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The Yellow Jackets Versus the European Empire

So the “yellow jacket” [1] protests are continuing in France, even though President Emmanuel Macron postponed the new fuel tax that ostensibly set them off.

This tells us that the protests have motivations beyond just the fuel tax. Indeed, the populist protesters have now been admixed with antifa types and sundry lumpen proletarians, smashing windows [2]looting stores [3]spray-painting communist graffiti [4], and wreaking further havoc on France’s carbon dioxide emissions targets [5].

One obvious point to make is that the French have a habit of rioting and revolting every few decades—this is, after all, the fifth Republic. France’s first republic was established in 1792, and it’s been revised four times since. By contrast, during a slightly longer timespan, the U.S. has gotten by with just one.

Today, the search is on for a larger explanation of the mayhem. Needless to say, some are blaming Putin. [6] Yet until such time as Russian agent provocateurs are found in the streets of Paris, it’s hard to conclude that Muscovite incitement is anything more than schadenfreude via the Internet.


Speaking of the Internet, on December 6, Buzzfeed argued [7], “The yellow jackets are a beast born almost entirely from Facebook.” That is, Mark Zuckerberg’s company is the problem. As the article asserts, “The yellow jackets communicate almost entirely on small, decentralized Facebook pages.”

This description of the yellow jackets’ preferred medium might well be accurate, but it’s also true that activists, even revolutionaries, found ways of communicating before electricity, to say nothing of social media.

Thus we must conclude that the key driver of the protests isn’t an app but rather larger anger at the status quo. As Bloomberg News [8] noted briefly on December 7, an additional flashpoint has been “declining services in rural and small-town France.” Le Figaro [9] put the matter in much starker terms on November 16: “For a long time, peripheral France and its inhabitants have been immolated on the altar of globalization.”

So now we’re starting to see why the yellow jacket movement might have real legs. Indeed, back in April, commentator Diana Johnstone [10] wrote with empathy about the plight of French railway workers, then confronted with the disassembly of France’s public rail system—and of their way of life, as well as of life in the French countryside as a whole:

Run as a public service, the national railroad used its benefits from lines with heavy traffic to finance those in more sparsely inhabited rural areas, this providing equal benefits to people wherever they live. That is on the way out. The destruction of public services hastens the desertification of the countryside and the growth of mega-cities. Hospitals in rural areas are being shut down, post offices closed. France’s charming villages will die out with the last elderly inhabitants still clinging to them.

Johnstone added that strong public infrastructure has been a central part of French life since the days of Colbert. Yet now, operating under the dictates of the European Union—as well as his own neoliberal ideology—Macron is pulling it all apart.

However, in the great tradition of reelection-hungry politicians, Macron, now beaten down to a 23 percent approval rating, shows us that he is always, well, flexible. On Monday, he went on nationwide TV [11] and announced that he was raising the minimum wage and implementing other changes. “We want a France where one can live in dignity through one’s work and on this we have gone too slowly,” he said. “Maybe I gave the impression that I didn’t care,” he added [12], assuring citizens that he “believes in this country that I love.”

So we can see: not only is Macron capable of postponing—and, let’s face it, most likely canceling—the hated fuel tax, thus weakening his green credentials; he’s also capable of playing the nationalism card—“this country that I love”—thus weakening his Europhile credentials.

Yet even so, the yellow jackets—admittedly an amorphous group—seem to have rejected Macron’s bid for reconciliation. That’s not the last word, of course, on Macron’s fate; after all, he has a set term in office until 2022. Still, the next four years of his presidency are looking to be a long and difficult slog.

In addition, the December 11 terrorist attacks in Strasbourg, which left three dead and a dozen wounded, seem to have been perpetrated by a North African Islamist cell [13], thus undermining yet another element of Macron’s globalist agenda, namely an accommodating attitude toward immigration.

In the meantime, as yellow jacket-ish protests spread to Brussels and Amsterdam [14], we might view these disturbances as all being connected to the peaceful populist wave that has washed over Europe in recent years, from Britain to Italy to Austria to Hungary to Sweden.

So yes, perhaps we should consider the tumult in France as just a window into the nature—and fate—of the European Union. And that’s fitting for Macron, in an ironic way, because he has avidly promoted himself as the champion of a United States of Europe [15].

