not return."

Le Crépuscule de la France d'en haut is the most focused and thought-provoking of the recent batch of French neo-illiberal tracts. Yet it shares some of their flaws. Blaming global markets for the iniquities of France – a state-heavy country that remains shot through with rent-seeking – is a bit rich. By looking back on the post-war period solely as an era of egalitarianism and national cohesion, he too engages in the nirvana fallacy. His eyes fixed on class issues, his area of expertise, he is like the hammer wielder to whom all problems look like nails.

Neo-illiberalism is not the intellectual wing of populism in the same sense as Marxist intellectuals were the ideological servants of the Soviet or Maoist regimes. Most neo-illiberals are hostile towards the Trumps and Le Pens of this world. But they regard them as symptoms of more profound ills. Firing on the same targets is an indirect form of support, and provides legitimacy to far-right grievances. In turn, the neo-illiberals are boosted by the populist victories. They can turn around to the bien-pensants who dismissed their concerns and say: "Look what you've done!"

Faced with such condemnations, what can supporters of the prevailing order do? First, they might acknowledge that they are supporters of the prevailing order. Both economic and cultural liberals like to pose as revolutionaries – the "establishment" are always your opponents. But the populists are right in their claim to be the true subversives. Trying to out-rebel them is pointless. A system cannot be preserved by people who pretend to fight it.

Secondly, liberals could boost their case by conceding a few points to their critics, rather than dismissing them out of hand. Recognizing the downsides of trade and migration, for instance, would strengthen, not damage, the case for an open-border world. The point is not to argue that such a world is ideal, but that it is better than the alternatives and that the victims need attention.

Thirdly, perhaps the most valuable insight to be gained from a passing familiarity with neo-illiberals is that they are no xenophobes. But not being xenophobic is not the same thing as being right. During the Brexit debate, many mainstream Remainers played the racist card as if it was the only one they had. The outcome showed that you cannot effectively refute someone's arguments by insulting them. Liberals who ignore this lesson risk losing the intellectual as well as the political battle.



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What's this I hear? Trump chooses a French song to start his presidency!

Je reproduis une tribune publiée par le Times du 16 janvier, où Matt Ridley - fervent libéral et tout aussi fervent partisan du Brexit - se déclare consterné par les poussées de protectionnisme qu'il détecte au sein même du gouvernement de Theresa May.

Matt Ridley is SHOCKED to find protectionists among Brexiters.

Britain must carry the torch for free trade

A vote for Brexit was not a vote for Trump-style protectionism, as the PM and her advisers would do well to remember

In the week that Theresa May reveals the trajectory of Brexit and Donald Trump enters the White House, these two “revolutions” are once again linked by coincidence of timing. For much of the rest of the world, and even in the minds of many people in Britain, the result of last June’s referendum and the outcome of last November’s presidential election are part of the same phenomenon: a revolt against globalisation by a forgotten, provincial, working class.

I think this is misleading. While it is true that both revolutions saw the intellectual and financial elites given a bloody nose by the forgotten provinces, nonetheless Brexit and Trumpit have crucial differences. For a start, one was an unprecedented constitutional earthquake that resulted in the installation of a thoroughly normal prime minister. The other was a constitutionally routine democratic transfer of power that installed a highly unconventional president.

And while many voters in both countries wanted to see immigration better controlled, racism was a fairly minor factor in Brexit. About a third of Asians voted Leave and, according to Tim Shipman’s book All Out War, Muslims for Britain played a big part in turning out “the ethnic minority vote in droves with calls for free trade with countries of origin and a fairer immigration policy”.
The biggest difference is with respect to trade. There is nothing protectionist about the case for Brexit. To the extent that there are differences between remainers and leavers about trade, they are about whether we can achieve tariff-free trade with Europe, not about whether we want it.

As far as trade with the rest of the world is concerned, all the rhetoric on the Leave side was in favour of more free trade with the world: escaping from under the EU external tariff to be free to import cheaper food from Africa, re-establishing free trade with New Zealand and Australia, doing free-trade deals with America and Canada, selling more whisky to India and more insurance to China.

There may be somebody out there who voted Leave because he wanted more tariffs and less trade, but he cannot have been paying much attention. This is in sharp contrast with Trump voters, many of whom are indeed exercised by the hope and promise of protectionism. They want tariffs on Chinese imports, punishments for firms that move jobs from Michigan to Mexico, the cancellation of transpacific and transatlantic free trade deals, and more.

