Many people in Anglo-phonic countries have difficulty identifying the deep bias in our journalism against both France and France’s traditional religion. But this bias, though subtle and insidious, is extremely powerful politically, and a lot of Frenchmen, I fear, are flummoxed by it, too.
It is complicated by Amerika’s traditional anti-Catholicism and, nowadays, by her inflexible and adamant championship of Zionism in the Middle East—which is also, I might add, a by-product of the millenarian Protestant Fundamentalism as rampant here as Islamism is in the Arab world.
Here are two articles from a British magazine that is obviously “neo-conservative” in its political sympathies. They play directly into the bigotries of what are obviously their largest readership—“bien-pensant” Amerikans. I’ve drawn your attention, with bracketed comments, to the places where the writers bare their obvious prejudices.
Soyez en garde contre eux!
AN AMBIVALENT AUTHORITY
Alexis de Tocqueville: Prophet of Democracy in the Age of Revolution
By Hugh Brogan (Profile Books 724pp £30)
In 1927 Paul Valéry wrote that Europe dreams of being ruled by an American Commission, and for many Europeans America is still seen as having an enviable freedom from the burdens of the past. There may be few who would now want to be subject to American rule but there are still many who see America as standing for a kind of freedom and equality to which Europeans can still only aspire. It is a view as common on the left of politics as on the right. There seem to be plenty of ex-communists and former Trotskyites who regard the United States with a loyalty and reverence of a sort they once reserved for the Soviet Union, and who round on critics of US policies as enemies of progress. Right across the spectrum of opinion America is seen as the supreme modern society, which more than any other embodies the future.
If any one writer can be said to be responsible for this view, it must be Alexis de Tocqueville. This acutely observant, high-strung French nobleman has been hugely influential in disseminating the idea that America is the country in whose path all others are bound - sooner or later, one way or another - to follow. Tocqueville's Democracy in America is a classic not only on account of its insights into American life but because it suggests that the dilemmas faced by America are those that will confront European countries in future. Chief among these is reconciling personal liberty with democracy. Tocqueville understood democracy as being at bottom the acceptance of human equality rather than any one type of government. He was afraid that in breaking with the complex hierarchies of Europe America could fall into a type of mass conformism, and he feared the same could happen in Europe itself as it shook off its feudal inheritance. The trend towards democracy was benign and irreversible, even providentially ordained, but it carried with it a threat to freedom of mind and action.
Toqueville's classic relies for much of its interest on his view that America is not a singularity but an exemplar of the main trends of modern development. He presents this view without much in the way of argument, and in fact many of the experiences he reports testify to America's abiding difference from other countries - he was as dumbfounded by America's intense religiosity as most Europeans are today, for example. Hugh Brogan gives a vivid account of the ambivalent responses America evoked in Tocqueville when - for reasons that are still not entirely clear - he made his celebrated tour in 1831-32. Brogan shows how often the sometimes clairvoyantly far-seeing French aristocrat viewed the country through the prejudices of his class and time. It might be thought that Tocqueville is by now a rather familiar figure, but he emerges anew from Brogan's consummately skilful presentation as an intricate and in some ways contradictory personality. Blessed with a naturally inquiring turn of mind, he was also plagued by doubt, and struggled almost to the end of his life to sustain his Catholic faith.
[It was not the “religiosity” in general that “dumbfounded” Tocqueville, but the peculiarly Protestant TEMPERAMENT of the American religion that unnerved him. What he puts his finger directly on is how ill-disposed that particular religious disposition is to brook the compromises necessary to maintain republican democracy. Tocqueville’s skeptical, civilized and very urbane Catholic faith—which he had no “struggle” to “sustain,” pace Johnson—is, on the other hand, very capable of managing democracy. This is pure anti-Catholic—and subtly anti-French—bias, which will rear its ugly head in the next article, as well.]
A sensitive man, Tocqueville was also capable of a harshness that grates on our ears nowadays. One of his aims on his American tour was to investigate the prison system - then as now a core American institution - with the help of his friend, Gustave de Beaumont. Writing of a prisoner in solitary confinement in Philadelphia, he notes that the man was healthy, well clothed, well fed, well bedded. 'However, he is deeply unhappy; the wholly mental punishment inflicted on him fills his soul with a fear far deeper than that of whips and chains. Is it not thus that an enlightened and humane society should punish?' Here Tocqueville was not harking back to feudal cruelty. He was writing as one of the progressive thinkers of the time - as he did when he wrote condoning the savagery that accompanied the conquest of Algeria.
