For the past five months (exactly twenty-two consecutive Saturdays) and still counting as I write these lines in mid-April, France’s Gilets Jaunes have shaken French political life by bringing society’s forgotten voices to the national forefront. But in doing so, they also wrought havoc with the country’s economy and elevated street violence to near revolutionary levels. Slowly but surely the movement’s initially credible and welcomed grievances mushroomed into a far less palatable set of chaotic, often anarchist, demands, based on conspiracy theories, fake news, and antisemitic allusions.
Was this transition from credible social unrest to the world of credulous and dangerous affirmations a qualitatively new phenomenon anchored in an unprecedented crisis of credibility? Or were the Gilets Jaunes just one more chapter in France’s long revolutionary history, albeit one abetted by massive and self-serving media coverage and equally dubious social media? History “teaches” us that social movements contain a dazzling array of credible and credulous traits at that only time allows us to separate the grain from the chaff. Could it be that what we call the traditional touchstones of credibility–empirical evidence, verifiability, historical awareness, reason itself–at the core of the initial Yellow Vest revolt created their own credulous offspring and thus planted the seeds of their own undoing? I write this in medias res, Time, or July, will tell.
Diana Pinto is an intellectual historian and writer, educated in the United States (Harvard) and now living in Paris. As Senior Fellow at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research she has worked on the pan-European project Voices for the Res Publica. She also worked as a consultant to the Political Directorate of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for its civil society programs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Pinto has been a Fulbright Fellow, and has received research grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Collegium Budapest. She has written widely on transatlantic issues and on Jewish life in contemporary Europe. Her autobiography Entre deux mondes (1991) is about her experiences living in Europe and the United States. Other book publications include Contemporary Italian Sociology (1981) and Israel Has Moved (2013).