The Violence of the Rich 

Mariam Karim

Based on 30 years of research, after the 2007- 2008 financial crisis in France, appeared the book La Violence des Riches or The Violence of the Rich (2013) by French sociologists Monique Pinçon Charlot and Michel Pinçon.  This book is not yet translated into English.

Mariam Karim
Mariam Karim

Newsroom24x7 is publishing an exclusive critique of La Violence des Riches by Mariam Karim. She is a French scholar, novelist, playwright, and children’s author. Her analysis is based on texts, lectures by, and interviews of, the authors. “Their theories may be seen as relevant to the world today and to India in particular. Readers will be able to draw parallels themselves, Ms. Karim observes.

There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. – Warren Buffett

La violence des riches -The authors
French sociologists Monique Pinçon Charlot and Michel Pinçon (Photo credit: Emission REGARDS)

Using France, Belgium, and other parts of Europe as a background, the authors compiled material on those groups that stood apart due to excessive concentration of riches, privileges and power to analyze the forms of violence that are perpetrated by them. This is a description of a class struggle, which, if it doesn’t lead to the elimination of the disadvantaged, shall lead to the dehumanization of those who are the least privileged.

A primary form of violence, the sociologists state, is economic. In Europe there has been the laying off of millions following outsourcing to developing countries where the minimum wage laws cannot be imposed and the local salaries are lamentable. In this scenario, unemployment grows and the companies treat their own countrymen as nothing but the scum of society.

Then there are other forms of violence that are far more insidious. They invade the mind and the psyche and profoundly affect a person’s interiorization of the social, which leads to an involuntary servitude that is the result of various forms of manipulation that the powerful wreak upon the middle and lower classes.

Who then are the rich or the super rich? They are actually those who have the possibility of living off their inheritance, irrespective of their parents’ profession, which isn’t essential to being rich. (one can follow different occupations and take up, for example, banking or film direction). Their inheritance is that which characterizes these affluent people, mainly the grande bourgeoisie or very rich, and it isn’t their professional activity that defines them.

It is a real social class in the Marxist sense, with excellent living conditions, enough money, social networks, symbolic expressions in external appearance, meeting together in rich localities, recognizing and co-opting each other in their circles– a social class FOR ITSELF alone, that is mobilized in the pursuit of its own interests. This mobilization is on all fronts, from finance, to politics, to the world of media, the world of art, literature, painting, heritage buildings, fairs, expositions, landscapes…nothing is left to chance. And there is no orchestra conductor…it’s the capitalist system itself that serves them, and in the defense of their interests, they are in full control in all these fields, complicit with each other, always in the making.

The mechanisms of domination
Class struggle was linked to industrial capitalism, but class warfare is linked to financial speculative capitalism. In the industrial class struggle there was paternalism, meaning that the patron or owner was close at hand, interacting from time to time with the workers, while in financial speculative capitalism there is a complete abstraction of social rapports, a hardness, an opaque quality. With neoliberalism there has been what they term a ‘somnambulisation’ of special rapports.

According to the research, there are various mechanisms for this class warfare of the richest or super rich being waged against the common people…it begins with the creation of enormous private debt (as in 2007 in France) making use of completely wild speculation. This is totally destructive for the planet and for the people, states Monique Pinçon Charlot. Subsequently, come into play the mechanism of transforming this private debt into a public debt, and asking the people to finance this debt…with austerity measures or the breakdown of public services and social protection in France, or through the process of demonetization in India. This is the psychological aspect of warfare, rendering the people themselves responsible for the misconduct of financial liberalism! These financial arms aren’t exactly financial, because they are linked to political arms, ideological arms, and therefore to an objective violence.

An infantilization of economy and ideology, a total intellectual regression, is fed to the people who, after all the ideological and linguistic battering are paralyzed by its brutal, animal character, and are unable to comprehend this unexpected manipulation. The control of information systems, where journalists who may expose the system aren’t published or heard, leads to a breakdown of political conscience and political contestation, which is extremely dangerous according to the writers

The fabric of impuissance or powerlessness
As to why there is no real revolt, no real questioning, The authors respond by stating that capitalism, which is the theme of the book, is the creator of riches, and at the same time it also lays the traps of consumerism: media like TV channels feed on this insatiable consumerism (there is a certain pleasure in this consumerism, however, like with Iphones etc that cannot be denied). The media, especially television, the manner in which its programmes are constructed, sidetracks critical thinking completely. Critical thought takes, say, XY number of seconds to develop, so immediately before the mind can focus and adopt a critical aspect, they jump to another topic (or are interrupted by a commercial break). In the process, people lose the habit of reflection, of thinking things out for themselves.

The neoliberal system, with its different kinds of violence, doesn’t want people to state or to believe they are just and fair – all they want is that no one should go against the system – and people be powerless to question them: that’s all that matters to the class of the very rich. You may say anything on the moral or religious front – all they desire is that you shouldn’t change the order.

There are many who are individually paralyzed, although horrified by the extent of inequality, but powerless to revolt. The rich want that the hierarchy, where they sit at the apex, should be considered natural, like the sun that warms us or the moon that shines, and that people should be resigned to the fact that there’s no alternative. Naturally there’s nothing ‘natural’ in this system, the capitalist system is a human construct and the neoliberal phase in all its violence is also the result of the construction of a dominant class and it’s members are like predators who extract work out of the middle classes, intellectuals and labourers, and want everything only for themselves!

