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SOFIA, Bulgaria — It is a “force majeure”moment in Europe. In France, the “yellow vest” protesters are burning cars anddestroying shops, accusing President Emmanuel Macron, the darling of thepro-European progressives, of Marie Antoinette-style arrogance and disrespectfor the concerns of the ordinary people. In the United Kingdom, the utterfailure to broker a Brexit deal has turned into a national tragedy. Severaldays ago, in an open letter to his compatriots, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutteconcluded that Britain had “dropped the vase,” shattering the country’sdelicate unity. He compared politicians who stir up divisions to “screamingsideline football dads” shouting loudly without thinking about the consequencesof what they say.


(译注:玛丽·安托瓦内特,Marie Antoinette ,1755-1793,法王路易十六的王后)

“Force majeure” is a legal concept that allows you to get out of acontractual obligation under exceptional circumstances. It is also the name ofRuben Ostlund’s 2014 film, a black comedy about a professional couple who taketheir two beautiful young children to an upscale ski resort somewhere in theFrench Alps and face an unexpected “trauma” that permanently alters theirrelationship. Everything is going perfectly until the family, while enjoyingsome sunshine at an open-air mountain restaurant, sees an avalanche descendingtoward them. A tidal wave of snow envelopes the restaurant. And withoutthinking, the father flees, abandoning his family to save himself. When thesnow settles, everyone realizes that it was a false alarm — it was a“controlled avalanche” gone slightly awry. No one is hurt. The father returns,and behaves as if nothing significant had happened, but the mother is livid.The rest of their trip is soured by the father’s moment of instinctualselfishness and his refusal to admit fault.


Ostlund’s film is a perfect analogy for whythe meritocratic elites have lost the trust of the people. The collapse ofLehman Brothers was the world’s “controlled avalanche,” and the best and thebrightest ran away — and quick — to save their money and banks, forgettingabout those who needed their help. They have never ceased to deny that theyhave done so. And thus, not surprisingly, the majority of the people have cometo regard the meritocratic elite as a mercenary elite, always ready to run fromthe table. They lack the word “sacrifice” in their vocabulary. They do notbelong to the community, but they want to be respected, admired and even loved.


(译注:莱曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)申请破产的时间为2008年,系有史以来最大的破产事件)

So who do the people trust, then, if theydisdain the meritocrats and disregard the populists? The answer, based onopinion polls, is a profoundly puzzling one: Today, the military turns out tobe the most trusted institution in most European countries. It is likely notbecause of any recent glorious victories nor because Europeans love war. Mostprobably, the public’s trust in the military elites could be explained by thefact that they are the only ones who do not have a “force majeure” clause intheir contracts. For the military to serve, it must sacrifice for others. Thisis exactly what people expect the elites to do.


If leaders like Macron wish to counter thedivisive strain of nationalism that grips their nations with their own brand of“patriotism,” they must recapture the public’s trust. And to do so, they musttie their own hands to the table to prove that when the next avalanche hits,they will not flee.