In fact, from the beginning, the EU set itself up as an efficient collective enterprise—the very thing that Macron, a onetime investment banker, would love. It was to be, in other words, a consciously rationalistic and capitalistic entity in the manner of Locke and Rousseau. Thus the 28 member-states agreed to put aside their national and ethnic differences in favor of the new technocratic empire.

There was just one problem: nobody asked the people of Europe. Oh sure, at one time or another, officials in countries won an electoral mandate for bits and pieces of the “EU project.” Yet as everyone knows, the Eurocrats—clustered in Brussels, never elected to anything—went far beyond any mandate, taking the EU to dizzying heights of non-accountability. That’s why the words “democracy deficit” [16] are so commonplace. And that’s why the 28 members of the EU might soon be 27, if the UK follows through on Brexit—though admittedly, that’s a muddled situation [17]. (Note to the EU: would you really be happier with a disgruntled England still in? Careful what you wish for!)

Most governments in Europe—including the right-wing regimes in the east—are happy enough to remain in the EU, if only because guilt-ridden Germans are happy to pay them to stay. That opens up the prospect of a social cleavage within each member country. On the one hand, in their marble palaces, the heads of state are precisely calculating their fiscal flows, while on the other hand, down in the streets, the populists, left out of the calculations, are angrily throwing rocks. (Here at TAC, this author [18] has written about this odd bifurcation in the case of Poland.)

It’s hard to see how this situation can remain stable. Indeed, in thinking about the EU, one hearkens back to a past attempt to ignore pulsating popular passions, namely the Congress of Vienna in 1814. During that famous post-Napoleonic conclave, the crowned heads of Europe convened in an effort to reimpose royal order. That is, they jointly resolved to pretend that the republican nationalism of the previous quarter-century was just a passing fad. As a result, regimes were planted on top of peoples without regard to national sentiment—a 19th-century anticipation of the EU’s 21st-century democracy deficit.

Not surprisingly, Vienna’s hoped-for “Concert of Europe” failed to last for long. Within two decades, the Belgians, Poles, and Spanish rose up. The Belgians gained their independence, while the others were crushed—and as a result they seethed. (Also during that period, the Greeks successfully rebelled against the Ottoman Turks.)

Then came the continent-wide revolts of 1848, which proved that the ancient regimes were, in fact, obsolescent. The governments that survived had to retool themselves, oftentimes deliberately stoking ethnic passions, both internal and external, as part of their survival strategy.

Thus, Europe was carried towards a new and scary destination: continent-wide war.

Indeed, in the wake of World War I, British diplomat-turned-academic C.K. Webster [19] argued that the basic mistake of the Congress of Vienna was “the discouragement of the idea of self-government.” Webster continued, “It was this policy, that made the subsequent national movements take strange paths, instead of being an expression of the people’s desires.”

Of all the regimes forcing populist movements to take strange paths, perhaps the strangest and most cynical was the one in Vienna. The Habsburg Empire—after 1848, the Austro-Hungarian Empire—proved to be a continuing concerto of ethnic manipulation, combined, of course, with faltering collective power. As such, Austria-Hungary stands as a particularly eerie prefiguring of today’s European Union.

Still, as sage observers [20] have argued, the dream of a united Europe will always endure, at least in the minds of would-be Charlemagnes. Of course, such an imperium requires a fist—the more mailed, the better.

So as with the fate of Macron’s government in France, the future of the EU might well depend on the willingness of its rulers to get tough—that is, converting the democracy deficit into an outright tyranny surplus.

Could they? Would they? The only thing we know for sure is that it’s happened before.

James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "The Yellow Jackets Versus the European Empire"

#1 Comment By Thymoleontas On December 12, 2018 @ 10:49 pm

“France’s first republic was established in 1792, and it’s been revised four times since.”

Napoleon I put an end to the 1st Republic, when he declared himself emperor in 1804–thereby beginning the 1st Empire.

His nephew, Napoleon III, transformed the 2nd Republic into the 2nd Empire in 1851.

Hitler and Petan put an end to the 3rd Republic in 1940.

And the 4th Republic was ended by Charles de Gaulle in 1958 in order to prevent a military coup.

On all four occasions, protestors were not consulted.

#2 Comment By Limelit On December 12, 2018 @ 11:32 pm

They’re white people. They’re supposed to pay their taxes then shut up and do as they’re told.

How dare they complain. You’d think it was their country.

