November 09, 2005

Pre-Revolutionary Stirrings?

I'm too busy to blog just now, but I want to share this several months old Adam Gopnik article (helpfully re-posted by the New Yorker recently) with B.D. readers. Do read the entire article, but be sure not to miss this portion:

France is the victim of her two demons,” he explains, “the left neo-Bolshevism that derives from the egalitarianism of the Revolution and still dreams of a great night of anti-capitalist massacre, and the right-wing xenophobic nationalism that was nourished by a long modern tradition running from Boulanger”—the French reactionary general who nearly took power in the late nineteenth century—“to Le Pen. These two currents fused perfectly in this campaign, each returning to its ancient tasks and tactics, but happily sharing the same enemies: the Polish plumber, the immigrants from the east, and, above all, ‘Anglo-Saxon liberalism’ and ‘ultra-liberalism.’

Over coffee on a hot July night, Bruckner, who, as a social democrat, believes in ever-larger shares in an ever-expanding pie, seems nearly in despair. “This depression that we’ve been talking about for twenty years is real now,” he says. “Fear, absolute fear of change, is the dominant emotion of the country. People talk of a revolution, or say that this will end in the streets—but what does that really mean? Where is the revolutionary class? The kids in the suburbs? O.K., they could turn—but that would be a riot, not a revolution. The only revolutionary forces in sight are the ancient demons. I can genuinely imagine the next Presidential round ending with Le Pen and Pierre Lambert,” the leader of the extreme left Trotskyite party. One presses him to modify his words, and he insists that he isn’t joking or exaggerating about the scale of political bankruptcy.

Mainstream French politicians need to provide tangible, pragmatic, serious solutions to the societal dislocations we've witnessed these past two weeks soon--or the risk of "ancient demons" rearing their ugly head will get more and more real. In my view, Le Pen and ilk benefit more from the recent scenes of societal disarray that the Trotskyite hard left--but, regardless, either party's increased visibility and power would be potentially ruinous for France's near term future. We're not there yet, and the mainstream politicians cannot yet be relegated to the dustbin (indeed, we'll have more on the nuances as between the de Villepinian versus Sarkozyian view of the riots soon). But time is short, and the crisis of confidence is quite deep. Meantime, while these riots are not being propagated by nefarious al-Qaeda operatives or Jihad Islami sympathizers, it's no secret that Islamist groups will attempt to lure rioters towards piety and rigid Islamism, as supposed safe harbor from the bleak desolation and feelings of 'otherness' resulting from endemic racism, unemployment, and poverty. Indeed, they are always busily attempting to recruit (often with quite mixed results) in economically destitute areas. Still, the riots would seem to point to a breaking-point that will result, at least in the short-term, in even greater feelings of alienation. So it's certainly a further opening for Islamists, to be sure, to go about ratcheting up their recruitment efforts. All this said, let's please not hysterically presume legions of young banlieu-dwellers are just hankering to join UBL's French subsidiaries so as to turn Paris into some Talib-like millet of the grand pan-Eurabian caliphate or some such. C'est pas serieux. Back soon w/ more.

P.S. As for Chirac, someone pronounce him dead already, OK? The poor man has made Dick Cheney look like a brazen exhibitionist (for the first 10 or so days of the rioting when he was nowhere to be seen) and, when he finally deigned to muster up a statement near the two-week mark, he unfortunately looked like something of a walking corpse.

UPDATE: This commenter to my previous post on France just nails it. I guess this is why I keep comments up and running over here despite how often they descend into, shall we say, something of a 'moronic inferno' (Martin Amis' memorable phrase) of cheap cat-calls, empty under-informed rants, and braggadocio-infused claptrap. Then again, I'm sure a not insignificant amount of people feel that way about the blog itself! Back later.

Posted by Gregory at November 9, 2005 04:21 AM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

Chirac almost literally cannot resign. Only his Presidential immunity from prosecution prevents his having to pay the piper for the wave of corruption he has ridden for most of his adult life.

Posted by: sammler at November 9, 2005 09:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Consider this comment to be a manual trackback since I seemed to be unable to trackback properly. Anyway I agree with you that the New Yorker article is very good, however I have critiqued part of it at my blog - http://www.di2.nu/blog.htm?20051109

Posted by: Francis at November 9, 2005 10:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Consider this comment to be a manual trackback since I seemed to be unable to trackback properly. Anyway I agree with you that the New Yorker article is very good, however I have critiqued part of it at my blog - http://www.di2.nu/blog.htm?20051109

Posted by: Francis at November 9, 2005 10:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is there a discernable right in France? Even Le Pen, who was labelled a far-right conservative, was keen on protectionism, subsidies, state control of industry etc etc, hardly the realm of modern right wing politics. It appears to me that the French are trying to Socialise themselves into oblivion. They must be one of the only countries who believe globablisation doesn't apply to them.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at November 9, 2005 11:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Even if the extreme right benefits more from these disturbances than the extreme left, it could still hand victory to the left in the next presidential election. Suppose, for example, that the right does well enough in the first round to eliminate the mainstream parties from contention. Faced with a second round choice between Le Pen and Lambert, I think mainstream French voters would sooner go for a Trotskyite than a neo-fascist.

Posted by: american in europe at November 9, 2005 11:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re Andrew Paterson:

What you think of as right-wing conservatism (i.e. against government interference in the economy, in favor low taxes, supporting individual rights vs. collective rights, etc.) is what the French call "ultra-Liberalism." And no, there is very little support for that stuff in France. Many people in France -- and elsewhere in Europe too -- think Communism was a good idea that was just never done right in practice, and they might be willing to give it another try. That's why I think a far left government in France is not an impossibility, whereas a far right one is. At least this time around.

As for the real meaning of conservatism, I think Mark Steyn hits the nail on the head when he says conservative is the word the media use to describe "people you are not supposed to like," including everyone from free-market libertarians to unreformed Communists, from George Bush to the Ayatolahs Iran.


Posted by: american in europe at November 9, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

French patriots are calling for demonstrations on Nov. 11. How many respond will tell us much. Maybe there's nobody there but the Le Pen crowd; I hope very much that that isn't the case. No American in his right mind can desire anything but a massive turn out.

Posted by: ps at November 9, 2005 04:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

French patriots are calling for demonstrations on Nov. 11. How many respond will tell us much. Maybe there's nobody there but the Le Pen crowd; I hope very much that that isn't the case. No American in his right mind can desire anything but a massive turn out.

Posted by: ps at November 9, 2005 04:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not to be pedantic (OK, I'm being pedantic) but "moronic inferno" appears several times in Saul Bellow's "Humboldt's Gift" of 1975. Amis's book didn't come out until 1991. Go Saul!

Posted by: Sambo at November 9, 2005 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

sambo: now THAT's a helpful comment! thx, and kudos then to saul...

Posted by: greg at November 9, 2005 08:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Andrew Paterson,

Most American right-wingers are “right-wing statists” and NOT “anti-statist”.

I know, I know American right-wingers like to think themselves as “anti-statist” but the last few years should put that myth to rest.

American right-wingers are anti-statist when liberals and leftists are running the state, but embrace The State like a gang of social-democrats when their right-wing Alpha Male is at the helm.

Posted by: Neo-Hayek at November 13, 2005 07:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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