France shaken up by Zemmour and 'new reactionaries'

From the BBC:

14 December 2014 Last updated at 10:46 ET
France shaken up by Zemmour and 'new reactionaries'
By Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris

There is a new intellectual force in France - giving shape and weight to ideas that challenge the disastrous post-1968 left-wing consensus.

That at least is the hope of the so-called neo-reactionnaires (new reactionaries) - a loose group of writers and thinkers who want to shake up debate on issues like immigration, Islam and national identity.

Of course others see the group rather differently.

Vox Wrote:
"Others see the group differently" -- lemme guess:  journalists, editors, and university teachers?

For their enemies they are rabble-rousers, providing spurious philosophical cover for the extremism of the National Front (FN).

Most famous of the exponents is journalist Eric Zemmour, whose new book French Suicide reads like a desperate cavalry charge, sabre aloft, into the massed ranks of the progressives.

Seizing popular culture

Zemmour is scorned by most of the Paris establishment but his book is a runaway bestseller. To date it has sold 400,000 copies.

Vox Wrote:
"Establishment" being the key word here.

"The big divide today is between the elite and the people," he tells me at Le Figaro newspaper's headquarters, where he works.

"And that is why my book has done so well. Because I have become a kind of representative of the people. They have adopted me. They say that what I write is what they think."

Zemmour is a small, slight man, whose timid air quickly vanishes when he warms to his theme. He has the intellectual confidence and volubility of the school swot, and is probably inured to the swot's unpopularity.

Ironically, Zemmour's inspiration is not some right-winger but Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci wrote that for the left to win, it had first to take over popular culture.

And that, according to Zemmour, has indeed been the French left's greatest achievement.

"First of all there were the deconstructionist philosophers of the 1960s, who said that everything was social and therefore artificial.

"Then that philosophy was carried into the national bloodstream via the intermediary of derision. The greatest example is our comic Coluche.

"With his amazing talent, Coluche undermined the structures of French society - nation, family, police. When he ran for the presidency in 1981, he was supported by the well-known deconstructionist philosophers. That says it all.

"So after deconstruction, and then derision, we are now in the phase of destruction. It is what I call the three Ds," he says.

But isn't "destruction" putting it a bit strongly? After all, France is still standing tall among the nations. Just about.

"Not at all. The sovereignty of the nation has disappeared. The state no longer has the power to revive the economy, or to defend our borders. The state is powerless.

"There are parts of France which feel like a different continent today. There are neighbourhoods which are completely Muslim - in their appearance, in their shops, in their tradition.

"And at the same time we have the constant process of Americanisation. Our budget is controlled by Brussels. We have no currency. Our army has to follow Washington's orders.

"That is what I mean by destruction."

'Another people's history'

Other well-known figures in the movement include philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. Formerly identified with the political left, he was nearly blackballed this year from the prestigious Academie Francaise because of his writings on national identity.

More controversial is aesthete and prolific writer Renaud Camus, who lives in self-imposed isolation in a 14th-Century fortress in the wilds of Gascony.

Camus was ostracised from French literary society after he said he would vote for the far-right's Marine Le Pen at the last election. Lacking a publisher, he now produces his own books.

"It's absurd, because in most things there is nothing right wing about me. But I just happen to think that today's immigration is the most important thing to have happened to France - ever," he says.

"It is what I call 'le grand remplacement' - the great replacement. If there is a new population in France, then we will no longer have our own history. It will be another people's history, and another people's civilisation."

Camus strongly resists charges that he is racist.

"Of course I have been called a racist. I have given up fighting it. I do not see myself as one. I don't think I am unfair about other races. I do not seek to judge.

"But I do think that ethnic belonging is an important factor in the history of the world. It would be absurd to pretend otherwise.

"France has been very good at integrating individuals. But you cannot integrate whole peoples. If immigrants come from a different civilisation which they have no particular interest in abandoning, then they will be representative of that civilisation."

Vox Wrote:
It's really amazing to me how hard this seems to be for some people to understand. I mean, I just got done posting about the Magi, in the Catholic News/Culture sub-forum, and how I have a thing for them because they represent the three races of man coming together as one before Christ. But I also believe what this man just said. But because I believe what he just said, I'd be considered a "racist" -- in spite of loving the very idea of the Magi representing all men as brothers in the eyes of God. Why are so many people so rigidly black or white in their thinking? So incapable of understanding anything with any subtlety? So quick to jump to false dichotomies? To these types, you either are for unlimited immigration OR you are a racist. You either think we live in "a rape culture" OR you hate women, have no sympathy for rape victims, blah blah. You are either for Israel OR you're a Muslim terrorist-sympathizer. You're either a Republican OR you're a Democrat. And on and on it goes. It's so stupid!