#3 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On December 13, 2018 @ 3:36 am

Speaking of the Internet, on December 6, Buzzfeed argued, “The yellow jackets are a beast born almost entirely from Facebook.” That is, Mark Zuckerberg’s company is the problem. As the article asserts, “The yellow jackets communicate almost entirely on small, decentralized Facebook pages.”

And a canonical Picardesque facepalm spreads across my countenance. That’s not even an ivory tower already. That’s a refusal to come out of one specific pink unicorn-infested room in that tower.

Romans had one nice proverb about that Buzzfeed author’s ilk. But, I’m afraid, my comment won’t be published if I write it.

#4 Comment By Dan Green On December 13, 2018 @ 7:16 am

The Brits look as if they will get rid of May. Merkel is neutered, Macron is, as we say going to be a lame duck. Italy has no use for German rule via Brussels. Poland and Hungry simply don’t care about the technocrats in Brussels. Who is going to run everything, under what banner? Germany’s persecution complex, once a powerful attribute, got all screwed up with Muslim immigration. Europeans periodically get murdered. It is always by Muslims. Great way of life. Reminds me of the old saying shooting fish in a rain barrel.

#5 Comment By Collin Reid On December 13, 2018 @ 10:28 am

It does seem like at the of the European Union experiment, everybody seems to hate it. Hungary is electing an nationalist, Italy is electing populist, Greece threatens, the UK has failed Brexit, France yellow vest protest and well Germany is tired of Merkel, her coming retirement is in reaction to the mediocre election result, being in charge. I find ironic that Brexit is partially failing because Ireland choice to remain with EU. Seems like the nationalist European can’t cooperate.

But none of the nations have broken the economic ties of the EU yet. So I bit dubious of significant change here.

#6 Comment By Michael Kenny On December 13, 2018 @ 11:21 am

This is, of course, is just the classic anti-EU line of this website. Indeed, it sounds like sour grapes as the “gilets jaunes” movement is starting to peter out (as French protest movements ultimately always do). Just to correct some of the most absurd points, all important EU decisions are taken unanimously by the governments of the Member States. Thus, the EU has no power to “dictate” to anybody. Also, according to the French media, the Strasbourg attack wasn’t carried out by a “North African Islamist cell”. It was carried out by a petty criminal, identified from CCTV footage, not connected with any group or “cell”, who was born in Strasbourg 29 years ago and thus, his presence on French soil has nothing whatsoever to do with Macron (who was 11 years old at the time!). This young man first came to the attention of the police at age 10, got his first conviction at age 13, has something like 28 criminal convictions on his record and has done prison time in France, Germany and Switzerland. He became radicalised in prison. What set him off was that the police raided his home at dawn on the day of the attack with a warrant for his arrest on (yet another!) criminal charge. He wasn’t there and the attack was probably first and foremost a spontaneous act of revenge on the police. None of that, of course, fits the “party line”!
More broadly, I will never fully understand what vital American interest is damaged by the existence of the EU. People like Mr Pinkerton seem to see the EU as a “threat” to US global hegemony which, of course, gives the lie to the “non-intervention” the same people are constantly preaching. Suits the Chinese, though.

#7 Comment By Mark B. On December 13, 2018 @ 12:29 pm

There are no dictates from Brussels that require EU member states to dismantle or ignore their public transport system and/or ignore the need for it. That is pure nonsense. In fact, in my country the Netherlands there is huuuuge investment in public transport going on now to catch up with the future.

Yep, I saw the yellow vests (jackets!) in Amsterdam. Some 200 older people, mostly white men, walking with their hands in their pockets like they were going to their pub for billiard. About the same amount of press photographers around them. Totally ridiculous sight. So much for Dutch revolutionary spirit, haha.

An EU that turns itself overnight into an Empire with an iron fist? Charlemagne revisited? Man, you cannot say that most of these Americans lack fantasy when it comes to Europe.

#8 Comment By fabian On December 13, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

Great post. I think that the mood in the US is not far away from the mood in Europe.

#9 Comment By SteveK9 On December 13, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

Here’s a short explanation: Working classes are getting the shaft throughout the Empire.

#10 Comment By Stephen J. On December 13, 2018 @ 5:59 pm

“The European Empire” was planned by the globalists aided by the treachery of puppet politicians.
The writer states: “In fact, from the beginning, the EU set itself up as an efficient collective enterprise—the very thing that Macron, a onetime investment banker, would love. It was to be, in other words, a consciously rationalistic and capitalistic entity in the manner of Locke and Rousseau. Thus the 28 member-states agreed to put aside their national and ethnic differences in favor of the new technocratic empire.
There was just one problem: nobody asked the people of Europe.”

