France is a Great Nation Under Attack – a Return to Conservative Values Can Save it, and it Will
by Andrew Alexander
The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and may not be construed as in any way representative of the views or policies of Oxford Royale Summer Schools.
The world seems to have given up on France.
The nation in recent times has had its financial credibility questioned by the ratings agencies, and has assumed, from Italy, the mantle of being the major European economy on whose behalf those of the smaller creditor nations are sacrificed. If, as is currently being mooted, the Eurozone embarks on a large round of useless, wasteful and unnecessary quantitative easing in the coming weeks, it will be Paris that is fingered as the country providing the necessity for the evil. While Britain frets about the rise of UKIP, the far more extreme Front National enjoys increasing success in the French polls.
Likewise in foreign affairs, the country is increasingly irrelevant. Despite President Obama’s declaration that France was America’s oldest and greatest friend, the Franco-American alliance in Syria was vetoed by a British parliament, Mali has proven a solitary, sad mission, and Paris watches hopelessly as another one of its former fiefs, the Central African Republic, descends into mass murder and cannibalism. When the world wants to speak to Europe, it now dials Berlin. The ingenious argument that France is the language of the future with more speakers than English and Mandarin by 2050 is not a statement of influence but a reminder of impotence – all that population growth will come in destitute, war torn republics that France failed to civilise and will fail again to save.
There are worrying signs that France is giving up on itself, too. Jean Lassalle, a member of the French National Assembly representing the Pyrenees-Atlantiques, walked the length and breadth of his country, covering some 3,730 miles late last year. He finished his journey announcing that the French were “without hope”, adding that “everywhere I went, I witnessed a crisis in the standard of living, a loss of identity and the loss of a sense of common destiny.” Monsieur Lassalle found agricultural areas in depression, the suburbs in revolt, cities without identity and everywhere an undercurrent of racism and sadness. He also found a nation keen to talk: “once they knew what I was doing, I felt a strong sense that they were expressing themselves as a civic duty, choosing their words carefully,” he wrote. “There was a solemnity and a dignity about it, despite everything they had to say.”
[pullquote]the British party system combines the unattractive qualities of incestuousness, nepotism, group-think and snobbery[/pullquote]That phrase, “civic duty” is an important one. More than any other European nation, the French are viscerally connected to their body politic. Westminster operates against the wishes of the British public with relative impunity, a peculiarity of British life that may be connected with the idea that mass democracy transpired as a gift of the elite rather than as a power wrested from them. As such, the British party system, which combines the unattractive qualities of incestuousness, nepotism, group-think and snobbery, has very seldom been troubled by representatives of public opinion as opposed to political theories (maybe only the Prime Ministers between 1964 and 1997 qlify). In France, the Republic amounts to the common sovereignty of the people, conceptually at least, and the political tradition of the nation is strong enough that this idea is alive in the soul of the artisan as the academic. This does not preclude the French politician from pursuing stupid, irresponsible and unpopular actions, but it does mean that he or she is unlikely to meet with unhesitating compliance afterwards – that France is now on its fifth republic since the storming of the Bastille tells you that this is a nation with a volatile political culture for whom the ballot box is a resort, but not the last one.
This introduction is one that will have any French person smarting. This does not disguise the fact that it is a correct and relatively uncontroversial rendition of the facts of life for France at present. It does not diminish the belief of the author that France is a great country and that it has, more so than Britain, a good chance of reversing this decline by the efforts of its population and through the strength of its national character. The chains that bind France to the wrecking wheel of Cultural Marxism are entirely of its own improvisation. There is nothing uncommon about this – all the great Western nations have lashed themselves to a similar degree – but it is useful to review them and state how they apply to the French context.
Imagine you wished to destroy a strong nation. The reason is not particularly important – it may be that your political principles abhorred strength; it may be that you had a gift for transposing personal guilt and self-loathing onto the vessel in which you sailed. Doing this would be harder than you imagine – the nations of Europe were forever wrecking one another’s industrial equipment, killing sizable chunks of the population, stealing intellectual property and generally destroying the physical architecture of a nation. It doesn’t kill the nation that has been attacked. Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still Japan; the Frenchman is a Frenchman no matter what might be done to him at times of peril; the German has rebuilt Germany after the ravages of occupation and defeat. No amount of physical destruction will be sufficient to destroy a nation.
To destroy a nation, you need to attack its moral architecture. I think your line of attack would probably be something like this – if you want to destroy the nation, destroy the bonds felt by the people of that nation and move, so far as is possible, to making the idea of the country a geographical expression rather than one representing the unity of people.
