The new intellectualism of cultural anxiety
And that’s why France is the epicenter of today’s fearsome battle between Western elites bent on protecting and expanding the well-entrenched policy of mass immigration and those who see this spreading influx as an ultimate threat to the West’s cultural heritage, not to mention its internal tranquility. In France it is a two-front war. One is the political front, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front has moved from the fringes of politics into the mainstream. The other is the intellectual front, where a new breed of writers, thinkers, and historians has emerged to question the national direction and to decry those who have set the country upon its current course.
Americans have always had a special affinity for France. It was critical to the American founding by way of Lafayette’s mission. In the 20th century many artistic and upper-class Americans embraced Paris as the site of and model for their own cultural strivings. France’s 1940 fall to Nazi Germany dealt the first real blow to American isolationism. After the 1945 victory in Europe, U.S. links to Paris, London, and Europe generally rendered postwar Atlanticism more than just a strategy: it was a civilizational commitment that helped define who we were as Americans.
Paris remains beautiful, though crime has been rising for a generation and the city has the trappings of wartime, with heavily armed soldiers visibly guarding sensitive targets—museums, schools, newspapers—against Islamist terror. The approaching elections, where the National Front will surely exceed its past vote totals, mark a tremulous new era.
Indeed, serious people have for some years been contemplating whether France is nearing the precipice of civil war. That’s probably unlikely, at least in the near future, but few would be shocked if the political and communal conflicts exploded into violence not seen in decades. And that has spawned a radically changed intellectual climate. The French intelligentsia and its cultural establishment still lean, in the main, toward the left, as they have since the end of World War II, or indeed since the divisive Dreyfus affair of the Third Republic. But today, France’s most read and most discussed popular writers—novelists and political essayists—are conservatives of one stripe or another. They are not concerned, even slightly, with the issues that animate American “mainstream” think-tank conservatism—lowering taxes, cutting federal programs, or maintaining some kind of global military hegemony. Their focus is France’s national culture and its survival. When they raise, as they do, the subjects embraced by American paleoconservatives and the so-called alt-right, that doesn’t mean the French debate has been taken over by extremists. The authors driving the French conversation are in almost every instance prominent figures whose views would have put them in the Gaullist middle or somewhat left of center at any time in the 1960s or ’70s. But France has changed, and what National Review in the 1990s called “the national question” has been brought to the very heart of the country’s national debate.
At the moment, France’s most important political intellectual on the right is probably Éric Zemmour, a former editorial writer for Le Figaro. A natural polemicist, he is a descendant of working-class Algerian Jews who fled to France in the 1950s. Though he demonstrates serious intellectual breadth, Zemmour’s particular passion is polemical battle. He was fined under French anti-racism laws in 2011 for publicly referring to racial discrepancies in crime rates. No one questioned the accuracy of his statistics, but discussing them in a way that was seen as contravening French anti-defamation law was an absolute no-no. Three years later, he reached a pinnacle of influence with the publication of his 500-page Le Suicide français, a modern national history that sold 400,000 copies within two months and became the top-selling book in France. Weeks later, when attacks by French-born Islamists on the offices of Charlie Hebdoand a kosher supermarket outside Paris stunned the nation (while being greeted with shocking indifference in the predominantly Muslim Paris suburbs), Zemmour’s book was there to explain how France had arrived at that dismal intersection.
The literary technique of Le Suicide français seems made for the internet and social media. The book marches, in short vignettes, from the death of de Gaulle in 1970 through the end of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency in 2012. Zemmour takes an illustrative event—sometimes no more than a demonstration, a film, or a pop song—and shows how it reflects national decline or actually pushed that decline onward.
One central theme is that the young bourgeois nihilists of the May 1968 street revolution prevailed. Not in politics or at least not immediately: de Gaulle’s party remained in power for more than a decade after. But the cultural victory was decisive. De Gaulle as a father figure was overthrown, and so was the traditional idea of the father. As the traditional family weakened, birth rates sank. In short order, France embraced legalized abortion and no-fault divorce; the father, when he didn’t disappear altogether, began to behave like a second mother. Traces of the shift show up in pop music. The singer Michel Delpech gave his blessing to his wife leaving for another man in one popular song:
You can even make a half-brother for Stéphanie
That would be marvelous for her.
