Saturday, July 6, 2024

On loss of services--aka "desertification"--as a reason for rural disgruntlement

"In the French Countryside, a Deep Discontent Takes Root" is the headline for the pre-election story by NYTimes Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen.  The subhead is "In northern Burgundy, services have collapsed and the far-right National Rally has risen."  What's striking to me about this story is the similarity between this French form of rural neglect/resentment and what we have seen in the United States of a similar ilk.   Here are some relevant quotes: 

Residents in this sparsely populated region of France — the Yonne district in northwestern Burgundy has only about 335,000 inhabitants — describe what is happening to their community as “desertification,” by which they mean an emptying out of services, and of their lives.

Schools close. Train stations close. Post offices close. Doctors and dentists leave. Cafés and small convenience stores close, squeezed by megastores. People need to go further for services, jobs and food. Many travel in their old cars but are encouraged by the authorities to switch to electric cars, which are priced way beyond their means.

At the same time, since the war in Ukraine, gas and electricity bills have shot up, leading some to switch off their heating last winter. They feel invisible and only just get by; and on their televisions they see President Emmanuel Macron explaining the critical importance of such abstract policies as European “strategic autonomy.” It is not their concern.

Along comes the National Rally, saying its focus is on people, not ideas, the purchasing power of people above all.

The story quotes National Rally party candidate Sophie-Laurence Roy, whose reference to territory I read to be linked to "place," even land. 

My party is anchored in this territory, it is not, like our president, trying to give moral lessons to the whole world.

As for the receptivity to these appeals, here is a quote from AndrĂ© Villiers, "a centrist allied to the party of Mr. Macron — and Ms. Roy’s opponent in Sunday’s runoff":  

Our French heartland has the feeling of being forgotten.  What you see here in the National Rally surge is anger and alienation.

Note how similar some of these thoughts are to what has been labeled rural resentment--and often dismissed as unreasonable--in the United States. Another relevant post is here.   Recall that Kathy Cramer's 2016 book about the shift in Wisconsin politics was titled The Politics of Resentment

The yellow vest protests of a few years ago also seem relevant.  Some posts about those protests are here.

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