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The French Election and Europe’s Post-Historical Collapse

(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

While I was always a philosopher, I was originally a fairly apolitical one, and it was my first year in France that awoke the political part of my being, for I saw all around me where socialism, oikophobia, and multiculturalism were leading.”

Having lived in Paris for many years on and off from 2001 to 2014, I have been privy to that city’s gradual decline. The first time I arrived there, as a young student nurtured by a both Anglo- and Francophile upbringing, it was like entering into a room full of men I had been taught to revere since before I could remember, an experience that since then has been matched, and indeed superseded, only by my ascent onto the Acropolis in Athens.

Two weeks after my arrival in Paris, the September 11th attacks happened, and overnight there were French soldiers patrolling the Paris metro and RER systems, reminding me during my daily commute to university that France was already well acquainted with Islamic terrorism and did not want to take any chances. Already then it was common to hear anti-Semitic and anti-French remarks from the city’s Arab population and to see anti-Semitic graffiti on walls outside the main tourist areas. And yet, as so much else in French politics, the new measure was more cosmetic than a genuine attempt to get to the root of the problem—just like the later French ban on the burka, in 2010, which changed absolutely nothing. While I was always a philosopher, I was originally a fairly apolitical one, and it was my first year in France that awoke the political part of my being, for I saw all around me where socialism, oikophobia, and multiculturalism were leading.

The unwillingness to understand what is really at stake has now played itself out once again in France, in the recent election. We were constantly warned that the Rassemblement National party would constitute the first far-right government since World War II. Even though it is true that France allowed increases in immigration after that conflict in order to replenish depleted labor markets, this is an example of how the media repeat each other’s assertions without thinking of the meaning of what they are actually saying, since these words are tantamount to claiming that a potential government today that wants to restrict immigration in order to reduce street crime and to preserve a semblance of French culture is actually more right-wing than the French government that poured troops into Indochina in the late 1940s in order to uphold its colony there, and more right-wing than the French government that displaced millions of people in Algeria in the 1950s. Those governments were generally not called far-right, however, because people at that time still remembered what the actual far right was like. But the media today no longer understand what they say, if they ever did.

But, with yet another left-wing and oikophobic electoral victory, why do the French and other west Europeans seem incapable of rallying together to stop the decline of their societies? A deeper look at the philosophy of history is required to fully understand the phenomenon. A Newsweek article a few years ago had maintained that oikophobia seems more severe in the United States than in Europe, and American politics more polarized. This would go against one of the many theses in my subsequent book Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations, where I demonstrate among other things that oikophobia appeared earlier in various European countries, and especially in France, than in the United States. According to polling data, a larger proportion of European leftists than American leftists are proud of their country, Newsweek author Zaid Jilani had claimed. But this shows how insufficient it is to try to understand a culture by numbers alone, and how it is necessary to be steeped in a culture in order truly to understand it.

In this instance, one must understand that different people mean different things even while uttering the same sentence (such as “I am proud of my country”). What do people actually mean when they say that they love their country, or that they are proud of it? In the United States, such statements often involve thoughts of George Washington, the American Revolution, World War II, and so on. In Germany, which was also discussed in the Newsweek piece, such statements do most decidedly not, or only very rarely, involve thoughts of Bismarck, the Franco-Prussian War, or Frederick the Great, not to mention Wilhelm II. They tend to focus more on such things as the country’s exports, its regional cuisine, soccer prowess, and the always ubiquitous Goethe. Similarly, in France, French pride and self-love tend to focus more on its cuisine, its art and literature, and its supposedly unadulterated, refined manners, not on Louis XIV or its embarrassing performance in World War II. Painting and cooking are naturally less controversial, or at least stir less violent passions, than do wars and political leaders (excepting my own strong distaste for the humorless Goethe), and so European pride and self-love are centered on less political matters than are their American equivalents. There are differences, of course, among various west European countries. For example, political correctness, which feeds oikophobia, is a stronger force in the Anglo-Germanic than in the Latin countries, and there are a number of religious and socio-historical reasons for this. But in all countries of western Europe the allure of a glorious political, imperial, and military past has been abandoned.

This means, in turn, that the Overton window in a country like France is smaller than in the United States, leading to more widespread agreement over there about what is good and what is bad, and to the fact that what passes for polite conversation and acceptable opinion is much more limited there than here in the United States. The principal reason, from the perspective of the philosophy of history, that the accepted range of debate is narrower in Europe than in the United States, and that pride in one’s past is diminished there, is that European countries have already ceased to be great, historical powers. Oikophobia and self-effacement have already been victorious there, whereas here in the United States the struggle is still ongoing because we Americans are, in this respect, still at an earlier historical stage than Europeans. Whereas American socio-political discourse offers us the full gamut of possible opinions, from one extremism to the other, Europeans, even on opposite sides of their own political spectra, tend to be much closer to each other than is the case in the United States. For this is what happens when a society exits its great historical phase, unless it falls to violent fighting: It becomes placid, geopolitically irrelevant, and focused on the small.

The United States, on the other hand, finds itself in a phase of its historical development where France and western Europe used to be but are no longer. This is part of the reason—in addition to the American character being louder and more rambunctious in general—why the ideological battle in the United States is so much fiercer than in Europe. If we cast our eyes a hundred years back on the European continent, we would find the same ferocity there as we now see here in the United States. But in Europe the battle has already been settled—and oikophobia largely won—whereas in America it is still ongoing. And so if one digs deep and truly begins to understand European ways of thinking, one will see how genuinely oikophobic Europeans are, but since there is widespread agreement about much of the history and traditions that oikophobia has rejected, the people in western Europe come across, paradoxically, as less in the grip of cultural self-contempt. And so oikophobic Europeans appear to the untrained eye to like their countries more than oikophobic Americans do because the former have already become thoroughly entrenched in the culture and have changed their countries into something that it is easier for them to like, away from their older traditions, like French Revolutionaries who patriotically waved the Tricolor after the Revolution, after they had already changed everything. This relative innocuousness and placidity are due to the fact that in France and western Europe, the great historical battles have already been waged, and settled. In America, on the other hand, the conservative resistance to radical change is still intense, which in turn ramps up even further American oikophobes’ rage and self-contempt—the latter are as vociferous as they are because they have not yet won.

