No one excels at polemics as the French do, save for the English at certain periods of their history (the 17th and 18th centuries, for example), and Le suicide français is a masterly specimen of the genre by Éric Zemmour, the author of many books of fiction and nonfiction and a columnist for Le Figaro. The Suicide of France, now a best-seller at home and available soon in English translation, is the most comprehensive assault on advanced liberal thought in word and action one could possibly imagine, as well as the most unsparing and no-holds-barred. Zemmour refuses absolutely to mince words and to give the devil his due, which, in this case (as I suspect in most others), he doesn’t deserve anyhow. I cannot conceive a book less concerned for the authority of reigning Western ideas and their exquisite sensibilities, or one less likely to have found an original publisher in the United States, recently described by the London Spectator as the world headquarters of political correctness. For its courage and audacity, as well as its subject matter, Le suicide français is the long-delayed nonfiction counterpart to Jean Raspail’s novel of 40 years ago,The Camp of the Saints, which imagines the arrival on the shores of Provençe of hordes of subcontinental Indians riding a flotilla of rusted hulks. (Zemmour notes that the novel, published in a new edition in 2011, contains, according to Raspail’s lawyer, 87 instances of material currently actionable under subsequent French law regulating “hate speech.”) I have not read the French reviews of Suicide, but an angrily dismissive column in The New Yorker by the scion of a Jewish Italian family long associated with Corriere della Sera in Milan and now a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism is probably a foretaste of Suicide’s reception in America.
Le suicide français is really mistitled, since Zemmour attributes the death of France—“La France est morte,” he says on the book’s final page—to the humanitarian associations and antiracist lobbies, homosexuals, feminists, and communitarians supported by public subventions from the clientist state, and
all these technocrats, intellocrates, bien-pensant mediacrats, sociologists, demographers, [and] economists, who claim to form opinion by moralistic lessons and arranged statistics, lay out scholastic programs in innumerable pedagogical commissions, and edit reports concerning the best means to fashion a common France.
These elements together compose what Zemmour distinguishes as “Society,” part of “the infernal triangle” forged by the student rebellion in May 1968 of which “the People” and “the State” make up the remaining two thirds. The State, he claims, is now powerless to protect the People, but able still to punish it for its transgressions against postmodernity, immigrant France, political correctness, and the dominant cosmopolitan metropolis. “La Société” has won out. It has enslaved the State and disintegrated the People by depriving it of its national memory through a rigorous program of deculturalization and by dissolving French identity through virtually unrestrained immigration, from Africa and the Arab World in particular. So Society reigns, but “it reigns over chaos.” The best minds of the French Revolution and 19th-century France addressed the quarrel between popular sovereignty established by popular referendum (advocated by Rousseau and the Jacobins) and national sovereignty embodied in parliamentary government. De Gaulle reconciled the two in the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, which states that “National sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it by their representatives and by way of referendum.” But “De Gaulle has failed,” Zemmour says, and 40 years after his death his legacy lies in ruins and la politique française is dead, replaced by bureaucratic busyness and administrative tyranny centered in Brussels. So France is dead, murdered by the postmodern elites, left and right, who stamp on the cadaver and spit on its tomb while remarking with tired disdain that “the last pages of the History of France” have been written. The right betrayed France in the name of globalization and liberalism; the left, in the name of the Republic and universalism. And the death of France is the death of Europe as well.
Zemmour’s mordant chronicle of the political, economic, moral, social, intellectual, artistic, and religious decline of France over the past four decades reflects the parallel decline of the Anglosphere, origin of so many of the corruptive influences Zemmour (in this way, as in so many others, a true son of France) despises. Naturally, given the historical differences between Gallic and Anglo-Celtic-American civilization, there are also discrepancies between the histories of the two cultures. For example, Zemmour’s distress about “the death of the father of the nation” (the “father” representing simultaneously standards of virilité, the status of the biological father within the family, “great men” in French history like Louis XIV, Bonaparte, and De Gaulle, and the paternalistic principle of authority generally) probably will not carry the force, or have the appeal, for English-speaking traditionalists that it does for people on the French right. Similarly, his economic thinking is classically French. Zemmour is a staunch colbertiste, mercantilist, and dirigiste, and equally an enemy of British-American free-trade theories he believes the United States and the United Kingdom succeeded in foisting on the European Union:
The fist of a Colbert or a Pompidou is needed if our lost industry is to be reborn from the ashes, an implacable Richelieu, fighting without letup “the State within the State” and the “foreign parties” to beat down the La Rochelle Islamists built on our territory; but we allow the enemy within the gates to prosper, and we allow foreign powers to subsidize him and his religious propaganda.
One could say of Éric Zemmour, were he not French, that he is more French than the French, yet he is something more than a Frenchman: He is a North African Jew. Zemmour has much to say about Napoleon’s Concordat with the Jewish community of France granting French Jews freedom to practice their religion on condition that they acknowledge themselves loyal citizens of France and good Frenchmen as well as faithful coreligionists—and that they “denationalize” Judaism. As president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to accomplish something similar; he had in mind a new Consistory, but what he actually achieved was not the same thing. Sarkozy confounded two models of assimilation by allowing the Muslim community in France to continue to develop alongside the national one, rather than constraining Mohammedanism within the private sphere. And so,
With the creation of the French Counsel on the Muslim Religion, it gave Islam the protection of a state religion, without counterpart. Islam thus gathered the advantages of the Concordat and of the Law of 1905 [establishing the legal separation of Church and State].