We dared the world to undo tariffs for the sake of peace and prosperity
In this, they are in a long American tradition, going right back to the Tariff of 1828 designed to protect the economy against cheap British imports, continuing through the time of Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke of the “pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade”, and right up to the protectionist rhetoric of Robert Taft in 1952 and Dick Gephardt in 1988. The nadir came when Congress reacted to the Wall Street crash of 1929 by passing the catastrophic Smoot-Hawley tariff act, which set off a spiral of retaliatory tariffs around the world that deepened the depression and encouraged Germany and Japan to think in terms of conquest rather than trade.

Britain, by contrast, has nearly always been the world’s most fervent advocate of free trade, persuaded by Adam Smith and David Ricardo that tariffs hurt the poor, and convinced by Richard Cobden and Robert Peel to repeal the corn laws and then dare the world to dismantle tariffs for the sake of peace and prosperity. Brexit sits squarely in this tradition, being a revolt against remaining a member of a customs union protected by a high external tariff.

I was in Mexico just after Donald Trump was elected president. My Mexican friends were unhappy, understandably: the country stands to suffer most from Trumponomics. They asked me what I thought about Brexit and I started saying that it was a wonderful opportunity not just for Britain, but for its current and future trading partners, including Mexico. They assumed I was joking. I insisted I wasn’t. No, no, no, they said, slapping their thighs, this British humour is going too far. Brexit is like Trump, so how could I like Brexit? It took me some time to convince them I was serious, and I certainly did not persuade them I was right.
After foreign correspondents from around the world lazily portrayed the Leave campaign in the referendum almost entirely in terms of an argument for isolationism, we have a job to do persuading the world that we are in fact rejoining it. So for that reason as well as others the government would do well to emphasise the differences between Brexit and Trumpit.

There are signs that No 10 needs reminding of this point. In an article last weekend, the prime minister said that last June the British people “did not simply vote to withdraw from the European Union; they voted to change the way our country works — and the people for whom it works — for ever”. Hmm. One of the prime minister’s chief lieutenants is an admirer of Joe Chamberlain, the politician whose principled but misguided imperialism came closest to turning Britain into a protectionist country.

Just by voting Leave, we’ve improved terms of trade for the north
This is especially pertinent in the case of the industrial strategy now in preparation. To the extent that this identifies growth opportunities, recognises regional differences, clears obstacles from new technologies and stimulates new research, it could be good. To the extent that it props up old industries, protects inefficient businesses from competition, gives in to crony lobbying and tries to pick winners or subsidise losers, it will be a disaster.

Theresa May will be making a mistake if she thinks Sunderland and Detroit have the same priorities. One is an export-dependent city with one of the most efficient car plants in the world; the other is fixated on the threat to its home market from foreign competition. It is becoming clearer by the day that the biggest problem for the North of England has been an overvalued exchange rate, driven by our capital-attracting capital. Just by voting to leave, we have improved the terms of trade for the north.

When the history of this decade comes to be written, we may conclude that in voting to leave the European Union as it drifts towards the economic and political rocks, Britain has averted rather than experienced a populist revolution and the election of a demagogue. We have prevented the installation of a British Trump, or — for that matter — Farage.


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Brice Couturier, dont j'apprécie le "tour du monde des idées" chaque jour sur France Culture, publie dans La Revue des Deux Mondes un article intitulé "Quelques règles inspirées de Tocqueville confiées à la réflexion de nos cher leaders".

Il n'est possible d'en lire gratuitement enligne que le début, mais j'en tire ces excellents préceptes:

Règle 1: Au pouvoir, le bluff est plus dangereux qu'au poker. Ne faites étalage de puissance que lorsque vous disposez réellement de la force qui en est garante.

«Lorsqu'on a abandonné la réalité du pouvoir, c'est jouer un jeu dangereux que de vouloir en retenir les apparences. [...] On semble encore assez grand pour être haï, et l'on n'est plus assez fort pour se défendre des atteintes de la haine.»

Règle 2: Des corps privilégiés peuvent être acceptés par un peuple à condition que la grande masse, qui n'en fait pas partie, imagine conserver une chance, aussi ténue soit-elle, d'y accéder un jour ou d'y faire admettre ses enfants.

«Si chacun croit pouvoir un jour entrer dans un corps d'élite, l'étendue des droits de ce corps sera ce qui le rendra cher à ceux mêmes qui n’en font pas encore partie. De cette manière, les vices mêmes de l’institution feront sa force. […] Augmentez la grandeur de l’objet à atteindre, et vous pourrez sans crainte diminuer les chances de l’obtenir.»

Le peuple aime «l’aristocratie comme la loterie». Ainsi s’explique peut-être l’étrange «solidarité» dont bénéficient les grands privilégiés du secteur public de la part de la masse des contribuables.
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