‘Brexit: Are The Serfs Finally Rebelling”?

The establishment are shocked that the ordinary people want out of the European Union (EU). They just don’t realize that people are fed up being used, abused, dictated to, lied to, manipulated, and forced into an EU dictatorship by treacherous politicians….

The E.U. is a prime example of how unscrupulous people are able to get control of a number of countries aided and abetted by politicians and other elites. This E.U. dictatorship was planned over a number of years and brought to fruition by a secret cabal. The headline and link to the article below (by Paul Belien) is from the Brussels Journal of 2006-02-27 and is a must read:
“Former Soviet Dissident Warns For EU Dictatorship”

[read much more at link below]

#11 Comment By mike On December 13, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

Statism – the root of all evil.
We should be ruled by the fundamental laws – not by power-hungry savages.
Let people handle their own issues LOCALLY.
We can no longer endure one-size-fits-all utopianism.

#12 Comment By LIGHT HORSE HARRY On December 13, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

Who will Macron resemble if he drinks more deeply from the populist spring ?


#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 14, 2018 @ 2:04 am

Maybe it could have worked, if not for the indigestible mass immigration that America’s Middle Eastern wars of choice conflagrated.

#14 Comment By Tomonthebeach On December 14, 2018 @ 11:04 am

Let us not lose sight of the fact that Yellow Jackets continent-wide represent a fascist movement in the classic sense. They band together extremests on all sides of an issue and use violence to gain power over elected officials. They are as anti-democratic as the democracies they deride. 23% or not, Macron was elected by a majority. His policies have been misguided, but his current path risks refuting his recent assertion deriding nationalism as not being patriotism. He should walk carefully, or risk destroying France’s democracy in favor of a fascist dictatorship of — the proletariat?

#15 Comment By stephen holbourn On December 14, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

“sundry lumpen proletarians” : the words of a sniveling worm, C.I.A. , no doubt ~ fine words, but a nation holding its britches up on the strength of its gun laws looks pretty well roasted to the rest of us when its people are so bloody stupid they dream of reformation in a land but of revolution.

#16 Comment By Dave churbuck On December 14, 2018 @ 2:10 pm

Either you are going to have a government and be
a prisoner enslaved product of it to be farmed
for the profit of the government,
OR, you are going to abolish the government.
You have two choices, to die standing up
or die slowly on your knees.
The time for talk ended many years ago.
Your choice.
Study the Art of War by Sun Tzu
Because it is the governments bible.

#17 Comment By John_M On December 14, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

It might be worthwhile to look at a deeper factor for the social stress. We are in an economic transformation that is wrenching our society as automation and AI work their way throughout the economy, displacing a large fraction of workers. The manufacturing and simplified service sectors are going to be largely unmanned – and this is without any impact of globalization and political misbehavior. 50 Years + ago I was trained as a pen and ink draftsman – done in by the plotter and printer. I also worked as a machinist – done in by CNC systems. Along the way filing clerks – done in by data storage systems and secretaries disappeared – done in by word processing. The AI’s and tools are getting better and are working their way into more complex work – replacing some workers, and making other workers more efficient so that fewer of them are needed (typically at higher skill levels).

I suggested to a co-worker who comes from a farming family in Oregon (40K acres overall) that we were about to have the technology for all but unmanned farming and described how I would do it (all electrified using solar/wind to charge the swap batteries for the farm equipment). He thinks something approaching my suggestion will be implemented within a decade or two. As it is, they have to pull in the extended family for a few weeks a year to handle the harvest, even with the combines that they have.

We are at the point where farming, lumbering, mining, transportation, manufacturing, and the like will take very few people. Increasingly, the economic yield of these commodities is very low. This is a catastrophe for the rural areas, which have gone to a net consumer of government services – their cost of maintenance for their services and infrastructure far exceeds their ability to pay for it.

There is no need to blame an evil or malicious national or global elite. The technology is enough to do it – and more.

I have spent my entire career surfing the waves of change.

#18 Comment By Mark B. On December 14, 2018 @ 5:54 pm

@ Stephen J.

You are sure that Stephen is your real name? By the way, how is the weather in St. Petersburg?