These politicians, businessmen, financers and speculators have millions to speculate with, and a normal salaried person cannot even imagine the millions they play with…these people live on another planet, from those who work and earn small salaries. An unreal world, which considers only great profits in the shortest time, couldn’t care less about the poverty of the real world, or even the planet itself. And the riches they have accumulated should to be ready to be passed on to their children and grand children so that it doesn’t flow towards the common people!

There are two faces in the identity of the upper classes
Firstly, consider the legitimacy of the class, the rejoicing, learned, beautiful people, with cultural and social riches, and symbolic riches all quite visible. Cultural would mean, along with collections, foundations, great fairs and expositions, the world of great fortunes is also the world of great music…!

Then of course, there are educational riches, the cultural values of this milieu represented for example in the educational institutes of Europe.

In social riches, the authors propose, there’s a face which is seen and one that’s hidden, for this section of society, power cannot operate as power unless it is concealed: There are the clubs that function in the co-opting mode, deciding for themselves who can be part of these clubs. Co-opting in banks, industrial businesses, everywhere there is a certain level of confidence and complicity in the groups that render services to each other all the time…from military officers, to politicians. In these circles, different sectors of the economy, all at the top of the social and economic activity…playing bridge, swimming, dining together…talking of mundane things as a form of the mobilization of this class…the power of which is constructed reposing on circles and associations that interpenetrate . These circles that may appear perfectly innocuous are actually places where power is concentrated. Here meet men and women who are in the dominant positions in different universes of social activity, and it’s very useful to have a hold over beautiful spaces to interact in. Connections with people in eminent positions in business, but also in administrative positions, in arts and letters, in politics, helps to exercise control over territory, educational organizations, spaces for performances and living. News is circulated in these hallowed circles and decisions, most favourable to themselves, are taken at the highest level of elites. The combination and the juxtaposition of associations together aren’t recognized as power, but they are actually working insidiously towards it all the time. They even include religious organizations.

Although the upper echelons seem to project individualism, liberalism, competition and competitiveness, there’s an ad hoc connivance and they are in reality practicing a ‘’practical collectivism’’ to protect their interests and help each other in every instance. The others’ lives are dispensable, to be used and thrown away, sacrificed at the altar of these elite families and their unspoken coteries and associations. It is this class which is actually the only class that exists in the Marxist sense of the word, according to the authors.

Against oligarchy
We are in a system, they affirm, that has become a kind of nobility of money…an aristocracy of money…This ought to be denounced, just as the privileges of the aristocracy, of the nobles, were denounced. However, you can only revolt if you refuse to respect or take seriously this supremacy…but there is a kind of decisive symbolic violence, on the possibility of revolt itself. Giving the example of Tony Blair they say that social peace being most important, he decided let the rich put what they want in their pockets…and this was the end of socialism…In Europe there has been a recoil, a capitulation, of not simply revolutionary, but socialist forces…those that wanted to put the brakes on capital… have given in to neoliberalism, which has only one objective: that is money, and that the rich should become even richer.

It’s a war of one class against all the others, which creates a fiscal paradise for a miniscule section and hell for the others, completely appropriating for themselves public resources; they also have a lot of mobility, which isn’t the case with the poor who just cannot afford it. The system can be demolished but it’s very difficult in the face of what already has been created by this class – the capitalist system that has invaded the entire planet.

Capitalism marks the body
In olden days the poor were branded in terms of punishment for even petty crimes, so that they could be recognized at all times if required. They were branded with an image of the cross for example. Monique Pinçon Charlot and Michel Pinçon reveal how, today, they brand the less privileged in an insidious fashion as the food the poorer sections can afford to eat is far less nutritious and less balanced and they are physically marked by this: their bodies become physically of a certain kind, marking their status as the ‘dominated ones’. The unhealthy in Europe (unlike in third world countries, where malnutrition and overwork have different effects) are marked by obesity. What does it reveal, asks Monique Pinçon Charlot, that when the Parliament wanted to reduce the quantities of salt, sugar and fats in industrial foods which are the foods of the poor in Europe, there was a huge lobby against it, and it was retracted within a week!

In the same way we may notice that the bodies of the dominant classes aren’t like the bodies of the middle classes or the lower classes. It is as if each section comes from a different planet.

Monique PinçonCharlot and Michel Pinçon declare it is their aim to divulge a unique and violent system, not in a manner of denunciation, but to make readers understand that it’s complicated, and that all isn’t rotten. But each one in their network must work towards exposing reprehensible systems within and think about the future, because inequality and financial instability are increasing every day.

Although we know the answer, we need to ask ourselves as Indians the question…Is there an upper class or grande bourgeoisie in India, an aristocracy of money that is consciously mobilized toward protecting its way of life and its interests? Certainly there is. Like it says in the book, the best posts are somehow annexed by the advantaged, the best houses the best landscapes; it is expected that the empires of the rich will be handed over to their offspring, for heritage has more value than talent, and it is a rare outsider who can break into the magic circles of The Inheritors.

Monique Pinçon Charlot and Michel Pinçon La violence des riches – Chronique d’une immense casse sociale, Zones, 2013.

Monique Pinçon-Charlot
Monique Pinçon-Charlot (Photo credit: Emission REGARDS)

Monique Pinçon-Charlot (born 15 May 1946, in Saint-Étienne, France) is a French sociologist, research director at CNRS until 2007, the year of her retiring, attached to the Research Institute on Contemporary Societies/ l’Institut de recherche sur les sociétés contemporaines (IRESCO). She works generally in collaboration with her husband Michel Pinçon, also a sociologist; they co-authored the majority of their works. These treat the closing-in within the upper classes of society,

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