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Thursday, November 10, 2005


a new religion

belgravia dispatch's greg djerejian addresses the french civil unrest thoughtfully, as does this commenter.

what is causing the rioting? Well, I allude to the causes above, but the problem is deeper and more structural than that, and I think it goes to the very heart of the French notion of republicanism: "color blind," all individuals are basically the same, they must conform to some kind of model of "Frenchness," etc. Secondly, the French labour model is biased in favor of protecting older workers with "cushy" jobs at the expense of enabling younger workers to enter the labour market. In other words, risk and economic pain is loaded on to one segment of the population - primarily young, primarily minority - in order to protect the privileges of generally older, whiter workers.

As such, the French republican ideal and the nature of its political economic have meant it has difficulty dealing with a multi-ethnic society, and as such, I think it has to be rethought to provide a more flexible, decentralized polity. as well as a labour model biased to protect older workers with established "cushy" jobs.
while, as i've said, addressing employment is merely assuaging the symptoms of a deeper issue of social disintergration, this comment at least points out the principle of french rigid cultural uniformity being projected from the top down onto an unreceptive people that has served not to promote but to undermine french social consensus by alienating its immigrant proletariat. as djerejian comments:

It is indeed sad when a country's citizens have become so removed from an esprit of fellow-feeling with their common citoyens that they must lash out in anarchic fashion to get attention and communicate.

... It's more a tragic result of a Hobbesian, gritty life in satellite towns devoid of hope and jobs and dignity--where youth feel disenfranchised, unmoored, without a nation really. Indeed, too many of the young see themselves as 93'ers (the postal code most afflicted by the violence to date)--before they are Frenchmen. Somehow, this must change.
i would suggest that the youth of 93 learned this alienation as much from their parents and milieu as from any direct experience in their young lives. their acts are the physical expression of the social and spiritual esprit that pervades all generations of the banlieus.

and i think the degree of disintegration is somewhat denied.

[the riots] represent something of an apogee for a 'time of troubles' that has afflicted France of late. The list is long, but a hastily put together incomplete one would have to include the stunning popular defeat of the European Constitution (by the very country most closely associated with spearheading European unification since the time of Jean Monnet), the painful loss of the 2012 Olympic Games to London, Chirac's geopolitically inept and disingenuous ginning up of a rift with the U.S. (mostly as transparent ploy to buttress his sagging popularity via faux and pitiable neo-Gaullist swagger--rather than as a result of true conviction, that is, beyond being enamored with a quite putrid, Pasqua-esque status quo), the now even more apparent alienation of disaffected youth grappling with high unemployment, endemic racism and feelings of 'otherness'--all these bad tidings have now culminated in a very dramatic break-down of basic law and order through significant swaths of France. No, the Bastille is not about to be stormed, and if you're staying at the Crillon for a spot of shopping off the Place de la Concorde you can still rest (somewhat?) easy--but one certainly surmises that long simmering frustrations have now reached the proverbial boiling point. Having taken in a good deal of the French press this Sunday--I sense that there is a genuine sense of crisis and helplessness and demoralization at the current hour through the French polity.
transient issues of normal political frustration are not at the root of this lawlessness. the abdication of order implies the futility of that order -- not a point arrived at in a year or a few years, but underwritten by decades of growing frustration passed on from father to son and spread around the social proletarian milieu. these outbursts have more in common with 1968 that djerejian seems prepared to believe.

however, not understated is the potential tragedy of a radical militant response such as that espoused by le pen, who wrongly believes that the problem is merely one of opportunists exploiting an incoherent (read: weak) political class.

These internal ruptures are for the insurrectionists an enticement to profit from the too obvious fragility that, in a time of crisis, becomes a grave peril for all of society. Because, through the agents and symbols of the state, it's France herself that is attacked, by hordes that the so-called anti-racial laws prevent us from designating as foreigners.
god help france if a militant reaction against this youth takes hold. such a thoughtless mistake very well could be the final wedge that splits what remains of the french nation imagined by archaistic gaullists finally and irreconcilably.

but, having said that, it's also clear that a total abdication of social and moral cohesion in favor of an anglophone globalized non-culture of weakly-interacting economic monads without a social compact is also not a solution. france -- indeed, the west -- needs a new social compact that reconciles the interests of the banlieus with the interests of the bourgeoisie under a common set of moral values, with a deeper understanding of our strength in brotherhood and our weakness in isolation. the west needs a new religion to transcend the cultural, political and economic divisions that have riven our civilization in decline over the last several centuries -- if not to save this civilization, then at least to provide a home for its people in wait of the next.

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