#19 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 15, 2018 @ 6:42 am

“nothing whatsoever to do with Macron (who was 11 years old at the time!)”

Yeah, but his wife was already 36. As his teacher, she should have taught him more than un truc ou deux.

#20 Comment By JR On December 15, 2018 @ 7:30 am

Keep in mind the following:
– The EU has no constitution
– The European parliament is window dressing both the EU as a democratically mandated institution and its own legal position lacking a constitution
– The EU constitution was rejected by both the French and Dutch electorate in 2005 and subsequently all other planned referendums in other countries were cancelled as being superfluous because the required unanimity off all countries had become unattainable
– The Lisbon treaty (which text aligned with the rejected constitution though of course not in full) circumvented this factual rejection and entered a stealth path trying to create the EU as ‘fait accompli’ by step by step transferring sovereignty ultimately aiming for the EU replacing national governments
– So we have now a EU as legally only a intergovernmental entity acting for some aspects as a supranational government without ever having been mandated by the population involved
– Sufficiently mandating the EU would at least have to comply with the much higher requirements as required for changes in the constitution is all those countries involved, which will for ever be out of reach
– The EU neo-liberal globalist elite will never submit this to a vote in all EU member states because a qualified majority as required for constitutional changes is out of reach, because even a simple majority in all member states is a pipe dream
– The Euro Zone was entered by Germany with a undervalued currency now still driving an ever increasing trade surplus for Germany and a deficit for Southern Europe (actually comparable with the China-US situation), which is making the Euro untenable. Italy will not subject itself to being ‘Greeced’ nor will France

Ask yourself why any true European would want a EU whose’ European Neighborhood Policy joined the US instigated coup in Kiev to destroy the Ukraine as a viable entity?

#21 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On December 15, 2018 @ 7:59 am

Michael Kenny,

This young man first came to the attention of the police at age 10, got his first conviction at age 13, has something like 28 criminal convictions on his record and has done prison time in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Geez. Do you even understand that this specific excerpt kills your entire narrative right away? Just read it aloud and listen to what you say. Freakin’ twenty eight convictions. If we think that a person becomes more or less dangerous somewhere around 14, and he’s 29, his rate will be two convictions a year. Two convictions. A year. Basically, that kid’s entire adult life was about extricating his ass out of the troubles only to immediately find himself new ones. A supranational organization, where such an individual can walk the streets of one of its major cities (parliamentary capital, actually) armed to the teeth undisturbed by police officers, didn’t fail. It never existed.

#22 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On December 15, 2018 @ 11:20 am

Ah… Paris and Brussels were so peaceful, so idyllic places today. Skies bluing, birds singing, tires burning… “Petering out”, Michael Kenny, isn’t it?

#23 Comment By mf On December 15, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

EU superstate: the invention of the “conservative” agitprop.

#24 Comment By Loran Tritter On December 15, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

One thing is for certain. The climate change hoax is a firm no sale with the Yellow Vests.

#25 Comment By Andrew P On December 16, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

The EU needs a mailed fist to hold it together. This is not news. The real questions are what crisis will be the excuse to use that iron fist, and who exactly will wield it?

#26 Comment By Frank Blangeard On December 16, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

France resisted the sanctions on Iran after the U.S. broke the JCPA agreement. In stepped the CIA…

#27 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On December 17, 2018 @ 12:48 pm


EU superstate: the invention of the “conservative” agitprop.

Well, if you think that Italy’s left-wing Cinque Stelle are conservatives…

#28 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On December 18, 2018 @ 11:26 am

Today in the chronicles of Yellow Vests’ petering out: this week they didn’t even wait for the weekend to begin and started raising hell in Biarritz right on Tuesday. I wonder, whose fault is that, Michael Kenny. Trump’s? Putin’s? Maybe that of “Italian fascists’ agents”? I heard Salvini met Le Pen recently… Wait! I know! Historically, Biarritz was a part of Gascony. D’Artagnan! It’s got to be him!

Or maybe, just maybe, all that happens because of Manny’s own ineptitude.

#29 Comment By A Bingham On January 18, 2019 @ 9:09 am

@John_M — an eminently sane, intelligent, and informed comment. Thanks … I disagree to the extent that there’s no reason not to think that the technology and the “evil elites” produce these baleful effects. Indeed, the evil elites are in many respects driving the technological developments.