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In praise of Gregoire Chayamou: macronism predicted!


Philosophy almost always follows the event. The French revolution and Napoleon come first: then Hegel.

In a rare inversion of this order, Gregoire Chamayou’s The Ungovernable Society: a genealogy of authoritarian liberalism came first, in 2014, and then Macron.

Chamayou is one of the rare philosophers to follow Foucault’s work and actually do research. In Chamayou’s case, the research is on one of the turning points of the seventies – the emergence, within enterprises, consulting firms and conservative think tanks, of a grand strategy to fight back against civil rights movement, unions, and the formation of counter or at least a-capitalistic organizations. Although Chamayou does not talk about nudgery – the special addition to the mix identified with the Obama era – his diagnosis of, say, dialogue as a strategy by established power to make itself seem open and to label its opponents as extremists is uncannily predictive of the Macron strategy that has come so undone this year in the legislatives.

One can read the book as a horror story, or as a cynical affirmation of all that we already know. A particularly vivid illustration of this is in the chapter on Nestle’s discovery of dialogue. Nestle, as people of a certain age – my age – will remember, was making tons of money from powder baby formula, marketing  in areas, like Southern India, Central Africa, etc., where water was generally polluted, sometimes enormously polluted – due of course to the marketing of products from another multinational, Monsanto, among others. When this issue was brought up, Nestle dismissed it - which aroused fury among certain groups, which launched a boycott. Of course, in Switzerland Nestle used the tried and true method – suing distributors of pamphlets urging the boycott – to try to censor this (not an instance of cancel culture – cancel culture would only be involved if boycotters said nasty things about celebrities huckstering Nestle products. We have to remember, cancel culture targets people who are un-fireable, thus giving them a victim status that results in NYT op eds and cocktail party chatter) The boycott, especially in the U.S., started catching on – or at least the rhetoric directed against Nestle. Chamayou went through the archives of the people who were hired to undo the damage. It is there he found many communications about the need for dialogue – not dialogue involving third world women giving their kids corrupted baby formula, of course, but dialogue with “respectable” leaders of the boycott, or at least names in the liberal humanitarian set, that would have the strategic effect of creating respectability for those willing to “compromise”, and thus making those who weren’t seem like extremists who had … refused dialogue! Things go swimmingly, dialogue becomes a value in itself, which is always a good thing, as it allowed Nestle to go on selling its products while giving it the seal of approval of dialogue partners.

Transpose this to 2019, when Macron went on a “listening” tour in response to the Gilets Jaunes, and one finds the same thing – the need for “dialogue”, the finding of venues in which the dialogue would be managed the right way, Macron’s creating an image of a leader who listens, etc.

Cynicism only goes so far, however. Here one must supplement Chamayou with the invaluable essay by Erwin Goffman. Cooling the Mark out, from 1952. The problem with the boycotters, dissidents, unemployed disgruntled and dirty masses is that they might feel used. And this, of course, is the problem with marks in a confidence game. Ideally, they will not see through the game, and thus the con men can take to the road, trusting that they will not be caught.

“Sometimes, however, a mark is not quite prepared to accept his loss as a gain in experience and to say and do nothing about his venture. He may feel moved to complain to the police or to chase after the operators. In the terminology of the trade, the mark may squawk, beef, or come through. From the operators' point of view, this kind of behavior is bad for business. It gives the members of the mob a bad reputation with such police as have not. yet been fixed and with marks who have not yet been taken. In order to avoid this adverse publicity, an additional phase is sometimes added at the end of the play. It is called cooling the mark out After the blowoff has occurred, one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his team﷓mates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home. The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss.”

As we all know, the coolers of the mark have an institutional position: they are, collectively, the establishment press. And that is their main job – to cool out the marks who bear, in their wounded lives, the impress of the organized con game that is politics in the era of democracy’s decline. In Macron’s case, there was an impressive array of coolers – from Le Monde to Figaro, from BMTV to Le Causeur. But the problem, for Macronia, is that the coolers themselves have interests. It might be in their interest – as it is in the interest of the owner of BMTV – to crown Zemour king. It might be that they can’t persuade their journalists to keep going along. Liberation, for instance, has moved away from Serge July’s neo-liberalism by sheer self-interest – July’s generation isn’t going to buy the rag, and the journalists who write for it just can’t stomach the sheer idiocy anymore – unless of course they can secure rich gigs with Institut Montaigne.

So, France is going through the era of cooling the mark out, and the bumps are going to be wild.