In the United States, as well as in Venezuela; in Great Britain as well as in France; in China as well as in India, there is an old word that has made a fashionable return: “the people.” However, this word must be used with caution, because depending on the meaning attributed to it, we can direct history in two radically different directions.
According to the most commonly accepted definitions, the “people” are defined as all the citizens of a country, forming a nation, living in the same territory and subject to the same laws and political institutions. Mérimée defined it in more specific terms, as a “gathering of men with the same language, common manners and institutions,” thus adding the idea of a language and a common culture. There are similar definitions in all democratic constitutions, for which the government must be that of “the people, by the people, for the people.” To be noted, totalitarian constitutions do not hesitate to use this word as well.
According to other definitions, the word takes on a different meaning: the people are an ambiguously combined group, the poor, the weak, those who do not feel represented. Such definition excludes the rich, the powerful and the rulers.
Today, although those who use the word in the aforementioned secondary sense may not be aware of it, their speeches put forward the idea that the rich or the powerful do not deserve to be part of the people. Though it can be said that the latter are easily granted the right to speak in the name of the people. However, they do not have the mandate to do so and they are a minority.
Revolution is the shortest way to transition from the people defined as an all-encompassing totality to a people reduced to those who are perceived as the weakest. In fact, it reconciles the two definitions by concretely excluding the rich, the powerful and the rulers from the people; at best by driving them to exile, at worse by having them executed. This occurrence happened every time the second definition of the people took precedence over the first.
I understand and agree that a citizen who has committed particularly serious crimes may lose his civil rights for a limited period of time.
I understand and agree that economic and government elites may not be perceived as legitimate by other parts of the people. And they are not legitimate when their children have a monopoly on access to the operations that will dictate the future. And this is the case today, in almost all modern societies in Europe, America or Asia, whether capitalist or bureaucratic.
Shall we exclude the rich from the people? The powerful? Members of parliament or senators? And why not others who are powerful, or who are otherwise supposed to be, such as journalists or teachers?
I do not think so. Every part of the people need the rich, if they are honest and pay their taxes; they also need the powerful if they are wise and legitimate; and journalists, if they are upright.
The most urgent thing is to make everyone understand, and starting with the powerful, that they are part of the people and that they are nothing without the rest of the people; furthermore, they need to understand that they owe the people respect, they have a duty to listen, to have empathy, to give their attention, and to extend their support; that they must share more than just their contribution, and in particular, pay more than their fair share of taxes, and that they must ensure that everyone, wherever he may be situated within the people, can afford to realize his dreams, to develop his talents, and fulfil his potential, to become part of the rich and the powerful, instead of the children of today’s elites.
The demands for justice and dignity are stronger than ever. The easiest way to answer this call, which is also the most barbaric way, has always been to eliminate the powerful. The other side of the coin, which is also just as easy, is to ignore the weakest among us.
By giving the true meaning to this beautiful word—people, we will find a path between the two abysses. It exists.