Fear of a Yellow Planet: The Gilets Jaunes and the End of the Modern World-System
The emergence of the Gilet Jaunes has seen a section of the popular classes present a significant challenge to the elite-driven ideological frameworks that have dominated since the end of the cold war: neoliberalism and the Clash of Civilisations. What Immanuel Wallerstein calls ‘centrist liberalism’ has been the dominant ideological foundation of the modern world-system since the late nineteenth century. Its current form, neoliberalism, is in crisis across the core of the world-system, intensified following the Great Recession of 2008. This has invited new challenges from revived and reconstituted political formations of both right and left. Populist movements are a part of this process of ideological reconstitution, and the Gilets Jaunes are an important example of progressive populism calling for social and economic justice. What was triggered by a protest directed at increased fuel taxes rapidly escalated into a much broader protest movement whose influence has spread beyond French borders. Importantly, the Gilet Jaunes have brought a layer of the French working-classes into the public realm in dramatic fashion, raising issues such as equality, public welfare, and participatory and direct democracy that challenge neo-liberal norms. The agenda that has emerged from the Gilet Jaunes illustrates the way in which a working-class left is being reconstituted in opposition to forces of the political right. The article addresses three main questions: Why have the Gilet Jaunes emerged? Who makes up these protests? What do they mean?
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