Or as the comic Guy Bedos put it, “We separated by mutual agreement, especially hers.”
Such shifts coincided, in symbiotic ways that few understood at the time, with the advent of mass immigration. Zemmour writes, “At the same moment the traditional French family receded, as if to compensate symbolically and demographically, the most traditional type of Maghrebine family, the most archaic, the most patriarchal, is invited to take up its role. To come to its rescue. To fill up the places it has left vacant. To replace it.”
Like the immigration narrative of every advanced Western country, the story is complex. France had welcomed and assimilated immigrants from eastern and southern Europe for a century. In the 1960s, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, encouraged by an industrial elite seeking cheaper manual labor, recruited to France each year hundreds of thousands of workers from Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. Rural Maghrebine workers were preferred; they were seen as less Frenchified than workers from Algerian towns, more docile. After worker recruitment was stopped during the recession of 1974, family reunification as a humanitarian policy was instigated, and hundreds of thousands of North African women and children joined their husbands in France. Zemmour concludes that this represented a kind of posthumous victory over de Gaulle by the partisans of Algérie Française, the blending of France and Algeria which de Gaulle had rejected—for reasons of sociology and demography as much as for peace. As he told Alain Peyrefitte in 1959, “Those who dream of integration are birdbrains, even the most brilliant of them. Try to mix oil and vinegar. Shake up the bottle. After a while, they separate again. The Arabs are Arabs, the French are French.” In the same interview, de Gaulle said the Algérie Française would result in massive immigration to France, and his town Colombey-les-Deux-Églises would be turned into Colombey-les-Deux-Mosquées. Read the rest of this entry »
November 11th 1918: WW1 armistice
On this day in 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allied powers, thus officially ending combat in the First World War. The agreement was signed in a train carriage in France. Fighting ended at 11am, as it was the eleventh hour in the eleventh month on the eleventh day. This marked Allied victory in the war that had raged since 1914 but negotiations continued at the Paris Peace Conference and the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The Treaty set up a ‘League of Nations’ which was to be a group of countries dedicated to the preservation of global peace. Every year the Commonwealth nations commemorate the fallen soldiers in Remembrance Day, and hold a two minute silence in their honour. Other nations around the world have similar days of remembrance for the around 10 million soldiers who died in the conflict. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of this terrible conflict, so this Remembrance Day is a particularly poignant moment to remember the fallen of the First World War.
Mariella Moon reports: DARPA‘s new Ground X-Vehicle Technology project aims to design tanks with less armor, but are faster and more agile as a result. Now, in the movies, we always see these beefy military vehicles rolling along slowly to action, so faster, grenade-dodging tanks might be a bit hard to imagine.
Thankfully, the agency released a concept video that shows how exactly its advanced tanks can avoid getting shot at…(read more)
Progressives can’t wish away human nature.
Charles C. W. Cooke writes: H. G. Wells’s famous prediction that the First World War would be the “war to end all wars” was met with skepticism by the British prime minister. “This war, like the next war,” David Lloyd George quipped in the summer of 1916, “is a war to end war.” History, he sighed, is not shaped by wishful thinking.
“The lessons of history endure, because human nature never changed.”
— J. Rufus Fears
Two decades later, Lloyd George would be proven right. And yet, in the intervening period, it was Wells’s sentiment that prevailed. The horrors of the trenches having made rationalization imperative, a popular and holistic narrative was developed. The Great War, Woodrow Wilson quixotically argued, had finally managed to “make the world safe for democracy” and, in doing so, had served an invaluable purpose. Henceforth, human beings would remember the valuable lesson that had been written in so much blood, coming together in mutual understanding to, as Wells rather dramatically put it,“exorcise a world-madness and end an age.” And that, it was thought, would be that. Read the rest of this entry »
War: The Gambling Man’s Game
Kori Schake writes: Geoffrey Blainey’s The Causes of War is a genuinely wonderful book. I had it pressed on me by one of the Pentagon’s most thoughtful people, and while it’s not a new book, it should be at the top of the reading lists of people interested in international relations. Like much else in the book, Blainey is straightforward in his title: he is examining why wars occur. He quotes Clausewitz to the effect that of all the branches of human activity, war is the most like a gambling game, and Blainey’s approach is very much marked by game theory.
