How He Did It

A well-organized minority defeats a disordered majority.

The Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov, perhaps feeling a bit misanthropic, once said that democracy is when a well-organized minority rules an unorganized majority.

Well, this gives us an idea of what is happening in France.

The street protest movement, known as gilets jaunes (yellow vests) is losing momentum. According to a poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Odoxa Dentsu-Consulting more than half (55%) of the French people want the protests to stop as soon as possible.

This is a major shift in the public sentiment. Just three months ago, the vests enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority (66%) of the French public.

People are fed up with the protests and want them to move to the realm of political discussions. This allows President Macron to appear – at last! - not as a side to the conflict or as the president of the rich but as the leader of the nation as a whole.

For him, this is definitely a victory.

It is interesting to see how it was achieved. In many ways it is a “know how” that will be studied by political advisors from around the world.

The protesters are still supported by the Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far left from The Unbowed France (74%) and Marine Le Pen’s far right from the National Rally (67%).

Other political forces — left-wing socialists, right-wing republicans and centrists— are against the yellow vests.

Only yesterday the protesters could claim to speak on behalf of France — workers and peasants, businesspeople and the unemployed were among their ranks. And now only those who have nothing to lose, the poorest and the most marginalized, are among the protesters.

Small business is disgruntled with the yellow vests because of them almost sixty thousand people are in a state of de facto unemployment. Shops lose customers, cities - tourists, businesses - income.

Ordinary citizens are frightened by the rampant violence. As the polls show, people both in the rural areas as well as in towns and cities are against the protesters.

So, how did this happen? How did President Macron achieve such a radical change in public opinion?

He went quiet up and let the protesters to speak. And France got terrified by what it heard.

If at the beginning the French sympathized with the protesters then over time the vests showed themselves to be racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, hooligans, and - let's face it - killers. Several thousand people were injured and eleven killed.

Of course, the absolute majority of protesters are good and law-abiding citizens. Yet, it is in the nature of an unorganised crowd that the tone is set by those who are more loud, more radical and less compromising. They say what the majority wouldn’t say and they do what an average protester would never have done.

Very quickly, the “reasonable yellow vests" lost control of the movement. The radical minority started to dictate the spirit and the content of the demonstrations.

Scenes of street violence, initially seen with understanding and even sympathy, turned against them. Their calls, accompanied by radical slogans, lost support.

The government, at first confused and disoriented, appears more confident and more intelligent than its opponents. President Macron, after some hesitation, changed tactics.

He is no longer a party to a conflict seeking to destroy the opposition. Rather, we see a nice guy trying to establish a dialogue with the French people. Being part of French people.

On television, we see him in a nursing home taking advice from an elderly woman about which tie to wear. Then, he hugs a weeping retiree. Then, he participates in a night operation to help the homeless on the streets of Paris.

Clearly, President Macron is leading a professional and well-organized campaign against an unprofessional, unorganized crowd without leadership and control over its radical elements.

From the game theory we know that an unified minority always trumps an unruly majority.

And this is what we see. The president’s popularity is growing: in February, 32% of the French called him “a good president” against 27% just a month ago.

Published: February 27, 2019