Zemmour is not altogether consistent in his view of the French Revolution. As a staunch admirer of Bonaparte, he deplores the French government’s refusal to commemorate the bicentennial of the Battle of Austerlitz in 2005 and the modern French elite’s embarrassment over Napoleon’s conquests 200 years ago. Elsewhere he laments, “The French Revolution is dead.” On the other hand, Zemmour argues that “the immoderate passion for the revolution has blinded and perverted us” by causing too many Frenchmen to forget that France was not founded in 1789. And he grasps the plain connection between the rights of man and the contemporary conviction that the absolute liberty of the individual citizen must trump every other consideration, including the common good—the ne plus ultra, the reductio ad absurdum of democratic thought. Of course, the Consulate and the Empire were not the Terror, and Napoleon and his regime appeal to Zemmour’s appreciation of the “father” as well as of the past glories of France, before haine de soi (hatred of self) became in his estimation a fixed element of the modern French character. Zemmour is probably susceptible also to the aesthetic and theatrical appeal of la gloire, for which, in an age of democratic drab, it is hard to fault him. De Gaulle, too, believed in la gloire, without wishing to reconquer Europe in the name of its majesty, and Zemmour understands, as the general (and, incidentally, Claude Lévy-Strauss) did, that pride in oneself and in one’s country are closely associated things, and that a certain degree of gloire is helpful, if not exactly crucial, to both. Napoleon’s troops were prepared to die for him, and De Gaulle was indeed le Pére de la France for a generation. But no one in Europe—Frenchman, Briton, German, Belgian, Italian, Spaniard—is willing to die for what Zemmour calls “the dictatorship of the doctors” (E.U. technocrats), and Mario Draghi is nobody’s father.
The New Yorker dismisses Le suicide français as simply another screed in a long line of books bewailing the decline or death of France going back as far as 1783, without noting that France, after her eclipse by Great Britain with the Treaty of Paris, was indeed a nation in decline between 1763 and 1789, and from then until 1801 in a state of catastrophe. Under Napoleon, la gloire recommenced where the Bourbon kings had left off, but after 1815 Great Britain was restored to the status of Great Power in Europe. French political history was confused and chaotic from the Bourbon Restoration to 1870, when the nation suffered a humiliating defeat by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, and while the Allies defeated Wilhelm II in 1918, the victory was a pyrrhic one for France. The Third Republic established in 1870 and lasting 70 years was chaotic, divided, and disastrous. Raymond Aron wrote, “I lived through the thirties in the despair of French decline. . . . In essence, France no longer existed. It existed only in the hatred of the French for one another.” The collapse of France in 1940 was a direct result of this, followed by Vichy. After World War II France recovered herself during Les Trente Glorieuses, the “Glorious Thirty” (years), but the years since then have been the opposite of glorious for her—Zemmour’s subject in Suicide. In The New Yorker’s view, “the sinister conspiracies and suicidal decisions that [Zemmour] identifies at every turn are simply the products of the world changing, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.” But Zemmour himself concedes that the case of France is only an exaggerated version of that of the other Western nations. And it is easy, if you are a liberal, to speak airily about the world changing for good and ill, since liberals after all have willed and effected most of that change, while for conservatives nearly all the alterations that have taken place in the past few generations amount to cultural and national suicide in slow motion—the “Suicide of the West,” as James Burnham titled a book published half a century ago last year.
The New Yorker being The New Yorker, the article ends by comparing Le suicide français to a manifesto for Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The comparison nicely brings into full focus hints the writer has previously dropped suggesting that the notion of France’s decline and demise is subtly, perhaps even essentially, racist and antisemitic. This line of attack confirms as well as anything could the fundamental hypocrisy of the “Society” Éric Zemmour blames for the ruination of the French nation. In the past several years Muslim terrorists in France have killed French Jews in Toulouse, Paris, and elsewhere, damaged or destroyed Jewish property, and murdered French gentiles as well, most recently the 12 martyred geniuses at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But how many Jews or other citizens have the affiliated members of the Front National killed? Not a single one. The reason Marine Le Pen and her party have been made emblems of hatred and terror is simply that “la Société” is effectively the friend of foreign terrorists and the enemy of patriotic Frenchmen who want them either barred or expelled from France. If Bernard-Henri Lévy feels impelled to offer his own breast to the Coulibalys and Kouachis resident in the country, that is his business. To seek to expose his compatriots to these people is something else again. Suicide and murder can be one and the same thing. If the right Éric Zemmour speaks for is really the “extreme right,” as The New Yorker claims, it is necessary to point out that we live in times in which extremity is simply the last remaining form of sanity in an increasingly mad world.
Madame Le Pen, consummate politician that she is, has described Le suicide français as a “gloomy” book and objected that La France is indeed very much alive. Of course, she has a point. But as Flannery O’Connor said half a century ago, when addressing the half-blind and the half-deaf it is necessary to draw large and startling pictures, and to shout. Éric Zemmour has done both in his book, and done so very effectively, too.
Originally Published by Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture MARCH 02, 2015