President Emmanuel Macron is hardly a nationalist. He won the presidency by defeating Marine Le Pen. In 2018, he insulted then-President Donald Trump by attacking nationalism in a speech to our Congress. Though hedidn’t really say “there is no such thing as French culture,” his statement that French culture is “diverse and multiple” wasn’t much better.
However, Emmanuel Macron defends national honor more fervently than “right-wing” Republicans do. He recently laid a wreath at the tomb of Emperor Napoleon. The New York Times made this out to be controversial. It was the latest in a bizarre series of articles attacking French history in what looks like a kind of “woke” cultural imperialism campaign waged from Manhattan. It makes President Macron look positively conservative.
President Macron has shown similar strength in the face of Black Lives Matter protests. He said France would not take down statues. He suggested that BLM is a threatening American import; he’s right. The President has also denounced American racial theories, arguing that they destroy national unity by attacking France’s intellectual and cultural history. He has spoken much more firmly against Islam than American politicians, warning that it is becoming a “counter-society” in France. He wants strict oversight of Islamic schools and an end to foreign-funded mosques.
Remarkably, Emmanuel Macron also recognizes that the African population boom could mean trouble. The Federalist, on the other hand, thinks billions of Africans needn’t be a problem; it just needs “better institutions.”
President Macron is more inspirational than anything we get from American conservatives. National Review joined the attacks against statues of Confederate heroes but somehow couldn’t predict this would lead to attacks on the Founders. The GOP response to President Biden’s recent speech was by black Senator Tim Scott, who pleaded that “America is not a racist nation.”
Of course, President Macron could have cynical motives. Some pollingindicates that Marine Le Pen will beat him in the first round of the 2022 presidential election. She is even within striking distance in the second round. A court recently acquitted her of “hate speech.” It’s not clear if this will give her a boost or if she would have benefitted from being a political martyr.
Emmanuel Macron is also sounding an uncertain trumpet. He lauded the emperor’s legacy, but he also denounced Napoleon for reinstituting slavery. The tone of President Macron’s statement suggests that the empire was a bump in the road to the modern republic and, no doubt, the end of history. As an aide explained, “Napoleon is a step in the process that brings us to the republic. Slavery is a fault of Napoleon; the republic has corrected it and eradicated it.” No doubt there will be other “faults” for which France will atone.
However, there are alternatives in France. Unlike in America, part of the French elite is willing to consider firm measures to save the country. In an open letter, a group of retired military officers — including 20 generals — predicted civil war if there isn’t decisive action. The first “mortal danger” to the Republic the letter named was “antiracism.” It warned against Islamism and the “hordes” who live in the suburbs and turn them into zones where “the laws of the Republic no longer apply.” The letter, addressing France’s political class, warned, “Don’t forget that, like us, the great majority of our fellow citizens are appalled by your waffling and your guilty silence.” It’s concluding words: “[Unless you take decisive action], civil war will put an end to this growing chaos and deaths — for which you will be responsible — will number in the thousands.”
American leftists at Jacobin and supposed conservatives at The Bulwarkwere both horrified by the letter. If “democracy” means the will of the people (and not just rule by journalists), one poll shows 58 percent of French citizens support the officers who wrote the letter, and 49 percent think the army should intervene unilaterally to establish order. Marine Le Pen was one of the few politicians who publicly supported the officers.
The late Jean Raspail wrote of “The Fatherland Betrayed by the Republic.” What he meant is that the universalistic bromides of the French Revolution ultimately broke up the French themselves, destroying them as a nation, culture, and people. Luckily, unlike America, France has elites who can rise to defend what Charles de Gaulle called “eternal France.” They can be found among the “yellow vest” protesters, in the military, in the National Rally and other movements. Some want to bring back the monarchy, whether they support the Orléanist candidate or the Legitimist Duke of Anjou. There’s at least the possibility of rebirth.
We Americans are less fortunate. The Anglo-American heritage is plagued with legalism. It’s harder for Anglos to conceive of an “eternal” nation that stretches beyond a written document or a constitution. Defining and defending that eternal identity is part of our struggle. Americans should stop looking down at the French. America’s first ally is an inspiration.