[The “savagery” that “accompanied the conquest of Algeria” will prove to have been miniscule, compared mathematically to the “savagery” that has accompanied the “conquest of Fallujah.” Although BOTH are thoroughly reprehensible, there is little difference between the hubristic self-righteousness of the rhetoric used to justify both: the French were bringing the “backward Arabs” the “benefit” of 19th century “progress” and the Amerikans have been bringing the Iraqis “democracy.” BOTH are WORDS used to justify MURDER.]
As Brogan notes, Tocqueville may never have been able to shake off a certain nostalgia for the ancien régime. He was always caught between a past that never wholly lost the qualities of an idyll and a revolutionary present whose upshot was uncertain. But he was the reverse of a reactionary, and embraced what he believed to be enlightened and modern with a righteous enthusiasm.
It is hard to do justice to the artistry with which Brogan renders this complicated character. Tocqueville's friendships and ambitions, his passionate and anxious marriage, his restless cyclothymic personality as a result of which he passed regularly through moods of melancholy and elation - all this is beautifully brought out. His lifelong attachment to his devoted friend Beaumont, to whom he wrote begging him to visit when he was dying in Cannes, is charted with great subtlety. Brogan's delicate touch does not desert him when he recounts Tocqueville's exchanges with Arthur Gobineau, the intellectually gifted but repulsive author of the two-volume Essay on the Inequality of Man, which was to have a baleful influence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a kind of encylopedia of racism. The book is also rich in delightful vignettes, as when Tocqueville is described drinking in the Gothic scene of Oxford at night. Though I have read Tocqueville on and off over many years, I felt as if I knew the man behind the writings for the first time. Brogan has given us a masterly reconstruction of the European milieu by which Tocqueville was formed, and the definitive biography of one of the nineteenth century's most representative thinkers.
It is a study of the life not the work, but Hugh Brogan's book leaves the reader with some fascinating questions about Tocqueville's view of America. Would he not be appalled by the power of fundamentalism in the US today? Tocqueville seems, at the end, to have been a believer; but like most European intellectuals at the time he aspired to be reasonable, and believed being modern went with growing rationality.
[Note, please, the ordinary neo-Protestant bigotry of the Anglo-Saxon mind, which presumes that it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to be a “believer,” and also be “reasonable” or “rational.” This is a verifiable cultural indicator—obvious to ANYBODY ABLE TO LOOK FOR IT WITH AN OPEN MIND—that the Protestant de-sacramentalizing of ordinary religious life in the West has led to disdain of spirituality itself. This is what the Muslims notice about us INSTANTANEOUSLY, and it is what they cannot accept about the West—cannot accept if they are to remain faithful to their own Revelation.]
It is hard to imagine him being other than horrified by the spectacle of a country a quarter of whose population rejects Darwinism and lives in expectation of Armageddon. If he were confronted with it as it is at the start of the twenty-first century, would Tocqueville change his view of America? Or would he revise his beliefs about what it means to be modern?
[Or would he acutely observe that the fervour of a heretical fundamentalist religiosity has unnecessarily pitted Amerikan REASON against Amerikan FAITH, to yield a MONSTER that is IMPLICIT in the original heresies?]
It is impossible to tell. Still, it is not difficult to envisage this inquiring thinker concluding that America is not the paradigm of modernity he imagined it to be but a one-off experiment, which seems destined to remain different from Europe and the rest of the world.
[No, what it is is a “one-off” aberration in the history of Christian civilization, but one that no other genuine spirituality can tolerate, and which the genuinely spiritual civilizations left in the world—in particular Latin Catholicism and Islam—instinctively perceive as being the palpable manifestation of the work of the “Anti-Christ.”]
Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews
By David Pryce-Jones (Encounter Books 171pp £20.99)
As I write, it is exactly a year since the desolate banlieues of France erupted in an orgy of violence, on a scale which had not been seen for generations. At the time, these riots were blamed on social exclusion. Since then, it has become clear that the rioters are not just 'immigrants' or 'youths', but are first and foremost Muslims. When they set light to a car, their cry is often: 'Allahu akhbar!' ('Allah is great!')
[THAT makes them “Muslim”? Right, so if I claim that, because I am “good Jew,” I have a right to burn out a Palestinian Arab settlement, because “God told me to” in Exodus. The terrible bias against Muslims—and, later, against Catholics—starts really EARLY in this piece of journalistic crap!]
