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Patrick Charaudeau explains why Emmanuel Macron puts himself in danger

The riot does not prevail over the representatives of the people and the crowd does not have legitimacy in the face of the people who express themselves, sovereign, through their elected officials.said The head of state in front of the parliamentarians of Renaissance, Tuesday, March 21. This provoked a number of reactions both from the different political authorities and unions than political thinkers, in various journalistic forums. However, there is still something to emphasize: what is at stake in the balance of power between rulers and ruled is not a matter of legitimacy but a matter of credibility.

The sources of legitimacy

Legitimacy, in its origin, designates the state of the one who is recognized by the law (lex, legis), then, in the political vocabulary in the XVIIe century, the state of the sovereign who holds a power recognized by all.

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In a monarchical regime, this power is inherited; in a democratic regime, it is attributed. In the latter case, we see that legitimacy is based on a principle and recognition: we are legitimized by the social body, the right to act or speak in the name of a position and a purpose that are accepted by the majority . Legitimacy is supported by a collective belief, and it is based on reason. We are not legitimate by ourselves, we are legitimate because we are recognized as worthy of representing what is established and recognized by the community.

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In a democratic regime, political legitimacy is in the hands of a collective, the people, which, recognizing the right of individuals to build a collective destiny, attributes to itself the right to govern for its own good, the common good.

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Since this sovereignty cannot be achieved by the governance of an entire people, it is transformed into representative sovereignty which grants legitimacy by mandate, through the establishment of a system of delegation of power, the representatives from this delegation system becoming accountable for this power in front of those who attributed it to them, a legitimacy, according to the sociologist Max Weberat a time “legal and traditional”, “based on the belief in the legality of regulations” ; an assessable legitimacy, because it is based on a recognized organization and governed by institutional norms that have both legal and symbolic value, as is the case of the French Constitution.

Thus, the head of state mandated at the end of a process of representation derives his sovereignty from a power which is above him, which has invested him in this place, delegates him and at the same time protects him. He is never more than the spokesperson for a collective voice, all the citizens representing popular sovereignty.

It is therefore in a way under tutelage, but it is at the same time the tutelary power itself, because, as its depositary, it sees itself obliged to stick to itself, even to merge into it. . Its legitimacy is based, according to the Rousseauist dream taken up by the philosopher Hannah Arendton a “common will of men to live together” by constructing a common law.

What can the people do?

But then, what about the principal, the people who, by an act of delegation of power, give the right to act in their name? It carries a collective voice of “social demand” which expresses itself through polls, demonstrations and various social movements, and constitutes itself, at the same time, as donor and beneficiary of its own quest for social well-being. This is its legitimacy as a people citizen. But it is by reacting and responding to a political supply of social ideality, which makes the relationship between political supply and social demand contractual.

A “moral contract” which obliges each of the parties: the agent to respect the terms of the contract, the principal to trust him, because any act of delegation of a representation implies an act of trust on the part of the person who delegates.

An act of trust, therefore, but at the same time, an act of surveillance. Because any movement of trust requires the other to guarantee the contract and the power given to him. Thus the citizen people is legitimate in its surveillance activity, especially when it is organized as was the case with the case of “contaminated blood”this state scandal, which, during the years 1980-90, under the impetus of associations of victims and hemophiliacs, passed through the various judicial authorities up to the Court of Justice of the Republic, revealed the bankruptcies of the Protective State and resulted in civil and criminal penalties with compensation for the victims.

It seems, or wants to ignore, that the social movements rising up against the pension bill are not a crowd

Patrick Charaudeau, Professor of Language Sciences, Sorbonne Nord University, researcher at CERLIS (CNRS), Paris Cité, Sorbonne Paris Nord University

In a democracy, the citizen, as the philosopher says Jacques Derrida “takes the right to criticize everything publicly”it somehow has a ” right of inspection “. Thus is established a balance of power between power and counter-power in which two powers confront each other: political power and civic power. Thus two legitimacies clash: the political one, which has the force of the law, even of coercion, which results from the delegation of power; that which represents the mandating force of the citizen people in its surveillance activity, which authorizes it to evaluate, criticize, protest, claim and possibly revoke.

This is what Emmanuel Macron seems, or wants, to ignore. He is right to say that “the crowd has no legitimacy in the face of the people who express themselves, sovereign, through their elected representatives”. But it seems, or wants to ignore, that the social movements rising up against the pension bill do not constitute a crowd. As soon as a mass of individuals organizes itself through trade unions, it establishes itself as a legitimate citizen people who, in the game of the popular sovereign, resumes its right of vigilance, by authorizing itself to question the leader of the State it has mandated, and to demand of it another mode of governance.

The role of checks and balances

There is no democracy without the possibility of opposition. Admittedly, political action is possible and civic action is desirable. But in the antagonism between power and counter-power, intrinsic to the democratic regime, each of the parties obliges itself to enter into the game of social regulation. There is therefore a confrontation here between two types of legitimacy.

If the citizen movement must find its mode of action, the Head of State, responsible, must oblige himself to play the game of regulation. This is clearly not Emmanuel Macron’s conception. The two legitimacies are face to face here in the very name of democracy.

On the other hand, the credibility of each of the parties is at stake. Legitimacy is not enough for anyone who wants to exercise power. To say that one has been legitimately elected does not mean that one is credible. One can be legitimized and lose credit, and, conversely, a leader can have credit without any organizational system legitimizing it, as is the case of charismatic leaders.

The political representative is therefore condemned to permanently reactivate his credibility. This is because political credibility does not depend, like legitimacy, on a process of collective recognition through a social organization. On the contrary, it is attached to the person and constructed by him through his way of acting and speaking, and at the same time, it is by others that he is judged.

make yourself credible

A political personality will be judged credible if it is possible to verify that his ways of being, of behaving and of saying meet the conditions of sincerity, know-how, conviction and willingness to negotiate, all things on what his authority is built. Otherwise, by losing credibility, you lose your legitimacy.

For a political leader, wanting to be credible is not easy because the attribution of this quality depends on the perception that individuals have of him, and, in the political game, this perception varies according to the population groups, according to their social background, their profession, their position on the economic scale, their place of residence, their way of life, etc.

Although Emmanuel Macron acted in all constitutional legality, he jeopardizes his legitimacy by not being credible

Patrick Charaudeau, Professor of Language Sciences, Sorbonne Nord University, researcher at CERLIS (CNRS), Paris Cité, Sorbonne Paris Nord University

However, in the context of the social movement that arose in reaction to the law on pensions, if the legitimate popular organization is faced with the problem of having to build credibility through its modes of action, the presentation of its demands and its counter-proposals, Emmanuel Macron finds himself in a situation where two credibility are weighed: that, stubborn, of his conviction which makes him think that he is in the right, against all odds; that, conciliatory, of the ethics of responsibility, which accepts the democratic game of power and counter-power.

In political matters, in a democratic regime, legitimacy is a prerequisite in principle, but legitimacy without credibility always produces deleterious effects in the relationship between political power and citizen power. Legitimacy gives the right to act and credibility is its justification. But if the latter is lacking, the former may come to be called into question, at least in its symbolic aspect, and the people would feel authorized to overthrow the power. Although Emmanuel Macron acted in full constitutional legality, he jeopardizes his legitimacy by not being credible in the light of the democratic game of negotiation between power and counter-power.

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