I’m a bit of a Francophile (Editor's note: to reiterate, he said FRANCOphile). I lived in Paris and Toulouse for a few years. After I got married (and pre-Covid) the Lib of the House and I would spend three months of the year there and I’m already planning our trip for early next year. The past couple of visits, we decided to move away from the bigger cities to smaller and more rural parts of the country. We spent a few months in a home built in the 1700’s in a tiny mountain village near the Pyrenees with a population of 800. The last time we visited we stayed in the gritty but still charming post industrial city of Sète (population 40,000) which is on the Mediterranean.
I speak French and twice a week I still do a Skype call with a French instructor although I speak well enough now that it’s more of a conversation rather than instruction these days.
So I pay attention to what’s happening in France and over the past few years it has been… interesting. Most people think of the French as very liberal but outside of the large cities or the university cities it’s actually fairly socially conservative while being center-left on economics. Not only has the pushback recently from the French to the wokeness creeping from America been pretty strident but we’re also seeing new right wing resistance to issues that generally have been safely protected by the French left.
It started at the highest level with President Macron giving a speech at the end of last year when he called “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” a threat to the French way of life.
(The speech is pretty long but if you’re interested you can read it in English here.) It’s a great speech that calls for French classical works to be taught in schools. He directly confronts the issue of Islamic radicalism that has become such a huge problem there. He discusses big government over-reach. He’s essentially laying out a vision for France that is united by patriotism and a shared culture that the people are proud of.
I think Macron sparked something because a month later a public letter signed by 100 prominent scholars criticizing theories “transferred from North American campuses” was published in Le Monde. Can you imagine 100 American academics coming out against anti-racism? We already know how fast they would lose their jobs and be bounced off campus. We also know a great many of them genuinely endorse anti-racism.
Macron’s speech was given on October 2nd of 2020 and unfortunately for him and and the country things have not improved. There have been riots in different cities for minority deaths at the hands of police but the largest issue (and the one that leaves the French the most despaired) has been the random attacks by radical Islamists. There were three high profile attacks in October in Paris, Lyon, and Nice. Two of them included beheadings. In March, an elderly man had his throat slit while standing outside a church in Montpellier. Last month, a man yelled “allahu akbar” before stabbing a policewoman to death near Paris. I was living in Paris when the Charlie Hedbo attacks occurred and I saw how it effected Parisians. I can only imagine how they and also the rest of the country feels now after all the recent attacks.
This has left the French with a general malaise about the state of their country. On April 21st, 20 retired French generals published an open letter warning of civil war and the disintegration of France as the immigrant heavy suburbs surge with crime and a population that does not hold French values. They also warned of the “hateful and fanatical supporters” of anti-racism who “despise our country, its traditions, its culture, and want to see it dissolve by tearing away its past and its history” and that the real goal was “racial war”.
Then on May 10 a second open letter was published, this time by 2000 active duty soldiers writing in support of the first letter by the retired generals. Again, they warned that France was becoming a “failed state” especially in the suburbs where “France means nothing but an object of sarcasm, contempt or even hatred.” This letter was open to the public to sign and has received almost 300,000 signatures.
A poll was conducted regarding the French public’s reaction to the letters and the results were stark. 84% of people surveyed said violence was increasing, 74% claimed the “anti-racism” movement was damaging relations between groups, while 73% said France was disintegrating. Only 1 in 3 thought the soldiers should be published for being political.
These attitudes are simply accelerating the change I’ve noticed on my last few visits as the French are starting to shift right. The last time I was there I had a waiter tell me (very quietly so others couldn’t hear him) that Trump was great. Frexit posters were in lots of the little towns I visited in the southeast of the country. I saw protesting Yellow Vests every weekend at least once and sometimes twice as we explored in our leased car. This would have been unthinkable even 5 years ago. This month, France banned gender neutral language in schools. Sorry, Demi Lovato – but your shit doesn’t fly in based France and the French kids don’t give a damn about your pronouns.
In a poll released in early April, Marine LePen that leads the right wing National Rally party is seen beating Macron in the first round of voting for President. That is huge! It’s doubtful LePen can win in the final rounds but the challenge she’s posing as the right gains ground will continue to force Macron further right as more of the country moves right itself. I fully expect the voters will reward Macron with another term if he continues to push patiotism, love of country, and pushes back against anti-racism and the radicalism that is clearly happening in the cities’ suburbs.
The French are tired of failed elite policies that have allowed unchecked violence from Islamists and unfiltered immigration. They’re tired of being told their country is garbage. They’re tired of an EU that forces unpopular rules on them. Personally, I’m happy to see it finally happening. France is a great country. I’d hate for them to ever lose the belief that it isn’t.