Asked recently whether he thought Brexit was a pivotal moment in European history, the writer Alain Finkielkraut responded: “In order to put an end to the distinction — judged potentially genocidal — between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, the European Union has sedulously drained Europe of all content. It has replaced civilization with values, it has dissolved identity in rights, norms and procedures. The English have said “no” to these developments: we [the French] don’t need to emulate them, but seize the occasion of Brexit to reconstruct the European Union.”
And thereby “defend our European civilization”. Mathieu Bock-Côté, the québécois sociologist, shares this formula with Finkielkraut, and in the article translated below asks what precisely it is that must be defended. A good question that demands another: that of how European civilization is to be defended, assuming that it can be identified.
❝ This alien therapy has produced a cultural auto-immune reaction, a kind of political lupus eating away at Europe’s prodigious heritage.❞
The “replacement of civilization with values”, and identity with a porridge of “rights, norms and procedures” is the foul work of generations of European politicians and bureaucrats. European “civilizational identity”, to use Bock-Côté’s formula, has been redefined as its own self-abnegation, as the endorsement of everything exotic. This alien therapy, exercised through the education system, has produced a cultural auto-immune reaction, a kind of political lupus eating away at Europe’s prodigious heritage. What is it that we wish to defend? An inconvenient question with an even more inconvenient answer — to which Bock-Côté alludes: thirty centuries of European high culture, the sine qua non of continuity and development through education. Who today would come to the defence of that, apart from Matteo Renzi? In an apparent response to the destruction of the temple at Palmyra, the Italian prime minister announced last year that on attaining his or her majority, every citizen would receive from the state a debit card charged with €500, to be used exclusively to gain entry to institutions where heritage was protected and revered. An exceptional gesture for a politician of the Left, and one that cannot be imagined coming from the islamo-gauche in France.
It is high culture that teaches values, not the other way around as neoliberal orthodoxy demands. High culture is the criterion, literally the senate, by which values are made true. On the other hand, received ‘values’ such as human rights and the rule of law, while essential for a functioning society, are defenceless against corruption. Only ‘civilizational identity’ has the authority to regulate them. Abuses of the rule of law, as of human rights, are legion. In Germany, one may not insult a foreign dignitary or deny the Shoa. Everywhere in the so-called liberal democracies, freedom of speech is honoured only in the breach. Representative democracy represents only those who own the law and profit from it. The law itself is becoming indistinguishable from a taxonomy of victimhood.
❝ It is high culture that teaches values, not the other way around as neoliberal orthodoxy demands.❞
High culture, by contrast, is the senior authority standing above received values, which are essentially bureaucratic in timbre. It is free of humbug and corruption, because winnowed by time and the force of countless great minds. A piece of ancient architecture might be eroded according to the second law of thermodynamics, or even physically attacked, but it cannot be corrupted in the sense meant here in relation to ‘values’. The Greeks taught Europeans how to think, but that lesson is immune to corruption. The mysterious theme that arrives in the first movement of Mozart’s 40th symphony might be mangled by pop culture, but the original endures and cannot be corrupted. Lilliputian minds dice up the freedom to speak according to the demands of this or that self-referential group of victims, and this is what is served up by western political elites as a received ‘value’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains the reductio ad absurdum of received ‘values’: in this respect it is resistant to improvement. Meanwhile, high culture, ‘civilizational identity’, legislates for taste and discrimination and common sense humanity. Who then are the preferred lawmakers: Mozart and Brahms, who taught us how to feel; Euclid, who taught us how to think; or the mandarins of the European Union, who are showing Europe how to die in the name of ‘universal’ — in truth, ephemeral — values?
That is the essential point. Received values, being corruptible, cannot stand the test of time. ‘Compassion’, raised to Angela Merkel’s geopolitical scale, can lead in time only to resentment or worse, and finally to its own antithesis. As for the defence of our European civilization, the struggle has one primary theatre: education.
Faced with islamist terrorism, let’s be sure of what we want to defend
7th August 2016
FIGAROVOX/OPINION : Europeans will throw the best of themselves into the struggle against the jihadist threat only if they are proud of their heritage, explains Mathieu Bock-Côté, a notable contributor to the intellectual life of Québec.
