You'll never guess which major European country's scholars and political officials are attacking woke identity politics
If you'd asked me to identify which major European country was seeing powerful intellectual and political forces attacking woke racial ideology and the American campuses pushing it, I would have guessed Poland or Russia. Nope, it's a country American conservatives generally mock and resent: France. The very same France that conservatives regularly deride as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," picking up a line from The Simpsons that was popularized by Jonah Goldberg (who has since gone full NeverTrump).
But Norimitsu Ohnishi of The New York Times reports:
The threat is said to be existential. It fuels secessionism. Gnaws at national unity. Abets Islamism. Attacks France's intellectual and cultural heritage.
The threat? "Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States," said President Emmanuel Macron.
French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. "There's a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,'' warned Mr. Macron's education minister. (snip)
Mr. Macron's education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, accused universities, under American influence, of being complicit with terrorists by providing the intellectual justification behind their acts.
A group of 100 prominent scholars wrote an open letter supporting the minister and decrying theories "transferred from North American campuses" in Le Monde.
If you have access to material behind the Times' paywall, by all means, read and savor the unexpected alliance that France's movers and shakers are implicitly forging with American conservatives. The article does include critics of the move, but it leaves the definite impression that the ideas that we loathe are facing greater pushback in France than anywhere else in the advanced economies.
Why on Earth would a country that in the past has been held out as an example of progressive social policies turn against wokism? Onishi supplies part of the answer:
France has long laid claim to a national identity, based on a common culture, fundamental rights and core values like equality and liberty, rejecting diversity and multiculturalism. The French often see the United States as a fractious society at war with itself.
France's power elite (and in France, intellectuals have far more influence than in the United States — one reason why lefties here tend to adore it), struggling to maintain the fiction that French culture is a global peer of the Anglosphere, do tend to reject anything American (even as the popular culture embraces American phenomena from McDonald's to rock 'n' roll). And since the leftist takeover of American campuses outdistances their victories in other advanced countries, wokism is identified as a Yankee import and thus raises nationalist hackles. The protective fervor that French people feel for their culture is now being directed against a foreign (American) ideology that threatens French identity.
But I think that the tangible, violent threat of Islamism, a clear and present danger in France, is a more important factor in rejecting identity politics. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and is more threatened by Islamists than others. There are many "no go" zones in heavily Muslim areas, especially in the suburbs, where police effectively are not in control. It also, since the French Revolution, has embraced secularism, originally directed against the Catholic Church but now finding more to fear and oppose in radical Islam. France has actually banned wearing face coverings like the niqab and hijab in public for more than a decade.
By insisting that French culture holds everything together, including the many Francophone former colonies that bolster France's claim to standing as a global peer of the Anglosphere, France does impose a kind of anti-racial consciousness doctrine that it strives to uphold.
The French state does not compile racial statistics, which is illegal, describing it as part of its commitment to universalism and treating all citizens equally under the law. To many scholars on race, however, the reluctance is part of a long history of denying racism in France and the country's slave-trading and colonial past.
The history of the French Empire is hardly a tale of brotherhood and racial equality, to be sure. But because French culture has been under constant threat of submersion under the weight of Les Anglais since at least 1759, when Briton General Wolfe defeated the French Marquis de Montcalm in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, thereby losing control of Canada and ultimately the rest of North America to the Brits, and eventually making English the language of global business, culture, and diplomacy, the one foreign language people around the world think it most necessary to learn to participate in global affairs.
This is the second time in recent days that President Macron has taken a startling view that pleases conservatives.
The AP has the story of the president of the French Republic's upset at the muzzling of Trump:
French President Emmanuel Macron says he was "very upset" by the way social networks muzzled Donald Trump at the tail end of his U.S. presidency.
Speaking in a recorded video chat with scholars, Macron cited Trump's example in arguing for more government regulation of social media platforms. The comments, which Macron made in English, were released Thursday by the Atlantic Council think tank.
I've been coming around from my former suspicions and resentment of France for a couple of decades now. Yes, they have a tendency — at least among their elites — to be haughty and look down on us. But then again, so do our own elites. They also know how to do some things really well, including eating, making their cities beautiful and livable, and defending their traditional culture from deranged modernism.