The violence, moreover, is endemic and ubiquitous. In 2005, there were 110,000 incidents of urban violence, including 45,000 vehicles burnt out. This year, there has been an average of over 100 incidents a day. Since the riots supposedly subsided last January, some 3,000 police officers are reported to have been injured. France is quite deliberately being made ungovernable.
This 'French intifada' was merely the culmination of a process that has turned many suburbs into no-go areas for the police and increasingly for non-Muslims too. In particular, the Islamist rabble-rousers who are behind the insurgency have incited their followers to attack Jews, who are now outnumbered by Muslims in France by at least ten to one.
How has it come to this? In this devastating indictment, the cri de coeur of an Englishman who loves France but is exasperated by the French, the background to this breakdown of civil society gradually emerges. David Pryce-Jones has discovered the explanation in the archives of the French foreign ministry, known after its imposing headquarters, the Quai d'Orsay. The corps diplomatique who have run this institution like a private club - known to initiates simply as 'la carrière' - are responsible not only for the decline of French prestige abroad, but also for creating the conditions for the unfolding catastrophe at home.
[I think “French prestige abroad” is REALLY “French prestige in Anglophonic countries.” I’ve lived in India and Sri Lanka for a long time, and I can tell you that NO Western country is so well respected there—and particularly by Muslim nations—as France is. This is an egregious, but typical Anglo-Saxon distortion of the truth.]
Like so many misfortunes, this one has its origins in the megalomania of the Bonaparte clan. For more than two centuries, since Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, French diplomacy has been gripped by a delusion of grandeur: the idea of France as une puissance musulmane, 'a Muslim power' - a phrase that has a new and sinister echo now.
French diplomats, determined to outdo their British and German rivals in great-power politics, were also convinced that France had a special mission civilisatrice in the Islamic world. Yet their sentimental orientalism was entirely compatible with an institutional anti-Semitism that is documented in shocking detail by Pryce-Jones. The rise of Zionism transformed this anti-Semitism from a mere prejudice, odious perhaps but peripheral to foreign policy, into a distorting mirror which motivated and reinforced the fatal misjudgements that have led France to its present predicament.
The French had pretensions to be the protecting power for all Catholics in the Middle East, and…
[Please note the refusal to admit the crying need for “protection” of Catholic populations in the Middle East, and that no other country beside France was willing to shoulder this responsibility. The two English Archbishops visit to Bethlehem this Christmas WOULD stand in mute testimony of the abandonment of Catholic Christian populations in the Middle East to the hate-filled machinations of the Zionists and the “Islamists” IF the Anglo-Saxon reportage of it could be accurate and full—but it never will be.]
…they saw Zionism as a competitor - one, moreover, that was associated in their eyes first with German and then with British interests…
[No, they most certainly DID NOT see “Zionism as a competitor” for protector of Arab Catholicism in the Middle East. The very idea is ludicrous!—And it could only be believed by English-speaking readerships.]
…In response to what it saw as an impudent demand for a Jewish homeland, the Quai d'Orsay 'effectively launched the Arab nationalist movement' on the eve of the First World War.
Some of this book makes uncomfortable reading for Catholics, because several of the most outré orientalists who have controlled French policy in the last century turn out to have been Tartuffes of the worst kind. Pryce-Jones devotes a whole chapter to the curious case of Louis Massignon, who was the Arabist guru of the Quai d'Orsay both before and after World War II. Massignon's faith was a bizarre confection of Catholic and Islamic mysticism, and he ended up as a Melkite priest.
[“Bizarre confection” indeed! It is likely that this provincial British twit has never heard of Charles de Foucauld, someone who was first re-connected to his ancestral Catholic faith by his encounter with Muslim spitituality:
Though he was married, it was the homoerotic attractions of Arab boys that evidently drew him to the East…
[Ah, yes, don’t forget to get THAT into your miserable diatribe: “Those FRENCH; they’re ‘different’ from US sexually, too!” Yes, you puritanical ass-hole, and I bet they’re glad of it, too!]
…He enjoyed cloak-and-dagger espionage, alternating between the robe and turban of an Egyptian imam and the habit of a Franciscan. He liked Lawrence of Arabia - as Pryce-Jones comments, 'they were two of a kind' - but enjoyed correcting the Englishman's Arabic grammar.
[I guess no “correct-thinking Englishman” will ever be able to forgive the great Lawrence for reminding them of how they betrayed their brothers-in-arms of the desert campaigns of World War I.]