M. Bock-Côté is a sociologist, and lectures at the Hautes études commerciales de Montréal. He is a columnist at the Journal de Montréal, and a regular contributor to the FigaroVox site. He recently published Le Multiculturalisme comme religion politique (Éditions du Cerf, 2016, 368 p., 24 €).
It is necessary to defend our civilization against its enemies. Alain Finkielkraut said it recently in Le Figaro Magazine. But this formula is much more ambiguous than it seems.
Who are its enemies? On the pretext of avoiding stigmatization, we obstinately refuse to name them, thereby presenting islamist terrorism as a disembodied force. The intention of some media outlets to discontinue publishing the identity of jihadists on the pretext of denying them publicity, will also contribute to a perception of the attacks as somehow metaphysical. But it is necessary to consider as of a piece, the meticulously planned massacres such as Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan, the organised killings, as in Nice, and the more or less spontaneous acts, as in Germany, when a Pakistani refugee attacked railway passengers with an axe. Taking into account the concerted sexual attacks such as those in Cologne on 31st December , is also necessary.
In more general terms, we rediscover that distinct peoples are not interchangeable and amorphous populations that can be brought under control simply by repeating republican mantras. Mass immigration has created in Europe excised territories that the islamists dream of controlling, by edging them towards cultural secession or civil war.
❝ It is not to betray democracy to give it the means of defending itself against those who use human rights to promote islamism.❞
Once islamist terrorism has been named as the enemy, in whose name should we fight it? What is it that we want to defend? The West no longer knows what characterises it. For forty years, it has indulged in the delights of expiation through exaggerated penitence, and in a general inversion of values. From gender theory to multiculturalism via victim-sociology and frenetic consumption, it seems today to define itself in terms of self-repudiation. Today, one can no longer see why men who have been transformed into individuals and deracinated in situ, would consent to sacrifice anything.
The question of the limitations of rule of law is also illuminating. Everyone takes pride, with good reason, in the fundamental liberties guaranteed by our democracies. But a certain human rights fundamentalism has come to paralyse the State, which no longer disposes of the political means required to support its people and protect the population. One still asks oneself how Adel Kermiche, one of the two terrorists of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, who had tried to enter Syria and was known to the police, could have remained at large. How many others would there be in the same situation as he was? These attacks continue to shake us greatly, but surprise us less and less.
It is not to betray democracy to give it the means of defending itself against those who use human rights to promote islamism. Reduced merely to a self-referential State based on the rule of law, Western civilisation is condemned to impotence and self-destruction. Democracy vanishes when it defines itself only as a system of abstract rules, disconnected from its ethnic, historical, and spiritual roots.
❝ It is in what we might call their “civilizational identity” that Western nations are today attacked.❞
It is not this hang-dog version of the Occident that those who wish to stand up for it are thinking of. The patriotism of the Occident makes reference to a more profound civilization, one freed from its guilt-complexes. Yet we must rediscover it by dispersing the ideological mist that has come to render it invisible. The attack against the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray marks a new level of horror, and – curiously – serves as a revelation.
Cutting the throat of the priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass had something of the ritual sacrifice about it. France was pierced to the very heart of its identity, that which has endured through the ages, to borrow the expression of General de Gaulle. This old Christian nation paradoxically found itself reminded of a part of itself that it no longer knew what to do with. France, although avowedly secular in the first half of the twentieth century, nevertheless freed itself to brandish the Cross of Lorraine. Gaullism subsumed the complete history of France, and sacralized the nation as an historical Being, endowed with its own genius.
It is precisely through the nation that Western democracies create the experience of democratic liberty and the sacred in politics. And it is in what we might call their “civilizational identity” that Western nations are today attacked. A civilization defines itself equally in terms of its customs, its architecture, its political institutions, and its sense of the transcendent, which nourishes the whole of its collective life. By reconnecting with a certain idea of their heritage, these nations will rediscover their desire to defend themselves.