This middle class is principally concentrated in the so-called advanced countries. So it is largely a Western class. It is the mass support for local democratic power, parliamentary power. I think that we can say, without wanting to insult its existence— since we’re all more or less a part of it, aren’t we?—that a very important aim of this group, which, even so, only has access to quite a small part of global resources, just 14%, is not to fall back into, not to be identified with, the immense mass of the destitute. Which we can well understand.
This is why this class, taken as a whole, is porous to racism, to xenophobia, to hatred of the destitute. These are the subjective determinations that threaten this median mass which defines the West in the broad sense, or the representation it has of itself; and they are determinations that fuel a sentiment of superiority. We know very well that the Western middle class is the vector of the conviction that the West, in the end, is the place of the civilised.
When we read everywhere that we must wage war on the barbarians, it is obviously being said in the name of the civilised, and in so far as these barbarians come from the enormous mass of those who are left behind, with whom the middle class does not want to identify, at any cost.
All of this clarifies the singular position of the middle class, especially the European middle class. It is like a photographic plate sensitive to the difference—which is constantly threatened by the capitalist real—between itself, the middle class, and the enormous mass, faraway, a little distant, but which also has its representatives in our own countries, of those who have little or nothing. And it is to this middle class threatened by precarity that we owe the discourse of the defence of values: ‘We must defend our values!’ In reality, to defend our values means to defend the Western way of life, that is to say the civilised sharing-out of 14% of global resources between 40% of the ‘median’ people. Pascal Bruckner, head held high like Hollande in his role as warchief, tells us that this way of life is not negotiable. ‘The Western way of life is not negotiable.’ This is the phrase of Pascal Bruckner who, himself, in any case, will not negotiate. With anyone. He is already convinced, Bruckner is; he dons his uniform: War! War! Such is his wish, his catechism.
This is one of the reasons why the mass murder [the terrorist attack in Paris] of which we speak this evening is significant and traumatising. For it strikes within this Europe, which, in certain regards, is the soft underbelly of globalised capitalism, it strikes at the heart of the middle mass, the middle class which represents itself as an island of civilisation at the centre of a world—whether it is a matter of the oligarchy who are so few that we can hardly see them, or the immense mass of the destitute—that surrounds them, enframes them and presses close to them, this middle class. This is the reason why the sinister event was experienced as a crisis of civilisation, that is to say as an attack on something which already, in its historical and natural existence, is threatened by developments underway in globalised capitalism, but to which nevertheless we cling.
Western subjectivity is the subjectivity of those who share the 14% left over by the dominant oligarchy. It is the subjectivity of the middle class, and in addition it is largely concentrated in the most developed countries. It is here that the crumbs can be shared out. This subjectivity, as we see it playing out today, is in my view worked through by a contradiction. A first element is a great self-satisfaction—westerners are very happy with themselves, they like themselves a lot. There is a historical arrogance behind this, of course: it was not that long ago that westerners held the world in their hands. At that time, one needed only to add up the possessions, conquered by pure violence, of the French and the English, and one would have practically the whole map of the extra- European world. What remains of this direct and immense imperial power is a self- image of the westerner as, in some way, the representative of the modern world, as having invented and as being the defender of the modern way of life.