Two centuries of alternation, 1

The eco-history of the political conflict in France proposed by J. Cag and T. Piketty is a defense of the electoral bipartisanship: the left-right divide is the foundation of our democracy and it has enabled social progress. We must therefore work to restore it.

This report constitutes the first part of Michel Offerl's review of the work of Cag and Piketty on the history of voting. In second partit will offer a critical reading of the chosen indicators, followed by a comparison with the work of socio-historians and voting historians.

This work, written by two economists, takes us to the side of French elections, over more than two centuries.

It is a book of strong consistency (853 pages, nearly two million signs, 11 reproductions of documents, 47 maps, 273 graphs and a table plus countless annexes and references made freely available on the site This is an unprecedented and gigantic work of digitizing electoral and socio-economic data over more than two centuries (1793-2022). Thus were thus digitized, and this is a first, the minutes of all the legislative elections from 1848-49 then from 1871 to 2022, of all the presidential elections (1848 then 1965 to 2022) and the referendums of 1793 and 1795, then those of 1946, 1992, 2005 (the exclusion therefore of the imperial plebiscites and other referendums of the Ve Republic 1958, 1961, 1962 (2), 1969, 1972, 1988 and 2000). It has been a long time since such an investment in electoral sociology, particularly in its long-term and spatialized version, had taken place in France.

Like any impressive work from the outset, the work of Julia Cag and Thomas Piketty will encounter several types of readings and receptions.

The first, unfortunately, will confine themselves to diagonal readings, dotted lines, fleeting strippings, paratextual readings (as Genette would say) nourished by pre-digested extracts or radio commentaries. Because who can and wants to dedicate a week of work to reading p. 11: Who votes for whom and why? How has the social structure of the electorates of different political currents evolved in France from 1789 to 2022?, p. 853: But it goes without saying that only a comparative perspective based on the accumulation of national monographs could allow us to go further..

We will quickly summarize these possible hasty receptions which will undoubtedly be oriented towards the political side of the work (because the book is also intended to be an intervention oriented in the public debate) which could, with little expense and great noise, enlist or discredit this work.

In a second time we will follow the epistemological line of the demonstration by remaining within the universe of thought of the authors and respecting their orientations and their claimed modes of intervention, economists claiming to be concerned with interdisciplinarity, and volunteers to take a part of the shared journey on the hunting guards historians and sociologists of the vote. Who do they intend to communicate with?? Who do they take for allies? From whom do they intend to stand out?? How do they plan to renew our knowledge of more than two centuries of political confrontations through electoral competitions??

Finally, in a third step, we will compare the methods and findings of the work with traditions that they touch on, or even ignore. In short, we will compare their questions and their results of very different issues, with regard to the two questions posed at the outset and recalled above: what does voting mean?? what is a readership?

So three readings. A political reading which draws directly political consequences from the main historical conclusions. A lecture co-historical which takes the indicators proposed here seriously and reflects on their methods of construction and validation. And an external, socio-historical reading which confronts the book with the work of socio-historians and historians of voting for several decades.

Read this work as a political book?

First of all, let's address what a casual reading could say about it.

It will make reference and reverence to the gigantic work of data collection over several centuries and the impressive demonstrative apparatus which illuminates, through elegant maps and graphs, the chain of demonstrations. It will then be enough to draw from this or that page to illustrate the main variables finely collected to argue the thesis, and the general articulation well summarized on the 4th cover and in the introduction.

After having thus underlined that all conflicts are multi-dimensional and that the conflicts of the past are much less faded than some would like to suggest, the two authors unfold their common thread:

there are historical periods where one main axis takes precedence over the others. It may in particular be a socio-economic conflict opposing the working classes to the propertied classes as a whole, in which case the electoral confrontation takes the form of a left/right bipolar conflict merging to a certain extent with a poor/rich conflict. We will see that this type bipolarization classist is generally structured around property inequalities (even more than income inequalities) and always leaves an autonomous role to rural/urban conflict and religious and educational conflict, and obviously to the complexity of individual experiences and subjectivities. This configuration classist complicates occupies an essential place in France from 1900-1910 (with the rise in power of the Socialist Party then the Communist Party) and until 1990-2000. It plays a maximum role between 1958 and 1992, a period during which almost no political movement can exist apart from the left/right bipolarity, in particular during the emblematic elections of 1974, 1978 and 1981, where the structure of left/right votes according to wealth is indeed very marked. If we examine things over the long term, it is clear that this bipolarization, particularly strong between 1910 and 1992, had a determining and largely positive impact on the democratic, social and economic development of the country during the XXe century. It fueled a fruitful competition for the implementation of multiple essential public policies while allowing peaceful democratic alternations at the head of state. One of the central objectives of this book is to better understand the socio-economic and politicoidological contexts and the strategic choices of actors likely to explain why and how this type of bipolar conflict is constructed or deconstructed. (pp. 16-17)

The strong idea of ​​the work is to present lco-history (the work is published in the new collection co-Histoires du Seuil) of the political conflict in France around a stylization of the electoral results (put in relation to social inequalities in France) based on the idea of ​​bipartition or tripartition of the party system.