Massignon's influence was similarly pernicious. Put in charge of French propaganda to the Muslim world, he dedicated himself to building a Franco-Islamic 'bloc' or 'entente' and worked hard to scupper the Zionist project. His conversation and writings are riddled with rage against 'the ignominy of the Jews', and he even had the temerity to tell Martin Buber that Israel must stop 'Atlantic speculators' from exploiting Arab oil.
[ Would that THAT effort had succeeded! But hold on, for a minute: doesn’t THAT imply that Massignon was trying to facilitate a degree of COORDINATION between Arabs and the early Zionists? But, of course, we’ll pass rapidly over that possibility and not even credit it!]
…Though he died in 1963, Massignon anticipated much of the contemporary French critique of the Zionist-Anglo-Saxon alliance.
Other pre-war intellectuals played an equally nefarious role in this episode of the betrayal of French rationalism - what Julien Benda called 'la trahison des clercs'. Pryce-Jones singles out Paul Morand, Jean Giraudoux and Paul Claudel: all writers, all senior officials at the Quai d'Orsay, all virulent anti-Semites. It is hard not to see the present prime minister and littérateur, Dominique de Villepin, as their spiritual descendant, when he describes Israel as 'a parenthesis in history'.
[I bet what Villepin means is that, through their imprudent system of foreign alliances, the Zionists are turning THEMSELVES into a “parenthesis in history.”]
The one brief phase of rapprochement between post-war France and Israel, during the mid-1950s, took place despite the Quai d'Orsay, which was kept in the dark about defence and nuclear co-operation. The Suez operation was doomed partly because the ministry had to be kept out of the loop. Even the then foreign minister, Christian Pineau, had to tell colleagues: 'Above all, not a word to the Quai d'Orsay!'
Under General de Gaulle, France reverted to its traditional 'Muslim policy' and imposed an arms embargo on Israel. After the Six Day War in 1967, de Gaulle set the tone for future French statesmen by calling the Jews 'an elite people, self-assured and domineering' with 'a burning ambition for conquest'. He ignored Raymond Aron, who warned that de Gaulle had opened 'a new era in ... anti-Semitic history', and instead echoed the old Quai d'Orsay motto of France as a 'Muslim power'.
[I myself have heard numerous Jews refer to Israelis as a “warrior race. Seems to me “le grand Charles” wasn’t far off the mark here. But I don’t think he was talking about Hasids or very many of the religious Jews I've known, either.]
Thereafter, Israel looked to America, while France recklessly encouraged a succession of Muslim leaders who proved to be implacably hostile to the West, from Gaddafi to Saddam Hussein. It was the French who turned Yasser Arafat into a figure on the world stage and tolerated his terrorists in their midst. And it was the French who enabled Ayatollah Khomeini to launch his Islamic revolution from a suburb of Paris.
[The French have traditionally harboured MANY political refugees, but it doesn’t mean they've approved of all their politics.]
The cynicism, corruption and arrogance of all four presidents since de Gaulle - Pompidou, Giscard, Mitterrand and Chirac - have reinforced the déformation professionnelle of the Quai d'Orsay. Far from buying France influence in the Muslim world, the 'Arab policy' has merely imported the conflicts of the Middle East onto the streets of Paris.
[ And I’m willing to bet that the “conflicts of the Middle East” will be solved ON “the streets of Paris” before they’re solved anywhere else. For a long time, it looked like they’d first be solved “on the streets” of London, but, my fine British twit, you can thank your Amerikan poodle Tony for foreclosing that likelihood.]
Only now, when the country is in the grip of an Islamist jihad, has Chirac acknowledged that anti-Semitism - the existence of which in France he had long denied - is so serious that 'an attack against a French Jew is an attack against France'.
[And when has Tony Blair said, “An attack against a British Muslim is an attack against Britain”?]
It is David Pryce-Jones's great merit to have documented the conflict between this affirmation of the rights of French Jews at home and their denial abroad by French foreign policy.
[For God’s sake, WHEN will ever be able to distinguish, in our discussions of Amerikan and European NATIONAL INTERESTS, between Jews who live in our countries and Zionists? If we don’t learn SOON to be able to do this, then the foreign policies of every one of our countries are going to be held hostage to the interests of an increasingly APARTHEID state.]
…Whether the French public will heed this English indictment of their political class is more than doubtful, but Betrayal should resonate among those for whom Zola is still not a footballer but the author of J'accuse.
Please, for the sake of both Arabs and European and Middle Eastern Catholics, may the “French public” NEVER heed “this English indictment” of their “political class”!