And so when a political party like Rassemblement National or its predecessor Front National comes along in France, it is easier to marginalize such a party because the opinions it represents, even while not particularly radical in the grand scheme of things, appear such to a people that has exited its historical, great-power phase. Thus, even with the growing frustration that many French rightly feel about the Islamization of their country, they are unable to move their society away from the brink—plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Their only hope, counterintuitively, is that the increasing Islamization of France will eventually make Rassemblement National or any similar party appear decreasingly radical, since ever more people will see that many of that party’s suggested policies are actually common sense. And indeed we see this process having already begun, with the party gaining more and more seats in the National Assembly with every election. The process was in motion already in 2002, when Front National made it into the second round of voting, and I remember vividly the scene at the Place de la République, where I went to see the left-wing protestors demonstrate and promise civil war if Le Pen (père) were to accede to power—a scene, in fact, that looked almost identical to the one we saw just a few days ago broadcast from the very same spot.

But it is still an open question whether France will collapse with a bang or a whimper—that is, whether, after such demographic and cultural changes as have already been wrought, there are still enough clear-thinking Frenchmen left to effectuate the necessary change and to roll back Islamization. If they rouse themselves sufficiently to attempt to do so, a violent encounter will most certainly be the result. The violence that will then occur will determine whether France will still be France or whether it will be an Islamic country. This may sound melodramatic or alarmist, but the Muslims (and note that I say Muslims and not “Islamists,” a left-wing word that conservatives should stop using, as I have explained elsewhere) do not need to be in the numerical majority nevertheless to control the country, because a man who believes absolutely in his god and his traditions is as strong as five men who are moral relativists and who have stopped believing. And, of course, they are helped by the oikophobic French left, who hate their own traditions so much that they are willing to gather under Mélenchon’s communist banner and make common cause with Islamization in order to stop Rassemblement National.

We can further understand all this by contrasting France with a country such as Israel, whose religious background and whose exposure to enemies on all sides precludes moral relativism and strengthens belief. I recently had the privilege of traveling in Israel and observing the situation there under the current conditions; I had been to that country many times before and so was especially curious to see what might be different now after the attack of October 7. One novelty was that on the streets of Jerusalem I kept hearing almost as much French as Hebrew and English—due, naturally, to all the French Jews who have immigrated to Israel over the last several years. The French election victory by the communists and their Islamic supporters should be a reminder to those Jews who remain in the country to pack their bits and pieces, if the public celebration on Parisian streets of the mass murder of Jews the previous year has not fully made the point.

These and similar events are impressing yet again upon the popular consciousness what true philosophers never forgot, namely the importance of religion for the social fabric of a civilization. The multitudes of Frenchmen having moved to Israel—as well as Americans, Syrians, Argentinians, and many others having done the same—can all come together and assimilate in Israel if they are united with Israelis, and with each other, by religion. And this is because religion is indeed the most crucial cornerstone of culture. That is, multiculturalism works only if it takes place under the larger banner of one faith. This holds true even for those immigrating Jews who consider themselves more secular, at least at a time when anti-Semitism is shamelessly celebrated and promoted around the world, which leads to a natural rally-‘round-the-flag response, where Jews who have never practiced their religion begin to pray and to put on phylacteries in the mornings. But unlike most such responses, this one will endure longer, because anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere will only increase with continued Arab and Muslim immigration. Mere patriotism is weaker than religion: Muslim French and Jewish French may reside under the same flag, but nationality alone cannot bridge the gap that exists between the two religions. This is particularly true in France, since the French state is so proud of its laïcité, its secularism, and is thus utterly incapable of comprehending the deep fissures that religion causes, and the anti-Semitism that is absolutely endemic among Muslim Arabs. Indeed the primacy of religion in defining civilizational borders played itself out in stark contrast during my recent stay in Israel: During a reception in honor of Israeli soldiers on a large rooftop terrace overlooking the Western Wall Plaza, as well as the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock behind it, the soldiers sang a Hebrew song, and as they were doing so, the Arabic call to prayer started sounding out from the Al Aqsa minaret, and the civilizational frontline was not only visible but plainly audible, too.

For this civilizational clash to be properly understood, there needs to be a paradigmatic change in thinking. It must be understood that due to untrammeled immigration the clash is playing itself out within the West, not only at the West’s borders, as formerly, and that having exited the historical, great-power phase, as France has, must not lead to complacency about what is at stake. Thinking that liberal democracy constitutes the end goal of history will hasten its demise.

When I moved away from France for the last time, in 2014, having just worked there as a professor of philosophy and classical philology, I thought to myself: “Good riddance”—to the anti-Semitism, the Arab street crime, and to plain old Parisian rudeness (to say nothing of the French government that taxed away most of my salary—indeed not very right-wing of them). And yet Paris, and France, have given us some of the West’s finest achievements, and I cannot entirely lose the reverence with which I first entered that city. It is all the more important, therefore, to understand the purport of the recent French election, and of similar developments across the West, if we wish to preserve what is beautiful in our civilization.

Benedict Beckeld is a philosopher based in New York City. His most recent book is Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations, from Cornell University Press. He can be found on X @BenedictBeckeld

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