Saturday, November 12, 2005

WFB on the Fall of France

William F. Buckley has just written, as per usual, a marvelously verbose and inscrutable commentary on the French riots.  I haven’t written on this subject yet because I wanted to see how the violence would play out, but Buckley pretty much nails the issue much better than I could.  He points out that there is something distinctly French about what is going on here:
President Chirac announced on Thursday that he would not discuss the unrest until after it had been quieted. That condition had the familiar sound of the warden who will not discuss the prisoners' demands until their havoc is done. That is the sensible course to take, but it does not automatically quiet the fervor. If the planted axiom of the protesters is that only revolution can bring progress, then the staunching of revolutionary activity is a step in the wrong direction, capitulationist, defeatist. What, on the other hand, the revolutionists lack is a program concrete enough to give them any sense of satisfactions achievable. In 1959, the objective was pretty plain: the secession of Algeria as a department of France. A hundred and seventy years before, the objective was the overthrow of the monarchy and of a ruling aristocratic class. What would satisfy the existing revolutionaries as a corporate ideal? The elimination of the automobile? If so, it being obvious that that is never going to happen, then the contrapositive needs to be considered: the revolution will be endless. That is formal logic. The French are disposed to violent protesting, as we saw in 1968.
I would differ somewhat with the esteemed Mr. Buckley.  I think radical Islam is clearly a major factor in these riots.  To call them a French intifada is not, I think, very far off the mark.  But one cannot ignore the fact that France has a long and much celebrated history of mayhem and violence.  Moreover, France is a country which is seemingly incapable of facing its history.  To hear most French tell it, French colonialism and the Algerian tragedy never occurred.  An omission made all the more interesting by the fact that the massive Muslim presence in their country as well as the metastasizing strength of the French extreme right are both direct results of the Algerian horror.  Putting that aside, France has always had a romance with endless revolutions, and with the purifying capacities of violence.  Now, however, a virulent form of theological totalitarianism has been added to the mix (before the denunciations begin, I am speaking here of radical, political Islam, and not Islam itself) with consequences which are, at the moment, unforeseeable.  What is most important here is that the claim of the capitulationists, that the riots are purely the result of socio-political dissatisfactions, cannot be sustained.  Many in France are disenfranchised, they are not all rioting.  Nor has rioting in France ever been confined to the disenfranchised (viva ’68!).  Something else, perhaps the French fantasy of an infinitely exportable French culture, perhaps the millenial fantasy of a multicultural utopia, perhaps that particularly French romance with revolution itself, has just been destroyed.