I was very taken by Adam Shatz’s piece in the London Review of Books on “French beserk”.
The piece, titled ‘The Zemmour Effect’ (paywall), is about the journalist and possible presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. The fact that he is even being talked about in this vein, writes Mr Shatz, makes for a “wild”reality, a hysterical bit of “French beserk”: “The rise of a North African Jewish intellectual who calls for the rehabilitation of Pétain and Vichy, while depicting immigrants and Islam as mortal threats to the Republic.”
His blunt speaking includes describing the supposed threat from Islam as follows: “It’s more even than a civil war. It’s a war of religion that threatens us.”
The rhetoric (it might not actually be rhetoric but reality, as we learnt when Donald Trump took office in the US) is doing well among a certain section of the electorate. Rather than cleaving to the cleaned-up, supposedly de-fanged Marine Le Pen of the National Rally, a lot of people “want their racism and rage served up straight,” writes Mr Shatz. It’s just like in the US, he adds, where “many Republican voters…turned out to prefer Trump’s explicit white nationalism to the dog-whistling versions the Republican Party had been peddling for decades.”
The appeal of this sort of poisonous peddling of supposed truths (even though it’s more a projectile of vomit and bile that’s cast as aqua pura) is in the figures. Mr Shatz points out that Mr Zemmour is currently polling at 17 per cent and Ms Le Pen at 16 per cent, with their combined support exceeding President Emmanuel Macron’s 24 per cent.
The real point to note, however, in the LRB piece is its assertion about who bears responsibility for Mr Zemmour’s rise. The groundwork, writes Mr Shatz, “was laid by mainstream intellectuals and politicians who suffer from a milder version of the French berserk. Zemmour has popularised the ideas of the ‘great replacement’ theorist Renaud Camus, but he also owes a debt to ‘respectable’ intellectuals such as Alain Finkielkraut, who has described anti-racism as worse than racism itself.”
He also diagnoses an ever more important way in which Mr Zemmour’s views on Muslims have been legitimised. “Centrist politicians from Manuel Valls to Emmanuel Macron” have echoed his concerns “if in a less overtly toxic form”.
In fact, all Mr Macron’s grand talk about a “reconciliation” with Algeria only goes some way in that courageous direction. For, he doesn’t want, as Mr Shatz notes, to stir “uncomfortable questions about colonisation, racism, Islamophobia and police violence, and to imperil France’s fragile glory.” And he diagnoses something similar underway in the US, where Republicans are trying to “defend America’s ‘greatness’ by preventing American high school students from being taught the history of slavery and racial segregation. The attack on the idea of ‘repentance’ is an attack on memory itself.”