If the work intends to cover the period 1789-2022, as the subtitle indicates, the thesis of bi/tripartition concerns the period 1871-2022. The period 1848-52 is also classified under the banner of the tripartition between Democ-Socs, Republican Blues and Party of Order). Then, the tripartition was imposed in 1871 (the political-electoral conflict could be summed up between a Socialist/Radical/Advanced Republican bloc, a Moderate Republican/Opportunist bloc and a Conservative and Monarchist bloc. In the 1910s a clear bipartisanship was established (and considered by the authors as desirable and effective, it allows economic and social progress) right/left based on socio-economic conflict. This configuration lasted until 1992 and gave way to a new tripartition, itself given as unstable (Left-ecologists/Centers/Right, from the Gaullists to the Frontists, which is not without asking questions, we will see) opposing 3 blocs. It should be noted that the notion of block is not really defined. Is this a return to Gramsci or Poulantzas, or is it an echo of recent political debates, around a bourgeois bloc? (the formula appears furtively on p. 39). The blocks are here more political entities that the authors make act, than instruments constructed by and for analysis.

One of the central avenues of the book is to understand the conditions of possibility for the emergence of a two-partition or a three-partition to better put an end to the current three-partition and, politically, to come to the end of the national-patriot bloc to encourage the return of a reunification, around a social-ecologist bloc of the popular classes currently preempted, for those of the villages and towns, by the national-patriot bloc and for those in the suburbs and metropolises by the social-ecologist block.

A cursive reading will focus on the side interventionist of the book. Scholarly work, work of long and meticulous investigations certainly, but also work of questioning which calls for citizen reader (p. 845) and presents a set of political proposals that can be extracted from the common thread of the demonstration and serve as a platform for reflection for the social-ecological block that the authors call for. The entire beginning of the book, which points out and repoints French inequalities, is marked with the seal of solid statistical mastery and a beautiful and good democratic will, which gives the tone of the book. It is not only a question here of doing science, but of providing keys to intervene in the social world and to find avenues and proposals favoring dynamics of mobilization and making it possible to re-establish the salutary right-left divide. As in their previous books, the two authors take sides.

If we do a cursory political reading of the work, then we will see that the authors note that their materials make it possible to clearly underline the primacy of class conflict (it is about geo-social classes) over all others, and draw from it political consequences. They thus extend their work on socio-economic inequalities, seeking to refer them to the historical structures of electoral behavior.

To summarize, bipartisanship and classist conflict allow democracy to function and continue the march towards equality and social and economic progress. (p. 38). From this point of view, p. 742 et seq. are eloquent from a programmatic point of view, as well as the entire passage (p. 833-842) concerning the possible options for the future of the European Union, between a point of view social-federal which has the approval of the authors, and the two other possibilities which are rejected: those of liberal-progressive bloc or that advocating a vision national-patriot Or social patriot.

We also find more specific proposals on the reform of institutions (social parity, participatory primary, vouchers for democratic equality, even zero-rate loans), on the way to circumvent the Senate (little mentioned throughout the book), as well as the other side of democracy over the long period, localand in particular municipal elections) and on how to strengthen the social state.

All this is quite interesting and can acutely feed the democratic debate, even providing the foundations and linaments of a political program for 2027. We can also wonder what reception can be expected from the leaders of the RNbecause, even if their program is dismantled, they emerge from this book with a triple palm: they are not stigmatized as extremists (see below), they currently constitute the base of the right-wing bloc which therefore represents the descendants of this political family in the political history of France, they represent a very significant fraction of the working classes and particularly the workers. However, contrary to popular belief, left has not lost the working classes, the most precarious employees continuing to vote left. And LFI is more present in the poorest households (p. 816-817).

We could stop there, and it is quite possible that many wandering readers or listeners will stop there. However, we must go further to understand and master this work. Going further means making the effort to enter into the maze of the book.