Michel Maffesoli: "Progressivism, and the era of tomorrows that sing are over" (2023)

FIGARO/INTERVIEW - In his latest book "Logic of assent", the sociologist affirms that we are entering a new era, where we adjust somehow to the existing order of things and to the world as it is. it is, without ambition to model it.

Michel Maffesoli is a sociologist and professor emeritus at the Sorbonne.

He has just published

Logique de l'assentement

(Cerf, 2023).



- Modernity, from the 18th to the 20th century, was the age of individualism and systematic criticism.

According to you, we are entering a new era, based on consent, where we adjust somehow to the world as it is, without claiming to shape it.

That is to say ?

What are the values ​​of the coming new world?



We have often feared, in France, the end of what is commonly called "modernity", that is to say this movement which began in the 17th century with Cartesianism, and which has been declining since the middle of the XXth century.

Today we are entering a new era, which some call “postmodernity”.

Contrary to the linearist conception of history, which imagines humanity in constant progress, from barbarism to the absolute triumph of science, I personally consider that there are eras.

The modern period rested on a tripod, the first foot is individualism, with the

"cogito ergo sum"

of Descartes, the second is rationalism, which will predominate with the philosophy of enlightenment, and finally there is progressivism, the great Marxist idea of ​​the “singing tomorrows”.

From my point of view, this tripod is coming to an end, teetering, in a rather difficult way.

We are in a twilight period.

Everyone has a presentiment of what one is in the process of leaving, but does not yet clearly see what is emerging.

I support the hypothesis according to which the "I" will be replaced by the "we", rationalism by sentimentalism, and progressivism, the tomorrows that sing, by "we must live in the present moment".

The elite, whether political, economic, or media, has remained on the patterns of the modern era, but the people no longer recognize themselves in it.

Michel Maffesoli

During my years as a professor at the Sorbonne, I had the opportunity to study the younger generations, who represent the future of society.

By looking closely at youthful practices, we can clearly see that it is the community that prevails, the “we”.

It is no longer a purely rationalist conception of the world, but a sharing of emotions, affects, passions.

There is no longer a political commitment, a vision of the future, but the need to connect to this eternal moment that is the present.

What precipitated the fall of modernism?

To describe this decline, I generally borrow the idea of ​​"saturation" from the American sociologist Pitrim Sorokin, who wondered how a given culture can lose its "obvious" character and gradually deteriorate.

In chemistry, we speak of saturation when the molecules that make up a body, for various reasons, can no longer stay together.

This phenomenon leads to the destructuring of the body, and to the emergence of a new structure.

So it's not a rupture but a slow degradation, and at some point, everything that worked no longer works, everything that seemed obvious seems absurd.

We see today a multitude of phenomena, which show that we no longer recognize ourselves in common values.

The elite, whether political, economic, or media,

remained on the patterns of the modern era, but the people no longer recognize themselves in it.

Sorokin gives the image of a glass of water, which can be salted without it being visible, until a precise moment when saturation becomes evident.

We are currently at the last grain of salt.

You see in this logic of assent a form of wisdom of the present life, of everyday life, with its misfortunes and its joys...

This is the whole difference between the dramatic and the tragic.

Modernity was dramatic in the sense that there was a solution.

All of Marx's analysis was to show that there were certainly problems, but also solutions, and that we were moving towards a general resolution of history.

The current era is more tragic, it is a question of making do with it, of accepting the problems.

Drama is about saying "no" to problems, tragedy contains a form of acceptance.

This resilience, which consists of tuning in to the little things in life, is an ancestral wisdom that is making a comeback today.

There is no longer this revolutionary tension of the people towards a perfect society

Michel Maffesoli

Have the omnipresence of social networks and the proliferation of home leisure activities (Netflix, etc.) created or amplified this phenomenon?

Indeed, social networks and other platforms reinforce this saturation.

It is interesting to look at the period of Roman decadence in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

During these two centuries, Christianity was not the religion of the powerful, but of the soldiers and the poor.

It was not this cult that was called to triumph, but rather Mithras or Orpheus.

However, at some point the little church in Milan decreed the dogma of the Communion of Saints.

That is to say that this church of Milan was spiritually linked to that of Lutèce, Rome, Narbonne… It is this link which will lead to the incredible success of Christianity.

And today, it seems to me, the internet is the post-modern Communion of Saints.

The communities are connected on these platforms,

and create a real alternative, a new society.

The social link today is based on the internet.

Doesn't the movement of "yellow vests" or the demonstrations against the pension reform come to counterbalance this idea?

A fringe of the population seems to continue to want to change the course of things?

I wrote, two years ago, the book

The era of uprisings

, in which I took the opposite view of the American historian Hobsbawn, author of

The era of revolutions

, which was widely read in the 1970s. This historian showed that in the Marxist and avant-garde tradition, there was the idea that the people were going to found a perfect society thanks to the revolution.

I think this is no longer the case today, there is no longer this revolutionary tension of the people towards a perfect society.

We no longer face revolutions, but uprisings.

That is to say that the people no longer rise to establish an ideal society, but because they are fed up.

The demonstrations against the pension reform go beyond the simple framework of the question of pensions, and refer to a broader social movement that we have seen with the "yellow vests".

This movement was born from the increase in the price of gasoline.

But it was only

a pretext that reflected, in my opinion, the desire to be together again, to meet again, to get out of isolation.

This movement is increasingly strong in our societies.

The return of the sacred, the importance given to the local and the return of traditions, translate a form of dynamic rooting, which is the opposite of a step back.

Michel Maffesoli

Isn't this continual arrangement, which consists in “managing oneself with what presents”, a step backwards?

Is a people who have given up acting doomed to ruin?

I do not believe.

I see it as a form of popular wisdom.

We are in a country where the elites often despise the people and cultivate a mistrust of them.

The philosophy of History in the 19th century, what was then constituted in Soviet communism, was this conception of a history assured of itself, the arrow of time.

The return of the sacred, the importance given to the local and the return of traditions, translate a form of dynamic rooting, which is the opposite of a step back.

Only the roots and the return to the roots allow a form of growth.

Michel Maffesoli, Logic of assent, ed.

du Cerf, 2022, 224 p., €20.

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