Ote-toi de la, que je m’y mette (Get out of the way, so I can take your place)

Ote-toi de la, que je m’y mette (Get out of the way, so I can take your place)

It is the principle of “Ote-toi de la, que je m’y mette” (Get out of the way, so I can take your place) which tells the story of many “political changes,” and even some revolutions. I do not mean to be cynical about social and political change; on the contrary, I am a strong believer of the role of “human agency” to change history for better. But unless those who believe in a better future outnumber the opportunists and power mongers whose only motivation is to replace those in power, political changes are bound to be confined to the limits of replacement of ancien regimes with their duplications, or carbon copies.

I am the last person to subscribe to the ideas of “elitist theorists” like Vilfredo Pareto, who claimed that there is no change in history but only the “replacement of elites.” Nevertheless, in many cases of political change this is the plain truth. To believe in the possibility of social and political change for the better in terms of freedom, justice and human dignity does not mean to attribute all these qualities to “any change.” It is possible to replace authoritarianism with another form of authoritarianism, bad governance with another form of bad governance, in the name of “change.” That has happened in history many times.

I do not mean that most of the political and social movements in the name of positive change have always been hypocritical, and only been attempts to achieve power by those who are excluded from existing power structures. Far from it, no political group, party or movement can change power structures only by targeting the handover of political power. This can only be the story of coup d’états. Alternatively, all political movements and parties get social support by promising positive change, and, in fact, it is those who genuinely believe in social and political improvement who maintain the legitimacy and dynamism for the “politics of change.” Yet “politics of change” may not fulfill its promises due to various reasons. It is not only political elites who should be blamed for this failure. Political power is the combination of executive, legislative, judicial, economic and cultural power.

It may be very tempting for those who have long been excluded from all or some of these power circles to take over the places of the existing power positions. In this case, political change ends up only with the replacement of one form of power with another, in every field. Moreover, power can start to be considered as a “war tribute,” with all members of the new aspiring elites claiming some sort of “compensation” for the real and imagined deprivations under the ancien regime. The result can only be “the rise of mediocrity” in every field.

Finally, this may be the story of any country which has experienced major political change in any time in its history.