How would you go about breaking down those bonds that people within a country feel? I think you would need to break them on three levels. Country means three things, really, to most people – it means their family, their immediate physical environment, and the institutions of the wider state that they encounter in their daily lives. The flag, the anthem, the sense of the wider national environment and its politics – these are signifiers, but not the core to which loyalty attaches.
Western governments have vigorously attacked all three bonds in the last half century or so, and France is no exception. I can think of two reasons for which they should wish to do this. The first is based upon a radical misdiagnosis of the cause of the two world wars. The second is a reaction to the Cold War. The former rationale looks something like this – nation states naturally compete for resources and land; this led twice to catastrophic European wars and resulted in mass murder by the German state through the Holocaust. As such, nation states are intrinsically bad and weakening them while transferring power to an artificial centre that will manage relations between them is a good thing. I can understand the strengths of this argument, and I feel it has been the prime driver of the movement towards a federated Europe since World War Two. This rather misses the point – nation states were not responsible for the great wars, one particular nation state was, and the possibility of that nation state posing any immediate danger was removed by Russia’s decision to occupy half of it. The whole of Europe is being made to learn lessons that had a specific relevance to Germany 60 years ago and not Britain/France/Spain then, now or ever.
But this is the less charitable interpretation of the desire to break the back of the nation state by loosening the bonds the individual felt towards its component parts. Perhaps, instead, you might argue that this process arose as a reaction to Communism. The America of the New Deal and Soviet Russia were not a million miles apart – both relied on a simple, dogmatic patriotism, mass conscription to support socially desirable infrastructure and a belief in the wisdom and benevolence of state planning. We often react most violently against those who most closely resemble ourselves – and arguably the United States and capitalist Europe reacted against Communism by promoting an approach to life that emphasised extreme individualism. This individualism, encapsulated best in culture by the deranged, shapeless writings of the beat generation, ended up destroying the way of life it was intended to save. I think possibly the truth takes in something of both theories.
The Court of the Fun King
And so, to modern France. The country has experienced weakening of all three of the national bonds I referred to in modern times. At a family level, there is tremendous unhappiness about the re-definition of the family to include a plurality of societally legitimate relationships other than that of a married heterosexual couple. There is a sense of urban grime and decay – the cities and suburbs are filled with transient populations living too closely together for comfort, while the rural areas are drained of talent, youth and hope. The stream of immigrants who have been arriving from the rest of Europe and Northern Africa have weakened the willingness of the individual to support the welfare state – as is currently being demonstrated in Sweden, human nature being what it is, support for the institutions of state (and willingness to fund them) is directly correlated to the extent to which those institutions are seen to benefit people like oneself. In France, as in most of Europe, the bonds connecting the individual to their country have been corroded by Cultural Marxism in recent years.
France’s battle against the dying of the light has been made considerably more complicated by its choice of general. As Britain has had the great fortune of producing one great person at every moment of national peril from Drake to Churchill, so France has a grand tradition of producing its least effective leaders shortly before the storm breaks. As may be expected, then, providence has provided the nation with the inimitable figure of Francis Hollande to pilot it through the turbulent times ahead. Mr Hollande has brought these matters to a head with his incompetence and exciting personal life – what is more, the decision to prioritise gay marriage at a time of economic crisis has, unlike in Britain, provoked serious civil unrest.
Despite all this, there is more hope for France than for her offshore neighbour. The barriers of linguistic isolation, a communitarian political tradition, and a Roman Catholic tradition that endures despite rising atheism, combine with the volatile political tradition that acts as an enemy of the policy elites to produce a combination that stands a good chance of being able to turn back the tide in many areas of French life. The deep thought and sense of political power felt by people throughout the social spectrum place France uniquely to refuse the creep of a way of living that is causing economic decline and moral decay.
It is easy to see the greatness of France as a mystery, a concept that has lost all potency beyond the blue borders of the Channel and the Rhine. It is also wrong. France, with Britain and America, is one of a triumvirate of Western countries whose importance in modern times has been to carry the intellectual, industrial and moral burden of Western civilisation. France has done this in quite a distinctive way, and has been able to do this thanks to the political traditions bequeathed by previous generations and lived fully by each succeeding one. The obstacles that face every modern society are such that they threaten the cohesiveness of society as a whole – no country on earth is immune to the leeching influence of globalisation, the breakdown of the family unit and the miserable process of mass urbanisation. Nations can, however, still choose their response to the problems with which the modern age confronts them. I trust that if any country can pilot a clear path through these troubled waters and remain intact, it will be France.