Friday, January 9, 2015

Post-Terror Politics in France

My article on the post-terror political landscape in The American Prospect.

L'Union sacrée fait pschhhht

Just as the atmosphere of religious communion in the streets of Paris was beginning to give me the willies, it all went poof in a moment. Sunday's manif de tous pour Charlie is now the manif de tous sauf le Front National. The Socialist organizers of the event have made it clear that the FN is not welcome as such, though they will graciously embrace any of the party's minions who wish to march. So the great chorus of voices raised in defense of the freedom to lampoon, ridicule, and offend has been instantly drowned out by the usual cackle of squabbling about the extent of the "republican arc," to borrow a phrase from Julien Dray.

It's a good bet that the slain satirists would have been the first to mock the sham unity induced by grief at their murder. They would have been both right and wrong. The emotion was real. It was only the idea that it connoted any unity of thinking about how, henceforth, to vivre ensemble that was illusory.

Unfortunately, the Socialists are living in a dream world. It was one thing to stigmatize Frontistes as untouchables when they were vastly outnumbered. It is another when they constitute, at least on some days, the largest party in France and include in their ranks numerous former Socialists. It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, to confront the FN at the ballot box as a legitimate political party while at the same time declaring it outside the national community for the purpose of national mourning. And especially when that mourning is ostensibly in the name of freedom of speech.

To be sure, the FN's political speech is not being suppressed. Marine Le Pen can say how little she thinks of François Hollande whenever she likes. But if she wants to mourn the dead she once sued (for calling her, with customary crudeness of dubious political value, la chienne de Buchenwald), it is an affront to the former Socialists who now support her to say that their political error should deny them the opportunity to join in the expression of a grief and horror that belong to the nation, not to the Socialist Party.

No one is more opposed to what the Front National stands for than I am, but this is not the way to combat it. What we are witnessing in this moment of national derangement is the transvaluation of all values. We are through the looking glass. Nothing is what it seems. Marine Le Pen, Charlie Hebdo's mortal enemy, weeps over its demise. The Socialists exclude nearly a quarter of the population in the name of national unity. The Republic proclaims its tolerance of disturbing satire but forgets that it only recently banned the disturbing satire of Dieudonné. It is le bal des hypocrites. Mort aux cons might have been Charlie Hebdo's motto, but as General de Gaulle once remarked, "Vaste programme!"