Outsiders and insiders

Back in Paris, a new magazine called Causeur has been created to disseminate the views of the "neo-reactionnaires".

Founders Gil Mihaely and Elizabeth Levy say that mainstream publications are too scared to discuss issues such as immigration and national identity.

Vox Wrote:
There's that concept of fear again. We just heard above that "the people" get all this "far-right, extremist, fringey, reactionary, neo-Nazi, racist,   insert other insults " stuff, but are told here that mainstream publications are "too scared" to talk about immigration. So of whom are they afraid? It's not the French people, obviously. So who is it? And how did they get the sort of power to make mainstream publications afraid? People aren't afraid of things that have no power to hurt them, unless they have some strange phobia. So what gives? Are all these mainstream publications run by the mentally ill -- or is there someone they're rightfully afraid of?

"France has had a very troubled history. And all that troubled past is still alive in people's minds today," says Mihaely.

"It means that people instinctively feel they have to be very careful what they say - or it could end in violence.

"But by not talking about real issues like immigration, we drove people to voting for the extremes. It is far healthier to broaden the spectrum of debate, which is what we are doing."

While disowning any claim to belong to a new school of thought, Mihaely draws parallels with the recent history of French philosophy.

"In the late 1970s we had what became known as the 'nouveaux philosophes' (new philosophers). These were people like Bernard Henri-Levy, who broke away from the Sartre-inspired establishment because they could see the reality of totalitarianism in China and Russia.

"They saw a new reality, and realised they had to change their thinking. The same is happening now.

Vox Wrote:
It must suck to have such a wishy-washy view of man and his nature to have to change your political worldviews every few years, whenever political goings-on change in this country or that.

"Today there are thinkers who can see today's new reality: the Arab world, our immigration neighbourhoods, Islam. And they realise they have to change their ideas."

Vox Wrote:
Sorry, but Islam's been that way since it began. No "new reality" here at all.

No allegiance claimed

The term "neo-reactionnaire" is an exonym. In other words it is a description applied to the group by outsiders. Insiders say they come from both camps - right and left.

"The big division today is over the nation state," says Mihaely. "Is the state's historic role finished, or is it still a major actor in the political, anthropological and cultural arenas?

"The question is not if you are left or right but if you believe in the nation.

"Our position is that the nation is still the only framework in which politics has any meaning. It is the only arena in which things can get done, where people can vote for change and change happens."

None of the neo-reactionnaires - not even Camus - claims allegiance to the FN. Many of them are Jewish.

Nonetheless they stand accused, by expressing such strong views on Islam, identity and the nation, of promoting the cause of the far right.

Vox Wrote:
"Accused" -- I wonder if any newspaper would use that word with regard to the left, i.e., would one ever say that someone is being "accused" of "promoting the cause of the far left"? Eh, prolly not. (and is the phrase "far left" ever used at all? Is "far" only a long, long way to run for the folks on the right?)

Zemmour says he is fed up with being asked about the FN.

"Can't they understand that the FN is not a cause, it is a consequence. It is a consequence of the disintegration of France.

"People vote for the FN to say to their elites, 'Stop doing what you are doing!' But they never do.

"It was Stalin who first realised how effective it was to turn the enemy into a fascist. That is what they are doing to us today."

Vox Wrote:Ya know, I'm starting to think that if "fascist!" is the worst thing a person can be according to the left, it might be a good thing. I really have no idea; I haven't studied fascism in itself, only a bit about two fascist regimes (Germany and Italy in the WWII era). I wonder how much of the evil that accompanied those States is inherent to fascism and how much was historical happenstance. I must research some time when I have the time.

Personally, I suspect these intellectuals are pushing a sanitized, secularized version of French identitarianism, stripped of religious connotations other, more divisive elements of the patrimony of France. A backlash against the left is inevitable, and right now it is essential to control what the backlash looks like, what voices are called out as extreme and are thereby made more compelling to dissatisfied masses. To me, these so-called radicals look fairly revolutionary, and remain descended from the universal values of the Jacobins.

One of the give-aways is the background of the "reactionaries" and their promoters. Virtually none are religious Catholics, and virtually all of them profiled here are from ethnic backgrounds other than French and were formed in leftist intellectual movements, perhaps parallel to U.S. neoconservatives. The article here curiously failed to point out the individual cases: Zemmour is an Algerian Jew, Finkielkraut is an avowed atheist from a family of Polish Jews, Mihaely has written editorials for Yediot Ahronot, and Levy's surname indicates descent from or marriage into the Tribe of Levy.  It is fairly interesting that a French nationalist movement is emerging led and promoted by French people of Jewish backgrounds, and I wonder how this might affect the dynamics of the movement.

Given the history of France, and the legacy of the Dreyfus affair, perhaps a French nationalism led by Jews will prove more tolerant and circumspect and will support Israel's cause on the world stage.

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