D.M.: Civic responsibility, democratic practice, do you think that it was better in the past? That elsewhere, today, it’s better than in France?
C.C.: No, elsewhere, today, it’s certainly not better. It can even be worse. Once again, the American elections illustrate this. But, in the past, it was better from two points of view. In modern societies, let’s say starting from the American and French Revolutions until about the Second World War, there was still a lively social and political conflict. People opposed one another. People demonstrated. They didn’t demonstrate for a particular SNCF7 route—I’m not saying this is contemptible, it’s at least a goal—but in the past the workers demonstrated or went on strike for political causes and not only for petty corporatist interests. There were major questions that concerned all salaried employees. These struggles marked the last two centuries. However, what we observe now is a decline in  people’s activity. And there is a vicious circle. The more people withdraw from activity, the more some bureaucrats, politicians, so-called people in charge, take the lead. They have a good justification: “I take the initiative because people aren’t doing anything.” And the more those people dominate, the more the others say to themselves, “It’s not worth it to get involved; there are enough of them dealing with it and, in any case, there’s nothing one can do about it.” That’s the first point of view.
The second point of view, linked to the first, is that of the dissolution of the grand political ideologies—either revolutionary or truly reformist—that really wanted to change things in society. For a thousand and one reasons, these ideologies have been discredited; they have ceased to correspond to the times, to correspond to people’s aspirations, to the situation of society, to historical experience. The collapse of the Soviet Union and of communism was an enormous event. Can you show me one single person among the politicians—not to say political schemers—on the left, who has truly reflected on what has happened, on the reasons why this has happened, and who has, as we foolishly say, learned lessons from it? An evolution of this kind, first of all in its initial phase—the advent of  monstrosity, totalitarianism, the gulag, etc.—and then in its collapse, merited a very in-depth reflection and a conclusion regarding what a movement that wants to change society can do, must do, must not do, cannot do. Absolutely no reflection! How, then, do you want what one calls the people, the masses, to arrive at their proper conclusions, when they are not really enlightened?
You were talking to me about the role of intellectuals. What are these intellectuals doing? What have they done with Reagan, Thatcher, and with French socialism? They brought back the hard-line liberalism from the beginning of the nineteenth century, the one that we had been fighting against for one hundred and fifty years and that would have driven society to catastrophe because, in the end, old Marx wasn’t entirely wrong. If capitalism had been left to itself, it would have collapsed a hundred times. There would have been a crisis of overproduction every year. Why hasn’t it collapsed? Because the workers struggled. They imposed wage increases, thereby creating enormous markets of internal consumption. They imposed reductions in working hours, which absorbed all of the technological unemployment. Now we are surprised that there is unemployment. But since 1940 working hours haven’t  noticeably diminished. Nowadays we quibble, “thirty-nine hours,” “thirty-eight and a half,” “thirty-seven and three quarters,” it’s grotesque!
… So, there was this return of liberalism, and I don’t see how Europe will be able to get out of this crisis. The liberals tell us, “it’s necessary to have confidence in the market.” But what these neo-liberals are telling us today, the academic economists themselves refuted in the thirties. They showed that there can be no equilibrium in capitalist societies. These economists were neither revolutionaries nor Marxists! They showed that everything the liberals relate concerning the virtues of the market that would guarantee the best possible allocation, that would guarantee resources, the most equitable distribution of income possible, they showed that all of this is nonsense! All of this has been demonstrated and never refuted. But there is this grand economico-political offensive by the dominating and ruling strata that can be symbolized by the names of Reagan and Thatcher, and even Mitterrand for that matter! He said, “Alright, you’ve laughed enough. Now we are going to fire you, we are going to slim down the industry—we are going to eliminate the ‘excess fat,’ as Mr. Juppé says—and then you will see that the market, in the long run, will guarantee you  well-being.” In the long run, but in the meantime there is 12.5 percent of official unemployment in France.
D.M.: Why isn’t there opposition to this liberalism?
C.C.: I don’t know; it’s extraordinary. We spoke of a sort of terrorism of conformist thought, that is to say of non-thought. It is unique in its conformity in the sense that it is the first form of thought that is complete non-thought, liberal conformist thought that no one dares to oppose.8 Currently, there is a sort of victorious discourse of the right that is not a discourse but affirmations, empty discourses. And behind this discourse, there is something else, which is what is most grave.
What was liberal ideology in its heyday? Around 1850, it was a widespread ideology because there was a belief in progress: “Get rich!” These liberals thought that progress would bring about an elevation of economic well-being. But even when people weren’t getting rich, in the exploited classes, there was a move toward less work, toward less arduous tasks, in order to be less stultified by industry. It was the great theme of the age. Benjamin Constant says as much: “the workers cannot vote because they are stultified by industry  (he says it straight out; people were honest back in the day!), thus a voting system based on the poll tax is necessary.” But subsequently, working hours diminished, there was literacy, there was education, there was enlightenment, which was no longer the subversive Enlightenment of the eighteenth century but enlightenment all the same, which spread through society. Science develops, humanity becomes more humane, societies become more civilized, and little by little, asymptotically, we will arrive at a society where there will be practically no longer any exploitation: this representative democracy will tend to become a true democracy.