The European Novel of Discontent

There is an interesting trend in Europe. Books with a similar theme are becoming bestsellers. They relate the story of a white-collar middle-class man employed in a small enterprise, who tries to make ends meet for his family. He commutes daily to a city. Confronted with the perennial transportation problem in his country he loses his temper. After crying out his rage against the collapsing civil service, harsh taxation that increasingly makes it impossible to make ends meet, the privileged corporations, and the entrenched political elites his message strikes a chord with the media looking for some drama in the somnambulist politics. Forming a new political party, he manages to capture the mood of discontent in the middle class and the book ends when he wins an election and stands poised to make some gargantuan societal change like decreasing taxation.

This is the premise of a recent bestseller in France: Denis Castel’s Ras le bol: Ou l’imminence de la nouvelle Révolution française. But also of NOG, the Swedish bestseller by journalist Tomas Linnala. I am certain there are similar books to come in other European countries. They invariably gain popular success, whilst they are snubbed by the establishment.

As the books have a similar theme there is speculation that both the French and Swedish books were written by the same person (both main characters François Puysange and Arne Svensson are accountants, for instance), but it is more likely that similar situations in Europe are inspiring people in the same way, also with the allure of populism, and the urgency that a practical solution should be given to the problems confronting the middle classes.

The discussion about the welfare state is over, and the welfare state has won. Its apologists controlled the arguments for efficiency, and it is well entrenched with powerful special interest groups that stand to lose a lot if it is dismantled, while the many losers are dispersed and seldom well aware of their best interests (as can be seen in the recent French riots).

During the past decade we have seen many populist parties enter the various European parliaments, but these have not been able to change the structure of the welfare state. They try to improve its flaws, but never challenge its premises. Still, if the various novels can put the spotlight on practical problems facing Europeans today they will have achieved a great deal in communicating the need for change. Achieving changes for opening up European society will need a more dedicated and ideological approach than that mustered by populism.