Blainey argues that assessments of relative power drive decisions on war and peace, and that war occurs when nations misjudge their relative power. He writes, “War is usually the outcome of a diplomatic crisis which cannot be solved because both sides have conflicting estimates of their bargaining power.” Disputes about issues central to states’ interests can be negotiated when there is a clear hierarchy of power—the weaker compromises to prevent war. When there is doubt about the weaker party, compromise is elusive and wars occur, because “war itself provides the most reliable and most objective test of which nation or alliance is the most powerful…war was therefore usually followed by an orderly market in political power, or in other words, peace.”
Today we largely take international air travel for granted. Every major city in the world is little more than a hop, skip, and jump away. But what was it actually like to fly halfway around the world in the 1930s, when the very concept was still novel? Pretty incredible, as it turns out—provided you could afford it.
At the dawn of commercial air travel, Imperial Airways was Britain’s shuttle to the world. As the British Empire’s lone international airline in the 1920s and ’30s, Imperial was responsible for showing the rich and famous every corner of the Empire. And in doing so, their mission was to make the Empire (and by extension, the world) feel that much smaller.
They did it in style.
During the WWI, airplanes became a vital tool for victory, ushering in a brave new world of battle. Airplanes were the future of war, but they had yet to prove themselves as the future of peace.
After the war, Britain had a surplus of warplanes that would jumpstart its commercial air industry. But the early 1920s was a hard period for British aircraft companies. Unlike their counterparts in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States, very little government investment in British air travel occurred during peacetime.
Instead, the government hobbled together the few struggling British air companies to form Imperial Airways, which was incorporated in 1924. Imperial was devised as a private, highly subsidized company that would operate with monopoly support from the British government. They shuttled mail and passengers to the farthest reaches of the globe.
Imperial’s planes of the 1920s (made of wood and fabric) would slowly morph into the planes of the 1930s (made of metal). But it wasn’t merely because the streamlined aircraft looked sleeker. The newer planes also better suited Imperial Airways’ mission of Empire maintenance.
Dennis Prager writes: This past Saturday, the New York Times published an article, “Behind Flurry of Killing, Potency of Hate,” on the roots of monstrous evil. The article largely concerned a former paramilitary member of the Irish Republican Army, and as such was informative.
But when it ventured into a larger discussion of evil, the moral confusion and contempt for America that characterize leftism were on display.
The article contains a breathtaking paragraph that exemplifies both qualities. After noting that atrocities against groups of people are often the result of the dehumanization of the victimized group, the writer gives four such examples:
“The Hutus in Rwanda called the Tutsis cockroaches, the Nazis depicted the Jews as rats. Japanese invaders referred to their Chinese victims during the Nanjing massacre as ‘chancorro,’ or ‘subhuman.’ American soldiers fought barbarian ‘Huns’ in World War I and godless ‘gooks’ in Vietnam.”
This paragraph is noteworthy for its use of false moral equivalence to justify its anti-Americanism.
Let’s begin with the moral equivalence — equating how the Hutus viewed and treated the Tutsis, how the Nazis viewed and treated the Jews, and how the Japanese viewed and treated the Chinese with the Americans’ views and treatment of the Germans in World War I and Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
In April of 1915, Allied forces were battling the German Army for control of Ypres, a Flemish town in western Belgium. Months before, fighting with many young and untested soldiers, the Germans had taken heavy casualties there in a battle they called the Massacre of the Innocents of Ypres. This time, they were determined to launch their first major attack on the Western Front. With thousands of French, British, Belgian and Canadian forces dug in around the town, the Germans turned to Fritz Haber.
In 1918, Haber would be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in developing a method of synthesizing ammonia from nitrogen in the air—the process that enabled the production of fertilizer in quantities that revolutionized agriculture worldwide. But in the winter of 1915, Haber’s thoughts turned to annihilating the Allies. For his efforts directing a team of scientists on the front lines in World War I, he would become known as the father of chemical warfare. Read the rest of this entry »